Buying Guide - MP3 players

Mobile music

listining to MP3MP3 players have changed the way we listen to music on the move. With no need for tapes or discs, mp3 players can store days, if not weeks of music, giving us more choice than any other music players.


Although we call portable music players mp3 players, the majority of portable music players support more than just mp3. But whatever formats mp3 players may support, the same basic principles remains. Uncompressed digital music files are ripped from CDs, the data is compressed and copied to mp3 players. The resulting music files will be a fraction of the size that they were on the CD, allowing mp3 players to store large music libraries.

Early mp3 players favoured hard disks for storage, which allowed for large capacity, but also compromised battery life and limited how small mp3 players could be. Now most mp3 players use flash memory. With flash storage mp3 players enjoy better battery life, more robust build and reduced size, while still offering capacities up to 64GB.

Although Apple is the clear market leader, there's still stiff competition from the likes of Samsung and Sony when it comes to mp3 players.

Apple iPod

Since the launch of the first iPod mp3 players, the brand has gone from strength to strength, and now you can find an iPod to suit pretty much every agenda. The iPod shuffle is tiny and ideally suited to use in the gym. It has no screen, 2GB of storage and simply plays all its tracks in a random order.


The iPod nano is also very small, but the entire front fascia is a colour, multi-touch screen. Like the shuffle, the iPod nano has an integrated clip, making it a good exercise partner. But unlike the shuffle, the nano comes with 8GB or 16GB capacity and a much longer feature list.

The iPod classic is the old school option, and is the only iPod that still uses a hard disk for storage. The use of a hard disk allows the iPod classic to sport 160GB of storage.

The iPod touch sits at the top of the iPod tree and puts most other mp3 players to shame. With a high resolution, 3.5" multi-touch screen, built-in Wi-Fi and video calling, the iPod touch is much more than just an mp3 player.

MP4 players

Just as most of us refer to portable music players as mp3 players, portable video players have come to be known as mp4 players. The reason for this is that the MPEG4 codec is the common choice when it comes to creating portable video files, so the devices that playback those files are often called mp4 players.


The thing to remember about mp4 players, is that most high-end mp3 players today are also mp4 players. The iPod touch for instance is as much a video player as it is a music player, and with a massive video library available for download on iTunes, loading it with content is a breeze.

If you're more concerned with video playback than audio, you should look at the Archos range of mp4 players. Archos has been making mp4 players since before MPEG4 was the preferred standard. Archos mp4 players tend to have larger screens and the ability to support pretty much any video format, unlike iPod mp4 players, which will only playback video that's synchronised through iTunes.

Many Blu-ray discs now come with a digital copy too, basically allowing you to transfer the movie to various mp4 players.

Software

Many mp3 players support a drag and drop system for file transfer. These mp3 players will allow you to drag music and video files directly from your computer onto them, with the mp3 players themselves handling the music management internally.


However, mp3 players like iPods require the use of media management software in order to transfer media to music players. Apple's iTunes application is probably the most widely recognised media management software for mp3 players. Apple iPod mp3 players need to be connected to iTunes whenever you want to add or remove music, video or images.

Although iPod mp3 players need to be connected to a computer running iTunes in order to transfer your own music library, iPod mp3 players with built-in Wi-Fi can download content purchased from the iTunes store directly.

Music subscription services like Napster and Spotify can also be used to fill mp3 players with music, as long as you have an active subscription. The Napster to go service supports mp3 players from the likes of Sony, Philips and Creative. Spotify supports iPod mp3 players in a similar manner.

Accessories

headphonesAll mp3 players come with earphones in the box, but they're almost universally poor. If you're looking at music players, the most important accessory is a decent set of earphones. High end earphones can cost more then the mp3 players that they connect to, but you can pick up a good set of earphones for around £40 that will improve any music players that you plug them into.


With such extensive music libraries inside them, mp3 players aren't just useful when we're out and about, you'll want to be able to listen to your music player when you're at home too. The solution is a speaker dock, into which you can plug music players and listen to your music without the need for earphones. There's no end of speaker dock options, with the vast majority of them supporting iPod music players.

When looking for a speaker dock consider the size of the room it will be in, and where you will be while listening. Some speaker docks are tailored for the bedside table with integrated clock and alarm functionality, while others focus solely on getting the best sound quality from music players.