MP3 Players buying guide

Jan 28, 2011 No Comments by

When/how will you use your music player?

If portability is paramount go for something small and light such as an iPod Shuffle (see pic above).  The sound reproduction might be pants-to-purists and it might not hold that many tunes but through earphones even the crappiest sound quality is okay and how many tunes are you likely to get through during a work-out or run?

If you’re not jigging about you can buy pretty much anything – few MP3 players are bigger than a mobile phone.

Should I use the supplied earphones or buy others?

Up to you. If the earbuds that came with the player fit your lug-holes, so much the better.  If not, try a pair of ‘in-ear’ buds such as Sennheiser OCX 880s (which also have over-ear hooks to keep them in place).  The OCX 880s are expensive but good.  There are Fogey 5s for in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones and over-ear headphones.

What about video or wi-fi connectivity?

An Apple iPod Touch looks for all the world like an iPhone (the Touch preceded the iPhone) and that’s because it does everything a first generation iPhone will do minus the phone-calling bit.  In other words it allows you to swipe your merry way through cyberspace (er, the Internet…), wirelessly, so long as you’re in range of a signal/hotspot.  But the Touch won’t play video if its been rendered as a .swf (Shockwave/Flash) file.  Although since most of the irritating, dancing, wobbling, swooping on-line advertisements are Flash files, any device that won’t play this deluge of unremitting shite is to be cherished.

MP3 players that also play video are handy in many instances but not least for watching video podcasts, many of which can be downloaded free from iTunes.  If you are interested in a device that plays video as well as audio a larger screen with good resolution is obviously desirable.

As with so many consumer electronic products; more features means higher cost.  An 8GB iPod Touch (the lowest capacity) costs around £160 whereas a 2GB iPod Shuffle is £40.  Bear in mind that the Shuffle will only work with one version of iTunes.  That’s to say if you have an iTunes library on a desktop PC and another on a laptop it will only work with one of them.

How much storage capacity do I need?

Even the 2GB iPod Shuffle can hold hundreds of tunes but when you get into storing video or photos, the demands on space increase dramatically.  Having said that an iPod Classic ‘gives you 160GB of storage capacity, which can hold up to 40,000 songs, 200 hours of video, 25,000 photos or any combination.’  That’s a lot.

MP3 player and computer compatibility

These days most players ‘talk’ to most computers’ media libraries, although iTunes is still the dominant interface whereby music is transferred to a digital media player.  Where things can get tricky is with operating systems.  Make sure any media player you buy is compatible with your computer and its operating system (eg Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7).

There must be brands other than Apple…

Yup.  Which? rates the Cowon J3 (from £169 at Amazon) very highly and Cnet quite liked the Sony Walkman NWZ-A846 (as did others, it’s in the Fogey 5) but no other brand scores as consistently well as Apple.  If you’re principally interested in video, Archos make some nice kit.  Not as nice as an iPad, though…