The display is big enough to see plenty of menu items clearly.
A boxy, rectangular affair, the Jukebox RD2820 is approximately double the size of the iPod--5.1 by 1.0 by 0.3 inches--and weighs a pretty hefty 11 ounces. You'll definitely notice the Lyra when it's clipped to your hip, but thanks to the sturdy carrying case, it works just fine for listening to tunes while walking (but not running) or biking. Two joystick-style controls and four multifunction buttons make for easy menu navigation on the roomy, 2-inch, diagonal, backlit LCD, which displays plenty of detailed information, including the battery-life indicator that was missing from the 10GB RD2800.
The included car kit covers power and audio connectivity.
Although the Jukebox RD2820 works flawlessly once you set it up, initial configuration presents a couple of issues. After you load new files, either your PC or the Lyra itself must profile the device's music collection, pulling song information from your MP3s' ID3 tags so that the library can be easily sorted. Due to the RD2820's USB 1.1 connection--much slower than the USB 2.0 or FireWire connections used by some other high-end hard drive players--the profiling process draws out an already lengthy setup time. As a result, filling up the device takes about six hours.
The file-transfer speed might not be the fastest available, but at least the process is smart. Like Creative's Nomad Jukebox line, the Lyra syncs both to and from any PC, a feat that is as horrifying to record labels as it is convenient to consumers. Just use the simple LyraSync software to specify which directories on your PC and the Lyra you want to sync, and files transfer both ways until the directories mirror each other. You can also view the RD2820 as a removable hard drive inside My Computer--or on the desktop if you're using a Mac--and ferry MP3s or any other file types back and forth to any machine with the software installed. One important tip: When transferring tunes, make sure to reserve a few megabytes for storing the profile information; otherwise, the profile process will not be successful.
The RD2820 doesn't have an FM tuner, and it can't record audio or organize your contacts. But it does have everything that you need to play MP3s in a variety of ways; you can sort by artist, album, genre, or directory, or you can use a few different Random and Repeat modes. RCA claims that it's also possible to create 18-song user playlists on the fly, but we couldn't do it without connecting to a PC.
This device plays MP3s and MP3Pro, the next-generation codec developed by RCA. Download RCA's MP3Pro encoder, and you'll be able to store files at half the size of MP3, essentially doubling the RD2820's capacity.
RCA includes a healthy dose of EQ options with the RD2820.
Spinning our favorite test tunes, the Lyra churned out loud, clear, and hiss-free music. In addition, the bundled wraparound headphones delivered better sound quality than those that are normally included with portable devices. Six EQ presets, including one five-slider graphical EQ, augment the audio quality. One small annoyance: We occasionally encountered slight delays when toggling between different screens. RCA told us that this is because the hard drive doesn't spin until the buffer is nearly empty, a measure that conserves power.
The unit never skipped during extensive testing, but we wouldn't recommend treating anything with a built-in hard drive too roughly. This model's internal, rechargeable, lithium-ion battery offers improved life over that of the step-down RD2800, dispensing roughly 17 hours of power between charges. That's better than what the iPod and other hard drive-based players deliver.
We sent a 68.6MB album from our test PC to the RD2820's hard drive in 76 seconds, for a file-transfer time of 0.91MB per second. This is the fastest USB 1.1 file transfer that we've seen from an MP3 player, although we do wish that RCA had included USB 2.0 or FireWire support for even more rapid transfers.