Archive for Monday, December 22, 2003

Tips on what to look for when buying MP3 players

December 22, 2003


"Has anybody seen the CD player?"

After shoveling about four inches of snow off our driveway, I was ready to get something hot to drink and sing along to some Christmas carols.

But the portable CD player that's usually sitting in our kitchen was gone. Plus, I had no idea where the Christmas CDs were buried.

I headed down to the basement to get on our computer to call up my Christmas playlist on iTunes.

But halfway down the stairs, I knew by the twinkling sounds that Bonnie was instant messaging and had our computer (and my music) tied up.

As I got some hot chocolate, I wished I had something to help get me into caroling mode -- like a portable MP3 player full of my Christmas mix.

All about memory

If you're in the market for an MP3 player, there are a lot to choose from. I found more than 700 models on, ranging from under $50 to more than $500.

There also are many devices that can play 128 kbps MP3 files, including some hand-held computers, mobile phones, small digital audio recorders and even some tricked-out wristwatches.

Here are the most common tips I found for buying a device to play your MP3 files:

  • Buy a dedicated MP3 player (they usually have better sound, file navigation and ease of use than a hybrid phone/PDA/mobile phone).
  • Make sure the player is compatible with your notebook or desktop computer software and hardware. You'll use your computer to capture or download your music and transfer it to the player through USB or Firewire (IEEE-1394) ports.
  • Get a player with the most memory storage you can afford. And get one that allows you to navigate easily through your music files.

MP3/CD players

The cheapest route to go is with a CD/MP3 player. These usually can play both regular music CDs and recordable discs (CD-R or CD-RW). Some come with an FM tuner.

The beauty of them is that, if you don't mind the size (they're the size of a portable CD player), you can get up to 150 tunes on one disk.

A quick search on turned up two models under $100.

One, which got 3 1/2 stars, was the iRiver iMP50 MP3/CD Player with Car Adapter, which was $49.

Another, which wasn't rated, was the Irock! 200D CD/MP3 Player with FM Tuner, which cost $62.

Another grouping of digital audio players uses a solid state flash memory (such as those memory cards used in digital cameras) to store music. The flash memory usually doesn't go much higher than 512MB.

Some players also come with an FM tuner or an audio recorder.

What's most appealing about them is the small size, making them ideal for taking on a workout.

Two examples of these are the Rio Cali 256MB Digital Audio Player (about $170) and the MPIO 128MB digital Audio Player (about $99).

Mother load

The third kind of MP3 player is usually larger and stores songs in a hard drive.

Because you'll have so many songs, you'll need to make sure the device has a good navigation system and a well-lit screen.

One of the most popular hard disk models is the Apple iPod, which comes in 10GB ($299), 20GB ($459) and 40GB ($499) sizes.

They're now compatible with both Macintosh and Windows operating systems. And you easily can buy and download songs for 99 cents through the iTunes Music Store at (dubbed by Time as the "Coolest Invention of 2003").

You also can buy several accessories for an iPod that stretch its use. Belkin has built accessories that let you store digital photos in your iPod ($99), or use it as a voice recorder ($49). Griffin has built an iPod FM transmitter ($35) that lets you play your songs wirelessly to your car radio.

Napster's back

As Apple seamlessly links up its iPod users to its iTunes Music Store, Samsung teamed up with Napster's new pay Web site ( to build and market its own new hard drive player -- the sleek 20GB Samsung Napster YP-910GS (about $299, with rebate). gave the Samsung Napster player a five-star rating. Among its extras are line-in recording, an FM tuner and the ability to transmit wirelessly to your car's FM stereo.

Another challenge to the iPod is the new Dell Digital Jukebox, which comes in 15GB ($259) and 20GB models ($329). gave the new Dell model five out of five stars.

I didn't like the design as well as the iPod. But it does allow for voice recording without buying the accessory. However, for now, it only works with Windows formats.

Other hard drive models include the Nomad Zen 30GB model, about $270, and the RCA Lyra Audio/Video Digital Player ($399).

Building memories

I lit three candles and sat back on the couch with my hot chocolate.

"OK, belt one out."

"What?" Julie gave me a sideways glance.

"A Christmas song. Like you did when you were little."

My daughter laughed and picked up the butane candle lighter next to the Advent wreath. She held the lighter upside down like a microphone.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ...."

We both laughed as she sang.

Then she did a couple of more carols with me as we watched the candles flicker.

An MP3 player is fine to sing along with. But it can't beat another crooner when you want to create some memories.

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