We could go on for hours about the evils of proprietary software for encoding and management of MP3s. We could complain incessantly about non-standard media and its various inadequacies, but since both of these (nightmarish at times) issues are wholly prevalent in the world of MP3 players, we’ll skip them for the moment. The Duo Aria is a good idea, flawed by a poor user interface on the unit and in the software, and hamstrung by its niche — cars with cassette decks owned by fans of digital media.
Let’s get all the bad news out of the way — and frankly, it’s a couple of paragraphs of bad news. First up is the cassette-shaped unit itself, designed to slot into any cassette mechanism and play back your MP3s. It’s sort of cool, but kind of (and necessarily) big and heavy. There’s no LCD display, so your only indication of what’s playing is through speakers or headphones — you can’t manage tunes on the device itself.
And although you can use this with a Mac, it requires so much screwing around that it’s not worth it, so it’s Windows-only — another problem with using proprietary software. After all, this uses USB and should be compatible with any USB computer. Oh well. And sadly, the USB connection hardly translates into blistering transfer times. Using the included Duo Aria Manager software is not only an imposition, but also a drearily slow process.
If you can get over some of the initial clunkiness, there’s some good news too. The unit comes complete with everything you need — a car lighter adapter that charges and powers the unit in-car, a battery charger (the battery can be removed from the unit to charge separately) and a separate AC adapter. Naturally it ships with a USB connector and some rather poor in-ear headphones — another complaint that could be leveled at all MP3 players.
Now down to the real meat of the matter. Even while reviewing this, we were weirdly hard-pressed to find a writer with access to a cassette deck. The problem is that most people interested in MP3 collections actually have CD players — but weird niche though that is, it doesn’t affect the overall rating of this product negatively. In fact, if that’s the purpose you desire — an MP3 player that you can stick in your cassette player — then it’s pretty good: expandable and capable. For all other MP3 needs though, there are much better players out there, which are also cheaper, better featured and smaller.