Friends and coworkers constantly ask me for buying advice when it comes to gadgets. While I like helping people out, most of the advice I dish out is repetative. It is in that spirit that I provide my mp3 player buying guide.
First, recognize that these devices play more than mp3s, so referring to them as an mp3 player is inappropriate. I suggest digital audio player or DAP, which has its own problems but is, nonetheless, better. I will use DAP throughout this post.
Second, just as Starbucks is not a synonym for coffee shops, iPod is not a synonym for DAP. Do not refer to all DAPs as iPods.
Buying Guide Advice, Part 01: iPods
If you want to look cool or want an iPod, stop reading this post and just go buy an iPod. You will be satisfied with your purchase.
Buying Guide Advice, Part 02: The Rest
There are only three key criteria that you should worry about when considering a DAP purchase.
(1) Size: How much music or data do you want to store on your DAP? Most ads and many reviews will tell you how many songs or albums can fit on a specific player. This is a meaningless figure. That is because songs vary in length and you can record or save songs in different formats and at different qualities, all of which can greatly affect the size of the file. But if you insist on using this type of measure, ignore what the ads say and use this formula: 10 albums = 1 gigabyte (GB). You will probably fit more than 10 albums in 1GB, but this gives you a solid foundation on which to make size decisions.
People either want a lot of space or are okay with a little. If you fall into the latter, you will change your mind eventually. I suggest people buy DAPs with as much storage space as you can afford; like all electronic devices, don’t be cheap. If you are committed to a small one, most of the sub-$100 players are the same so just buy the one that looks the best.
(2) File formats: The dominant music file format is mp3. All DAPs play mp3s.
There are other file formats, and not all DAPs play them. The most important file format issue is whether you plan to use a music subscription service, such as Napster or iTunes. I do not recommend you do; instead, continue buying CDs. But if you want to use these services, you need to buy either an Apple DAP (these are the only ones that play iTunes-purchased music) or a DAP with the “Plays For Sure” logo (which means it plays any of the other music services’ files).
Last, I recommend you look for a DAP that supports OGG. This is becoming an increasingly popular way to save music. Many players don’t support it, however.
(3) Transferring Music: There are two primary ways to put music on a DAP. The first is the way you copy and move any other type of file. More specific, when your DAP is plugged into your computer, it will appear as one more hard drive (like your C drive). You can then copy and paste music directly from your music folder to your DAP. Unplug the DAP from the computer and you are set.
The second way to transfer music is with a specific program that asks you which music you would like to transfer and then it transfers it for you. This program can either already be on your compute (e.g., Windows Media Player), be one you downloaded (e.g., WinAmp, RealPlayer, and iTunes), or a piece of software written by the DAP company to transfer music to its player.
I recommend you only buy DAPs that use the first method.
The second method invites aggravation, time wasting, and problems with your DAP and computer into your life. Keep in mind that if you buy an Apple or “Plays For Sure” device, as outlined in (2), you will be using a program to transfer your music. If you are buying a DAP that uses such a program, aim for one that uses Windows Media Player or iTunes; avoid RealPlayer, MusicMatch, and software written by the company.
I provide three criteria to help you identify the DAP that’s best for you. They are:
- Big or small?
- Subscription service?
- File transfer?
Using these three criteria, you ought to be able to identify a handful of DAPs that meet your needs and are of reasonable quality. Narrow your options down to one using appearance, price, and any reviews you might find. The best source of information for all of this is C|Net’s DAP site.