View Full Version : The Neuros DAC: reviewing outdated but interesting technology

2010-Jul-11, 06:02 PM
I first came into contact with the Neuros DAC (http://www.minidisc.org/part_Neuros_Digital_Audio_Computer.html) when looking to upgrade from my (long lost) MD recorder (http://www.minidisc.org/part_Sharp_MD-MS701+MS702.html). I am not and have never been a fan of Apple products (various reasons - and beyond the point of this review) so I was searching for an alternative to the Ipod. Something that would offer wide audio file codec support and have a large amount of storage.

Here is a quick rundown of features:
FM Transmitter built-in
swappable backpacks (storage)
FM receiver
HiSi - record a section from the radio and have Neuros' software tell you what song it is
OGG Vorbis support
USB 2.0 connection
Mic-in: record at up to 48k in wav format. Can also encode on the fly to MP3.

We'll start with the form factor. This thing, with its removable backpack, is like walking around with a brick strapped to your hip. Portable... is not what I would call it. It is 'transportable'. My wife recently purchased a Zune HD and... well... they are rather different.

The advantage the Neuros has is that the backpack contains a 2.5" IDE drive. I have recently swapped a 160 gig drive into it. There is a firmware limit, though, that means I only get about 120gigs of space to use. In addition to being a backpack it can also function as a standalone drive. This may seem superfluous at first but when I was working as a field tech I found carrying multiple flash drives and so forth rather tedious. Having not only my audio archive but also being able to use my Neuros as a standalone drive was *really* a neat feature.

We'll move on to the DAC itself. Many 'car kits' for MP3 players feature a radio transmitter. The Neuros DAC has this as a built-in feature. That is handy for a number of reasons. It means, among other things, one less wire to worry about. I found the transmitter to be on-par with current aftermarket kits. The DAC also has a jack for hooking up an external antenna but for most usage it is unnecessary. The built-in antenna is quite capable.

The DAC and Neuros' computer software also have something that no other play I'm aware of have: HiSi. It works like this: You listen to a radio station over the Neuros. A song comes on that you love but they never seem to say what song or artist it is and its *DrIvInG yOu NuTs!!!*. Hit a button and the Neuros records 30 seconds of the song. When you connect to your computer the software goes and finds the song and artist.

I have not used HiSi recently but when I had my first Neuros (which I broke) I used this feature quite a bit. It could never find the more obscure songs but did manage to find some I thought would be difficult. Of course more common music is often a 100% hit.

I do think that modern players that have FM receivers should have a HiSi-like feature. It would be an interesting way to sell a few more songs here and there. And it really does drive me crazy when I don't know what a song is.

OGG support was interesting to have back when the Neuros came out. And it is still a rather odd feature to have. OGG uses quite a bit more processor power than MP3 does, and is correspondingly better-sounding. It is a lossy codec but sounds considerably better than even the highest rate MP3. The Neuros does slow down its responses when playing an OGG. And for a player that was built prior to 2005 that is pretty impressive - that it can play them at all.

There is something else the Neuros has that is rather impressive. It is lost on many people as MP3s have really quite bad sound quality. And the earbuds most people make use of are, to say the least, not ideal.

The Neuros has the absolute best fidelity I have ever heard out of *any* portable player. It is essentially an order of magnitude better than even the Zune HD. And the same can be said of its recording abilities (incidentally it has a built-in mic as well, for use as a dictation device for example). Some reviewers still use it as reference in fact.

Thus far I have been unable to ID the hardware it uses or technical reasons this should be so. Perhaps someone in-the-know can aid with this?

So here we have an old large brick of a thing. It is cumbersome. Its screen will garner laughs from modern devices. But its abilities are still ahead of the game in many ways. Its mutli-role capabilities make it my go-to device whenever I leave the house as well. I wish I had it back when I was recording concerts (legally, it was a local band) as well since its recordings are really quite amazing.

I am awaiting a modern device that is as capable. One that supports OGG, can record, has a built-in transmitter, etc etc. Neuros themselves have had a rumored DAC 3 in the works for some time now but I don't think it will ever come to fruition.