Two More Inexpensive MP3 Player/Recorders
Since I published the article “Two Inexpensive MP3 Players” featuring the Geson RV-155 Pro & Aocome L-088 AM: several readers have asked if I could find any inexpensive MP3 players that also had the ability to record. Two such units, the Prunus J-401 and Rolton E500 are the focus of this article. Like the Geson and Aocome these are relatively inexpensive units; the Prunus is currently selling on Amazon for $21.99 and the Rolton goes for $19.99. (See the links at the end of this article). As such I didn’t expect top performance but rather basic functionality – for me the purpose of such units is the ability play audio files stored on a TIFF card and to easily record from the radio or to make non-critical recordings from the built-in mic or other external sources.
Each player has some advantages over the other – for example the Prunus combines AM (520 – 1710 KHz), FM (87 – 108 MHz) and SW (4.75 to 21.85 MHz) reception, while the Rolton is FM (76 – 108 MHz) only. On the other hand, the Rolton has Bluetooth capability and the ability to copy files directly from a PC via its USB jack, while the Prunus features a much more detailed display. As with the mp3 players in that earlier review, neither of these can be described as “serious” radios, and one couldn’t realistically expect them to be considering their features and price, but they are OK for casual listening to local and perhaps semi-local signals. Interestingly, the Rolton has what appears to be a high-tech speaker system with two drivers (left and right) and a bass driver in the center, yet I could not detect any sense of stereo on FM through its speakers or with earbuds…it appears to be mono on FM. However, with a TIFF card I had previously filled with music it did play in stereo and for its size it sounded pretty good. The Prunus, on the other hand did provide stereo on FM through earbuds (it has only a mono speaker) but its sound was much thinner than the Rolton on both speaker and with earbuds. My first Rolton suffered from bad distortion in all modes so I bought a replacement which sounded fine so if you happen to experience severe distortion get a replacement…I am hoping this was a sample defect and not common but one good reason to buy through Amazon is that they make defective returns easy.
Each radio has a keypad for direct frequency entry which is a major improvement over those earlier units I reviewed. Each also has scanning/memory storing modes and the results were typical…lots of false noises were found. I prefer direct scanning or push button entry which both of these radios offer.
Both of these radios can record from their radio, from their built-in mic, from an external source connected to their Aux input and the Rolton can also record from an external Bluetooth device. This would allow you to record a phone call…be sure to check the legalities on that. For fun with friends and family it should be no problem.
Random Notes: The Rolton manual says the lanyard is the FM antenna yet the radio has a whip FM antenna which is also pictured in the instructions and there is in fact, no lanyard…evidently just a mistake in the manual.
The Rolton also has what it calls “Selfie Mode” which lets the radio initiate a selfie picture when connected via Bluetooth to a phone. I can’t imagine how this would be useful but there it is
The Prunus runs on a standard 1200 mAh BL-5C Li-ion Battery but, as with most cellphones these days, you cannot access the battery in the Rolton…short of trying to pry the two halves of the cabinet apart there appears to be no way to open it. The manual refers only to a 1500 mAh battery. Each charges via a standard USB micro connector.
The Prunus offers three quality settings for record modes well as general display settings such as contrast and backlight timing, and 9/10 KHz AM Channel steps.
Each takes a bit of experimentation to master all the functions as the manuals aren’t totally clear on all the fine points. I’m not afraid to admit I was stumped here and there with both units – sometimes I had to try a few things until they suddenly did what I wanted. Welcome to 2021!
The Bottom Line: I have to give the nod to the Rolton but there are some pros and cons to consider. Each of these units will do what it claims which is to record and play audio on Tiff cards as well as provide radio (AM/FM/SW on the Prunus, FM only on the Rolton). The Rolton speakers and headphone output have better sound and Bluetooth which the Pronus lacks as well as the ability to transfer files to and from a PC via USB. The Prunus on the other hand has the ability to record from AM and SW and has more quality settings for record mode and display settings but for listening on its own the Prunus sounds rather thin. I would lean toward the Rolton but just wish it had stereo FM. I guess at this price point you have to pick your battles so I may take a look at some more expensive options in a future article. But for basic recording/playback on a Tiff card each will fill the bill.