At a Glance
While most vendors rush to cram more stuff into their hard-drive-based MP3 players--from FM receivers and transmitters to voice recorders and miscellaneous digital inputs--Rio takes a different tack with its Karma. The device comes with a handsome cradle that lets you skip the chore of constantly reconnecting the USB 2.0 and AC adapter cables to the player. The cradle's ethernet port allows you to add the device to a network, assign it an IP address, and move its files to and from your LAN. The cradle also has dual RCA ports so you can connect it directly to your component-style stereo system.
The Karma certainly won't beat Apple's Ipod in any beauty contests, but the somewhat squat-looking device fits well in your hand, and its manageable dimensions and weight (3 inches high by 2.7 inches wide by 1.1 inches deep and 5.5 ounces) make it relatively easy to pocket. An intuitive scroll wheel, Riostick mini-joystick , and menu key on the right side make accessing the unit's contents easy, even when you're on the move (and southpaws can flip the screen orientation).
Our biggest criticism of the unit's exterior involves the plastic faceplate's tendency to scratch. After a few days of light use, we had marked up the unit noticeably--a situation not helped by Rio's decision to forgo a case in favor of a silly cloth pouch that resembles a sock with a drawstring.
Transferring files to the Karma requires one of two programs: the bundled Rio Music Manager 2 or Real Network's free downloadable RealPlayer. We used Music Manager and found the process of moving nearly 18GB of MP3s onto the Karma relatively painless and speedy. The software can rip and encode CDs into all of the Karma's supported codecs, including Windows Media, Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC), and the geek-savvy Ogg Vorbis (MP3 encoding requires a free download from the Rio Web site that should be available by the time you read this). Rio Taxi, another bundled program, lets you transfer data files to and from the player.
Beyond its sound quality (rated at an impressive signal-to-noise ratio of 95 dB) the Karma's greatest strengths are its clear display and comfortable interface, which make it easy to search for music by artist, album, track, playlist, genre, or year. A feature of particular note is the Rio DJ, an immensely enjoyable tool that automatically generates playlists based on parameters you set, such as your most recently added tracks, songs you've had in heavy rotation, or even stuff you've forgotten about. Other interesting features include the ability to create and save your own custom playlists--mixing and matching your favorite tunes--away from your PC, an equalizer with numerous presets, and a programmable cross fader.
Music sounded crisp, clear, and plenty loud through the included Sennheiser MX300 earbuds, which are a small step above what vendors usually include with players. Similarly, the Karma's rechargeable battery was a notch more powerful than the norm: One charge lasted for more than 14 hours of continuous playback in our tests.
Unique features like Rio DJ, the ethernet connector, and support for multiple codecs--plus excellent sound quality and battery life--compensate for this attractively priced unit's shortcomings (such as no FM receiver, remote, or case).