Help me buy an MP3 player

Karen H.

Okay, I don’t actually need help buying one, I need help picking one out.  I’ve been thinking about the ipod mini because I don’t actually have that many songs, and it would be convenient for exercising.  Also, I would like a pink one!  (Okay, not a deal breaker….but they’re cute!)  So, is this the right choice?  What has your experience been?  What accessories should I get?  I have a PC and not a Mac, is this a problem? 

Thanks for the advice!

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28 thoughts on “Help me buy an MP3 player

  1. PC thing is not a problem. Get the iPod mini. It’s going to be more expensive than other players, but it is by far the most beautiful, the easiest to use, and iTunes is the easiest program to use for organizing your music. Easy choice.

    Now, let’s talk about the fact that you’re on a PC and not a Mac…

  2. Wow….

    It’s entirely a matter of use, IMHO. If you want something to just hold a few songs while you work out, a small flash-based MP3 player would do; Sumer has the Creative MuVo and it works well, has FM radio as well, has a screen, comes with an armband, etc., etc. I think they come in pink. If you don’t need a screen you might seriously consider an ipod shuffle, which are just really cool. Flash-based mp3 players are a dime a dozen and really cheap. Check out http://cheap.typepad.com periodically and you’ll see them come up.

    If you want to use your mp3 as a repository for all your songs (as I do), then a large ipod or a Creative Zen is the way to go. I have a 40 gig ipod and love it.

    Of course, if you want to buy songs off iTunes and listen to them on the go, only an ipod will work. No ipod has FM functionality or recording built-in, however.

  3. Yeah, I want to use itunes, I’ve been inspired by the radioblog! First download Jimi Hendrix? :o)

  4. definitely go w/ the ipod. it has the best user interface around, and is probably the most aesthetically pleasing. if you don’t have too many songs the mini is good, otherwise go w/ a normal ipod w/ a large hdd. i have a 30gb 3rd gen ipod and love it (except for the battery life, but i’m officially now part of the class-action suit).

    the ipod shuffle will in fact only play songs in random order as far as i understand. since it doesn’t have a screen there’s no way to see what song is playing or what’s cued up, and also no way to choose which song you want to listen to. i don’t really think that it sounds like that great of a device. if you want small i’d definitely go w/ the mini over the shuffle or other brands.

  5. No, that’s not true – the shuffle will play songs straight through as well. But the lack of a screen makes things difficult. FYI, the new generation of iPods all have color screens; soon it may be a good time to pick up a previous generation.

  6. how does it play them straight through? according to a playlist set up in itunes, or alphabetically, or some other way?

  7. The integration of how you manage your music on your computer with how you manage it on your music player is what makes iTunes and the iPod so great. Also note that the newest version of iTunes has podcasting support, which gives easy access to another world of content.

    If jogging is your main concern, then an iPod shuffle is a great choice. The price just dropped by $20 on the 1 gig version. It isn’t the cheapest such player, but again the integration with iTunes adds a lot of value. It can play in random mode or according to a playlist that you set up. The nice thing is that you can just get a new random mix of songs each time you plug it in. It also doubles as a handy USB drive, to carry files around on.

    If you want to hold all your music in the palm of your hand at once then a regular iPod is a good bet. While not as handy as a flash drive, it gives you the option of carrying ALL your important files around with you.

    The other nice thing about the entire iPod line is that there are a large number of accessories that are made for the various iPods. Armbands, FM tuners, remote controls, external speakers, etc.

    If you are cheap, want to manage files yourself, and want something to jog with you might want want I have, which is this:
    http://www.bananapc.com/products/productInfo.aspx?category_id=1310&product_id=14534

    Its advantages? It runs off a AAA battery.

    I don’t know that I would get one again though now that the iPod Shuffle is out.

  8. Karen, I think you’ll be glad if you get an iPod. I have a 20GB and it’s been a great experience. I must confess though that I didn’t purchase it … I received it as a gift. The expense did keep me away.

    One thing you might not be into now, but that you might get into later, is listening to podcasts. iTunes just recently made it possible to listen to podcasts on the iPod and that might become a really big deal in the future.

  9. Having started with the Archos 20 GB player and recently recived the iPod 40GB as a gift, I confess my undying love for the iPod! iTunes is a really great management tool (I’ve come to adore the “smart playlist” tool). My only complaints with the iPod is that files you buy from iTunes come with security settings that place some restrictions on how you transfer the files to other devices or share the files. And that I can’t play Apple’s audio format through my TiVo.

    I’ve also been intrigued by the Napster-to-Go service which is incompatible with iPod. It’s a subscription service–pay a fee each month and you can listen to Napster’s entire library. The hitch is you don’t own any of the files. I wish iTunes would develop a similar offering. I would pay a small fee each month to be able to sample the entire library. I’d actually purchase the songs/albums that are truly worthwhile.

  10. I have an iShuffle and it plays lists and random songs. It’s funny wheni am on random selection it plays a couple of songs quite a bit more often than others. I guess it has favorites too!

    I like the way I can go into iTunes and set up a play list and then listen as it has been set up. My husband has the iPod and the screen helps a little for longs trips but I still don’t feel left out when using the shuffle. If I don’t want to listen to a song I just hit skip and its outta there!

  11. The Shuffle can play the songs in the order you transfer them to the player. The lack of screen can be frustrating; I would only recommend the Shuffle for exercising (it’s super-light) or travel. The Mini is not that much more.

  12. I used to have a Diamond Rio back before iPods were even around and it was similar to a iShuffle–it held only an hour’s worth of music, though, and you could only listen to it in the order you loaded it onto the player. I think there was a random function but maybe not. Anyway it had an extra little device you could plug in that had a small screen to show you what was playing. I don’t know why they didn’t make something similar for the iShuffle. The only drawback on the Rio was that using it drained the batteries super fast.

    But it was great for exercising with.

  13. Screens are overrated for small players. Do you want to listen to your music or look at the title? They don’t do much good for navigation on small players either since there isn’t that much to navigate and the screen isn’t large enough to be useful for that. I have a NexII player that is about the same size as an iPod mini. I like it, but I find that I use the screenless Phison more.

  14. I jog and lift weights regularly with my 20GB iPod and haven’t had many problems – it did freeze up once. I managed to find a good armband for it. The mini is probably more comfortable, but so often when I go exercise I find myself thinking, man, if I only had this or that album to listen to today … the mini just doesn’t hold enough to suit my day-to-day whims. Some days you just want to listen to Mmmm Bop

  15. It would take too long to completely explain, but I haven’t been impressed with ipods and the like and have philosophical differences with them. Thus, I’d just go with a portable CD player with good anti-skip. If playing MP3s is truly important, you can get one that will play mp3s burned on a disc (which is what I’ve have, but I’ve only used that feature once to test it). Also, most come with AM/FM, so that’s a plus. The downside is that it’s a bit more bulky, but I think it’s worth it.

  16. Pris,

    Please explain. I’d love to hear details of your philosophical differences with mp3 players. Is it the lower sound quality of compressed music? Is it the price? The fiddling with the computer?

    Also, have you tried any recently?

  17. A contrary note on iTunes. I have both an iPod (20GB) and Napster. Napster offers a $14.95/month deal to download unlimited songs to your non-iPod MP3 player, so it’s a weird combination. But I buy songs off Napster, put them on CDs and on my computer, and then use Real Player to upload them to my iPod. I can listen to the CD if I want (and I have a CD archive), I can listen through my computer (I have a Phillips “Streamium” stereo setup that plays songs off my hard drive) and I can listen to them on iPod. With iTunes, one out of three. It’s sometimes a pain in the rear end, but the extra $9.95/month for Napster streaming is great for previewing and also worth it to be able to truly own the song and do anything I want with it — make mix CDs, listen on the computer, etc.

    So, I recommend an iPod even without iTunes involved in the decision. But I haven’t used any other MP3 player, so I’m just saying.

  18. Matt, isn’t it true that if you stop your subscription to Napster the songs are no longer valid to play? I heard it is sort of like paying $15 a month to “rent” the songs.

  19. Hmm. I hadn’t heard that, it sounds like it might be true of their $14.95/month “unlimited” subscription for downloading to your non-iPod player. With the basic $9.95/month deal, you can stream and download anything (though you can only play it through Npaster unless you buy the song), and you can buy songs which entitles you to burn them on up to (I think) 3 CDs and keep them on up to (I think) 3 hard drives. I have never heard that you must remove them and destroy the CDs etc. if you stop subscribing nd I would be surprised if so.

  20. arJ: yes, no, yes.

    My primary concern is the sound quality: mp3s are a lossy format. If I were to get a player, I’d need to get one that played flac or shn or some other loseless format. (Are there players on the market that allow this?) Even so, it’d effectively decrease the amount of storage by a factor of ten, since (in general) a mp3 takes up roughly 1mb/minute while flac is around 10mb/minute. Saving as WAV files would be even worse.

    The bigger concern I have about this, though, is that if mp3s become the primary way of getting legal music, the industry/producers/musicians will start tailoring the production of songs so that they sound “good” as mp3s. Part of this is also the type of headphones that most use when listening to ipods, etc.: cheap ones. This makes me sound like a music elitist, I realize, but I don’t mean it that way: I have a good stereo, good speakers, and good headphones for a reason, and I wish to stop the market forces from creating music that sounds ‘good’ on cheap stuff, but lacks anything more on higher-end equipment.

    I don’t know if this would happen, and I might be (a touch) paranoid, but it is a concern.

    Second, I have a large collection and it would take a significant amount of time to add files to a player. I think I would have to do what Susan does and just buy an external hard drive or something to fit all my music. As it is, when I go to work, I have a 72-disc CD book I bring with me.

    Third, I’m an ‘album’ guy. I know some people aren’t, but I prefer to listen to an album–and I don’t like ‘shuffle’ functions. I like making mixes, but I’m very deliberate in decisions. Again, personal taste, nothing more.

    More personal taste: fourth, certain lifestyles really don’t need a mp3 player–mine doesn’t. All my music listening takes place at home (where I have all my music), at work (see above paragraph) or walking places/shopping–but rarely do I need more than 60-80 minutes of music for that. If I do, I either take another CD or just listen to the one I have again.

    Just doing some quick calculations, to get what I want in a player, it’d have to play flac files, have around 100gb, and cost around $200. I haven’t looked around or tried any recently; if anyone knows if there are players that match those specifications, I’d love to know.

  21. Pris,

    iPods will play Apple Lossless Format files. They are similar to FLAC and about half the size of the raw files off the CD.

    That said, I’d be surprised if most people are able to distinguish between high bit rate (above 192kbs) lossily compressed files and a losslessly compressed file. But maybe you can.

  22. arJ: I’d like to think I can, but I don’t know for sure–I haven’t done any empircal tests. I’m pretty sure that I can pick out mp3s at 128 with accuracy. I think it depends a lot on the equipment used to play the song.

  23. Yeah, I am often bothered by the compression on 128 kbps mp3s. I haven’t ever noticed the compression on a 160 kbps AAC file.

    I should also note that I am unable to listen to satellite radio because the compression is so distracting to me.

    I would suggest that you find a friend with an iPod and run some tests. You might be pleased with the results your can get with your good headphones and a 192 kbps AAC file. Those that are obsessed with quality will buy an external amplifier in addition to fancy headphones for their iPod.

    Oddly enough, the iPod Shuffle (which won’t play the loseless files) is considered to have the best sound out of the box. Better bass is what usually gets cited.

  24. I’m a big advocate of non-iPod mp3 players. I love my Archos Gmini. It’s much more flexible than an iPod in terms of downloading and uploading. Can your iPod burn songs directly from your satellite dish receiver? My Archos GMini can. Plus, I can take my player anywhere and use it on any computer, even if that computer isn’t equipped with a firewire port or iTunes software. Plus, I don’t have to switch my computer into “data” mode to use it as a portable hard drive. And I can take songs *off* my player and rip them to CDs, which is very convenient if I want to burn a CD while visiting family.

    Yeah, iPods work great and are very pretty. But they come with a whole set of drawbacks that iPod fanatics don’t want to fess up to.

    People I know tire of hearing this rant, but there it is.

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