I’ve heard Massive Attack’s Safe from Harm sound warmer and more powerful at the bottom end, but again that crisp sound helps bring it to life. The Shuffle feels at home with quieter acoustic tracks like Prayers from Scott Matthews’ excellent debut album, Passing Stranger, though the slightly thin mid-range doesn’t suit Mastodon’s epically heavy Divinations quite so well. The frustrating thing is that I think it could do great things with another set of headphones, but at the moment there’s no way of telling. You can plug in another set, but with no easy way of altering something as fundamental as the volume, using them is impractical.
I suspect there’s also one other trade-off for the small size: battery capacity. Ten hours is adequate, but 50 per cent less than you’d get from the Sansa Clip, Sony’s NWZ-B133 or Samsung’s YP-U4, and about half of what you’d get from the Creative Zen Stone.
Above all else, there’s no doubt that you’re paying – literally – a high price for the new shuffle’s stripped-back styling. £60 for 4GB is no longer great value in a market where less than £50 will buy you an 8GB Sansa Clip, while a 4GB Samsung YP-U4 can be had for less than £45. Factor in the fact that, should you buy a Clip or U4, a pair of decent budget headphones could be had for £30 to £40, while Apple’s In Ear Headphones will cost you an additional £50, and things look even worse.
Despite all this, it’s almost impossible not to throw some love the Shuffle’s way. It’s gorgeous to look at, easy to take everywhere, reasonable to listen to with the more expensive ‘phones, and – bar one detail – the most usable Shuffle yet. It’s just a shame that that this one detail – the fact that you can’t use it with most third-party ‘phones – has so much negative impact on its value. If you want a stylish micro MP3 player and you can live with the bundled buds, buy away. Otherwise, the previous generation shuffle is still very attractive and widely available. If sound and value for money matter more, however, then the good old Clip just makes more sense.
Tiny size, good sound and sumptuous style come at a high cost, both in terms of value and in terms of having to live with some restrictions. If the shuffle’s caché isn’t all-important, there are better choices out there.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7