"Great player but don't expect it to play your AAC audio files"2.5 starson by DrRadio
Pros: Easy Navigation, Memory Slot, FM Radio, Bright Screen, Light Weight with a Durable Feel, Competitive Pricing
Cons: It doesn't really support the AAC audio file format
Summary: If you’re like me you might be considering the Creative Zen because you’re looking for an alternative to the Apple Music Monopoly. Actually, I have nothing against Apple I just like having alternatives when it comes to purchasing and playing my music. As consumers we each have a slightly unique tastes in music and there’s no reason why we should all shop at same store and play our music on the same white music players.
Most of my music has actually come from CD’s I’ve purchased over the years. CD quality is still about as good as it gets for a widely adopted consumer audio format. That being said CD’s have their drawbacks so over the years I’ve ripped all of my music onto the computer using the ‘lossless’ file format called FLAC. FLAC is cool because it is an open standard that does lossless data compression (unlike an MP3 that does lossy compression meaning it will never quite sound like the original CD).
Lossy audio compression is an unavoidable evil when it comes to playing your music on a portable device because of limited storage size. While MP3 is the most recognizable form of audio compression, it’s been around for a long time and now has newer alternatives, one being the AAC MPEG standard. AAC was a huge audio advancement and does a better job of preserving the original audio quality while compressing the file smaller as compared to the MP3. Until recently about the only audio player that supported AAC file playback was the iPod which had other limitations (Price, no FM Radio or expandable memory). Then came the Zen.
On the outside of the box the Creative Zen touts, “Enjoy your favorite music in MP3, WMA, and non-protected AAC (.M4A) formats”. I was thrilled to see this, it was the portable media player I had been waiting for. I brought it home and proceeded to convert all of my FLAC stored music into a compressed AAC format so I could take my music with me. To do the conversion I choose a freely available AAC encoder made available by Nero which I had used in the past with impressive results. Here’s where my frustrations began.
I loaded up the Zen and pressed play. “Audio format is not supported” This couldn’t be.. it says clearly on the box that AAC IS supported? I emailed Creative Labs support and explained my problem assuming there was a simple setting in the file encoder I had missed. Within 24 hours I received an email back explaining that “AAC is the file format that was developed by Apple for Apple so when using any other program except iTunes the AAC files may not work correctly”.
First, I knew enough to know that AAC was NOT developed by Apple, it was developed by a collaboration of lots of companies who all participated in the MPEG standards making process. Apple was not one of those.
Second and more importantly, I just purchased the Creative Zen as a competitive device to the Apple product and I’m being told I’ll need to rely on Apple iTunes software to encode AAC files so they’ll work on it? The purpose of adhering to a standard like MPEG is to guarantee that various devices and encoders all play nice with one another. Sadly it appears the Zen has a half implemented version of AAC.
I want to be a fan of the Zen, I really do! It’s a cool device with lots of nice features not found in the iPod like a FM Radio, Expandable Memory Slot, Voice Recorder and a great light-weight form factor. Unfortunately the main feature that inspired me to buy the Zen is broken. I hope they choose to fix the AAC feature soon if ever.
As a side note my old iPod has no problems playing the AAC files I had created using the non-iTunes, Nero software. Go figure?