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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 2

Product Evaluation

Class Is in Session: A Review of the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System

With a combination of assistive and mainstream technology, there are almost more ways than one can count for a person with a visual or learning impairment to access information. But the number of gadgets that are needed to access information can be daunting. This is reason enough to take a close look at the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System.

With this single piece of equipment, you can listen to commercial CDs (music or spoken word), MP3 CDs, or DAISY CDs (digital content allowing audio navigation by page, chapter, section, or bookmark). You can listen to both standard cassettes and the four-track, half-speed variety that is distributed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). The Professor is the only DAISY player on the market that also has a fully accessible FM radio that allows you to go directly to a desired station by punching in the numbers on its telephone-style number pad, announces the frequency of a station at the press of a button, and offers up to 32 preset stations. Because the Professor was designed with audio, rather than visual, users in mind, nearly all its functions include auditory feedback.

Physical Description

The Professor has a compact, solid appearance. It measures 11 inches wide, 10 inches deep, and 6.2 inches tall. Its built-in speakers wrap around the left and right front corners, extending below and above the unit, and deliver excellent sound quality. All the buttons are easily discernible by touch, representing a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes, and are logically grouped for quick tactile location. On top of the unit are the Power, Mode Selection (tape, radio, and CD), and Key Identification Mode buttons, as well as buttons for variable speed, volume, and tone. The CD player is also on top, with a door that pops up easily when the indentation in its lower right corner is pressed. Also near the top is a circle of four buttons with a round one in the center. These buttons are used for navigating a CD, as well as for accessing options and settings. On the front of the unit is the 12-key number pad to the right of center, and three additional buttons to the left of it. Finally, centered on the lower half of the face is the cassette door, with five buttons on the bottom edge. Other logically placed controls are for the cassette's track selection and variable speed control. The headphone jack is a distinctly recessed port on the top of the unit, and the AC power connection is in the back. The Professor has an internal rechargeable battery that takes about two hours to charge and gives audible warnings when it is running low. Audible feedback is delivered through either a strong radio-announcer kind of male voice or a distinctive series of chimes, clicks, or tones.

Photo of Professor DAISY player.

Caption: The Professor DAISY player.

Beginning to Play

When you press the Power button, there is a distinctive pop and then a long pause before the male voice announces: "Telex Professor." If the sliding Mode Selection switch is all the way to the left, for playing a cassette, that is all there is. If the switch is in the middle position, for radio, the announcer adds "FM." If it is all the way to the right, for a CD, the voice says "Reading disk," followed immediately by "Check disk" if there is no CD in the player. If the CD door is open, it says, "Door open." If there is a disk in the player, the next auditory cue will be determined by the type of disk it is.

Turn Your Radio On

Although finding an FM tuner in any device is not unusual, this radio's accessibility features were the first aspect to capture my attention. From the number pad, you can punch in the frequency of a desired station and go directly to that station--just like millions do with digital displays every day. If you are on a station and wonder what it is, you can get a spoken announcement of its frequency. And you can easily set up to 32 preset stations and cycle back and forth through them--all with voice-guided help.

Reading the Disk

When you insert a disk into the CD player, you hear the announcement "Reading disk," followed by a three-tone sequence that repeats until the Professor has identified the disk's format. If the disk is an audio CD (which is how the Professor refers to commercially produced CDs containing music or audio books), you hear a high-low tone sequence. If the disk contains MP3 files, you hear a three-tone high-low-mid sequence. And if the CD is a DAISY CD, the title is announced.

The Main Attraction

The DAISY player is, of course, the Professor's most sophisticated function. In this format, the Professor gives you the ability to go directly to a particular page; to move by page, section, or chapter (depending on the extent of digital navigation built into the particular book); and to set and directly access bookmarks. When a DAISY CD is playing, a variable speed option makes it possible to speed up or slow down the reading without altering the pitch. The Professor keeps track of your place in up to 32 books, resuming reading in each one at exactly the place you left off.

If you happen to put a disk in upside down, the Professor announces "Check disk." Oddly, however, if a data disk (with computer programs or files) is placed in the player, the Professor simply continues trying to read the disk, playing the three-tone sequence that indicates a search is in progress until you take the disk out. It then announces, "Door open."

Playing Cassettes

There are no flashy announcements to tell you that you are in tape mode or progress beeps or clicks. Nevertheless, the cassette player is more than adequate. It handles both two- and four-track and standard- and half-speed cassettes. A variable speed slide switch allows you to speed up tapes without altering the pitch. The buttons for Play, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, and Pause are awkwardly placed and somewhat difficult to activate, however. They are placed at the bottom edge of the front of the machine, which places your hand at a somewhat uncomfortable angle when you access them. Aside from this inconvenient bit of operation, however, the cassette player is a well-constructed aspect of the unit and a useful addition.

Whether you are listening through the built-in speakers or a headset, the quality of the sound from all sources--the radio, CD player, and cassette--is crisp and clear, delivering books, music, and other audio with style.

A Few Annoyances

When the unit powers up, it comes on with a distinct pop and announces itself via the male radio announcer's voice. When the unit powers off, a pleasant four-tone high-low chime sequence is heard. The response time, however, is often noticeably slow. When the unit is powering on, for instance, it generally takes 10 (and sometimes 15) seconds from the Telex Professor announcement for the unit to determine which mode it is in. Similarly, once a disk is placed in the player, it typically takes 10 to 15 seconds for the unit to identify its format. Again, it seems odd that the unit immediately announces "Check disk" if a disk has been inserted incorrectly, yet has no announcement to indicate that a disk contains material that the Professor cannot identify or read.

Another point which warrants mentioning is that this is a desktop audio system, not a personal or portable one. At 6.2 pounds, the Professor can easily be placed in a car or another conveyance while traveling, but it is certainly not intended to be carried around on a daily basis.

The Bottom Line

Minor annoyances aside, the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System is a unique and versatile audio system that would be especially useful for students or professionals who need to listen to material in a variety of media. With just one unit, you can listen to your favorite music CDs, audio books from the public library, DAISY-formatted books with extensive navigation capabilities, Talking Books from the NLS, and standard cassettes and can even find your favorite radio stations without stress or aggravation. You can pop one book out and put another one in without ever losing your place, and you can hop around within a book as effortlessly--or perhaps more so--than a sighted person with the print equivalent. When you consider that this clever boom box has capabilities that are comparable to four or five separate audio devices all in one machine, along with a number of bells and whistles, some 10-second delays do not seem quite so significant, and Professor's $349 price tag seems reasonable.


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Product Information

Product: Telex Professor Desktop Audio System.

Manufacturer: Telex Communications, 12000 Portland Avenue South, Burnsville, MN 55337; phone: 800-752-7560; web site: <www.telex.com>.

Distributor: Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, 20 Roszel Road, Princeton, NJ 08540; phone: 800-221-4792; web site: <www.rfbd.org>.

Price: $349.

If RFB&D members purchase the Telex Professor directly from RFB&D, it will be shipped with the capability to play RFB&D titles. If members purchased it elsewhere, they will need to send the unit to RFB&D for the adaptation to be installed.

Related Articles

A Rosy Future for DAISY Books by Jay Leventhal and Janina Sajka
Read Me, Read Me Not: A Review of Four DAISY Book Players by Jay Leventhal and Janina Sajka


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