GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published February 15, 2004

 

NextBase 2 Portable DVD Player

It’s a rare product that seems as if it would be good for everyone. There are so many tradeoffs in audio equipment that there’s a continuum of devices of different sizes, prices, and qualities, with different priorities for each maker or designer. The NextBase 2 portable DVD-Video/CD player ($165 USD) is designed for moderately portable use, with special features for car and multi-region playback use. Its feature set makes it perfect for some people, not quite right for others. Whether it would be right for you requires taking a deeper look, so let’s get started doing just that.

Description

At 6.5" x 5.5" x 1.2", the NextBase 2 DVD player isn’t much larger than the DVDs it’s designed to play. Still, it’s not small enough that you’ll just throw it in your pocket and go anywhere. The enclosure is pretty sturdy, and heavy as portable players go. The NextBase 2 runs off a large outboard power supply, or wall wart, instead of batteries. This adds up to a player that can easily be carried from place to place, but not one you’re likely to take with you on a whim. It’s shipped with a 12V car adapter; mobile DVD use might be a popular application of the device.

If you want to make the NextBase 2 totally portable, Merconnet suggests you combine it with the Crown Digital Power Runner 9-12V battery pack (retail $110), which they also sell. This device charges from wall AC or a car’s 12V outlet and provides power at multiple voltages. A number of adapter plugs are provided with the fairly generic Power Runner, so you can power most 9-12V devices with it. Items that run at a lower voltage, such as portable CD players (which usually need 6V), require a different Power Runner model.

The NextBase 2 I received ran a bit hot, particularly on the bottom -- not so hot that I was worried about it for normal use, but I wouldn’t want it sitting on my lap. The manufacturer has since improved the player’s ventilation and plastic bottom, updated all the units, and renamed them the NextBase 3. I’m sure the 3 runs cooler, but because it still must dissipate the same amount of heat as the 2, I doubt that the 3 is any more lap-friendly.

The NextBase 2’s basic functions (stop, play, track skip) are controlled by buttons on the player’s top. A small membrane remote (coin-cell batteries included) is needed for more complicated playback adjustments. I don’t find these very slim remotes all that easy to operate, but they are very portable.

The NextBase 2 has three audio outputs. A digital TosLink fiber-optic connector lets you connect a full Dolby Digital- or DTS-compatible system; the NextBase would be perfectly happy as an audio source in a home-theater system. The RCA output pair is set up for CDs or any DVD-Video, with surround content mixed down into two channels. Finally, there’s a mini-headphone jack with a substantial amount of output power.

The player has a few features I didn’t test, including a JPG picture viewer and multi-region DVD support. It’s also switchable between NTSC and PAL outputs.

Performance

The NextBase 2 has an HDCD chipset, so I had high expectations for its sound quality playing back CDs. The HDCD DAC section has always been noted for "Red Book" CD sound that’s precise without being harsh, and its implementation in the NextBase 2 didn’t disappoint. Its high-frequency presentation was even better than that of the Apple iPod I use as a reference portable. The NextBase particularly impressed with its clear detail on cymbals -- it had the thoroughly pleasant kind of reproduction I’m used to hearing from the HDCD filter. Lower-frequency content wasn’t quite as good, but was adequate for most of the applications I’d imagine this player would be used for. The kind of deep bass you hear only through really good headphones or with a subwoofer was a little soft of neutral from the NextBase, though there was plenty of punch in the higher bass frequencies.

The quality of a portable headphone amplifier is greatly dependent on the voltage the device requires. This is one of the major reasons devices that use only a couple of AA batteries or sub-6V power supplies tend not to have good headphone jacks. The NextBase 2’s 12V power supply provided plenty of drive for any non-exotic headphone, providing considerably more volume than my iPod. With the moderately sensitive Beyerdynamic DT250-80 phones I use as a portable reference, the NextBase provided as much power as I would normally want. The headphone amp sounded clean even at top volume, without the bass distortion that plagues many portables.

It was only with the very revealing and difficult-to-drive Etymotic ER-4S headphones that the NextBase had any problems, producing volume that was just barely adequate and won’t be loud enough for some. Even more disconcerting was the fact that, during quiet passages on well-produced recordings, I could hear noise from the player mechanism in the headphone jack. This faint cyclical buzz, which sounded as if it was in sync with the motor spinning the disc, made the ER-4S and NextBase 2 not the best combination. But for any more reasonable headphone pairing -- the ER-4S phones cost several times what this player does -- the NextBase 2 should be an enjoyable source.

The NextBase 2 also plays MP3 files recorded on CD-Rs -- a relatively inexpensive way to take a huge music collection on the road. Its MP3 sound quality was good, similar to what I hear from my PC when decoding with WinAmp or iTunes through a Creative Audigy 2 soundcard. I think that MP3s particularly benefit from the smoother-than-average sound of the HDCD DAC. Still, the NextBase 2’s MP3 playback failed to match that of my Pioneer Elite DV-45A home DVD/CD player, which gives substantially more detail and authority when decoding compressed music.

An important caveat: Many listeners sort their MP3 music collections by artist or album title, using the CD-R format’s folder directories. My Pioneer Elite DV-45A will happily navigate all of the MP3 files on a disc in the order they appear, and pressing the track-skip button works as you’d expect. The NextBase 2 has an interface that allows you to play all the files in a particular folder, but to use it, you really need the remote and a video display. The LCD readout on the NextBase 2 is too small to show any title or other information, so a video screen is more or less required. But even when using a display, you’ll be able to play only the files that are in the CD-R’s root folder.

Speaking of video, the NextBase 2 has composite and S-video outputs, but not component video. When I checked the player’s DVD-Video quality on a 32" CRT and my front projector, it looked about average for an older, non-progressive-scan design. A product of similar quality is my Pioneer DV-525 DVD player, which I bought a number of years ago. The DV-525 shows a bit more of an image’s line detail; the NextBase 2 had a softer look around the edges. I played the Kung Fu training session from The Matrix (a good DVD for finding such artifacts) on the NextBase 2, and there was an obvious halo effect on the white/black transition on Morpheus’ uniform. While I could vacillate as to which player I preferred, it was clear that the NextBase 2’s video playback wasn’t in the same league as what I expect from a modern progressive-scan player. The odds are very slim that any of this will be important if you use one of the smaller, portable LCD screens that can be bundled with the NextBase 2, but it’s worth noting if you intend this player to do dual duty with a larger TV at home.

Conclusion

The NextBase 2 is suitable for a fairly narrow range of applications. Its enjoyable audio quality and strong headphone drive make for good sound when traveling, especially by car, but the player may not be quite portable enough for you. One of the small DVD players with a built-in screen and battery would seem more appropriate for some users. While it’s tempting to expand a portable player’s usefulness by using it as the source for a large home-theater system, DVD players are now so cheap that it’s hard to justify that. But if you’re one of those in the NextBase 2’s target audience, it could be exactly what you’re looking for. Its ability to be used in a car is one of the NextBase 2’s strengths, and I don’t know of many units better suited for world travel due to its multi-region capability.

...Greg Smith

Price of equipment reviewed


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