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Imagine a unit no larger than a typical portable CD or cassette player, but which holds almost 300 hours of high quality music. Impossible? No! Amazing? Yes!

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The Archos Jukebox Recorder

A miracle of the computer age, this easy to operate unit gives you up to 300 hrs of high quality music for $250 or less.



Once a strange technology for geeks and gadget lovers, MP3 players are now user friendly and functional, suitable and affordable for all of us to use as a wonderfully convenient way of taking our music with us when we travel.

Note - this review was written in April 2002.  Since that time 'state of the art' has evolved amazingly and what was impressive back then is now of historical interest and amusement only.  See our new review (Feb 2007) of the Archos 504 portable multimedia player for an amazing example of how far the industry has moved in not quite five years.

Archos continue to be one of the leaders in the portable music player market and you'd be well advised to consider their current models when deciding what type of player to purchase.

Intro to the Archos unit

The Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 is basically a 20 GB micro-hard disk drive surrounded by batteries, a display, controls and some electronics. The hard disk drive stores music that has been converted to 'MP3' format and the electronics enables you to record or play back music as you wish. A LCD screen and simple controls makes it as easy as a CD player to operate, and the rechargeable NiMH batteries give you close to ten hours of playing between charges.

MP3 Explained

A typical CD uses almost 10 MB to store one minute of music. MP3 is a clever way of compressing the music so that a minute of music requires only about 1 MB of storage, while still sounding almost as good as the uncompressed original music.

The Archos Jukebox comes with software that you can run on any PC or Mac that will enable you to convert your CDs into MP3 format and then copy onto the Archos unit. In addition, you can also record directly from the output of a CD player or tape deck or any other audio source into the Archos Jukebox without the need to use a computer.

See our related article for more about MP3 and how to get the best quality recordings for your Jukebox.

Batteries - and much else - Included

The Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 comes packed in a sturdy box that looks well able to protect it from the worst extremes during shipping. The unit comes complete with a generous collection of extras.

A pair of headphones are supplied - it took me quite a while to work out how to fit them onto my head (the headphone band should be worn on the back of the head rather than on top of the head). The headphones are small, foldable, lightweight, and comfortable to wear, but are not very high quality. I quickly switched to using my Plane Quiet Noise Reducing Headphones instead!

A soft padded carrying case is also provided, but the case is too small to hold both the unit and its headphones. When traveling, I store the unit plus a spare set of batteries in the carrying case, and the headphones separately.

The Archos player measures 4.4" x 2.8" x 1.4" and weighs 12.9 oz.

The unit also comes with a USB cord and a stereo audio cord, plus not one but two sets of four AA sized NiMH rechargeable batteries. One set was already in the unit and charged up, the other is a spare. NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries are much superior to Ni-Cad (Nickel Cadmium) batteries - they hold more charge, have less of a 'memory effect' and can be recharged more times before eventually wearing out (note that Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) batteries are the best type of all but are not available with this unit).

Archos is to be commended for fitting this player with standard batteries.  In contrast, Apple's iPod uses a custom battery that can only be replaced by sending the unit back to Apple and paying a $99 fee.

Archos claim the unit plays for 10 hours on a single battery charge, and although this varies a bit depending on the quality settings and typical playing usage, I have generally experienced about ten hours of life - enough for all but the longest trips.

Suggestion :  The supplied batteries seem to have about a 1500 mAh rating.  Replace them with a set of high-capacity 2100 mAh batteries; this will give you a 40% increase in playing time (eg from 10 to 14 hours).

A recharger/AC adapter is also supplied, and it takes approximately 6 hours for the batteries to be recharged. Opening the battery compartment to swap batteries was a bit tricky and I got the feeling that Archos don't expect you to change batteries all the time, but rather prefer you to leave one set in the unit until they wear out.

A five language manual (the English version being obviously written by a non-native speaker!), a CDrom with software and drivers, and a warranty card complete the contents of the box. The warranty offers a miserly 90 days only, but when I called Archos, the service representative said that they actually provide a full one year warranty.

The unit can also be used as an extra hard disk for your computer (especially with its very fast USB 2.0 capability). If your laptop's hard disk is starting to overflow, this is a great way to take more of your data with you when you travel.

Starting Up

All I needed to do was to plug the player into my computer and the XP operating system automatically recognised it - no need to load any drivers at all. It was easy to create MP3 files using the Archos supplied software (industry leading 'MusicMatch' software is included) and to then copy them, via USB cable, to the Archos unit.

Playing music on the Archos unit is very simple, with clear helpful menus appearing on the LCD screen to guide you around your player. Sound quality depends on the 'encoding rate' you set (more on this in next week's article) but at high encoding rates will suit even the most discerning ear. I calculated that at a 160k encoding rate the unit will hold 283 hours of music! If you guess that the average CD has just under an hour of music on it, this represents 300 CDs, all stored in a compact little unit and instantly accessible.

It is possible to sort the music many different ways, and to create 'play lists' that allow you to program the order in which music is played, rather than just copying the order of music on CDs.

Traveling with the Unit

I took the unit with me on my latest long flight, and it made a wonderful change to have the music of my choice conveniently available. A backlight comes on to make it easy to read the screen and see the keys in a darkened airplane cabin, too. I also brought their supplied adapter cable with me and now have the unit connected up to the tv in the hotel room so I can play music through the tv sound system and speakers when in the hotel room, too!

Of course, on a plane, you should use a set of noise reducing headphones for best sound quality (eg the excellent $80 Plane Quiet headset).

One important issue - if you are traveling internationally, you should purchase their international multi-voltage power supply so you can conveniently recharge the batteries in foreign countries. It costs only $16.

Software Updates

Although this was a brand new product, the first thing I did was go to the Archos website and check for software/firmware upgrades. Sure enough, there were upgrades waiting to be downloaded, with the new software adding a new feature to the player!

Earlier Archos products have seen substantial feature upgrades added to them, and this is a very positive aspect of this software controlled unit - you can hope for it to get 'better' with free software upgrades in the future.

How to Buy the Unit

Archos offer a range of different units with different capacities and optionally the ability to record as well as play back, and with various video and other capabilities as well.

Most of the time you will not need the record capability because you can do this on any PC or Mac with a CDrom drive.

The units are for sale through their website, of course.  Units can also be bought through many online discounters.

Should You Buy One?

Yes, you should! This 20GB player costs under $250 - less than $1 per hour of music storage! In return you get a very flexible and versatile product that will give you hours of pleasure in return. You can take more music with you when you travel, and in less space and weight than with CDs or cassettes. It is simple and convenient to use.

Highly recommended.

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Originally published 26 April 2002, last update 20 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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