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The good news is that the P7 doesn't expose any obvious weaknesses when paired with higher-end headphones like the Grado SR125is. The clarity of sound suits acoustic music well, and it's also a good match for classical, coping well with the swelling orchestration and sudden shifts of Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending and the sturm und drang of Wagner's Gotterdammerung.
FLAC rips of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and The Smashing Pumpkin's Rotten Apples compilation proved that the P7 can handle complex, thickly-layered tracks in all their uncompressed beauty. Listening to Talk Talk's Eden is a hair-raising experience, with the iRiver delivering the carefully crafted tracks of guitars, drums, bass and swirling organ in a way that enables you to enjoy every breathtaking detail.
I'd only make two points against the player. First, there are times when all that clarity seems to come at the expense of body, though you could never call the output thin. Secondly, to drive a pair of full-sized earphones and get a decent sound you'll need to push the volume up into the top third of its range, which is guaranteed to have a slight but negative effect on the tone. Overall, though, this is a fine sounding PMP, if not one of the absolute best out there.
You could argue that it's not the richest PMP in terms of functions. The voice recorder works perfectly well, the radio offers reasonable reception and an easy-to-use auto-search, and reading text documents is easier on the 4.3in TFT than it is on smaller screens. But where are the games? The Flash widgets? The Web browser and the rest? The P7 hasn't got them, but then I'd rather have a PMP that gave me easy access to my media than one that came with a bunch of extraneous, useless bells and whistles that I won't actually use on a day to day basis. The P7 does just that.
This is a good PMP, and I like the styling and the interface a lot. All the same, it's one that still has room for improvement. The sound is certainly premier division, but not quite fighting for supremacy at the top of the table. I'd also like to see video playback free from wobbles, and the interface running with a more responsive touchscreen and a little extra snap.
Most of all, I'd be happier recommending the P7 were the price that little bit lower. £169 for 8GB isn't extortionate, but it's more than you'd pay for a similarly equipped iPod touch, and a lot more than you'd pay for Samsung's excellent YP-P3 or Sony's brilliant S-639F. The identically-priced Cowon S9, meanwhile, might have a smaller screen and a much less friendly UI, but that screen is brighter and clearer and the sound is top notch too. Given these things I'm not going to dish out awards to iRiver, but if its ideas keep flowing in the same direction, it can only be a matter of time before I do.
A fine PMP with good sound and an innovative, very usable UI. If iRiver could just lower the price and iron out a few niggles, it would have a real contender on its hands.
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