Portable Media Players and Mp3 Players
MP3 Player Buyer’s Guide
Today there are many different brands and types of MP3 players, c...
MP3 Player Buyer’s Guide
Today there are many different brands and types of MP3 players, creating a seemingly daunting task in choosing the right one, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This guide will show you the three most important things to consider when choosing an MP3 player.
One of the first things you must decide on when considering an MP3 player is the memory type. To the average consumer this “geeky” aspect is actually very important and is based on how you are going to use the player and how much total storage space you want. With the two types of memory, flash and hard drive, durability and cost will be the main variables.
Durability: Flash memory, sometimes called “solid state,” looks likes like a small microchip. This kind of memory contains no moving parts and is therefore very durable, making it better suited for a more active and on-the-move user.
On the flipside, hard drive based memory is more prone to failure since it contains moving parts. Hard drives come in several different sizes, but they are all made of the same basic component: a spinning disc with a swinging arm to read the data. Granted, you still can use hard drive players for running or in the gym. They will likely hold up quite well, but there is still a small risk of failure when compared to a zero risk with flash memory. Also keep in mind that if you are prone to dropping your gadgets, hard drive based players run a much higher possibility of damage when they hit the ground.
Cost: The flash memory may be much more durable, but it does come at a cost, typically twice the price of the same capacity hard drive. Additionally, it has a limited maximum capacity in comparison to the hard drive memory, which can be a problem if you have a massive music collection or like to watch a lot of video. If you don’t consider yourself a klutz, you might lean toward the higher capacity hard drive based player, ideal for those music packrats who needs to have all of their tunes with them at all times.
The operating system you use, whether it’s Windows, Mac, or Linux, will determine which MP3 players are compatible. When discussing OS compatibility, the topic of transfer protocols comes up - this is basically the language the MP3 player speaks to the computer when transferring music. If you are using Windows nearly all players are compatible, but Linux and Mac users should be a little more cautious when purchasing a player.
MSC: “Mass Storage Class” or MSC is a protocol that will work with virtually any modern operating system and is your safest bet. MSC operates just like a thumb drive that you plug into the USB port which shows up as a drive letter. Music can then be dragged and dropped into the device, just as you would add documents or photos to a thumb drive.
MTP: Standing for “Media Transfer Protocol” this open standard was build for MP3 and PMP devices. MTP is typically best for Windows systems since drivers are most stable with that OS. However, MTP is catching on in the latest versions of Ubuntu Linux with full and stable support. If you are using a Mac, some MTP hacks exist, but it would be recommended that Mac users avoid MTP based devices.
Proprietary: Occasionally a manufacturer will make up its own protocol in order to provide a user with an “end to end” user experience. There have been a few that have come and gone, but there are really only the two from the OS juggernauts that are of any concern: Apple (iPod) and Microsoft (Zune). These players each have different proprietary protocols that typically require the software media players they provide. The downside to this closed system is that you have little choice on the services you can draw from and are limited to a single media player. The iPod and Zune do play all the popular file types, but may be a bit more restrictive to the more hardcore users. However, on the upside, creating this closed system can provide a more consistent experience and may be easier to use for the absolute beginner.
Where To Get Music
An MP3 player is pretty useless unless you have some media to put on it. In this section we will take a look at places to get music and discuss cautions when dealing with DRMed music.
Rip Your Own Music: “Ripping” a CD basically means to record the music from a CD and compress it into a digital format. This is the best way to get music on your MP3 player. You probably already have mountains of CDs lying around; from there you can make your own digital media with ease. Any media player will allow you to rip your collection as easily as inserting the CD into your computer. Each desktop media player is slightly different so you will have to refer to their help guide, but one adjustment you should make while paging through the guide would be to change the default rip setting. Make sure it is set to MP3 format and at 320kbps, ensuring the maximum compatibility with the best sound quality. This will also “future proof” your music, meaning that you will be able to upgrade MP3 players across brands without having to rerip your CDs, since all MP3 players support… MP3’s of course.
Direct Download Purchases: Use caution here since problems with DRM can come up later. DRM is a protection scheme that will lock your content to a specific device. This may be okay for the short term, but when you go to upgrade your MP3 player (or even computer), your purchased content may not be transferable and you’ve lost a lot of music and the money that went to pay for it. It is best to avoid direct downloads with DRM protection. What you will want to look for, and it’s well advertised, is “DRM Free” content. Amazon, eMusic, iTunes, and Zune Marketplace are the major stores that sell DRM-free content.
Subscription Music: That being said, there are some times when DRM is much easier to swallow. Some music stores such as Rhapsody, Napster, and Zune Marketplace offer a monthly All-You-Can-Download subscription plan. These plans work out well for the music lover who enjoys having access to a vast library of different kinds of music. Do keep in mind, however, that these songs are not yours to keep; you are merely renting them. Once you stop paying the monthly fee, the music will stop playing. If this is something that is of interest to you, you should select a player with an MTP or Zune transfer protocol. Apple does not yet offer a subscription service for the iPod.
Understanding these three aspects of an MP3 player will clear up the majority of trouble areas where new users often get tripped up. The rest is more of less personal preference. TestFreaks offers a fantastic set of research tools and information in the Media Player section including reviews from anytingbutipod.com.
Written for Testfreaks by: Grahm Skee