An MP3 player with true high-end audio chops has quietly crept onto the scene. JVC credits the sonic sophistication of its XA-HD500 Alneo player ($249 list) to a couple of circuits named K2 and C.C. Convertor. Yeah, those names sounded meaningless to us too, but then we heard the high-frequency extension and midrange purity the Alneo gave to everything from screaming Strats to lush orchestral music.
The player has a 6-GB hard drive and comes with docking charger, earbuds, and a noise-killing ferrite clamp that fits onto the gold-tipped patch cable for the ultimate in drooler chic. To really hear what the player can do, add a solid pair of headphones like the audiophile-approved Grado SR60 ($69 on Amazon).
Okay, the 1.5-inch black-and-white LCD looks dowdy compared to our iPod nano's color screen. The interface is comfortingly iPod-like, though, substituting navigation buttons for the iPod's clickwheel. Windows Media 10 is recommended but not required the player shows up as a disk drive in Windows Explorer, so you can just drag and drop. Supported file formats include WMA, WMA-DRM, and MP3. That doesn't include AAC, with or without DRM, so if you shop at iTunes, you're still better off with an iPod.
But who appointed Steve Jobs master of the universe? Maybe it's about time for people with ears to rebel. If there's any justice in the world, the Alneo will become the underground bestseller of the year.