MP3 Players Buying Guide

MP3 Players Buying Guide

MP3 players are the hottest gadgets for listening to music on the move since the original Walkman. You can store literally hundred or thousands of tracks, access them in any order without a break and keep your entire music collection in your pocket wherever you go. Apple are currently dominant in the same way as Sony when they dominated the Walkman era, but there are literally hundreds of brands vying for your hard earned cash.

Brands

Apple’s ubiquitous iPod range (iPod Classic, Shuffle, Nano etc) dominates the market with serious style but there are plenty of other makes to choose from. Big names include Creative, iRiver, Archos and indeed Sony but the shops are also awash with more affordable players from completely unknown brands. Flash memory MP3 players in particular are very robust so you should not have reliability problems either way.

Whether you are looking for iPod kudos or portable music on a tight budget, the most important choice comes down to how many songs you need versus the size, weight, battery life and cost of the MP3 player. For 20 minutes in the gym a couple of times a week, a cheap MP3 player with a small flash memory drive is ideal. Flash MP3 players record to smaller capacity chip-memory but are tiny and light enough to slip in a pocket without danger of pulling your shorts down on the treadmill. For those faced with four-hours of commuting every day, you need a player that offers the widest choice of music and batteries that will outlast a British Rail sandwich – i.e. a higher-capacity hard-disc jukebox.

Memory

Is bigger better?

Despite what retailers will tell you, having a hard-disc that is never more than half full is a waste of money. Personal jukebox storage capacity is quoted in MegaBytes (MB) or GigaBytes (GB) and on average 1MB equates to approximately 1 minute of music – or about 4MB per song assuming you don’t have too many half-hour long rock anthems in your collection. Thus a 4GB Flash MP3 player will hold approximately 1,000 songs while a 60GB Hard-Disc player can store a whopping 15,000.

Flash-memory players offer up to 4GB capacity for as little as £35, with 1GB and 512MB models costing less than a CD. Hard-disc MP3 players come into their own from around 30GB but cost upwards of £100. As capacity increases, so too does the cost, size and weight of the player – so expect models with massive 120GB (around £170) to be relatively bulky. Hard disk-based players are also less stable, and can be prone to failing with little warning.

OK, it’s nice to have your entire music collection at your fingertips but don’t forget you can link the device to your PC and chop and change tracks everyday. If you live and breathe your PC, then an inexpensive Flash player and a blow-out on new music might be better bet than the latest mega-capacity jukebox.

Software

MP3s are not the only music format around, for example Apple machines uses AAC format as well as MP3. Thankfully almost all players come with dedicated software that ensures you have the right format music on your PC and converting it where necessary. Apple’s iTunes will happily convert your entire library of MP3s complete with the ID-tags for track, album and artist names for example.

The software supplied with more advanced players allows you to store, file and playback music on your PC, and then automatically synchronise those songs to the player over a USB cable. But if you do have a library of music already in-situ on your PC, double check the player is compatible with the program (Windows Media etc) or that the supplied software will convert formats.

Battery life

Poor battery life has been the Achilles’ heel of MP3 players, crippling access to thousands of stored songs to just a few hours of playback time. Manufacturer’s claims for battery life are optimistic, bordering on hilarious, and about two-thirds to three-quarters of the run-time quoted is more realistic.

Flash memory players are less power-hungry than hard-disc players and models with Li-ON battery-packs offer around 10 to 15 hours continuous playback. If you are likely to be out and about even longer, models that use disposable batteries will keep you in music as long as you have access to a good supply of fresh AA or AAA cells.

Hard-disc MP3 players have larger batteries but are still only likely to give you a maximum 6 to 8 hours of continuous playback. Models with better battery life invariably cost more of course – but this is often a better investment than extra storage capacity that you don’t need.

You can select MP3 players with good battery life.

MP4 Players

Screens put a big demand on battery power although a large colour screen is essential if you opt for one of the new generation players that can store and display digital images as well as music. Models with the very largest screens – usually 3in or larger are generally designed for audio and video and get the grandiose title of portable media players or PMPs.

Some models from the likes of Archos and iRiver can even hook-up to your TV aerial or digital TV decoder and record your favourite TV programs just like a VCR or DVD-recorder. Now instead of just listening to music you can also catch-up on Eastenders on the way to work. Great on the train – but don’t try it on the days you cycle to the office.

MP4 Players

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