Trekstor Vibez review
Image © Trekstor
I must say, I almost gave up on this player. I've had it since April, 2007, and at that time it looked promising. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic sounding player, it's just that Trekstor didn't seem to care. I ordered the docking station with the player, but I was told it didn't exist. Why they let me order it and wait for a month to tell me so is beyond me. Anyway, around November 2007 Trekstor picked up the player again, and started pumping out firmware updates, and the long awaited docking station. Originally equipped with a microdrive, they planned 8, 12 and 15 GB versions, but the latter never came, allegedly because their microdrive supplier went out of business. Nowadays, there are 4 and 8 GB flash version. 8 GB for me is the bare minimum for a portable audio device. I have the 12 GB version.
The Vibez failed on me miserably, once. During a 2 week holiday in the Tiroler Alpen (Austria), the player had the guts to reformat its own harddisk, just 3 days after we left home. The only source of music we have in the car is the Vibez. And, being a musician myself, you can imagine how I feel about having music on the road.
I parked, turned off the Vibez, went away for about 2 hours, and when I came back, turned it on again, and then it said: "please add music to your player", or something to that extent. Everything (about 9 GB) was gone.
The parking lot I was at was located at 8,500 ft, at the end of a glacier road. So I'm hoping it's the thin air that made it act up like it did. I only had an old notebook with me with limited software tools, so no way to recover the data. No music for the rest of the holiday. Crap! All the trouble I went through to listen to the Vibez in my car with the Trekstor dock not available, and then it screws up after 3 days. Imagine my joy. I used to have an Archos Jukebox brick. It worked flawlessly for 4 years, though its build quality could be characterized as damn cheap Chinese stuff
Back home I filled up the Vibez again and it's been doing ok ever since, although it needs a hard reset every so often.
What drew me towards this player is its user interface, which seemed to be directly derived from the highly rated Rio Karma. Together with a full featured 5 band parametric EQ, an extensive list of supported audio formats and a stainless steel back cover, this seemed like a winner.
Looks - Let's face it, she's not a beauty, more like a retro-modern chrome-black hot dog. The display is very small. The control wheel is very big. But who cares what it looks like? At least it sets itself apart from all the bars and boxes. It fits in your hand like an expensive hand tool and feels very solid. However, the front, and especially the bulging display window is easily scuffed. If you care about this, you should definitely get a protective skin or pouch.
Control - The main control is the big dial under the screen. When I just got the player, the wheel was slightly touching the opening it sits in. This made it simply impossible to turn it with any precision. After a break-in period, things got a lot better, but I still don't like the imprecise feel of the wheel. The newer firmwares allow you to operate the player with just the directional and center buttons, not having to bother with the wheel anymore. It seems as if Trekstor wanted to copy the virtual touch wheel on a certain popular media player (of which the name shall not be mentioned), but did not exactly come up with something equalling it.
Sound - Well, a digital audio player should really be judged by its audio quality, right? But first, dispose of the included Sennheiser earbuds immediately. No, really. Throw them in the trash. Don't even give them to your neighbour's kids. Most reviewers seem to agree that they don't sound bad for included buds, but I strongly disagree. They sound awfully, horribly, terribly bad. Even for included ones. Good loudspeakers are expensive, why would this be any different for good ear phones? Hook up a pair of in-ear monitors. The entry level Shure and Ultimate Ears sound great (and I mean great) and won't break the bank. They require a little effort to insert properly, and a little tweaking with the different ear tips, but this fiddling is rewarded with breathtaking sound immersion. I have a pair of Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio in-ear phones and although they're not exactly perfect, they sound similar to the "AKG K171 studio" headphones we use for our home studio. Impressive stuff. For more info on the Ultimate Ears, check my review.
Now that we've connected the proper human interface devices, let's listen to the Vibez.
- Portable - I converted my CD collection to MP3 a few years back, and at the time I couldn't descern between CD audio and MP3 encoded at 128 kb/s. With the Vibez and the Ultimate Ears, I must start all over again. MP3 at 128 kb/s sounds terrible! There's a kind of harshness and graininess about it, and some parts are even slightly out of tune! Having now bumped up most of my MP3s to VBR averaging at 200 kb/s there's definitely detail I haven't heard anywhere else but on the original CDs using the AKG K171 studio headphones me and my girlfriend use for music making. I'm impressed!
- Studio - It's nothing fancy, but I happen to have a home studio with a pair of active near field monitors. The Vibez rocks on this setup. Of course, it might be the limited capabilities of my ears, but the Vibez sounds just as good as my M-audio Delta 66. Neutral, and very detailed. Unfortunately, I can't turn up the volume for extended periods of time without getting in trouble with the neighbours.
- Car stereo - 2 Alpine 4" coaxials in the front and a 12" sub in the back on a Sony amplifier. After tweaking the 5 band parametrics the Vibez is able to actually cough up a sound stage and pretty balanced sound at very high levels.
Docking station - The docking station was released only recently (January 2008). It complements the Vibez nicely. It's made of the same rubbery material as the player, as is the thumb sized remote. The only thing wrong with the dock is its weight. It really is too light and will shift and possibly fall if you jumble the cables. You really need to fix the thing to some sort of heavy base plate, or even to the table top. The charger wall wart is a standard USB charger, meaning it has a normal A-type female connector. To connect the dock, you need to hook up the provided A-male to A-male mini USB cable. It would have been nicer to connect it directly. Now you have 3 meters of excess cable.
The good points
- Audio quality is simply superb
- Equalizer is superb
- Extensive list of supported audio formats
- Extremely pocketable form factor
- Battery life is pretty OK
- Firmware upgrades are exactly that: upgrades. You actually get more stuff instead of just bugfixes
- No video support or FM radio out of the box, so I don't have to pay for what I won't be using anyway
- The scroll wheel is pure horror
- Screen cover is easily scratched. Stainless steel back is sturdy, but also easily scratched
- It failed misably on me once (see grey box) and crashes every so often
- The docking station took forever to become available
- The screen is smallish, and only readable up close, luckily someone made a Vibez color scheme tool
- There's an earcrushing BANG during power up. Can't believe no-one is complaining about this.
So, in conclusion, it's a great sounding player with a few annoying quirks. Would I buy it again if it broke? Definitely not. In fact, 2 years after dabbling with it, I got a Sony NWZ-A729, which is about five steps higher regarding build quality, while offering the same sound quality (but better sound out of the box), and twice the run time.
- My Car stereo page shows how I use the Vibez and its docking station
- Trekstor's Vibez product page
- Riovolution (includes a user forum)
- Anything but Ipod review
- CNET review