Which MP3 player is right for me?
Like nice new shiny watches, MP3 players are must-have gadgets. If it’s a ‘mustn’t-have’ with you, then stop reading now. In fact, if you’re in this category, officially known as ‘confused’, you’ll be tired of the growing army of MP3 players (read some reviews here) that exists solely to confuse you.
But, aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? Just what is an MP3 player? What’s an iPod? These are deep questions. Well, MP3 is the name for files saved using the MPEG Audio Layer-3 standard. Obviously. In layman’s terms, it’s simply a way of compressing a file while maintaining sound quality. These files are so compressed, in fact, that you can fit thousands of them onto an MP3 player. And an iPod is simply an MP3 player made by the nice people at Apple.
MP3 fans fall roughly into two camps: there’s the CD Walkman enthusiasts who’ve remembered how fab it is to listen to music on the move. And then there’s the teenagers, lost in a world of audio technology that renders them totally unable to hear any requests to tidy their bedroom. No change there then. It’s a world of jargon, hip design and crazy features. If you want it to be your world, you’d better read on.
General help with MP3 Players
Your MP3 player or iPod might be overflowing with features, but if using it requires a degree in electronic engineering, then it’s not right for you. First, there’s the question of design. Look closely at performance, at sound quality and at battery life. These are vital. And before you wander into the shop and make an uncool goon of yourself, get at least some understanding of the types available. Keep reading.
Types of MP3 Players
OK. Seatbelts on? Here we go. You’ll find three main types of MP3 player – hard drive, flash memory and CD. There are good bits and bad bits with each.
Flash memory players
If jogging or the gym feature in your lifestyle, good for you. Try to drink smoothies, too. More seriously, flash memory players can help here, as they have no moving parts and are unlikely to be joggled to an early electronic death. They’re also small, which is cool, but hold fewest tracks. Only a handful come in at over 1GB. That’s about 600 tracks. Which, admittedly, is slightly better than a Walkman.
Surprisingly, hard-drive MP3 players store files on their hard drives. Just like your computer. But smaller. This is cheaper than flash memory, and hard disk MP3 players (like the Apple iPod) hold more tracks than flash-based ones. But here’s the bad bit, hard drives are mechanical and do go wrong (ready, everybody? Never!). So don’t go jogging.
The biggest and the cheapest. They don’t compress music onto the CDs. Instead, they store it on individual files. Obviously, an MP3 CD player holds much more music than a bog-standard CD. In fact, with CD-based MP3 players, you can carry every track in the world ever recorded if you can carry enough CDs. You can even play ordinary CDs if you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old days of Duran Duran. Ahem, or maybe not. Again, no jogging.
How Many Tunes on a MP3 PLayer?
For many of you, this will be the key question: how many tracks will my MP3 player store? Well, it all depends on bitrate, how long the tracks are (are you a fan of 70s guitar solos? don’t worry, I won’t tell.), and the size of the MP3 player. So what’s bitrate? This is how much data you can fit on each second of audio. The higher the bitrate, the better the sound. However, all this great-quality sound will be jostling for elbow room with bigger file sizes. So, you won’t be able to store as many songs. For the record (no pun intended), a good MP3 player will store up to 16,000 tracks.
Which bitrate you go for will depend on where you use your player. If you’re in a loud place, most files will sound the same to you. In a library, though, a high bitrate is cool.
MP3 Player File Types
MP3 is the most popular storage method for digital sounds. However, there are others. Indeed, there’s a whole electronic sweet shop of different file types. They all serve the same purpose, though – putting loads of music into a tiny space. Make sure your MP3 player can play the files you want. Let’s run through those file types:
MP3 – good to go in almost every portable player. Contains no DRM (see below). Or artificial flavourings.
AAC – Used by the iTunes music store. Good for iPods (iTunes is an Apple concern), but not for many other MP3 players. AAC doesn’t contain DRM, but stay awake now, iTunes files come in a DRM package. So you can’t use them much.
WMA – Good old Bill Gates claims these files are better quality than MP3s for some file sizes. Well, he would. They’re a Microsoft file. They’re used by online music stores and can contain DRM (see below). Check your MP3 player supports them.
WAV – Most MP3 players play WAV. The question is: why would you want to?!
What is DRM?
Heard of Napster or iTunes? Confused? Aren’t we all. If you’re downloading files from these online music stores, you’ll need to know about DRM (digital rights management). This is a way of making sure files can’t be illegally shared. It also can set a limit on how many times you can burn a song to a CD, transfer it to a portable player, or even play it. Make sure your MP3 player supports DRM, or you could be buying tracks you can’t play.
MP3 Player Brands
You might have heard of something called the iPod. Yep, the Apple iPod – which comes in various guises such as Shuffle, Nano and Video – is the key player here. It’s small, stylish and cute. But you can also walk into Tesco and buy something slightly less small, stylish and cute for not much money that’ll hold most of your CD collection. Other brands include Creative, Archos, iRiver and Sony.
You’re kidding, right? Nope. We couldn’t leave the subject of MP3 players without talking about MP4 players. These are like MP3 players but with video screens. This can be a good and bad thing. Obviously, it’s a bit cool to have TV on the go, but this does put somewhat of a strain on their batteries. Also, a sizeable colour screen is essential. Get one with a screen at least three inches and it will have been designed for audio and video.
Expect to pay £250 or more for an MP4 player. On some models, you can record your favourite TV progs and watch them as you commute to work. But not if you drive. Obviously.
Hope that’s helped a little. So, time to check out our MP3 reviews.
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