Except among the golden-eared, pride of ownership in a music player rarely extends to the part that vibrates and makes noise. Earbuds are a necessary evil, tolerated only because the player would be useless without them. Anyone interested in good sound tosses the supplied ones for something that sounds better. But if convenience trumps audiophilia in your scale of values, why not toss the whole concept of sticking something in your ears every time you want to listen to music? Isn't there a better way?
Samsung's answer to that question is the K5, a player with built-in speaker. At three-quarters of an inch thick, it's as bulky as three iPod nanos, or one cell phone, though smaller than a pack of cigarettes. Push on the longer side — with practice, you can do it with one hand — and a speaker grille glides into view along two hitherto unseen tracks, presiding over a brightly lit panel.
WHO WANTS THISListeners who want to pull the plug.
WHYYou're more mobile, earbuds won't fall out, no wires around your face.
WHAT'S COOLOLED touchpad not borrowed from iPod. Chance to perfect your one-hand slide.
WHAT'S LAMESounds like a cell phone playing music. Battery barely powers the speaker for a full workday.
FINAL MARK: A Sheer originality lifts it above the B range.
PRICE: 4 GB, $260; 2 GB, $210For details see Samsung's website.
At first blush, the speaker sounded tinny and devoid of bass, though when I moved it from my desktop to my lap, away from hard surfaces, it mellowed. There was an obvious overlay of compression with a low-end digital hashy texture, but that let me crank just about anything to the top without distortion becoming too obviously crunchy. With good headphones, the K5 sounded just like an iPod. The supplied earbuds have two drivers and sounded less bad than those supplied with the first-gen iPod nano.
There are downsides. The serious one is battery life. Samsung rates it at 30 hours per charge with earbuds but only 6 with speaker. With the speaker at full tilt, the player beat the spec by two hours — just long enough to torment coworkers for an entire workday.