The Memorex MPD8600 is a small CD-ROM based audio player which supports MP3, WMA, and CDDA/Red Book CD Audio on CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW media. It also has an FM radio tuner built into it. It has quite good MP3 compatibility, including support for the ID3 tags used to store extended information about MP3 audio files. It has a black body with a silver inset on its face, and tapers slightly from one side to the other. It is a highly compatible and functional CD-based audio player, tolerably simple to use, and has acceptable battery life.
I recently acquired three of these units from my local Wal-Mart store for US$25 each. At this time the units are going for approximately US$35 plus shipping, which made this quite a bargain. Oddly enough the other Wal-Mart store across town was still selling them for approximately $40 two days after I bought my third unit.
The MPD8600 is about the size of an ordinary CD player, though slightly thicker on one end which houses the buttons on the front panel. Batteries are inserted through a door on the inside of the unit, under the main door. This sub-door opens (bizarrely enough) in the opposite direction of the main door, highly complicating the process of replacing batteries. Further, the fabric ribbon installed in the compartment is largely useless for removing both batteries, though it generally will get one of them out so that you can pry the other out with something - I used the back of a soup spoon.
As previously stated the unit comes with a "handstrap" which is a stretchy skin which fits over most of the unit, covering about 40% of the front, and 75% of the rear, as well as most of the top and bottom of the player. There are holes in the top to allow access to the headphone jack, lock switch, and volume buttons, and the joystick and FM/MODE button are expressed through the front. I supposed it might be called a handstrap because you are supposed to slip your fingers followed by your palm through it and hold the unit that way, but this is largely useless for a number of reasons: First, it makes your hand effectively unusable for anything else as you have a fairly delicate bit of electronics attached to it which will obstruct your motion. Second, there is a piece of faux suede around the strap which will likely chafe the back of your hand, as well as your knuckles. Third, this would look really amazingly stupid. In fact, if I put the thing on my hand in this fashion, it tries to cut off my circulation. It does look as it it would make a nifty belt loop, though...
Finally we come to the headphones, which are the usual earbud in-ear pieces of crap. I am a large person with large ears and they still make my ears uncomfortable when I wear them for any length of time. You are highly advised to not even consider using the included headphones for any length of time unless you know ahead of time that such things will not bother you.
The buttons and switches on this device have a consistent, positive feel. While the back of the box says it has a "5 line backlit LCD display" this is not really true. While it is strictly true, the top two lines are not for drawing arbitrary characters as are the bottom three, but simply two rows of symbols to give you status information. In reality, the unit has a three line LCD with additional symbols. These three lines are not really up to the task of nagivating a CD full of MP3 music separated into folders.
The unit has a digital "joystick" (sort of a flat button which is tilted in the four cardinal directions by pressing on its edges), three buttons (FM/MODE, EQ/NAVI, and PROG/FM SET), and the above-critiqued blue backlit LCD which is pleasant to look at (and visible in the dark) if nothing else. Besides being used for navigation (left and right are track back and forward, respectively, while holding left and right will seek inside a track) the up direction is play/pause and the down direction is stop, or when the unit is stopped, turns it off. Along the top edge you will find the headphone jack, lock switch (which disables the controls), and the volume buttons, as this unit has digital volume control. On the left edge is the switch to open the case, which does indeed open up on that side. On the bottom is a rubber cover over the power input (4.5VDC) and the line out, a 1.5V P-P stereo audio connection. Both headphone and line out connections naturally use a 1/8" stereo miniplug.
When discussing the software aspects of controlling the MPD8600 I must return to mention of the LCD display. Three lines of text are really not enough to do any serious navigation of a CD, especially when it has varied folder structures and a number of MP3 files. The typical full CD will have over 100 songs on it (perhaps closer to 200), making this something of a serious issue. There are basically three ways to navigate your CD. You can repeatedly move the "joystick" left or right, which will step through each file on the disc one at a time in alphanumeric order. You can hold down the "EQ/NAVI" button for two seconds, and enter the first few letters of the song title, which will perform a search. Finally, you can hold down the NAVI button for two seconds, release it, and then press it again, and you will enter folder mode. In this mode you see the first five characters of the folder name, a slash, and then the first six characters of the track's name. Below this is shown the same information for the next folder. If you (like me) put the track number of songs first in the song title, which is basically the only way to play them in order on disparate devices, the first six characters (Four of which are probably two numbers, a dot or dash, and a space, possibly not in that order) this is not very useful information.
After this discussion, the rest of the interface functionality is pretty much what you would expect. Pressing the EQ button briefly, several times, will cycle through the available equalizer modes: flat, classic, jazz, rock, and pop. Unless the unit is not currently playing, pressing the FM/MODE switch will cycle through playback modes: Repeat 1, repeat folder (mp3/wma only), repeat all, intro playback (where the first ten seconds of each track are played until you cancel with the mode button), and random playback. The prog button will program up to 64 tracks to be played back later. In mp3 mode you can even program one track while playing back another, though you must know the number of the folder and the number of the track inside the folder. Even when programming a CD, the track must be selected by number, and not by simply seeking there and hitting prog once or twice.
As for listening to the radio, one simply stops playback (if it is playing) and presses the FM/MODE button. Once in radio mode, this button also toggles between monaural and stereo FM reception, it being much easier to get the mono signal. The unit uses the headphones for an antenna, so even if you want to use the line out port to hook it up to speakers, you will need to connect the headphones to the headphone jack. (You can, however, turn the volume all the way down without affecting the line out level.) Another extremely questionable design decision related to FM radio is that the volume button does not by default change the unit's volume, but instead it changes presets. You must hold the volume button down for some time (one full second) before it will change the volume, which it begins doing immediately after one second, because of course you are holding down the volume button, right? In any case you can set presets by pressing the PROG/FM SET button, and then within five seconds using the volume button to select a preset, then pressing prog again.
Compatibility is definitely the MPD8600's strong point. It supports MP3 files from 32kbps up to 384kbps, stereo or mono, including variable bitrate (VBRE) MP3. It supports all Microsoft-supported bitrates for WMA audio as well. The unit has good ID3 tag support and will scroll the artist, album, song title, and bitrate across the screen as it plays. It will even change the bitrate as it scrolls by if you are listening to a VBRE MP3, which I thought was a very nice touch.
Compatibility doesn't stop at file support, however; while you must write CDs in the ISO9660 mode 1 format, it also supports PacketCD format, and will happily read multisession (non-finalized) CDs of all types: CD, CD-R, and CD-RW. All of this means that for the average computer user who may not know what they are doing, the player will in general "just work" with the CDs they burn.
Some closing notes: The unit claims to draw 150-200mA while playing compressed audio. This means that it should have a life of about ten hours on a pair of AA batteries.
On the subject of being used while active, the device has 120 second (aka, two minute) shock protection while playing compressed audio (MP3/WMA), or 45 seconds while playing ordinary red book CD audio. This should be ample shock protection while playing mp3s, but while playing a CD your problem is generally that these units have only a double speed drive (if that fast) and if you are jogging the unit may never have a good chance to seek and then read enough data to fill the buffer. I have however not personally tested this, and cannot speak authoritatively on that point. I personally use 2000mAH NiMH AA batteries to power my MPD8600 and I have used it for a couple of full days without running them out. The unit seems to understand when it is filled with NiMH batteries, which are only supposed to hold 1.2V nominal voltage as opposed to Alkaline batteries which should be around 1.5V.
All in all, this is a decent player and is well worth what I paid for it, but there is little more to say than that. Were I in charge of this project I would have made several substantial changes to the software and one or two minor changes to the hardware (the battery door springs to mind fastest) but in general it is a highly functional device.