The other part of the sound quality equation is the headphones. Personally I never use bundled headphones, instead plugging in a set of Sennheisers, while a couple of my colleagues swear by Koss – either way, in the TrustedReviews office, bundled headphones stay firmly in the box when we’re using our MP3 players. However, for the sake of the review I did use the headphones that were bundled with the Mega Player 521. Unlike the majority of manufacturers, MSI has not gone for in-ear headphones, instead providing two padded earphones that clip over your ears. These do look cheap and nasty, but they are very comfortable, which unless you’re a fashion victim (or iPod fan-boy like Benny), should be far more important than aesthetics. As for how the MSI headphones sound, I would say that they are the best bundled headphones I’ve ever used – that’s not to say that they sound great, because I still wouldn’t choose to use them. But compared to the awful examples you usually find in the box, these headphones are definitely a cut above.
There’s also a built-in FM tuner, which behaves the same as pretty much every built-in FM tuner that I’ve seen. If you’re in a strong reception area the tuner is usable, but stray into a marginal coverage area and you’re left with nothing but static. This is more or less standard, and the tuner in the Mega Player 521 is no better or worse than any other I’ve used. You can record directly from the radio, or record voice notes via the integrated mic. The sound quality from the voice notes is surprisingly good, and the mic managed to pick up even softly spoken words from the other side of the TrustedReviews office.
The small OLED display is quite detailed and easily readable in any lighting condition. The menus are navigated using a four-way joystick and selections are made by pressing the joystick inwards. I found the navigation to be sluggish at times, and sometimes I had to press the joystick more than once for the desired effect. While a track is playing, pressing the joystick up and down will increase and decrease the volume, while pressing it left and right will skip backwards and forwards. One thing that really annoyed me was that pressing the joystick left didn’t skip back to the beginning of the track I was listening to, it actually skipped back to the beginning of the previous track. The play/pause button doubles as the power button, while the last button on the fascia selects the FM tuner. On the side you’ll find sliding “lock” switch, and the record button.
In the box you’ll find the Mega Player 521, a bright orange carry case, two mounting straps, a USB cable, a mini USB to USB adapter and the driver/manual disc. The review sample also shipped with a power supply, but this is an optional extra. The player will charge directly from a USB port, so not supplying the charger allows MSI to keep the cost down, while not really compromising on features. MSI quotes 18 hours battery life, and I probably wouldn’t argue with that claim. I charged the device one and used it on and off for a couple of weeks.
The 512MB capacity is quite reasonable for a flash based player, since you can fit a decent amount of music on it, without the need for convoluted folder structures. Talking of folders, this is a drag and drop device, so you simply create folders and place the tracks inside them. This makes populating the device easy enough, but you can’t sort by artist, or genre as with more feature rich players. There’s also no playlist function, even though the manual and the menu mentions them. It would appear that a playlist is a folder full of tracks, with you deciding which ones are played and which aren’t. The problem with this definition of a playlist, is that if you want the same song in more than one playlist, you have to physically have two copies of the file on the device.
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With a price of £89 including VAT, the Mega Player 521 offers reasonable value, especially if you’re specifically looking for a flash player to take jogging with you. But it does have a few niggles that need working out to make it an even better device.
The Mega Player 521 is a small, well featured MP3 player with good sound reproduction. The pedometer functionality is clever, but having to work out your distance manually is a real pain. Integration with some kind of music manager, or having one on the device like the Archos Gmini XS 200 would definitely be a benefit. Overall, MSI has shown that it can produce an innovative take on the MP3 player – let’s hope that the next version is even better.