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I'm a Rio Carbon mp3 player addict

Updated on February 29, 2012
The gang's all here
The gang's all here

Rio Carbon - love at first listen

My name is Chaval and I'm a Rio Carbon mp3 player addict. There, I've said it. With the permission of the group, I'd like to share.

First up, a word to you cynics. This is not a commercial endorsement. Rio got out of the mp3 player business in 2005, and as far as I know, the brand is defunct. I have nothing to gain for my devotion.

I got my first Rio Carbon mp3 player sometime in 2004. It just felt right from the moment I slid it out of the box and felt that smooth teardrop-shaped case in the palm of my hand. Sensuous, I guess you might call it, if you were the sort of iLoser who attached human emotions to inanimate objects.

I liked the Rio Music manager software. Didn't love it, it was more a mature appreciation, an understanding, a friendly rapport. The device itself though, that was a long-term relationship, I knew. I was ready for commitment and wasn't interested in any of the blandishments the Apple people were throwing my way.

All that Mac stuff seemed designed for style-conscious egotists with a puerile weakness for pastel colours. And it was surely no coincidence that all their products have to begin with that lower-case i, the symbol of a pretentious solipsist.

Rio, whoever they were, had no such pseudo-ideology. Their mp3 players looked and felt superb, but that would have been futile if they hadn't sounded so richly satisfying.

I was an mp3 sceptic, I admit it. Not a Luddite as such, just someone who wondered why the future of music listening seemed to have reached a point where millions were slavering to compress their favourite songs into a format with the audio quality of a poorly-dubbed cassette.

Rio reassured me. Their player could offer excellent detail and bass response even in a modestly-ripped 192 kbs track. Go for the full 320 kbs, and the reproduction was seriously impressive.

When they went out of business, I panicked a little. Even as memory became cheaper, I knew there would never be a mighty Rio offering the 20GB memories of the Apples and Creatives. Their product was trapped in the amber of the digital mid-2000s, to be outstripped by all the easy consumer technology hitting the market-place.

I turned to ebay, where fickle lovers, but not many of them, were ditching their Rios. They were rarely cheap. Anyone who had owned a Rio valued them, and there were numerous other addicts out there ready to push the prices up for the auctions. Gradually I assembled a team though. I'm glad I did it in time. These days a Rio Carbon on ebay might fetch around double its original retail price.

Love is never perfect

Sure there were downsides. The first of them was, did I mention that Rio went out of business in 2005? They left their beautiful product as an orphaned child of its time, powerless to fend for itself in a market dominated by those brash bullies from the Apple machine.

The company's disappearance might have had something to do with the peculiar generosity of furnishing their players with a 5GB drive that, at the time, was more valuable than the cost of the mp3 player. I'm not a business whizz, but that's a sum that doesn't add up.

That 5GB (or 6GB for later models) storage looks quaint and inadequate now, but actually it's perfectly fine. I travelled around the world on numerous business trips in the mid 2000s and never had the sensation of listening to the same music over and over again.

The problem is that, well, hate to break it to you like this, but things die. A lithium battery and a constantly-used hard drive are not supposed to last for seven years in the feverish world of consumer not-so-durables. I have two Rios left that work perfectly, and a handful with a collection of failings and defects that are loveable but troubling.

Despite being an incompetent repairman, I am considering the notion of replacing the hard drives with SD cards and adapters, heading back to ebay for replacement batteries, in short, fitting prosthetics to my Rio family to keep them functioning.

It's a thought, although there is also the dream . . . the dream of unearthing a rare prototype of the fabled Rio Avalon, an 8GB model that was scrapped when Rio disappeared. Like Avalon itself it's a mythical idyll that will never be found in this life, but it is every Rio addict's nirvana.

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      mowcius 5 years ago

      Glad I found this page whilst filling my morning trying to find any new references to the Rio Avalon. Alas, there are none.

      I'm going to be honest, I've deserted my Rio Carbon for an 8GB Creative Zen Style which I was given. Partly because I was running out of space on the 2GB CF card I put in my carbon, and partly because I managed to damage the ribbon cable connector so it required a gentle whack every so often to get it going again.

      I've just bought myself a Rio Carbon Pearl off eBay with the intention of replacing the hard drive with an 8GB CF card and using it as my main MP3 player again. Perhaps I'll have to replace the battery as well but with the CF card in, my other Carbon can still do over 10 hours at least.

      Regarding your comment about SD cards and adaptors - I think the only hack that works is with a CF card which can do hard drive emulation (to get around the hard drive spinup issue).

      I know a lot of CF cards didn't used to work and I have only tried one type (for that reason), the ones that I have found to work being a 1GB and 2GB Sandisk CF Ultra II card. Anything up to 8GB should work so I'll be buying an 8GB card next. If I can find someone who has a 16GB card I'll give that a try - it might work if more than 8GB is full at one time like some phones do with SD cards.

      The Zen Style produces reasonable sounding music when the equaliser's fiddled with but alas, it's not the same as my Rio used to be. You realise after using another player, how good the Rio Carbon was for its day and in terms of audio and interface, how good it still is.

      If you fancy chatting to another Rio fan, I'm on G+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/114914009219195219650/...

      Cheers,

      Rob

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks Rob, I'm working up the courage to start customising a couple of my old Rios, and was wondering about the CF card trick. The memory limit was always the slight downside to the Rio, but if that 16GB hack could work, it would open up a whole new world. Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      After looking a bit more, looks like the 16GB hack won't work as the limitation's due to the 24 bit addressing rather than a limitation in software.

      8GB looks to be the max unfortunately but that's plenty for me! I've only got about 6GB full on my Zen.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Ok, I have to come clean. I've been unfaithful to Rio, and the Creative Zen was my bit on the side too. It's not the same though. I'll try that 8 GB boost and see what happens.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      6GB Rio Carbon Pearl arrived from ebay today.

      Condition is pretty good (which is all I'm really fussed about) - seller failed to mention HDD issues but I expected them.

      After a direct swap of my 2GB card from 5GB Carbon I was up and running although I then performed a format and re-copied music across.

      I'm re-living the moments I had when I first got mine - feels so fantastic to use and I can't wait to start using it as my main player again.

      I'm eyeing up 8GB cards at the moment but it'll have to wait at least until the end of April when I'll have some more money.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      https://plus.google.com/photos/1149140092191952196...

      Pics up.

      How are your 4 Carbons holding up? They look to be in good condition still.

      If you want one solid state but aren't up for taking it apart yourself then I'd be happy to do it for you.

      8GB cards are only about £20.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Look good in the pics.

      Two Carbons work perfectly, two have battery issues, and I have a fifth with a dodgy hard drive that I'm thinking of trying your hack with. Might ask for a talk through once I have the card.

      What earphones do you use for best sound? The original Rio phones weren't bad, but obviously you don't get them second hand.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      Personally I never liked the original Rio ones *too* much and I quickly moved onto in-ear ones.

      I use Sennheiser CX300 IIs which are cheap (~£20) and sound pretty awesome. Sennheisers are normally always good for the price but watch out for fake ones!

    • profile image

      Chaval 5 years ago

      Funny you should say that. I did get stung with some fake Sennheisers which I bought online. My own fault for believing a bargain price.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      I seem to have had a bit of success with my new Rio's battery - flattening it down and charging it back up seems to have improved it a bit.

      I'll give it a few more cycles and hopefully that'll dissuade me from de-soldering the good one in my old carbon and swapping them.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      Amazing what you can find on eBay - just bagged myself an original Carbon sleeve for 99p (+ postage). My original one was starting to fall apart a bit.

    • profile image

      EC 5 years ago

      what USB cable do you use with the RIO carbon? Specifics for the part that plugs into the device itself...

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      It's pretty standard USB connector. Not sure what the technical term is but it's the same connection you use on many mobile phones. In fact I often use a phone charger to charge the rio. Now, wish I knew the word to describe the shape. . .

    • profile image

      EC 5 years ago

      to answer my own ? above.

      It uses the (A to mini B) USB cable.

      Apparently the support web pages for the rio device are still operational...

      FYI for those searching.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Mini B? So that's what it's called. Thanks for letting me know.

    • profile image

      mowcius 5 years ago

      I far prefer USB Mini B to the Micro B plugs they seem to want to stick on everything nowadays.

      I think *they've* decided that micro USB B is going to be 'the standard'.

      Oh and my rio case arrived - needs the standard re-gluing (and I'll do a better job of this one) but apart from that, perfect condition.

    • profile image

      mowcius 4 years ago

      Just an update:

      I was asking around for an 8GB Sandisk CF Ultra II card - managed to bag myself an 8GB Sandisk CF Ultra card instead (30MB/s).

      It works fine!

      There is a noticeable startup time difference between the CF Ultra II (2GB) and the CF Ultra (8GB) - whether this is due to size or card speed I'm not sure, more likely storage capacity. It is still faster than the startup time with the microdrive as far as I can remember.

      I still get ludicrously slow transfer rates to my Rio from my computer though (about 500KB/s) but I can live with that so long as it works (which it does) and I can't remember if it was ever any faster than that when it was new with the microdrive and older firmware.

      So basically I can confirm that both Sandisk Ultra II (1GB and 2GB) and Sandisk Ultra (8GB) cards work in Rio Carbon MP3 players.

      Most likely all sizes up to and including 8GB in both card types will work fine but no larger than 8GB.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the info. memory cards seem to be getting cheaper by the month. Won't be long before they are giving themn away in cereal packets.

    • profile image

      Iron Rider 4 years ago

      I just came across this site while searching for a solution to battery issues with my Rio Carbon. I agree with Chaval that the Rio was, and is one of the finest mp3's ever produced. I love mine and have turned down many an offer to buy it from me. I have had it for about 6 years and I don't know what I'll do when it's time comes to go to mp3 heaven. For me there will never be another to take its place.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the comment. I keep snapping them up every time I see an ebay auction. Have one of the little black 2.5GB models which I have filled up with 80s indie tunes. I think a couple of 1979 tracks slipped past the radar . . .

    • profile image

      mowcius 3 years ago

      Just thought I'd report back as it's been a while now.

      I still haven't found another MP3 player that I like more than the Rio.

      I'd like more than 8GB storage space, faster transfer rates and FLAC support but a nice interface is a must - nothing comes close that I've tried.

      My daily driver Rio (Carbon Pearl - 8GB Sandisk CF Ultra - Developers Cut 3.04) is still working nicely. Not sure what the battery life is like now but it's long enough, even when playing over my non-powered mini speakers.

      My black 2.5GB CE2100 sits in the living room and doesn't get used much but if I get hold of another 8GB card then I might split up my tunes and carry both with me.

      I also have two silver carbons and one CE2100 in various states of working that I'm keeping for parts.

      eBay seems to have gone silent on the things though - I have an alert on a search for them and it hasn't shown up anything for months.

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 3 years ago from UK

      Still see the occasional one on ebay, but the asking prices seemed to have become much higher, probably because of the relative rarity and indiscreet internet articles saying how good they are . . . Doh!

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