Panasonic's SL-J900 is an MP3 CD player with a twist. It includes an attractive recharging docking station with built-in speakers, so it functions as a desktop CD player as well as a portable--all for a list price of $200.
If not for the headphone and power jacks as well as the standard CD-transport controls subtly lining one edge, the tastefully minimalist 5-inch-square, half-inch-deep player might be mistaken for a silver CD jewel case or a somewhat oversize cigarette case. When snapped into the front of the base station, the player sits centered between a pair of 3-inch-wide speakers and is ringed by a cool, blue glow when powered on. The AC-powered base station juices up the rechargeable batteries, and it features a duplicate set of controls along its top edge. An in-line remote with a one-line backlit LCD is included, along with detachable earbud headphones. The remote conveniently attaches to both the player and the base station.
The SL-J900 plays standard audio CDs, plus MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. The remote displays scrolling filename/ID3 tag information and provides for relatively straightforward folder and track navigation. And thanks to robust skip protection, our music didn't miss a beat during commutes. Three preset equalization modes and a standard array of functions for random, repeat, and 20-track-program play round out the somewhat sparse feature list.
After fully charging for a little more than 2 hours, we averaged about 11 hours of playback time. That's about half the 20 hours delivered by the SL-J900's sister product, the SL-CT800. The latter's Viagra-like stamina comes thanks to its nickel-metal-hydride batteries; for some reason, Panasonic stuck the SL-J900 with less-powerful nickel-cadmium cells. True, you can increase playback time considerably by attaching the supplied AA-powered DC dongle, but some will be put off by its annoying bulk.
Unfortunately, the SL-J900 has a few fundamental flaws. The base unit's built-in speakers sound tinny, even with the bass boosted. The absence of a radio tuner is a notable oversight for a device targeted at the home or office market. The lack of a built-in LCD necessitates the use of the wired remote for any worthwhile navigation--even while docked--and detracts from the player's otherwise elegant design. And the brushed-steel finish of the player's face is somewhat susceptible to scratches.
While those looking for a single-disc desktop CD system may be seduced by the SL-J900 convertible nature and sleek looks, we're not ready to give it the full thumbs-up. The addition of an FM radio, an integrated LCD, better speakers, and longer battery life would help this player fulfill the promise of its unique design.