Review Mello MP3 Player


This review was orginally written for a now-defunct website. Terence Eden - 2016

The Spec

Mello Branded Cyprus CompactFlash MP3 player (v11) + 128MB Compact Flash card (a 128MB CF card gives you 124MB (130658304bytes) which is just about enough for 2 hours of 128Kb music. If you go down to FM quality (64kb) you'll get 4 hours worth of music.).

Manufactured by http://www.themindfactory.com/Products/Mello_MP3/mello_mp3.html

Purchased from http://e2thepower.com for £99.99

  • Acts as a true Plug&Play USB mass storage device.
  • Takes CF type 1 cards from 8MB up to 2GB!
  • 110x80x20mm
  • 75g w/o 2*AA batteries
  • SNR >82dB
  • THD=N (0dB) <-80dB
  • Transfer rate 560KB/sec
  • Compatible with Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
  • Battery life 17+ hours.

A cheap MP3 player from the early 2000s

The Player

The Mello is very light and surprisingly large. It's about the same size as a Sony UltraSlim cassette walkman. The controls are well fairly well arranged (Vol+ Vol- FF RW Stop Play/Pause EQ/Mode). It would have been nice to get a jog dial, but as 128MB really only holds ~42 3 minute songs it's not too much of a hardship. Having said that, the Mello doesn't support directories (you can have sub-directories, but all the songs show in the order they were transferred to the card) and on start up you are presented with

Radioh~1.mp3
Radioh~2.mp3
Blur-s~1.mp3
Blur-T~1.mp3

Yup - no support for ID3 on start up - once it starts to play you get shown the ID3 tag. Although it only stays on screen for 30 sec, so you have to press a button to see what you are listening to!
The volume on the Mello goes quite loud (from 0 - 31) but doesn't remember your last preference (it defaults to 6 which is a little too quiet for my liking). The equaliser (which works remarkably well) also doesn't remember its settings.

Because the Mello acts like a USB hard-drive you can download any sort of file to it and upload from it to any computer. The Mello has a DIR function to let you see its directory, but that too only presents short filenames.

It does feel slightly too.... it's hard to describe... hollow. It's light, fairly sizable and make of cheapish plastic. The unit isn't very rugged and came with a sizable scratch on its back.
The Mello comes with a carry-case with storage pouches that allow you to hold extra CF cards. Because the buttons are on the face of the Mello, it's quite hard to press them if the unit is in your pocket. There is a hold switch to prevent accidental button presses.

How it performed

Tested on WinXP Pro, K6/2-500, 578MB RAM, Quantum Fireball 20GB drive, MoBo GA-5AX.

WinXP detected the device as soon as it was plugged in without any problems.
Sound quality is good, even with the supplied headphone; I detected no hiss. The headphones have a resistance based volume control on them. The equaliser works surprisingly well.
The Mello had no problems playing MP3s from 56kb - 192kb, it might play more but I didn't have any to test with.

The Mello doesn't remember the last track that was being played, so if you stop the unit in the middle of an album, you'll have to trawl through the tracks to find it again. The unit shuts itself off if not being used, which helps conserve battery life.

The Mello doesn't handle seamless MP3 changes particularly well. If you have an album like "Sgt Pepper" or "The Wall" there is a brief but noticeable gap between tracks.

Problems

The manual states that it can be formatted as FAT16 or FAT32. Formatting as FAT32 didn't work in XP but reformatting as FAT did.
It only reads ID3v1 tags - you'll have to make sure you synchronise your tags if you use ID3v2.
The screen isn't backlit, it has two LEDs at the side which give off a gloomy glow that is just enough to see the screen - the buttons don't light up at all. The buttons could do with being slightly larger, better shaped and sized but they are perfectly sufficient.
The USB cable is about 1 metre long, which is just about sufficient. But it has a weird miniature 4-pin end plug which can be a little difficult to plug into the Mello, especially if you're in a rush. I think the cable is proprietary (i.e. non standard) so make sure you look after it.

Transfer Speeds

Radiohead's Amnesiac (39 mins 40 sec / 40.2 MB) took 100 seconds (about 400KB/s). This is slower than the 560KB/s claimed, but it's still very fast, you could fill the whole card in around 5 minutes.

Overall Verdict

This is a great bargain. 128MB MP3 player and removable storage all in one for £99.99. But, it is cheap; it looks plasticky and feels like it wouldn't survive too many accidental drops. The User-Interface is annoying.

7/10. It works, it's cheap, very upgradeable, but has enough usability flaws which stop it being great.

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