Digital Music Players

Does it matter which MP3 digital music player you buy? Is there any difference in sound quality? Which is the best?

To most people, choosing a MP3 player is primarily a matter of style. They base their decisions on the look, the brand or the ‘cool’ factor, and cost becomes a secondary consideration.

The good news is that most MP3 players deliver excellent sound quality. The differences lie mainly in the ease of use, the types of display, and the options they offer.

Apple iPods

The most popular personal digital audio player is without doubt the iPods. They dominate about 70% of the market. The Apple Video iPod is the latest offering. It streams video and posseses either a hard drive of 30 or 60 GB (stores up to 15,000 songs, 150 hours of videos or 25,000 pictures).

Viewing video clips through its small 2.5 inches color screen with 65,000 colors display can be fun but not ideally suited for an hour-long movie.

Additionally it has a Personal Information Manager (PIM) software, which enables you to keep track of your appointments, addresses and things to do. It also includes games, a world clock and a stopwatch. Battery life is excellent for music playback (about 14 to 20 hrs) but rather poor for videos (2.5 to 4 hrs). The sound quality is very good.

Another very popular iPod is the iPod Nano, which replaces the iPod Mini. The iPod Nano has a flash memory of 2 or 4 GB (500 to 1000 songs). It is only 0.25 inch thin, weighs 40 g, and looks extremely cute. The color screen is 1.5 inches. Like the Video iPod, the Nano is able to display photos and has basic PIM functions. The major concern about it is its susceptibility to scratches and to cracked screens. It is highly recommended to use an iPod case to carry it around. Because it uses flash memory and has no moving parts like in a hard drive, it is ideal for people who jog around or work in a gym. Expected battery life is about 14 hours.

The iPod Shuffle is the smallest of all the iPods, and has a memory of only 512 MB to 1 GB. Although it has the shape of a typical flash drive its design is remarkably simple and typical of the iPod style. It is the iPod almost everyone can afford to have. Although it is the cheapest of all the iPod models, it is also the most expensive per MB. As its name implies, it can play songs in random order so you never know what to expect. (According to Apple marketing, you will love this randomness as it adds spontaneity to your life.) But if you want to maintain the order of your songs, you have that option too. Up to 240 songs can be stored in this cute 22 g featherweight music player. That’s about 720 minutes (12 hours) of music. The Shuffle is connected to the PC through the USB port and is recharged at the same time. It can run up to 12 hours on a charge. The iPod shuffle has one of the best bass sound among the various digital audio players.

One word of caution about the iPods: The rechargeable battery will go dead after a certain period of time and needs to be replaced by the company. It will cost you US$59, plus $6.95 shipping. IPods are not able to play WMA (Windows Media Audio) format, which means your online music download is restricted to Apple’s iTunes music store. IPods however do play MP3, WAV, AIFF apart from its proprietary AAC format. iPod does not support subscription music, which enable consumers to listen to unlimited music for a monthly fee; you’ve got to purchase each song you download.

Lots Of Other Choices

Other MP3 players are from iRiver, Creative, SanDisk, Sony, Samsung, Rio, Mac Vision, Cowon among others.

SanDisk introduced a 6 GB flash player (US$300), the e200, with video and photo capability. It has a 1.8 inch color screen, an FM tuner with recorder (not available in Europe) and a MicroSD expansion slot. Its rechargeable battery can be replaced by the user. It has a Liquidmetal backing which resists scratches. It supports subscription music.

Creative Zen Vision:M is the latest 30 GB music and video player ($330) from Creative. It has a 2.5 inch screen with over 262,000 colors. It plays MWA, MP3, WMV9, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, and XviD videos. It has a voice recorder, an FM tuner and recorder, a PIM (calendar, address book, task) which syncs with Microsoft Outlook, and displays photos with music simultaneously. The battery life is 14 hours for MP3, 8 hours for WMA and 4 hours for video playback. Subscribing or downloading online music is both possible.

The Sony Walkman Bean has 1 GB memory and can store about 695 songs. It has an FM tuner and, apart from its proptrietary ATRAC3 formats, also plays MP3, MWA and WAV. It has an embedded battery which can be recharged in 3 min to provide 3 hours of playback. A fully recharged Bean can run up to 50 hours.

The Mobiblu DAH-1500i is as of this writing the smallest digital player (512 MB and 1 GB) in the world. It has the shape of a 1 inch cube, weighs about 18 g and has a clock, an FM tuner and recorder, and a voice recorder. It plays MP3 and WMA formats. The battery life is between 8 to 10 hours. The sound is excellent with good bass.

Another rival to iPod shuffle is the Creative Zen Nano Plus. Like Mobiblu, it has an FM player and recorder, plus a voice recorder. Further it can record from any audio source. It uses only an AAA battery and can play for 18 hours.

Samsung YP-MT6X offers excellent features in spite of its small size. It has an FM tuner and recorder, voice recorder and inline encording. One good thing about it is that it runs on only 1 AA battery — for 42 long hours! If a rechargeable battery is used, then it becomes a very economical player.

Changing the rechargeable batteries in MP3 players can be very costly.

Editor’s Recommendations

Creative Zen Vision:M

iPod Video

Samsung YP-MT6X

Creative Zen Nano Plus

Here’s a handy chart comparing the various MP3 digital audio players: MP3 Digital Audio Players Comparison Chart

Digital Music Players at Amazon.com

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