Gone are the days of choosing which CD to bring to the gym, or deciding how many CDs to bring on a trip. Today's MP3 players allow us to carry our entire CD collection in the palm of our hand. We can even take along our favorite photos and video. But this convenience comes with a dizzying array of options. Apple seems to have cornered the market in this industry. The iPod player is known for its innovation, reliability, and ease of use. And the iTunes Store offers a comprehensive selection of video and audio content. But before jumping on the Apple bandwagon, be sure to check out some of its worthy competitors whose performance, features, and download options that might better fit your needs. Pronto's MP3 Player Buying Guide can help you sort it all out.
Computer must have a USB port and meet minimum operating system requirements for the MP3 player you have chosen. For downloading content, you will want high speed Internet access if you don't already have it.
Decide how you will use your MP3 player before making your selection. If you need all of your music at your fingertips and size isn't an issue, consider a hard-drive player. If you'll be using it at the gym, consider a more lightweight flash-memory player that has no moving parts and can withstand jostling and strenuous activity.
Take a look around at various online music stores and subscription services before you pick your MP3 player. There are a lot of different formats out there, and you'll need to know which ones your favorite MP3 player will accept.
While Apple iPods have an impressive roster of features, don't forget to check out some of the other brands. Many have features that equal or even surpass those of the iPod with FM tuners and voice recorders.
Hard-drive MP3 players will most likely have a rechargeable battery that will need to be replaced by the manufacturer when it can longer carry a charge. Flash-memory players use AA/AAA batteries or can be recharged through the USB port and playback time will be considerably longer than with a hard-drive model.
Advanced Audio Encoding. A compression format that has better compression and is thought to provide better sound quality than the popular MP3 format.
Audio Interchange File Format. An audio file format from Apple that is used on Apple computers and if often used in professional audio and video applications. The data in a standard AIFF file is uncompressed.
The amount of information (bits) transferred in a second. For MP3 files, you will see this referred to as 'kbps', or thousand-bits-per-second. The higher the bitrate, the better the sound quality of the MP3 file. A fairly standard bitrate for MP3 files is 128 kbps.
Digital Rights Management. Any technology used to protect digital media from copyright infringement.
Refers to audio software applications that allow you to turn your computer into a music playing machine with the ability to play several different audio/video formats, set up playlists, and add music to the queue while listening to something else.
A popular audio compression format that compresses files to one tenth the original size while still maintaining sound quality comparable to the original.
This is a compressed audio file format developed by Microsoft. It was developed to compete with the MP3 format and has become one of the most widely supported audio formats.
Before you choose any MP3 player be sure your computer can manage the new hardware efficiently. If you have an older machine, look specifically for MP3 players that are compatible with your set up. Your computer must have a USB port and the operating system must meet the minimum requirements of the MP3 player you choose. If you plan to download a lot of content, you'll also want to look into high-speed Internet access if you don't already have it. There's nothing worse than watching that progress bar slow to a crawl while waiting for your favorite podcast to download.
The most common types of MP3 players are hard-drive players, flash-memory players, and MP3 CD players. How you intend to use your player will dictate the right one for you. Hard-drive players like Microsoft’s Zune are high-capacity players that can hold up to 120GB of content—enough to bring your entire music collection wherever you go. MP3 players like the Creative Zen Vision:M have support for photo and video as well. These players can be feature-rich with large screens and a user-friendly interface. Most have rechargeable batteries. While hard-drive MP3 players spare you the agonizing decision of what to bring with you, they require trade-offs: they’re larger than flash-memory MP3 players, and the moving parts of the hard-drive make them unsuitable for trips to the gym or other activities where they’ll be jostled.
For the nightly slog on the treadmill, consider a flash-memory MP3 player. The recently upgraded iPod Nano is a popular choice, but don't overlook the iRiver Clix or the Creative Zen V which are also getting a lot of attention. These MP3 players are quite small and have no moving parts, so unlike their hard-drive counterparts, they’re perfect for jogging or jumping rope. You probably won't be able to bring all the music you own along (capacity currently goes up to around 8GB), but these MP3 players are lightweight and have impressive battery life. Features vary, but most include FM radio and voice recorders. You’ll sacrifice a robust user interface, however (some models, like the iPod Shuffle, have no LCD interface at all) and pay a bit more for the compact size than hard-drive models with the same storage capacity.
Finally, there are MP3 CD players. These models play standard music CDs or CDs burned with your MP3 files. While these players probably won't be around for long, their low price tag makes them an affordable option. These are the largest of the MP3 player types and their size, combined with their moving parts, means they’re probably not the best option for the gym. They’re a good choice though, if you just don't feel like ripping your entire CD collection to MP3s but want to add some digital music to your collection.
The world of online music can be quite confusing and your choice of MP3 player can determine what music is available to you. MP3 players that support the copy-protected WMA format (like the Toshiba Gigabeat) will give you the greatest selection of online music to choose from, but an iPod will not play music from subscription services or any WMA files. This landscape is changing daily and you will need to do some detective work to determine if the music you are interested in downloading will work on the MP3 player you have chosen.
Many MP3 players include FM radios, voice recording, and line-in recording. While the iPod is a leader in MP3 technology, it contains none of these ‘extras’. However, because the iPod is the market leader in MP3 players, you will have many accessories to choose from (speakers, docking stations and other attachments).
How you get your new MP3 player charged and how long it will last you until the next charge is a crucial consideration. Many hard-drive MP3 players feature a rechargeable battery that cannot be removed by the consumer. When the battery can no longer be recharged the manufacturer replaces it for you. If the MP3 player is no longer under warranty, this will cost you. Battery life for hard-drive iPods has been a weakness for Apple in the past. While improvements have been made, users still report short battery life after just a year of use. Many flash-memory MP3 players take AA or AAA batteries, while some recharge through the USB port. But in either case, flash-memory players tend to have longer playback times than the hard-drive players.