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iRiver iHP-120 Review


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Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £344.00

Over the last couple of months the team at TrustedReviews have seen several different MP3 players, some good and some not so good. The iRivier iHP-120 falls in the very expensive category as it is a hard disk based device. If you’ve read our reviews of the Apple iPod and the Philips HDD100 then you’ll be familiar with the concept of a hard disk based MP3 player.

If however you’re not familiar with HDD MP3 players, let me give you a brief overview. The limitation with most of the hard drive based MP3 players is size, due to the physical size of the hard disk inside it. Most modern devices feature 1.8in hard drives and that is what you’ll find inside the the iPod, the Philips and the iRiver.

The other thing worth bearing in mind is that they are sensitive to shocks, so don’t throw them around to much unless you want to damage the hard disk inside. All of the portable hard drive based players feature a large buffer (usually around 32MB) in which the playing track is stored. This means that as long as this buffer is in use, the hard drive is not. This saves battery power and thus with a larger buffer you should save battery life.

But one of the best features on a larger device such as this is the size of the display, as it makes it very easy to navigate a large music library. Calling a device such as this an MP3 player is almost an insult, as it is so much more. First of all, I found it impossible to fill the 20GB disk with music, not that I have a massive library of tracks at home, but I have a fair few CDs and MP3s. Beyond MP3 playback, the iRiver iHP-120 can be used for file storage and with a USB 2.0 interface it is very quick to transfer even large files over. You can even read text files in .txt format on the screen, but I don’t see too many people making use of this feature.

The iHP-120 also features an integrated FM Stereo tuner, so if you get bored of your music you can always tune in to something else. In case you don’t own a PC, but still want to take advantage of a device such as this, you should really take a closer look at the iHP-120 as it offers a built in audio encoder. As the iHP-120 features analogue as well as optical S/PDIF line in you can get very high quality audio transfers straight from your CD player. You can manually set the bit rate for the music you encode between 32kBps and 320kBps, which should be sufficient for anything I can think of.

You can also use the iHP-120 as a very sophisticated voice recorder as it supports recording in both .wav and .mp3 format. Wave files are preferable if you intend to edit the content later, whereas MP3 takes up less space. There is support for voice monitoring, so that the iHP-120 only records when you speak as well as support for what iRiver calls AGC which automatically controls the recording level. It’s a shame that you can’t record radio programs, but that’s only a minor disappointment.

So what about playback support? Well, it obviously supports MP3 and WAV files, but iRiver has also added support for WMA, ASF and OGG files. WMA and ASF are connected to Windows Media Format whereas OGG or Ogg Vorbis is a new format that competes with MP3 offering high quality audio with smaller file sizes.

Ogg Vorbis files can be played back in 32kBps all the way up to 500kBps.

This means that there is no support for AAC or MPEG4 audio formats, but this might be something we will see in the future from iRiver. There is however support for WinAmp play lists in M3U format, allowing you to can use the same play lists that you use on your PC on you MP3 player.

My first impressions when the iHP-120 arrived at my desk was – how do I switch it on? What are all these buttons for? But after a brief glance through the manual and some tinkering around I found the iHP-120 pretty straight forward to use.

The manual itself can be kind of confusing at times, but with a bit of common sense it’s not that hard to find your way around it.

The box is full of accessories and some are more useful than others. First is a set of rather average headphones, the sound is acceptable and you get four cushion pads in the box as well. The supplied remote control is by far the most confusing inclusion as it has three jog wheels for various functions. The problem is that all three jog wheels have multiple functions which can really confuse things. It does however have one redeeming feature and that is the three line LCD. The display is bright, clear and very easy to read.

The remaining accessories consist of a standard 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable, a headphone adaptor in case your headphones don’t fit the remote control. Next up is a small microphone that connects to the line in, a carrying case with a belt loop and a see-through front window, and of course a USB 2.0 cable and a charger.

The iHP-120 measures 60 x 105 x 19mm (WxHxD) and weighs 160grams. This makes it a bit larger and heavier than both the iPod and the Philips HDD100. It doesn’t feel that heavy carried in a pocked but it’s not the smallest MP3 player around, but compared to the original Creative Jukebox devices it’s tiny. It might also not be a stunning looker, but it does offer a lot of features.

As our device did not feature the latest firmware when it arrived this was one of the first tasks I set out to do. This is very easy as you copy the new firmware file over to the device; go in to the menu and select the upgrade firmware option. Remember to plug in the power cable just in case. It takes a minute or so and the iHP-120 reboots before it’s ready to use.

The sound quality is excellent, but the supplied headphones don’t do it justice.

Plugging in a set of Koss Porta Pro’s made it sound a lot more impressive and after fiddling around with the equalizer settings it got even better. The iHP-120 features SRS sound effects and the best one is SRS TrueBass which really makes the music sound alive. The line output is quite powerful for a portable device with 20mW amplification; this is louder than most walkmans and portable CD players.

It couldn’t be easier to copy your music across as long as it’s in the right format, as the iHP-120 is not supplied with any music encoding software. All you have to do is to install the drivers supplied on a CD, plug the USB cable in to the PC in one end and the other in to the iHP-120. The iHP-120 is then detected as a removable storage device by Windows (you need to use Windows 98SE or newer). From there on in it’s you just drag and drop your music to the iHP-120, preferably in folders or things can get very messy. There is no sign of any DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, which in my opinion is a very good thing. There is one limitation though as you can’t have more than 2,000 directories and 9,999 files on the device at any one time.

Music can be browsed using artists name, album names, genre, song title or just browse the files as they are stored. As I mentioned earlier you can also make M3U play lists in WinAmp.

Once you get used to the unusual layout of the buttons and the navigation “knob” it’s actually quite straight forward to use. The seven line LCD on the iHP-120 is great and its blue back light makes it easy to read even in poor light conditions. There is support for up to 38 different languages, so you shouldn’t have any problems with localised characters. The build quality doesn’t compare to the iPod or the HDD100, but it’s in no way bad. Since the iHP-120 is made from plastic rather than metal it feels a bit cheaper.

The integrated 1300mAh Lithium-Ion battery is stated to provide 16 hours of continuous playback and this is not far from the truth as I got well over 12 hours of use, but this was not continuous playback.

All in all this is a very advanced device, but there is one small problem. The current selling price is a steep £344 which is more than I would be willing to pay for an MP3 player, no matter how big its hard disk is. This is also £44 more than the 20GB version of the iPod. However, if you feel that you want an MP3 player that can do it all and you can live with the little quirks, then the iHP-120 might be for you.


The most advanced MP3 player to cross my path, with more features than you could shake a stick at. Unfortunately the high price makes it difficult to recommend the iHP-120.

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