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Old 03-01-2014, 10:31 PM
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BruceBanner BruceBanner is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Australia, NSW
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Default SanDisk Clip Sport Review

Sansa Clip Sport Review



Specs:

- Supports MP3, WMA (NO DRM), AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, FLAC, and Audible (DRM only)
- 4GB, 8GB & 16GB capacities
- 1.44" TFT 1.44” (128x128 pixels) LCD screen
- Up to 25 hour battery life
- FM Tuner
- Micro USB 2.0 connection
- microSDHC™ memory card slot




First Impressions

Being no stranger to the clip family of players, at first hold I actually felt as tho it felt a bit cheap and fragile. The rubber surround wasn’t really noticeable I doubt it really helps from a grip perspective. I think it looks nicer than the clip zip personally, but not as polished as the clip+ (but all of that is subjective).
I think I was expecting it to be larger due to its double battery life over the clip+ and Clip Zip, I pulled out the kitchen scales and weighed them both;


Clip+ = 24g
Clip Sport = 28g

4 grams of extra weight and twice the battery duration, Sansa is at least doing something right.



Next up I switched it on. One of the first things I ever do with any electronic device is crank the brightness up. At first I thought it was pretty bright, so must be at full brightness as default, I then navigated through the settings to ‘Brightness’, I was happy to see it could go a few notches higher. Suffice to say it is adequately bright enough, and this is important for someone living in Australia whereby it’s naturally very bright outside (most of the time), a bright screen only helps to see information vs a darkened one.
I was curious to compare the CZ (Clip Zips) screen to the Sports (the main gripe I had with the CZ being that of poor screen quality), so I switched the CZ on and made sure its brightness was also maximum. Indeed the difference is significant, it feels as tho the maximum brightness of the CZ is somewhere around the half way mark of the Sports. Somehow, despite having a similar PPI, the extra brightness and contrast of the sport screen makes the LCD feel more premium and higher quality.



Where it lets us down is that the NPS of the default Sansa stock firmware is uninspiring (possibly done better on the CZ), I’m positive if a rockbox port ever becomes possible that we’ll be able to take advantage of displaying better album art or even just better organised track info on a decently bright screen (not to mention better navigation of menus and such).

Believe it or not I’m actually not a huge fan on the physical clip on the back of any of clip players. I preferred the original Clip that had a removable one, if they packaged this Sport with a few extra clips it adds to the attractiveness of the player, a more streamlined pocketable version because as it is it’s actually quite a thick bulky player.



So passionately I feel about this I have actually removed (and filed down) the clips on previous versions of Sansa Clips I have owned.
Adding my magnetic badge workaround adds more versatility to placement of the player on clothing as well as a more slimmer pocketable player if wanted.



Some people wear tracksuit pants with thick waist bands, a clip doesn’t always stay in place well at this location, add some running and the thing can fly off easily! I’ve never had this problem with my magnetic solution.


All in all first impressions were pretty much what I expected from what I had already heard, namely another Sansa clip with supposedly better battery life (have yet to actually do a test) and a better screen than the CZ. I would love to see a higher quality screen but then that is likely to bump up the price significantly, for some it might not be a feature worth paying for. Remember this is a budget DAP after all.


Sound Quality

Next up I transferred a handful of songs onto the players internal memory, I was excited to hear this player, after all some reports were coming in that it has better sound quality than it’s predecessors…
The files I used all went through MP3gain to a value of 89db. These are the same tracks I use on my Cowon i9+ which is amply loud enough (on the Cowon volume scale 0-40 I would use at about 36 on average, but never 39-40).
With the EQ set at Normal I found it too quiet, I proceeded to mess around with the single Custom EQ preset given (to see if I could attain more volume and a a better sound signature.

The 5 EQ band is rather simple, no information is displayed here other than lines and a marker. 5 pushes up takes you from centre to top, and 5 pushes down to bottom.
I set it to a ‘V’ like pattern which seems to be something that pleases my ears. It helped give the music more bass and more volume, but not quite too much treble or harshness, I was impressed with what I was hearing.
But I still wanted a bit more volume, so back to MP3Gain and this time put the same tracks on the player but this time to a value of 94db (which MP3Gain tells me some clipping occurs, I am yet to understand or experience what that means tho..)
I now had two folders with the same tracks inside, one folder called 89db, the other 94db. I then sat down and compared the two. Sure enough the files at 94db gave me that extra volume I wanted (not that I would always listen at max volume, but when the time comes and I want my music that loud its nice to know I can).



So now I was curious… how does this compare to the CZ? I must admit I mainly use my Cowon i9+ (with its plentiful DSPs to tinker with, which I pretty much blatantly abuse, I’m not subtle like that), it had been awhile since I listened to stock firmware of the CZ so I sat down to compare.
To make it fair I put the same songs on at the same MP3Gain (94db) level on the CZ, I wanted to be as fair as possible. I then started both tracks off at the same time and quickly swapped the headphone from one jack to another to compare. At first I set them both in neutral (or ‘normal’). It seemed the Sport sounded less muddy and more clearer, better separation perhaps, but I wasn’t too sure…
Then I decided to set both the Custom EQs to that ‘V’ pattern I seem to prefer and then compare. What I did notice is that it might not be a fair comparison because on the CZ you have a greater scale or at least smaller increments with the EQ band, due to lack of any information I can’t tell, it is still just a line with markers. From centre you can push 12 times to get to the top and 12 to the bottom vs only 5 pushes either way on the Sport. I tried creating the ‘V’ signature in two different ways on the CZ to compare. One version had the first band set right to the top and the middle band right to the bottom (making a large 'capital V'), the other a ‘lower case v’ with the same number of notche adjustments as the Sport (namely 5 presses).

Neither seemed to sound entirely like the Sports ‘V’, overall the CZ sounded a little more muddy and the Sport perhaps clearer, better music separation tho maybe perhaps a tad tinnier? To my ears they both sounded good, if I had to choose I would probably say Sport was the winner, but it’s close and possibly placebo. Perhaps in future there will be more knowledgeable people able to do real testing and give a more accurate answer.

I genuinely feel with my Cowon i9+ (with its custom DSP settings) I hear a night and day difference and prefer its sound overall to what Sansa can give. Comparing the CZ and Sport is not so easy and may actually just come down to individual preference.

FWIW I used my Panasonic RP-HJE900’s for testing.


Features

Here we come to an array of disappointments that could in theory be addressed by a rockbox port. But I’m told such a port may prove very difficult, may come too late or just be abandoned. Be warned, don’t buy this player yet with the assumption of a rockbox port. For now we have to make do with the stock firmware and it is most certainly not the same as its predecessors, certain key changes have been made, only you can decide if they are deal breakers or not.



1) The largest change is that the two memory databases (internal and external microsdcard) are now separate and not merged. This means that it is NOT possible to Shuffle all of your music collection across both databases at the same time. You can indeed shuffle all of internal memory or all of the external sdcard songs, but not all together at the same time. This also means a playlist comprising of some songs from the internal and some from external will not work (I tried). It will show up and is playable from the player, but depending upon where the playlist is saved (internal mem vs sd card) it will omit the opposing memories songs.

This 'nonmerge' does come with one advantage tho, it means the database refresh rate is very fast. I inserted an old 32gb sd card lying around with about 20gb worth of music onboard. It took not even a minute before booting up and recognising all the songs. It seems the days of painfully slow database refreshes (of which occured with adding just a single extra song to the player) are gone at least.
More on this point later.


2) When browsing via id3tag (ie Artist or Album), when locating an album it is not possible to play that album in numerical order or tracklist order. The album tracks are displayed alphabetically and will play in that order. The only saving grace to this is if you browse your music collection via Folder method and not id3tag it will at least display the songs filename in alphabetical order which usually involve the files being numbered (01 xxx, 02 xxx etc) and therefore success in playing an album in proper sequential order is possible. But not all my music has numbers before the filename, therefore the same problem will exist in folder browsing to id3 tag. You will need to use a good id3 tagging program before transferring your music across and ensuring every album has numbers before the filename/song to be sure.
Without a doubt this is a massive bug, hopefully addressed with a much needed firmware update


3) No Hold button. Not a deal breaker for me. A non touchscreen device with tactile buttons, I can make do. The device is intended to sit on yer exterior therefore less chance of ‘pocket pressing’, but if you plan to put this in yer pocket this is a serious consideration factor.

4) Three ‘On The Fly’ playlists now available (vs only one in the past). What this means is you can add any song to one of three lists, neat. A rare welcomed additional feature. However, there doesn’t seem to be a method of adding anything more than a single track at a time to any of these playlists, adding an entire album or collection of albums from under an artist or album seems impossible. Shame… even with a Cowon player you can circumnavigate this issue.
What’s sad is that there is plenty room to make these features possible. When navigating the menu and selecting albums you only use the up and down/menu button and centre select/power on/off button, the left and right arrows do nothing. Even a short press on the right arrow to bring up a menu for adding that folder/album/artist to a ‘Go List’ is completely doable, but not implemented. Not even a long press is required, just a regular press would suffice..


5) Only one Custom EQ Preset. Once you experience Cowon’s four User Custom presets for EQ/DSP tweaking its hard to go back to one. Why? Many people use different headphones with their mp3 players and it’s nice to fine tune a single preset for one type of headphone and another for another. Also different genres of music can benefit from different EQ's, being able to quickly jump from one to another is a feature I find very hard to live without. But… it is unfair to compare Cowon to Sansa, the price tag alone signifies a different budget of buyer.

6) Useless Timer. I was quite pleased to see a Timer app on the device, after all this is a ‘Sport’ clip. However the minimal time to be configured seems to be 60 secs. Not very useful for those of us who want 15, 30 or 45 second timers.. :/
To be fair Stopwatch works as expected.

7) Other members (docrr) have come across other problems that I have not encountered myself yet, but you should be aware of them nonetheless.

Conclusions & Limitations


This is an odd player. On the one hand for 30quid you get a small footprint DAP capable of very decent sound quality, 25hrs battery life in a small form factor (tho guessing more like 15-18hrs in real world use), expandable memory up to a whopping 80gb (16gb internal + 64gb sd card)! But what use is all that memory if there is a file/folder/song limit of 4000 on the internal memory and 4000 on the external?

Currently with my i9+ (32gb internal memory) I have had to manage this player as being a ‘best of’ music collection, it sure would be nice to have another player with enough storage for all my music (whilst also keeping a low profile size and weight wise). My current collection sits around 64gb, but is comprised of 12,500 files (720 folders/albums/eps).
I bought the 8gb version of the Sport and even with a 64gb card inside I can’t fit all of my music on the player (despite the gigabytes maths telling me otherwise). About 2000 songs on the internal memory (as it states clearly on the box) and another 4000 on the sd card and lo behold I have about half my music collection on the Sport Clip, the same as my current maxed out 32gb Cowon i9+ DAP

I’m scratching my head at what to do with it… I could duplicate my entire music collection and merge all the tracks in a single album to being just one file, that would mean my 64gb collection becomes a 720 file ‘Album only’ player, that would be one way to fit all of my music onto this small player but then I would be forced to listen to an entire album all the way through, or rely on Scanning to find the song I want. Perhaps stitching 3-4 songs together to lesson the file limit and is a good compromise, I just don't know..

But what I do know is that this player desperately needs a rockbox port, it would address every single software flaw because hardware wise there isn’t much to complain about (for 35quid!).

Other users talk of how rockbox is a nice welcome addition to the Sansa line of players, but not a necessity… well you can’t say that about this Sansa Sport. It needs Rockbox to truly survive, as it is it’s attractive to perhaps only a seldom few who are happy to make a compromise.

Sansa’s own stupid firmware is locking down the feasibility and attractiveness of this new player, I hope the firmware updates come fast and furious.

Summary


If battery life isn’t important then you will have a better time with a Clip+ or Clip Zip in yer hands, even without rockbox the stock firmware is more feature packed, less buggy and usable. The addition of rockbox (to these players) addresses many similar limitations that the Sport currently has, as well as opening up to a whole array of new features.

If (like me) you found the Clip+ and Clip Zips battery life just a tad too short then consider the Sport as a possible solution. But it comes with plenty of compromises and additional work for the user to do. That 16gb internal and 64gb sd card combo comes at a price, don’t be fooled!

Rockbox this thing. Nuff said.



PS: Any Rockbox developer in need of a Sport Clip for testing please PM me.
__________________
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SOURCE: Xclef (gone) | Cowon X5(gone) | Cowon D2 (dead) | Sansaclip+ RB | Sansa ClipZip RB | Cowon i9+ (32gb) | Cowon C2 (4gb)
HPs: Soundmagic E10's | Hippo VB's | UE 600's | Superlux HD 668B | Superlux HD660 | Sony XBA3 | Sony XBA2VP
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