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MP3 Players

Which is Best?

iPod's Nano's, iRivers, iAudio, RCA Lyra, Creative's Zen Nano, Sandisk, Phillips, Sony Walkman.. there are so many MP3 players to choose from; which is best... and best for the money? There are hard drive models and flash drive.  While hard drive models can hold thousands of songs, they have moving parts which will eventually fail, and are more vulnerable to shock and damage from being dropped. Flash drives are much tough and should last many times longer.  And since a 2 GB model can hold 500 songs, there's plenty of space for most people's needs!

What to look for

  1. Capacity - each gigabyte of storage capacity will store about 250 songs; any photos or video you store will reduce the capacity for songs - they all share the same storage area. 2 GB is a good standard, but you may be able to get 4 GB or more.
  2. Software - You will want software to convert your CDs into the audio playback format the player can handle. You can also organize your music collection according to artist, album, genre, and a variety of other categories, as well as create playlists to suit any mood or occasion. All come with software to help you shuttle content between your PC and the player via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection. All players work with a Windows PC, and some support the Macintosh platform.
  3. Player upgradability - On most models, the firmware--the built-in operating instructions--can be upgraded so the player does not become obsolete. Upgrades can add or enhance features, fix bugs, and add support for evolving audio and video formats and operating systems. This is particularly important for models with video playback due to the evolving nature of video formats.
  4. Display - Most MP3 players have a display screen that allows you to view the song title, track number, amount of memory remaining, battery life indicator, and other functions. Models with color displays also let you store and view pictures from your digital camera, and in some cases, video clips. 
    Some displays present a list of tracks from which you can easily make a selection, while others show only one track at a time, requiring you to advance through individual tracks to find the desired one. On some of the models you can access the player's function controls via a wired or infrared remote control. Most players have built-in management of songs that can be accessed via album, artist, or genre. Individual playlists of songs usually get created on a computer and transferred to the player, though many let you manage the music on the player, allowing you to edit playlists and delete files.
  5. Photos - Virtually all players with color screens can play JPEGs, the default photo format of most digital cameras. Some can handle TIFFs, BMPs, and lesser-known formats as well. Many let you view your pics in slideshow fashion, complete with fade-outs, scrolls, and other transitions, as well as in conjunction with music.
  6. Video - A growing number of hard-drive players with color displays can also store and playback video. The video is in a format that compresses about 3 hours of video into 1 gigabyte of hard-disk space. Popular content sources include CinemaNow and iTunes, which lets you download music videos, TV-show episodes, and short films for $2 apiece. But iTunes only works with iPods, and CinemaNow only supports players that can handle copy-protected Windows formats. Virtually all video players come with software that converts non-protected movies into a format the player can handle.
    As for the viewing experience itself, MP3-player screens are relatively tiny--even when compared with portable DVD players--and are hard to see in outdoor light. Players with the largest screens, up to 3 inches wide, are easier to watch for longer periods and often come with built-in speakers. But they can weigh as much a pound and are often too bulky to stuff into a shirt pocket.
  7. Sound quality and features - Expect some type of equalizer, which allows you to adjust the tone in various ways. A custom setting via separate bass and treble controls or adjustable equalizers gives you the most control over the tone. Some players have presets, such as "rock" or "jazz," as well as channel balance control.
  8. Controls - Volume, track play/pause, and forward/reverse controls are standard. Most portable MP3 players let you set a play mode so you can repeat one or all music tracks, or play tracks in a random order, also referred to as "shuffle" mode. An A-B repeat feature allows you to set bookmarks and repeat a section of the music track.
  9. Extra features - In addition to playing music, most MP3 players can function as external hard drives, allowing you to shuttle files from one PC to another. Some players can act as a USB host, which allows you to transfer images, data, or music directly from a memory card reader, digital camera, or another MP3 player without the need of a computer. A few of these, however, won't let you play or view the files you transfer. Some allow you to view text files, photos, and videos on their display screens. Other convenient features include an FM radio tuner, a built-in microphone or line input for recording, as well as adapters or a line output for patching the player into your car's audio system


Consumer Reports put the Samsung YP-T8Z (1 GB), the Cowon iAudio 5 (1 GB)  and the   Apple iPod Nano (2 GB) at the top of their list of recommendation.  Oddly, they give the Nano higher ratings in 2 of the 3 key categories, and yet despite its greater capacity, Consumer Reports lists it 3rd.

We agree with their top 3, but would generally put the Nano at the top because in addition to its larger capacity, it so dominates the marketplace that there are many, many aftermarket accessories available to adapt the Nano to your specific needs.

Our top pick is the 2 BG Nano in either white or black.  For the money, reliability and features, it can't be beat!

Where to Buy and Pricing

Apple 30 GB iPod with Video Playback Black:


All images and text Copyright J Slemmer 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
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