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May 18, 2010

Gateway MP3 Photo Jukebox

Gateway's MP3 Photo Jukebox has excellent audio quality. Surprised? I was. With no background in personal audio devices, Gateway pulled this one out of a hat. It looks a little plastic-y, but don't let appearances deceive you--this is a fine performer that will fill your ears with good music. This latest version is 6GB, up from 4GB.

The Photo Jukebox, as the name implies, also displays photos, but with a 128 by 128 pixel screen, you have to ask yourself why. The color screen is easy to read when the backlight is on, however. More important, I think, than viewing photos is the ability to connect to digital cameras that are USB mass storage devices and dump their contents to its hard disk.

In this photo, you see the Photo Jukebox's least-endearing feature, the bulky combo USB interface and power plug. I greatly prefer standard USB connectors and coaxial power connectors (and charging through USB). But if you can get over the clunky, oversized connector, this is a lot of player for the money.

First, let's look at frequency response:

Any day you see less than 10dB droop at the low end of a digital audio player is a good one, and the Photo Jukebox delivers. It's only 4dB or so down at 40Hz, which is premium performance in this class of audio player.

Looking at the same sweep in spectrogram view, you can see that it's very clean:

You can also see that the Photo Jukebox is not phenomenally loud, lacking the bright red stripe of fundamental frequency that's typical for these graphs. Keeping the volume under control probably contributes to keeping distortion under control. The loudest peak I saw on my loudness test track was 102dB of in-ear volume through the provided earbuds, with average loudness in the 96-98dB range.

Now let's kick in some EQ. This is the Jazz Bass preset:

You can see the low-end boost clearly, with only the faintest hint of harmonic distortion in the midbass/low mids area. Again, solid performance. The original 4GB version of the Photo Jukebox had the same mature behavior, by the way.

The Photo Jukebox did well on my 40Hz square wave test, too. Here's the unloaded waveform:

Clean, with just a bit of overshoot. Now let's plug in the earbuds:

As you can see, the waveform gets pulled low, but not all the way to zero. With a little gas left in the tank, the Photo Jukebox has decent bass response, as seen in the octave-band frequency response graph. Listening to the Photo Jukebox is a pleasurable experience.

The Photo Jukebox is compatible with Windows Media Player 10 DRM, and Napster to Go, so you can either buy or rent music. The controls work smoothly, and the color screen makes the menu selections quite readable. When the backlight goes off, however, the screen is unreadable; you've got to touch a button to light it up again.

On the non-audio side, the Photo Jukebox connects to a long list of cameras that operate as USB mass storage devices. You can dump the contents of the camera's memory to the Photo Jukebox for later upload to your computer. Or, using the Photo Jukebox's internal file manager, you can move some or all of the photos to a folder that you can view on the screen. The 128-by-128 pixel screen is rather coarse for photo viewing, and there's no zoom-and-pan feature. But it's no worse than most cell phone camera screens, so you can at least get a sense of what the photo will look like printed out or displayed on a larger screen.

The battery, by the way, is user-replaceable, so you don't have the iPod hassle of sending it back for replacement when it eventually stops accepting a charge.

If you travel with a camera and appreciate good audio, the Photo Jukebox is definitely worthy of your consideration. Heck, even if you don't travel with a camera, it's a solid audio player in its own right.

Posted by machrone at May 18, 2010 11:04 PM

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