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iRock! BLiNG MP3/CD/FM Player: If the 128MB MP3 players don't provide enough storage, and the 5GB drives are too expensive, nothing beats the price/storage ratio of CDs.

Date: January 28, 2003
Written By:

CDRs are great in that they don't cost a whole lot, and they provide at least 650MB of storage. It also helps that they're dirt cheap, and every home PC is probably equipped with a burner. With the popularity of MP3s, if you don't have a few gigabits on your hard drive, you probably have a whole bunch backed up to CDs.

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Portable MP3 players, let alone CD MP3 players, are nothing new. A couple of advantages these CD based players have is they're either cheaper than hard drive based players, or they hold more than solid state players. They also have the benefit of being able to play regular music based CDs.

iRock! is a spin-off of Motorola that manufactures a wide range of MP3-based products. Sean has reviewed the iRock! 530 recently, and today we'll be checking out the iRock! BLiNG...


Plays MP3 CDs (CD-R, & CD-RW) & standard audio CDs, in both 12cm & 8cm sizes
Remote Control with FM tuner
Playback Resume function
Bright Backlit 3 line LCD display
Supports ID3 tags; displays song title, artist, bit rate and elapsed time
Built in battery charger with auto-switch function for quick and normal charge
6 preset Equalizer modes: Flat, Rock, Classic, Jazz, Pop, and Bass
User Friendly Navigation System includes album sort and alphabetic search functions
Play Modes: Normal, Repeat 1, Repeat All, Random, Intro and program list
120 sec MP3 Electronic Skip Protection
Supports bit rates from 32Kbps to 320 Kbps
Hold function - Prevents accidental key actions
Up to 15 hrs continuous playback on 2 AA Alkaline batteries
Power Save Mode: 30 sec Auto Off in STOP and 60 sec in OPEN
UL/CSA, CE Approved
Size: 5.1" x 5.8" x 1.1"
Weight: Approx 8 ounces (235 grams)
Display: LCD with Electro luminescent backlight
Audio Output (Earphone): 7mW +/- 10% @ 16 ohm load; 100Hz - 20kHz
Audio Output (Line): 707mVrms +/- 10% @ 10k ohm load; 20Hz - 20kHz
Battery Power: (2) 1.5V AA Alkaline or (2) 1.2V AA Rechargeable
Battery Life: 12-15 hours (MP3 mode / 128 kbps); 8-10 hours (Audio CD mode)
Power Adapter: Input: 110V +/- 10% (European version available); Output: 4.5V DC@ 650 ma
File Systems Supported: CD-ROM (ISO9660), Joliet, Multisession, CD-Extra and Mixed CD
Signal to noise ratio: > 85 db
Total Harmonic Distortion: (@1kHz): <0.5%
Channel Separation: >40dB
ESP: 120 sec MP3; 45 sec Audio CD
Audio Connector: 3.5 mm headphone jack

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If there's one complaint I have thus far, it's the packaging. If you think opening DVD packages is annoying, the BLiNG vacuum wrap is even more so. After working on it for about 10 minutes with a pair of scissors, I got the packaging open. Other than the MP3 player, you also get a remote control that clips to your belt, ear-bud headphones, an AC/DC power adapter, a couple AA bateries and an owner's manual.

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The BLiNG resembles a standard CD player in that they are about the same size. That's where the differences end however, as this unit can also play MP3s from CD, as well as allowing you to tune into your favorite FM station. One criticism I do have is the unit doesn't feel all that sturdy since it's made up mostly of plastic. There isn't much rubber to protect the unit from accidental drops or bumps, but unfortunently, this construction seems to be the norm among most manufacturers.

Powering on the unit requires you to press down on the play pad, which also turns off the unit, and skips forwards and backwards through tracks. Just above the play disc, you have your equalizer, which allows you to choose pre-programmed formats such as jazz, and pop. The volume controls are also located in the upper right, and at maximum volume, it can get quite loud.

The lower buttons are the more advanced navigation tools. You have the A-B/Program button which you can use to setup a group of songs to play. The File/Directory button is used to cycle and search through your MP3 CD. It goes alphabetically, and can be useful to pick out tracks.

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The BLiNG works on either 2 x AA batteries, or you can use the included AC/DC adapter. Other than powering the player on its own, it also recharges the unit if you're using rechargable batteries. Be careful to keep the switch on the bottom of the player off though if you're using standard batteries. You will kill your batteries, as well as damaging the BLiNG.

The Hold button keeps the unit from switching tracks or stations accidently. Basically, it locks the button functions on the player, so if it's bouncing around in your pocket, or bag, the volume won't suddenly spike up.

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Sliding the Open button will pop the unit open. Although it is easy enough to figure out, it is almost too easy. There is no lock, so there is nothing to prevent you from flipping it open while the BLiNG is playing.

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The BLiNG can support any device that uses a standard 1/8" sound jack. This includes most headphones, and most PC speakers. A set of ear-bud headphones are included, and they do an adequate job, but if you're serious about your music, you'll probably want to use your own set of headphones.

The remote has all the functionality of the BLiNG buttons, which is quite a feat considering the number of controls present. It also serves as the FM tuner, and it's needed if you wish to listen to the radio.

Using the BLiNG

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The BLiNG's LCD display is backlit, making navigation in the dark fairly easy. When you drop the Music/MP3 CD in, the player initializes, and detects the proper format for playback. ID tags are also supported, so long as the MP3s you're playing have them.

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The LCD also displays the equalizer settings. Although the sound differences are obvious, if you need to check them, they are there. There are a total of six settings... flat, rock, pop, bass, classic, and jazz.

Click to Enlarge (It's blurry intentionally)

Because it isn't a solid state player, I had some initial concerns about skipping if the BLiNG is use. The specifications state a two minute electronic skip protection (ESP), and 45 seconds for audio CDs, I was determined to put it to the test. I chucked the player up and down in my hands, as well as giving it a few shakes for good measure, and the player continued playing my tunes without issue. However, large knocks, such as knocking off my desk onto my floor did result in the player skipping, but only once. What I am concluding is that if you're using the player on the bus, or jogging, you shouldn't have any problems, but I wouldn't try breakdancing while using the BLiNG.

The sound quality is very good, though ultimately, the quality will depend a lot on the headphones, as well as the MP3 quality. I'm not an audio expert, nor have I ever claimed to be, but playing the same MP3 CD on my PC (SB Audigy), as well as on the BLiNG, and I'd be hard pressed to tell you which sounded better.

CD testing was uneventfull, which is a good thing. All audio CDs tested, about 15 of them, all played without a hitch. MP3s converted to standard music CD format also played without any problems. MP3 CDs worked fine also, but ID tags were missing from a few songs, which is the fault of the software that ripped them. I tested a mix of audio and MP3 CDs burned to Sony CDR & CDRW, Kodak CDR, Verbatum CDR & CDRW, and one generic CDR, and all played just fine.

Button use is another story. By default, you should be alright using the basic buttons, but navigating through your MP3 disc can be tricky without looking at the player. Now, you shouldn't be wearing this when you're driving, so for the most part, the navigation issues is not that big of a deal.

Battery life was excellent. I was expecting about 14 hours of playback time, which is what it states in the specifications, so I programmed a set of songs to be constantly played and repeated, and let it run overnight. The next day, the player was still running, and after about 12 hours, it stopped. Although it seemed to have fell short, I did use the player during basic testing (pre-overnight battery test), and the quality of the batteries will play a part in it's battery life.

Final Words

Although I was impressed by Sean's review of the iRock 530, I had a few reservations about the BLiNG. I have owned portable CD players in the past (we're talking a long time ago), and a few things that used to bother me were the constant skipping, as well as a lack of a FM tuner. I actually don't listen to a whole lot of CDs this day, mostly because I hate carrying 20 of them around just to get 20 songs I like. MP3s are convenient, but I half expected similar issues I've had with CD players to be present with the BLiNG.

After working with the BLiNG for about 2 weeks, I can say that this is an excellent product. It can do almost everything a software based player can do, and unlike a PC, you won't get odd stares carrying the player on the bus. Sound quality was very good, but I don't use the included headphones (except for testing), and much prefer my Sennheisers. When battery life is low, I can easily switch to the FM tuner to tune out the commuter snoring next to me on the bus. The ESP is the real deal, and you'll be hard pressed to make it skip in day-to-day use.

My only complaints are minor. iRock! certainly needs to incorporate a lock for the player to prevent it from opening while it's in use. It would also be nice to have the FM tuner capabilities built into the player itself, though I do understand the remote acts as an antenna. Nothing could be done about the size of the unit, but maybe a little more rubber or metal would make me a little more confident that I won't break it by sitting on it.

Despite my initial hesitation, I am truly impressed by the features of this product. It isn't perfect, but the problems were minor, and if the thought of 150 MP3s on a 0.50$ CDR appeals to you, then this is the player to get. The FM capabilities and remote are bonuses to me, and considering its low price tag, the BLiNG is a heck of a bargain.

Pros: Easy to use, great sound quality, ESP works as advertised, FM tuner, handy remote, good battery life, low priced.

Cons: Can't lock the unit shut.

Bottom Line: The all-in-wonder of MP3 players, this one does it all. If you're still using a portable CD player, it's time to move on. Selling at about 85$, you'll be hard pressed to find another MP3 player, CD, solid state, or hard drive based, that can do what the BLiNG can do in this price range, or 100$ above it.

If you got any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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