This is a general guide to consider when buying an mp3 player or in a broader sense a portable audio-video player. I have decided not to emphasis iPods as I am writing another guide on buying an iPod. Okay, let’s begin.
Identify your needs before buying an mp3 player.
It is important to consider where and how you will use the player, the size, the style and the storage. Also matters like playback time, battery life, recharging, supported formats, external cards, and additional features like FM radio, DRM compliance etc.
To Brand or Not to?
The Hamlet’s dilemma arises once again, and the answer this time is simple. Go for the brands, it’s safer and you can expect a promising and decent performance. I know budget could be the primary concern but don’t comprise on the quality of the player. Along with brand name come quality, trust, and peace of mind in the forms of warranty, guarantee, and return policy. Some of the branded mp3 players are Apple iPod, Archos, Creative Zen, Microsoft Zune, SanDisk Sansa, Sony etc.
Audio, Video or Everything
Just like the Def Leppard song, All-I-want- is- Everything, is probably true with most buyers. However, if you are only interested in the basic audio playback then you can look for those tiny mp3 players with mini screens. But not before you read the whole guide, check the Formats section before you makeup your mind. You probably are an all-I-want-everything person then you'll need your mp3 player compatible with video, flash, and image files. Go for a player with LCD, preferably wide screen. It will be bit expensive than the basic mp3 player but absolutely worth it.
An average three minute mp3 song take around 1.6 MB, which means a player with 64 MB storage, can keep roughly 40 songs. Now, most mp3 players got a minimum of one 512 MB, which means 320 songs. The more musing you want to listen, the more memory is required. Since video clips will take more memory it’s always good aiming for the higher storage capacity. In a One GB player you can store an average of 4 hours of video, 500 songs, and 330 photos. MP3 players store the content in mini chips known as flash memory, however the players with a hard drive can store much higher content say like 80 or 160 GB. Flash memory still has another advantage, as it’s a solid-state memory there are no moving parts so the chances are skipping music or failing parts are much reduced. Another advantage is because of the smaller size it’s ideal to carry around.
It’s called mp3 player but it’s not an mp3 player any more, as it can play different audio and video formats. You may want to listen high quality music, lectures, recordings and watch movies, photo slide shows or You Tube clips. Then you need a player which can run different audio-video formats. The most common audio file for the player is mp3, hence the name MP3 Player. But there are also audio formats; the uncompressed higher quality ones like Wav, AIFF, AU etc. and lossy compressed ones like MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio), AAC (Advanced Audio Coding especially for iTunes/iPod), OGG (Ogg Vorbis), MPC (Musepack), ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding - Sony), and lossless audio formats like FLAC, WavPack etc. Well, we’ve to cover this part, there is no easy way out…
I know people went on buying an mp3 players saying I only want- to-listen music, but eventually they wanted to see video clips, movies, pictures and there comes regret - I should have bought a better one – let that not happen to you. DivX, XviD, MOV(Apple Quicktime), rm (Real Media), rmvb, MPEG, VOB (DVD), WMV (Windows Media), AVI, MPEG-4, FLV (Must for You Tube), MPEG-1, MPEG-2 are some of the video formats you’ll need to look into. The more formats the player support the better it is. Check the manual or leaflet for the supported format feature or ask the store manager or even read a review about the player.
This is one feature a buyer most likely to ignore, because you can always charge it again, right? Wrong, remember video tracks and marathon music playing drain batteries much faster than a speeding bullet, forgive the cliché, but it really gets in the way. Especially if you are working a boring nightshift and your player ran out of battery in just two hours will really leave you in frustration worse than it spells. So look for a battery life too, sometimes catalogues mention battery life like battery life 22 hours, video playback five hours etc.
Most mp3 players have rechargeable batteries built in, and some has battery bays for AA or AAA batteries. Built in rechargeable batteries are usually in NiMH or Li-ion. Li-ion battery is preferable as it has longer life and no memory effect. (Memory effect, more common to NiCd battery, is a an effect in which battery gradually lose the maximum capacity if it repeatedly recharged after being only partially discharged. The battery appears to "remember" the lesser capacity due to the partial charge or discharge. Which is could be the reason that it is also known as lazy battery effect.)
Although NiMH batteries don’t have memory effect, there are people I know who really argue against it, anyway, it is still better if you opt for Li-ion batteries which considerably has longer life, low discharge rate and higher energy density. It is always better go for battery life which has a minimum of 12 hours of audio or four hours of video.
From PC to Player.
The truth is you don’t need additional software to add music or video into your player. You can directly drag and drop files into your player from the PC or synchronise with default software (no pun intended) like Windows Media Player. It’s as easy as a mouse click. However, if you prefer to use the exclusive software comes with the mp3 player feel free to do so. Many mp3 players include music management software which can also act as a converter, trimmer and up-loader.
There are many types of external memory cards available for mp3 players. Multi-Media Card (MMC), Secure Digital (SD), Compact Flash (CF) and Memory Stick/Pro-Duo (Sony), Smart Media, Xtreme Digital (xD) are some of the popular memory cards in use. Check and refer the specifications according to your requirements.
Digital Rights Management, sometime erroneously known as Digital Restrictions Management is a technology which can restrict usage of music purchased and downloaded online. Although there are ways to bypass the DRM, it’s still better if you look for an mp3 player with DRM compliance. Now in this age of copyright and “copy wrong”, just be on the safer side, if your player may not be able to play some specified tracks if it doesn’t have DRM compliance. That’s what I call a pain in the…the…neck!!
Windows, Mac and Linuxv
What these has to do with an mp3 player, well, you’ll probably comes to it eventually. Most mp3 players are compatible with Windows and Mac Operating Systems but make sure of that. Check the mp3 player compatible with your pc operating system. For example, if you are a Linux user it’s you’ll definitely want an mp3 player that support Linux, don’t you? Look for an mp3 player that’s versatile and flexible when it comes for compatibility with the operating system. Well, there is always a drag and drop method in case of emergency. Port is another important issue; the general idea is to get an mp3 player compatible with a USB port. You can also try FireWire or Parallel ports but USB is a much popular choice. When you connect to your computer to transfer files Firewire (IEEE-1394) or USB 2.0 connections have the faster transfer rate. USB 2.0 is supported by most new mp3 players.
These are the features good to have but not essential, depends on your requirement, of course.
What an mp3 player turning into? Yes, many mp3 players now have a digital camera feature! Well, now you can take pictures and organize them without the help of a computer. Well, mp3 players and mobile phones almost made sure that they extinct palmtops. If you are desperate for a digital camera with the player look for it and check for it’s specifications like megapixel rate, zoom features etc. (Remember it’s still an mp3 player guide.)
Some people say it’s a definite requirement, but personally I would say, may be in the future…not so far away. But I agree that internet connectivity and WiFi features are pretty cool features especially it let’s you download music and video directly into the player.
Check for the headphones or ear phones, whichever you may prefer and look for the external speaker support where your player can be connected to external speakers.
Microphone and Voice Recording
A built-in micro phone is quite good if you wanted to add voice notes or intended a lot of voice recording. Check for the voice recording feature if you are interested in singing and talking too…
No..no..no… it’s not résumé, it’s about the auto-resume feature. It helps you to return to the track exactly where you left off.
Well, don’t you think it’s an added advantage, especially if you’ve a built in recorder too. You can try radio for a change, though it’s not guaranteed for the reception quality it’s still good to have a radio just as an additional feature, perhaps!
You must be joking, are you sure you are not looking for a HiFi DVD system? Well, if you still want an mp3 player with graphic equalizer, look for it and you’ll find it.
Power save option is a very good additional feature, I would say. It automatically turns off or put the player in a hibernation mode after a period prolonged inactivity to save power.
Timer and clock
MP3 player with a lap timer and a digital clock is not essential but very handy during workouts and something to look for if you have that athletic personality. A timer is also handy at everything, say you are in trance under the spell of your favourite music and it reminds you to check the oven!
Shuffle or Random
As the name suggests it simply means shuffle the music tracks and makes it play random, so you will not know the next song. As it will always be a pleasant surprise!
It doesn’t mean 300 feet under the sea or dive into the swimming pool with your mp3 player strapped into your hip; water resistance is something to look for all those rainy days r when you became a minor Gene Kelly and Dancin’ in the Rain.
Okay, you’ve got your mp3 player and wanted to load your favourite movie into it, ah, here comes the problem. Your movie DVD is copy protected and you wouldn’t be able to copy the files to hard drive! Even if you are able to copy the files to hard disk, then to the player, chances are the files won’t play. Because those video files can’t be ripped normally because of the copy protection. For audio files you can use windows media player to rip the music and turn it into audio formats like wma, wave, or mp3 but to rip files from DVD you need a software like DVD Decrypter; which can rip the DVD to your hard disk without corrupting the file which can be uploaded into the player. You should remember not to violate any copy rights law while doing this.
Now there could be another problem, your mp3 player is only has the storage of 2 GB and the ripped DVD is more than 5 GB, what you’ll do? Of course, you can watch it a part then delete it, then add another part, then watch it again. Gee, reading these lines itself is boring enough, I guess. Okay, here is what you can do. Download a software like Any Video Converter to your computer then add the video files (in case of DVD there are files with extension .VOB) into it then select an output format like mp4, flv, AVI, MPEG-1 or MPEG-2. You can select the size or trim the video to your convenience, which will reduce the size. Say if you add a DVD video file (*.vob) into a mobile phone MPEG-4 (*.mp4) file – it will reduce the size from one GB to 34 MB! No kidding…You can also custom size or change a format that wouldn’t require high storage. In the case of image files, it’s easy peasy, use an image editor like irfanview open an image files like .Tiff (which require higher memory space) and save as *.jpg or *.gif and the difference will be enormous. It can reduce a 30 MB tiff image into a 300+ kb jpeg image without compromising obvious quality.
That’s all folks for now…enjoy your player….
MP3 Player Buying Guide
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10 October 2008
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