In the year 2008 many great new MP3 players were released. Sizes shrunk, capacities got bigger, and screens improved. Since there are so many choices among the anythingbutipod MP3 players there never is a “best” or one-size-fits-all. Features, form factors and capacities are too widespread to make a general recommendation for everyone. This top 5 list chooses the best of breed or those players that really brought something to the table in 2008. These 5 players will be a great pick for the many or a prefect starting point for all looking for a new MP3 player.
#5 Sony Walkman A720/A820
Sony has always been known for well built and higher end electronics. This was the case for the Sony A720 and A820 (both of these models are the same but the A820 series adds Bluetooth). This A series player was put on the list for its nice large screen, thin size, and ability to playback H.264 or MP4. This format is readily available in the form of podcasts and DVD rips due to the iPod using this format as well. Other great features of this player include: great sound quality, instant on, solid firmware, and a great UI.
The Walkman is usually a fairly underrated player on the scene due to the very confusing product line and alpha numeric naming schemes, but we will go ahead and give this one the thumb up endorsement as the best of the countless players Sony has recently released. If you would like a more in-depth look, take a look at our Sony A820 review or stop by our Sony forums for some help.
#4 Cowon iAudio D2
Even though the D2 was released back in mid 2007, it still carried on strong though out 2008 with added capacities and many firmware updates. The D2 made the list because it is truly an audio geek’s player. Cowon’s typically great sound quality is apparent D2 many times being paired with headphone amps costing two or three times the player itself. It also supports many of the enthusiast audio codecs including OGG, APE and FLAC. The battery life will keep you tunes playing for a bit over 50 hours and video for around 10 hours. The SD slot nicely integrated your collection into the main memory with the potential to bring the D2 up to a 48GB flash player with the addition of a 32GB SD card.
The D2 very much deserves a place on the top 5 but I do offer a few words of caution. The D2, as all Cowon products go through a very rocky firmware update path and requires digging though forums to get the most out of the player. It is a player for the geek, the tinkerer, the enthusiast, and not someone looking for a low maintenance player.
You can check out the Cowon D2 review for a good look at this player or check out the many threads in the D2 forum. The D2 is showing its age and will be soon replaced by S9, but since it’s likely on its way out, prices are getting some heavy discounts.
#3 Microsoft Zune 120
Most readers here are not fans of the ecosystem approach in having to use the only the Zune software. But, it was very hard to ignore it due to the many great things that Zune has brought the table for portable audio. The Zune 80 & 120 was personally one of my more used players in 2008 this mainly due to the fact that it was the only player I could around *all* of my 70GB+ music collection with room for many video podcasts automatically downloaded thought the software. The Zune Marketplace software conjures either a love or hate response. This clear demarcation between the two is a matter of spending time using the software and getting used to it. The only thing I ended up hating about the Zune Marketplace software was the fact that I could not use it with any other players. It is highly unlikely that this will ever happen but I have my fingers crossed for a similar experience in Windows Media Player 12 so that others can enjoy this experience.
There are other great aspects of the Zune including its solid design with a scratch proof glass screen, great sound quality, beautifully easy to use UI, and Wi-Fi syncing plus direct downloads. However, what impresses me most about the Zune constant improvements though software. If you bought a Zune 30 (just know as a plain old “Zune” back then) the first day it was released back in 2006, you have not been left behind on all the software update though out the years. That same old school Zune is nearly identical to the brand new Zune 120 though firmware and software updates.
Check out the latest Zune 120 and Zune 16 hardware review on the front page or you can always stop by our Zune forums if you are looking for more interactive feedback. Even if you don’t have a Zune, I do recommend checking out the software since it does make a great desktop media play
er with some pretty slick drag and drop ID3 tag editing.
#2 Samsung P2
2008 was Samsung’s year solidified by the P2. The touch based player designed in-house by Samsung is solid, elegant, and very well made. P2 users have also been delighted with big firmware updates dubbed “BlueWaves” breathing new life into the player with each release. In addition to the player being packed with many features, one of the big reasons the P2 made the list was the innovative use of Bluetooth. While other manufactures simply used Bluetooth to connect wireless headphones, Samsung’s knowledge of the mobile phone market allowed them to symbiotically connect the P2 to any Bluetooth enabled phone. The way they did this would allow you to bury your phone in your backpack or pocket and use the P2 as the interface to your phone. Once paired, calls could be dialed on the on-screen touch pad and communications handles by the headphones and built in microphone. When calls were received, music fades, the track is paused, and the caller ID is shown on screen. In addition to this clever use, Bluetooth also served to transfer files and connected to wireless audio devices and headphones.
The P2 remains a great player today, but if you have some patience to wait till early next year the P3 will offer many improvements over an already fantastic player. Stay tuned to the site for more information on the P3 as we will check it out at the upcoming CES 2009. Additionally check out the P2 and P3 forums for the latest developments. Samsung P2 Review.
#1 SanDisk Sansa Clip
Putting together the order of the other top 5 was a bit of a struggle and a debate, but the #1 was a no brainer. The Clip is one of the cheapest MP3 players on the market, in terms of price as well as build materials- though still very rugged and durable. The screen is small and interface is simple and straight forward. It supports OGG and FLAC and sports both MTP and MSC transfer protocol. It is a fairly basic, but thorough player.
So what’s the deal?
Back when the clip was first released marketing literature touted that the clip was the best sounding mp3 player. I scoffed at these claims and could not wait to get my hands on one to bust this allegedly exaggerated marketing speak. I plugged it into some high end headphones and was instantly impressed; I couldn’t bust these outlandish claims. The Clip is a staple in my gear bag paired with the $500 Shure SE530 headphones. It is still one of the best sounding MP3 players do date and paired with the lowest priced player made for a killer combination. The new 8GB capacity is selling for around $90 but I have seen the 1GB version for under $20. At this price it makes it a great candidate for the gym or other rugged environments you might not want to take your $200-300 main player. The Clip continues to be popular among many of the enthusiasts in our forum as a secondary player pairing them up with headphone amps 10 times the cost of the Clip.
The Clip still suffers from an occasional bug but SanDisk continues the work on improving and adding features. You can find the latest info on the Clip in our very busy SanDisk Sansa forums or take a look at the head to head Clip vs Shuffle article. Also have a look at the review if you would like and in-depth look, but at the price and our glowing recommendation- just buy one.
On a side note, the Sansa Fuze shares the same great sound quality but has a big screen and microSD expansion.