So I’ve been playing around with a Brennan JB7 Micro Jukebox for a few days, and I’m torn, really torn. A good chunk of me enjoys the simplicity and ease of use of this rip and play micro Hi-Fi system, while the other bit is quietly wondering whether there’s a market for it out in the big, bad iPod dominated music world? Does this do anything that a dock enabled MP3 player won’t? Does it matter that it’s not portable? How useful is it to have a fast rip and play device on your shelf? Let’s find out…
First Impressions. The JB7 comes as either a standalone unit or a full Hi-Fi kit with two heavyweight speakers, and the first thing you notice as you un-box the system is the absolute colossus of a power supply that comes with it. I haven’t seen anything that massive since the days of 2 GHz laptop computers, and it’s scary. This is an early production unit I’m testing here, so perhaps that’s the reason, or maybe they’ve decided that you need a foot-stool to go along with your listening pleasure. Whatever, it’s weird, and far too naff retro to be healthy.
The documentation is likewise very Japanese 70s and not hugely useful (again I’m going to put this down to early-unit syndrome) which makes it just as well that the device is very easy to operate. The unit looks OK too, even though it won’t win any design awards, with a simple square shape, a nice big blue display - designed to be viewable from a couch across the room - and simple to operate buttons and knobs. Fans of modern Apple white will probably hate it, but it’s not ugly at all, which is good. The remote is standard Far East and getting the whole thing up and running is a no-brainer. Plug and play indeed.
In Use. The JB7 has an internal 60W RMS (i.e. LOUD) amplifier, a 40 or 80GB hard disk and a nice fast 8x CD ripper running off a 400MHz processor, so to get started you just stick a CD into the slot, press ‘Load CD to HD’, wait 4–5 minutes and you’re done. You can even play music while ripping, so you can load your full CD collection onto the hard drive at your own pace (they say you can load around 30 CDs in an evening). The system also contains the 2.2 million FreeDB album database so most albums will be correctly labeled and catalogued automatically, and the ripping process can be set up to operate at either no compression for total audio fidelity at the cost of lots of disk space, 128k bp/s, 192k or 320k high quality, which gives much more sound quality flexibility than with alternatives such as the old defunct SongCube from Brookstone.
A lot of thought has clearly gone into the search interface of the JB7, and it really helps to make the system accessible. It has a fast dial function search which brings up a list of music very quickly, and there are 7 instant access playlists, which you can select with one button on the remote. The other nice feature is the one button power up & play – just hit the Next button – which starts up the device and plays a random selection from the hard disk. We’re talking instant gratification when you get home from work. Sound quality is good too, although it’s very surprising to find there’s no bass, treble or equalisation controls at all, which makes me think the unit is really designed to be plugged into a full blown Hi-Fi system rather than run standalone with its own speakers.
No modern music system would be complete without the ubiquitous iPod docking compatibility and this puppy is no exception. It sports a very standard USB 2.0 slot on the front panel and Line Out and Aux In sockets on the rear, so you can connect just about anything you like to the jukebox to get music in or out as you need. A real winner is the fact that you can back up your music collection to another external USB hard disk for double safekeeping. You can also slot your MP3 phone into the front USB and play that (or transfer tracks to it) which makes the device something of a music hub.
Conclusion. I started this review in two minds about the JB7, but I’m coming to realise that this is a product which definitely has some sort of place in the market. On the face of it, there are several obvious omissions in the spec sheet – no FM radio, audio controls, no net access or networking/wireless for instance – but I think that the development team has decided that the target market for the product is the non-technical user who just wants to move their CD collection over to a hard disk as quickly as possible without having to think about integration with iTunes, using a PC or any other technical complication. The JB7 fits that need to a T.
As for portability for every person who wants to walk around the streets with Britney playing at full blast in their ears, there are probably 10 who just want to transfer their Mozart collection to a simple to use system which will either hook up to their existing stereo system or standalone. And let’s not forget the fact that this is all nicely free of any nasty DRM copy protection, so no nasty transfer problems here, m’dears. Whether these users will be willing to spend £299.00 for this simplicity is something else entirely, however. Time will tell. At the end of the day, it’s a robust, good looking device with a well thought out interface and a lot of useful features. Let’s hope that it finds its market before Apple brings out something similar.
- Stores 600CDs on 80Gb disk – normal compression.
- Stores up to 1200CDs on 80Gb disk – most compressed, typical CDs
- Total 60W RMS * 32 key credit card remote
- 2.2 million album track name database – update on CD
- Text Search for Track or Album by remote control or front panel
- Segue – blends one track into the next – cool
- 180 x 32 soft scrolling graphic vacuum fluorescent display
- Compact 4.8 x 16 x 22 cm
- 1.6kg steel and aluminium construction
- One touch startup – relax let JB7 pick the tracks
- One touch rip – transfer a CD track to MP3 player
- One touch record – convert vinyl to MP3s
- Loads CDs at 8x – play music while loading
- Battery backed up clock with alarm
- MP3 encode at 128k, 192k or 320k – done automatically
- USB 2.0 Full Speed 12 Mbits / sec – compatible with USB Mass storage class devices formatted with FAT16 or FAT32 – Ipods, MP3 players, MP3 mobile phones, USB memory sticks, USB hard drives.
- Rear connectors – loudspeakers, line in, line out, headphone, 24V DC
- Backup music and playlists to external USB hard disk for safe keeping
- 400MHz Blackfin processor with Dual MAC
- Find and play MP3s on MP3 players and USB drives as if they were internal
- Transfer MP3s to and from USB
- External 24V power supply – included NB Ipods will only play music loaded by Itunes software
- Price : 40GB model – £299.00 (80 GB £319.00) Complete with speakers – £358.00 (£378.00)
- High speed, one button CD rip with FreeDB album data
- Fast music search via remote or dial button.
- Zero DRM copy protection issues with your music
- Respectable power output
- Ripping quality flexibility
- External hard disk backup built in
- Aux In for ripping LPs, Tape or external audio to hard disk
- No network/wireless connection
- No Internet connection
- No audio controls apart from volume
- No FM radio