Bernard Howard, SOAS
The iRiver H320 is a versatile and compact device at just 103mm by 62mm by 23mm and weighing 183 grams. It has a 20 Gigabyte hard drive with USB connectivity; and its media capabilities extend to a FM receiver, MP3 player/recorder, text viewer and data storage, and a picture viewer for JPEG and BMP images.
Listening mode: Radio, WAV and MP3
As an audio player (WAV/MP3) and in radio mode the iRiver H320 is similar to today’s popular players such as the iPod, with 20 Gigabyte storage space for recorded or pre-recorded audio. In listening mode it can be connected to headphones or an amplifier via the line out socket to provide good playback sound quality.
The iRiver H320 records only in MP3 format. While MP3 is not optimal for making original language documentation recordings, the H320 can still be useful for storing and playing back audio, or as a backup recorder. The internal mic provides only mono recording, although stereo recording is optionally available when using input from the tuner, external mic and line in (although selecting mono mode in these cases will provide twice the length of recording).
The sample rate is fixed at 44.1 kHz but the bit rate can be set from 40 to 320Kbps (limited to 40 to 128Kbps for the internal mic). The recording quality using the internal mic was quite reasonable when using 128Kbps but noticeably poorer at lower bit rates.
Using an external Sony ECM-MS957 mic it was easy to make good stereo recordings at 44.1 kHz, 320 Kbps. Other tests using the same mic (recording my son playing piano 128Kbps and a blues band in a pub 256Kbps) were also good. In doing these tests, I discovered a mysterious quirk where the H320 suddenly stopped recording, despite the battery being half full and there being plenty of space on the hard drive. Eventually I found in the manual that the H320 is set to stop once a recording reaches 200Megabytes in size (and this setting is not user changeable!).
The H320 has USB connectivity which allows data to be transferred to or from a computer. It is thus a useful device for backing up or transferring audio recorded on a solid state recorder (such as a Marantz PMD670 or 671; see David Nathan's review of this machine). Other devices such as digital cameras, memory sticks, mp3 players etc. may also be connected to the H320 using its host USB socket. This allows files to be loaded to and from these devices without the need for a computer, and seemed to work without complication.
Battery life and powering options
The iRiver H320 is powered by its internal battery or its external mains power supply. The internal battery is a lithium polymer battery which will power the H320 for about five hours of recording and longer for listening in radio or player mode.
Like some iPods, the iRiver 320’s battery charge is gradually lost even if not used, and was empty after about four days. This means that it will typically need to be charged before use. Charge time from completely empty is about 3 hours. It can be charged from its mains charger, a car cigarette lighter socket (with suitable 12 to 5 volt adapter), or using a USB charger (although charging via the USB connection was quite slow).
An auxiliary battery pack that allows the H320 to use ordinary AA alkaline or re-chargeable batteries can be purchased optionally, and is strongly recommended to provide flexibility in field situations.
Controls and display
Learning the controls of the H320 was a bit frustrating and required an afternoon with the instruction manual. For example, to access the menu, the NAVI button must be pressed for about 1 second; pressing it momentarily gives a listing of the current tracks playing. Similarly, short and long presses are used to different functions on various buttons. Usefully, all controls may be locked by using the hold switch.
The colour display is clear, with enough resolution to display digital photos. It is adjustable for brightness, contrast and duration (from 1 second to continuous display).
I was not sure how helpful the manufacturer may be if a problem occurs. When I contacted iRiver’s European website to ask whether the H320 is still in production and about the expected performance of the battery, they didn’t answer my questions but instead suggested that I send the machine in for a check up and an estimate on the repairs required! (I didn’t send it to them).
I found the iRiver H320 to be a useful and pleasing travelling companion for both recording, listening and data transfer, provided you are able to keep it charged. Although the H320 is now no longer manufactured, there are plenty of second hand ones available (including refurbished H320s with replacement internal batteries from the iRiver site), and there are several other similar devices on the market.
Note: the replacement for the H320, the iRiver H10, while having the same functions as the H320, does not appear to have an input for an external microphone and is therefore less useful for fieldwork.
This review first appeared in Language Archives Newsletter No. 10 (August 2007)