Horbert is a wooden mp3 player designed specifically for kids. It’s a wonderful mix of thoughtful, intelligent design, a sustainable, green ethos and fabulous looks. The Keanu Reeves of MP3 players, we’re such big fans, we have two of them! Horbert doesn’t come cheap, so read on to find out why we thought it worth the cost, and what it is that makes the Horbert MP3 player so unique.
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Already sold? Click here to go to my quick list (with links) of what to buy – there are a couple of small extras that are essential!
Want to look at other options? We looked at EVERYTHING before we bought these, and found some great alternatives. Check out my list of the best kids’ mp3 players right here!
Like many parents with more than one child, we worried over the impact having a second child would have on our first. So, in order to make sure our son felt secure and special, we paid extra close attention to him during that time, and bought him a couple of things that we hoped would make him feel just a little bit spoiled. A treehouse bunk bed was one investment, and the other was a beautiful wooden MP3 player from Germany, called ‘Horbert‘.
A very special gift
As first-time second-time parents (if that makes sense!), we probably worried too much. In fact, our son adored his sister from the moment he met her. We had originally justified the cost with the thought that we would be able to pass Horbert on when our son outgrew it and moved on to a more grown-up device.
Yet, six years on, he still listens to it every day. It’s his most beloved and prized possession and clearly something he will want to keep as his even when childhood is left behind. So, when funds allowed, we bought another for his younger sister, and it has become just as beloved by her. And although Horbert is an expensive buy (it currently costs £211), we have never regretted either purchase.
So what makes Horbert so special? There are, after all, other mp3 players designed specifically for kids. Although there aren’t many others made of wood. And most of the others come in considerably cheaper. So why pay the extra?
What appealed to me first about Horbert was the aesthetic. Horbert is a great-looking device. Beautifully crafted out of natural wood, the frame is made out of solid beech, while the front panel is poplar ply and the back is birch ply. All of this comes from certified, sustainable, European forestry. And there is something so appealingly tactile about things made from wood. They just beg to be touched and played with, and Horbert is no exception.
Built to last
Just as well then, that the construction is so robust. Horbert is designed to be easy to carry for little ones – it’s not very heavy and it has rounded edges and a curved handle that fits just right to a child’s hand. But, kids being kids, both our Horberts have suffered being accidentally dropped down our stairs, off bunk beds and sofas, and probably more besides. Neither, I’m relieved to say, suffered any harm from the falls!
The metal parts, like the on/off switch and the speaker grill, are stainless steel and moisture resistant. While both our kids were well past the mouthing stage when they got their Horbert, I wouldn’t be worried about a toddler drooling all over them either. The clear varnish is saliva and sweat-proof, and even after six years, my son’s Horbert looks just as clean and beautiful as the day it arrived.
Interestingly, the wood on the front of his Horbert is quite a bit darker than his sister’s. Too much time has passed for me to be sure whether his has darkened with age or if it is that the wood is different in colour or type. But as both Horberts are equally beautiful, it doesn’t really matter to us. Wood is the ultimate natural material, and one of the wonderful things about it is that each piece will be unique, and that it will only grow more beautiful with age.
How the Horbert MP3 player works…
But although Horbert is undoubtably beautiful and tactile, what makes it truly special is the functionality. Everything about the way it works has been carefully thought out with ease of use and safety for children in mind.
For this reason, the controls are very simple. There is a simple toggle switch on the top to turn it on, with a volume knob next to it. Both of these are made of tough stainless steel. They are satisfyingly clunky and hard-wearing, while still being easy for a child to use.
On the front of Horbert is a grid of nine coloured buttons to select a track. Pressing a button starts the audio playing. Pressing it again will skip forward to the next track on that button.
Underneath the coloured buttons are a grey and black button. The black button will go back to the beginning of the track that’s playing. And the grey one is a fast-forward button. If you hold this grey button down, you can hear the audio speed up. Release it to play at normal speed.
And that’s about it! As far as the kids are concerned, that’s all that they need to learn in order to start using Horbert. Both my kids were therefore able to take complete control from the minute they received them.
Development and education benefits
And of course that’s what Horbert is really for. Whether you have loaded it up with stories or music, or both, the whole point is to let children explore. They can discover and enjoy the audio on Horbert with complete independence.
And as Horbert is tech that is screen-free, children will be using (and therefore developing) other senses and skills than those they need for devices such as iPads and computers.
Concentrating on listening is obviously where it starts. Yet this is something that, with no visual stimulation to go along with it, can be very difficult for young children to master. But by listening to stories without pictures, children have to concentrate on the words. And this helps build their understanding of language; their vocabulary and the ways to use it.
It’s often said that listening to books rather than reading them is somehow ‘cheating’. But there have been many recent studies to disprove this. For children learning to read, it seems that listening to stories can actually help them.
Stories have structures and patterns that you learn through reading. But it’s through listening that children learn the rhythms and intonations of speech. And of course the way something is said can can change meaning entirely. This is something you only learn through listening.
And Horbert can just as easily hold music as stories. Or indeed a mix of music and stories. It’s incredibly easy to add and change content to make it perfect for your child.
One of the things I love about Horbert is that it is just as robust inside as on the outside. You get to see the inners because, to load it with stories or music you have to open up the case and access the SD card slot inside. This might sound a little alarming, but it’s simple and safe for adults and older children to do. And almost impossible for smaller children to manage.
To open up Horbert, you remove the large ‘coin’ screw. This is so-called because you use a coin rather than a screwdriver to undo it. With a few turns of this one screw you can slide off the back panel.
Inside, the speaker is on one side, while a circuit board takes up the other. There are four battery slots for AA batteries. Next to the batteries is an SD card slot (see below for my recommendations for these). And at the top of the circuit board there is a little switch. This allows you to limit Horbert’s maximum volume. Forte, for loud, or piano for soft.
I love how de-mystifying it is for kids to be able to see the inner workings of their devices. We have a build it yourself Kano tablet and screen kit (they do a separate computer kit too, for only £60!), and our kids have loved learning about electronics in a very real, hands-on way through that. So while you don’t have to assemble anything in Horbert, just being able to see inside the box and change out the SD card on the actual circuit board is also a thrill for the kids.
Horbert’s pre-packaged content
Horbert arrives with a 4GB SD card already installed. There are about three hours of songs and stories on this card, in a mix of English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian. To be honest, the content is rather basic – an unexciting selection of familiar nursery rhymes and short stories. And while it’s nice to get songs and stories in a mix of languages, we found that we wanted our own content instead, pretty much straight away.
Also on the SD card is the software for Horbert. You need to install this on your PC or Mac computer if you want to add/change your own content. We’ve used it without a problem on both PC and Mac. Note that if you have a Mac with OS Catalina, you’ll need to get the latest version of this software. This is due for release in December 2019 .
Horbert MP3 Player and Safety
The Horbert mp3 player is made in Germany, where they have some of the strictest toy safety testing in the world. Germany is famous for its quality wooden toys, and Horbert fits right in to that tradition.
The recommended age range for Horbert is 2 years and above. That feels about right to me for a lower limit. The device is so simple that a 2-year-old will master it very quickly. And it’s certainly rugged enough to stand up to their (ab)use!
Not just for little ones…
But Horbert is also far from being something for younger kids only. At ten, my son is yet to outgrow or grow bored with it. This is more than we can say about practically any other gift he’s received. Although he does still love that treehouse bed as well!
So, yes, Horbert is expensive. But it’s really well made, thoughtfully designed, and can capture a child’s imagination like nothing else. There are very few of our children’s possessions that remain favourites for more than a year or so. But Horbert? We think they’ll treasure theirs into adulthood. Not that expensive, then, for a lifetime of pleasure!
Buying a Horbert MP3 player
If you are considering buying a Horbert mp3 player, there are one or two things that you will need (and some things that are helpful to know)…
The quick list of what to buy:
- A Horbert MP4 player
- Four AA batteries & charger
- An SD card (class 4, from 4gb to a maximum of 32gb capacity)
- An SD card storage container
…And everything you might need to know:
Essential Horbert mp3 player information…
Both our Horbert mp3 players were delivered to the UK from Germany, and delivery was quick and efficient. Even better, the packaging was completely plastic-free. Ours went via DHL, and we were sent a despatch note with a tracking number within fifteen minutes of ordering. One of the quickest turn-arounds I’ve ever experienced!
I was a little nervous the first time around, about paying an unknown foreign company this much money. But everything went very smoothly, and communication from the company was excellent on both our orders.
Horbert runs on AA batteries. We use rechargeable batteries as you will need to change them fairly regularly. To give you an idea of how long they last, our Horberts are used every day, for at least an hour. I find I have to recharge the batteries roughly every three months or so. Any AA batteries will do – our basic Duracell rechargeable batteries have lasted years. However if you’re looking for an environmentally friendly option, these Eneloop batteries from Panasonic come pre-charged via solar energy and are said to outlast most other batteries on the market..
Incidentally, Horbert lets you know the batteries need changing by the sound going low and and a little scratchy. We thought Horbert was broken the first time it happened to us, but don’t panic, it’s meant to do this! Pop in fresh batteries and the sound will go back to normal.
We have a cheap Amazon basics charger that cunningly fits both AA and AAA size batteries. It may not be the quickest, but it does the job! Rechargable batteries and a charger pay for themselves very quickly. So while you can use standard AA batteries in Horbert, I really recommend making this investment.
Buy an SD card (or two)
The Horbert mp3 player comes with a 4GB SDHC card. This is preloaded with content and also the software you need to load onto your computer. We preferred to use our own content. While you can overwrite what’s on this card, it’s much better to get higher capacity ones of your own (especially if you want to load up Harry Potter!).
Horbert will take any SD card (full size, not mini!) with a capacity up to 32GB. But make sure you get CLASS 4 SD cards, rather than the more usual high-speed CLASS 10 cards. These can be hard to find. I’ve booked marked these class 4 SD cards and reorder them whenever we have something new to put on. Incidentally, you can tell a card is class 4 by the ‘4’ inside a C shape on the label.
Why the lower speed card? Apparently this is because class 10 cards perform an internal clean-up or sorting function at irregular intervals. And when that happens, it disrupts the data stream and causes playback to stutter. So in this instance less really is more, and it’s definitely worth hunting down those slower speed SD cards.
A tip about longer content on horbert…
We found this out after experiencing a little bit of frustration playing longer content. (I’m looking at you, JK Rowling…). Generally, we’ve found that class 10 cards will work. Usually they work absolutely fine, so you can take a risk and use them. But sometimes (admittedly rarely, but it did happen occasionally on longer content) Horbert skipped forward or back to the beginning of the whole book.
This was very annoying for our son. On one occasion he was halfway through the Order of the Phoenix, and was not a happy boy! However, since we switched to class 4 cards, we haven’t had this problem happen again. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping this means the problem is solved.
And, by the way, all of the Harry Potter audio books fit nicely onto one 32gb card. There’s even a little room to spare for the film soundtracks too…
SD card storage
Okay, this is not something you necessarily need right away. But at some point you may want to invest in storage for all those precious SD cards. We use these ones. They come in a range of bright colours, are cheap and cheerful, and have lasted really well.
Of course the kids can always make their own storage! My son and I made this little ‘book’ to hold some of his SD cards. With this, they can have a full list of what’s on each card so that they can see exactly what’s on it. We even made accompanying books for each one, containing blurbs of the stories!
Horbert and audiobooks
We get our audio books from a range of sources. They can be expensive so it’s worth exploring all the options. Many of ours are charity shop finds. I often see CD sets, though I always check for scratches and missing discs! Books on cassette are often so cheap, they are practically given away. But grab them when you see them because you can convert cassettes to MP3 files really easily. I use one of these cheap and funky walkman-like recorders. Yes, it can be painful, but it’s also usually very cheap! (Have I mentioned how much I like cheap?) And, bonus, these devices can actually be used as walkmans too!
Probably my favourite source for audio books at the moment is Audible. It means a monthly subscription, but £7.99 gets you one audio book from their catalogue each month. Many of these are otherwise close to double the price or impossible to get hold of, so it can be a much more economical way to build up a collection. Plus, you get the first month (and therefore one free audio book of your choice) free, and can cancel at any time. So it’s worth signing up for even if just for the freebie!
A word of caution with Audible – make sure you don’t waste your monthly free audio book allowance. As with anything, there is sometimes someone selling the same thing cheaper, so I always check that the stories aren’t available cheaper elsewhere first. Ebay, for example, usually has tons of cheap second-hand audio books on offer. And companies like Costco and The Book People often have great deals on children’s audio books too.
But as I said above, often things on Audible just aren’t available anywhere else as they create their own recordings, so for us it’s definitely worth the money. They usually have fabulous narrators and the audio books are generally unabridged too, which is something I always prefer! Click here to find out more and give it a go.
Details about audio file formats
Horbert can read m4a .mp3 .wav .cdda .cda .ogg and .flac file formats. What this means in practice is that you will need to copy audio book CDs onto your computer first. You may also need to convert files to one of the accepted formats.
We’ve found this necessary when using a service like Audible to buy audio books digitally, as their file format isn’t compatible with Horbert. However we use a free, online application for converting Audible files to MP3 – https://openaudible.org/. It works like a charm and is very quick and easy to use. And being digital files, they’re much quicker to load onto Horbert than taking them off cassettes or CDs.
There’s no rushing Horbert…
Most of this is what you’d have to do for any MP3 player (and a lot of them are particular about file formats). Since you have to use the Horbert software to set up the SD cards anyway, the process doesn’t bother me. On the plus side, you really only need to do this once per book. Just keep that SD card somewhere safe when not in use!
Using Horbert’s software
The Horbert software is as simple to use as the device itself, if a little more clunky. It’s also sometimes rather slow.
When you open the software, you select your SD card and then click ‘Edit contents’. This will open up the below screen, where digital versions of Horbert’s buttons are displayed.
The numbers on each button show how many tracks are already programmed onto that button. Click on a button and the below screen opens. I’ve taken a screen grab of what’s on this purple button (37 tracks), below.
Those 37 tracks are actually one book. But, as you can see, longer books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be split up into shorter segments/chapters. This makes it easier to fast forward/rewind, as Horbert skips to the start or end of a track when you press those buttons. More sections = shorter distances to skip.
When Horbert is turned on, it automatically plays from the beginning of the track it was playing when it was turned off. So splitting files into shorter segments means that if Horbert is turned off mid-story, it will start again pretty much at the point they were at, next time they turn it on. This is especially good for when they are listening to longer books!
Clicking on the scissor symbol next to each line will automatically chop that file into smaller segments for you, and you can also add breaks of different lengths by adding a second or two of ‘silence’. You don’t have to do it the first time you add files – they can be amended later. In fact, you can rewrite/add to or otherwise change what’s on the SD card at any time. Files will automatically be in aphabetical order, but just drag the files up or down to change the sequence.
And that’s about it! Is there anything else that you would use? Are you tempted by Horbert or is there another device you prefer? I’d love to know what you think, so go ahead and comment below!