MP3 Player Buyer’s Guide

mp3 buyersguide MP3 Player Buyer’s Guide

The market is getting more and more saturated with various player models that share the same basic features and navigating this jungle of players is a difficult task. Way too often there are topics in the forum asking for the “best” player. There is no such thing. I doubt you’ll find two people on the planet who’s lives are exactly identical and with different lifestyles comes different MP3 player needs.

One player does one thing well, but that other player does something else better, and that third one has an awesome feature that might be useful. How do decide what feature is most important for you personally and what features should you even look for? Read on for a guide on how to decide what’s important to YOU.

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the single biggest mistake people make when they prioritize features. In almost all topics regarding choosing a new player, people say they want “good sound quality” or even “the best sound quality”. In a lot of cases that’s the feature that should have the lowest priority. The sound quality that makes it to your ears is only as good as the headphones that actually spits out the sound and while the sound quality of the player does matter, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor if your headphones is a $40 pair of Koss PortaPro or something else cheap. You don’t need rocket fuel to run a lawnmower.

Upgrading from even the most crappy sounding player to a good sounding one will only improve the sound quality a little compared to investing in some good headphones. If you plan on using the cheapest consumer level headphones anyways, then over focusing on sound quality will mean that you down prioritize things like user experience and other features that in the end might be what you find most important. My advice is that if you’re making a thread asking for help on a new player, write “sound quality that fits XXX headphones” instead of always going for the “best sound quality”.

Also keep in mind what formats your music is in so that you get a player that will play it without conversion. Use this guide if you’re unsure of the format or need a crash course.

Video

“Video support” is often thrown around as if it was a an absolute term. A lot of players have video support. The Creative Zen V Plus has video support, as 128×128 pixels worth of moving pictures is technically video. When looking for a player with video support, it’s very important that you know exactly how you’re going to use it. What screen size do you need? What resolution do you need? Widescreen or not? What formats do you need?

I’ve seen several people that have been looking for players with “avi support” and then come back pissed when the player wouldn’t play their downloaded AVI enclosed 624×352 pixel xvid/mp3 file with the latest episode of some TV show. AVI support, or any other format for that reason, doesn’t mean it will play any file that ends in .avi. It simple means it will play a format that is packaged in .avi. Confusing? Yes, and that’s why it’s so easy to take a wrong turn when it comes to choosing a video capable player. Luckily we already have a guide to video formats that paired with our guide to screen resolution will give you a much better idea of what to look for in a video player.

Typically there are four basic types of players that support video: The small ones, like the Zen Mozaic, Sansa Fuze etc where video is just a gimmick and not something you want to use due to poor video format support and low resolution screens. The medium ones, like the Zen X-fi and the Cowon D2 with 320×240 screens and decent video support, but that still requires you to convert the video before transferring. Large ones, such as the P3 and the Cowon S9, with 480×272 3″-3.5″ screens and decent video support that will play some formats and resolutions without conversion. Finally the extra large ones – often referred to as full PMPs (Portable Media Players) – such as the Archos 5 or the Cowon A3 which have massive 4″-5″ screens with a resolution of 800×480 and that will player most formats, even HD to some extent. The lagre and extra large players are normally widescreen, and the small and medium ones 4:3. This is important because watching widescreen on 4:3 means you’ll lose a lot of screen real estate and the same goes for 4:3 content on widescreen players. If video is a concern when you’re looking for a player, you should first decide which of these four groups fit you the best, as the better the video support is the larger and more expensive the player will be.

Controls

A lot of people today want a touchscreen on their player when they are buying a new one. I remember when I got my first touchscreen device, it was awesome and had a definite wow-factor. The excitement will disappear however and many people with touch screen devices wish they’d gone for normal controls once the initial rush is over and the player is used only for what it was supposed to and not as a showoff toy. Touch screens do have advantages, such as making room for bigger screens, easier to use interface (since the buttons changes with the menus and you don’t have to guess what button does what) and so on. They do however also have quite a few downsides. First off, you often lose the ability to operate the player without looking when having a touchscreen player. This is often a problem for people who work out or for some other reason need to be able to operate the player while it’s in their pocket.

Second of all, a touch screen player will always be a lot slower to navigate through than a good player with physical controls – such as the Sony players which are extremely fast and easy to navigate. Touch screen players often have more eyecandy, so it becomes a question of whether you’ll stay true to the eyecandy or if you in a month or two will be tired of it and just want to find the song quickly and efficiently. Also be aware of the difference between capacitive touch screen and resistive touch screens. Capacitive screens basically detect your finger’s electrical current and detects the position from that, which means you won’t be able to use a (normal) stylus but it’s also a lot more finger friendly and the screens are better protected. Resistance based touch screens detect pressure and are less finger friendly and react to any touch be it a finger, stylus or random stuff in your pocket.

There’s also the issue of fingerprints with touch screen devices. If you’re watching a video, you often have to touch the screen to make it play, and that leaves a fingerprint. If you have a resistance based touch screen then wiping it off might trigger all sorts of buttons that the cloth is accidentally touching. It also means you’ll leave more fingerprints and have to wipe all over again every time you pause for a few seconds. I use a touch screen device at the moment and I can testify to how annoying this little problem is.

All in all the player control method is about personal preference, but please think about whether you really want a touch screen before going after players based on that criteria alone as it will limit your choices considerably.

Physical Specs

By physical specs I’m first and foremost talking about size, battery life and capacity. Players come in literally all sizes and shapes and you don’t want to work out with a 5″ Archos 5 any more than you want to watch long movies on a tiny MobiBlu Cube2. If you’re unsure how big a player actually is, paper cutouts might be a smart thing to make to give you the feel of the player.

Battery life is another important factor. There are players with 10 hour battery life and there are players with 60 hour battery life. Normally small players have about 15-20, medium/large players have 25-35 for audio and 5-7 for video and extra large players have 15-20 for audio and 5-8 for video. There are exceptions, like the Cowon S9 with 55 hour battery life for audio and 11 for video.

Capacity is of course very important when choosing a player. The lowest capacity players are normally 1GB, while the current highest capacity player is the 320GB Archos 5. Don’t underestimate how much space you’ll need, but also don’t go for the biggest capacity just because it’s there – if your average music collection the last 5 years has been 5GB, it’s unlikely that you need 320GB of storage. Large capacity players also use hard drives intstead of flash memory, which take up more space, use more battery and can break if you drop the player. Flash memory is getting so high capacity these days so most peopl
e will find a flash player that will do the job. Remember that some players are expandable through SD or microSD card slots, such as the Cowon D2 which has a maximum capacity of 16GB of internal memory but support SDHC cards up to 32GB for a total of 48GB of flash memory.

Connection Method

There are 3 different types of connection protocols that MP3 players use: MTP, MSC, and “other” or proprietary. The majority of players will be MTP or MSC but players such as the iPod or the Zune use a proprietary method of connection and you must use the included software, short of various hacks.

The MTP vs MSC debate still blazes on but in reality if you are running a modern version of Windows you likely won’t see a difference. Both can be loaded by dragging and dropping files like a thumb drive. Where you might want to pay attention to this is if you want plug you player into an OS other than Windows since MTP players may require hacks or additional installations on Linux or Mac.

Music Browsing Method

Some players use filenames to sort the music while others use ID3 tags. Many first time MP3 player users (or people who have previously had players that browse by filename) have learned first hand how messy a player can look if the music library has never been tagged correctly. If you have 10GB of untagged music, the hassle of tagging it properly is probably a reason in itself to stay away from ID3 based players and some people simply prefer one method over the other.

Accessories

You should also think of whether or not you need any accessories for your player. A lot of players can only use generic accessories such as chargers, FM transmitters and so on, but the big brand ones often have docking ports which allows for things like docks, remote controls, TV out cables and so on. The Zune is the player beside the iPod with most accessories, such as alarm clocks and car stereo kits. USB cable type is also something you might want to think about, some people don’t like players that use proprietary cables because it takes up more space and they’re expensive to replace if you lose it or need a spare one, maybe for your office. Proprietary connectors do have their pros as well, so if you’re unsure about this then check our guide.

Extremely few MP3 players come with an AC adapter these days, so be aware that USB charging is the common charging method. As stated above there are USB AC adapters out there, but some greedy companies have put in blocks for such chargers so only their own official accessories will work. If you plan on being away from a computer for a while, make sure you’re either willing to pay for expensive accessories or that your player can use generic USB chargers.

Radio

A lot of people want a decent radio in their player, which is a problem since a lot of players that have radios might as well not have them considering the quality. If radio is a high priority, makes sure to find or ask for a player with good radio quality and features. Some radio enabled players can record from the radio, and some can even record at specific times – like a VCR. Also be aware that there are two options beside normal radio: DAB and Internet radio. DAB is most commonly found on the European Cowon D2 DAB versions, so if your country have DAB that’s something worth checking out. Internet radio is limited to Wi-Fi for very large players when it comes to MP3 players, but remember that cellphones have 3G access and many of them have Internet radios which is an alternative to consider if you can afford a data plan and if the radio part is that important to you.

Extras

Extra features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on might sound exciting but make sure you actually need it before making it a priority. For instance Bluetooth may be cool, but its only useful if you make another investment in Bluetooth headphones. These headphones open up another set of considerations and issues such as having to recharge them, typically weaker sound quality, and extra expense. Though some players such as the Samsung P2 & P3 take advantage your cellphones dialer and contacts.

Other features to look for are podcast support, Audible compatibility, voice recording, integrated speakers, equalizer and other sound enhancements, bookmarking and so on. I guess the moral of the story is to make sure the “bells and whistles” are worth your investment.

Special Criteria

If there are any special criteria that needs to be considered, make sure to include that in your list of specs when you look for a player. Maybe you need pan/balance to cancel out a hearing problem, maybe you need the player to have large text and icons due to problems with your eyesight, or maybe the player is for a kid and it needs to be easy to use and handle a bit of a beating? Any of the features mentioned in extras might also be so important to you that it’s the most important criteria. The tiniest thing might make or break your experience with the player so make sure to think it through and see if there are any special considerations you need to make.

Price, the Complete Package

The budget might be what decides the player in the end, as the more advanced the player is the more expensive it will be as you would expect. A lot of people have asked me about the best combination of headphones and player for a certain amount of money, which would give them the best sound quality and have thought I’ve been kidding when I’ve pointed them to a cheap plastic looking Sansa Clip and whatever headphones the rest of the money could buy. Point being that you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good pair of headphones and if you’re buying a new player and only have cheap headphones you won’t get the most out of your new player sound quality wise.

Conclusion

I’m not saying you need to have a yes/no answer to every feature on this list, but you should at least think about whether any of these matter to you. You might be happy with whatever player you get as long as it plays music, but the more criteria you have the fewer choices there will be and the more suitable for you the remaining players on the list will be. Hopefully this article will help give you some ideas on what to keep in mind when buying a new player. We have a fantastic forum with lots of great info and user opinions, but take statements like “Player-A is the best player” with a grain of salt, since every person has their own set of needs.




50 Comments

electron on May 4, 2009 3:14 PM

hmm, nice job! :) did not help me in my P3 vs S9 issue, but still a nice job :)

zero-slash on May 4, 2009 3:21 PM

Very good article. Made me think about what I was going to buy. Great job!

DJAttreides on May 4, 2009 4:24 PM

Really nice guide. But you forgot an important point: File Types! Yes, I mean Ogg, WMA, AAC and so on. For me that’s an important point! And maybe compatibility with Audibke or subscription services is an issue for some of us.I had the Creative X-FI Player – Really great sound quality but the handling of music and especially Audible files was a pain in the ass. I exchanged it for an iPod one week after I got it.

Core on May 4, 2009 4:26 PM

one of the most important features i look for in a player is how bookmarks are accessed and handled. mostly using a player to listen to audio books this is the single most important feature. so far, the zen wins hands down.

Schmierwurst on May 4, 2009 5:27 PM

Made the sound quality mistake too (got the okayish RP-HTX7 headphones), but since I wanted a Flash player with a high and expandable capacity it was the D2 anyways. And I’m still happy with the decision I made.

Vladimir on May 4, 2009 5:33 PM

Nice one!Don’t forget about flash drive vs hard drive memory.My Vibez drive failed only after a month or two of regular usage.Okay, I did abuse it (leave it in my car in very cold temperatures, and had it bang around in my back-pack without a case, etc) but still…

Lagoo56 on May 4, 2009 6:42 PM

Nice guide,it will definitelyhelp the people who can’t decide on what player to buy.The Cowon O2 will fit my needs perfectly,thats why I’m buying one.The most important feature for an mp3 player to me is the price and ease of switching from song to song.

okieshtkicker on May 4, 2009 6:45 PM

Didn’t mention size. oh well, anything but iPod, I guess

theone on May 4, 2009 9:37 PM

Definitely helps everyone… I wish you could write articles everyday.

Hillshum on May 4, 2009 10:11 PM

If you’re going to be listening to things that need bookmarking, I believe the Creative players have that down the best, short of Rockbox. Also, WMP11 at least will do more with MTP than than with MSC. Also, Rockbox is worth a shoutout, as it’s feature set is by far the best out there.Keep in mind that none of these will be as easy as a full Apple experience–iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Store.

Andreas Ødegård on May 5, 2009 2:00 AM

@DJAttreides:Check third paragraph of “sound quality” and youll see file types are in there ;) Podcast and audible is mentioned under “extras”. Incidentally, audible support is a must have for me too@Core:I’ll slip in bookmarks under “extras”. In my personal experience, booksmarks is only necessary until you get a player with auto-resume. Players like the sansa clip and fuze will resume your book at the last position regardless of what you’ve been doing in the mean time, as long as its marked as audio book (which is as easy as tagging it as audio book or putting the files in the audio book folder).@Vladimir:Excellent point, will add something about hdd vs flash@okieshtkicker:Size is in there, first paragraph of “physical specs” :)

mohamad taha on May 5, 2009 8:39 AM

it is a great article but in my opinion sound quality of the player does really matter , if u have weston3 or even um2 i think u will notice the difference of each player’s sound quality from sony to cowon, etc. and each player have its remarkable sound.

Scarpad on May 5, 2009 10:46 AM

I agree that your brushing off Sound Qualityl. Yes Headphones Matter, but no headphone in the world is going to make a crappy player sound good. There has to be a baseline. For the most Part Ipods sound awful, there are model exceptions. Zunes start off at a pretty good baseline as do Cowons, and some creative players, but a pair of Sennheisers on a Coby flash player…. well you get the idea.

Jonathan on May 5, 2009 10:56 AM

As for your claim that battery life is important, I agree–but do you? I’m still reeling from the time one of your reviews said something like, “but I’ve got better things to do than watch a battery drain.”

anythingbutsoundquality on May 5, 2009 10:58 AM

This site is mostly about implying that all players should be usable by the mentally retarded. (Yet, by refusing to compare devices under review to iPods, you cheat your readers of the most reasonable point of reference.)Oh, and you really like that Sansa Clip. Way, way more than any other site does.

Hillshum on May 5, 2009 11:24 AM

@anythingbutsoundqualityMaybe cuz the clip is awesome?@CoreHave you looked at Rockbox’s bookmarking?

Caleb on May 5, 2009 3:38 PM

I don’t see any S9 in that picture.. I hope that’s because you were too busy listening to it…. :O

emonk on May 5, 2009 4:44 PM

I have to disagree about the Koss PortaPro – I know they are inexpensive, but I still think they are better than most other offerings. I had the change to compare them to the Sennehiser PX100 and found the Koss more detailed, with much better higher edge.I own a Cowon D2 and Sennheiser CX95 – which sound clearer and more detailed than the Porta Pro, but not by much..

Tony on May 5, 2009 5:40 PM

MP3 players aren’t what they used to be IMOI’ve owned MP3 players going back to 1995. Started out with a Archos, then I got the Iriver H120, Iriver H320, Cowon X5 (returned it. the screen was too small) Creative Zen Vision M, Zen V Plus, and now I have a Sansa Fuze.Out of all the MP3 players that I’ve owned, the Iriver H320 is by far the best. I like organizing my music via tree structure. None of the current MP3 players do this anymore? I have music that I’ve purchased from multiple sources. The Mp3 tag info makes it impossible to organize the music the way I would want to without changing the MP3 tags. If the artists names are spelled differently on the tags (I,e PinkFloyd vs Pink Floyd) you will end up with multiples of the same artist.I want to get a new MP3 player but the thought of editing over 4000 song’s MP3 ID3 tags, just to be able to organize my music is enough to keep me away from them.Then there are things like dongles needed to charge the player or hook it up to a PC that are easily lost. And there is always some feature that is missing or half-way thought out with the current players. Here’s an example; if the MP3 player has an FM radio that records the FM signal, chances are the recording is in WMF format. If the MP3 player has an SD card slot, then the Library isn’t loaded with the rest of the music. If the library is loaded with the MP3 player, then that player will probably be missing another key feature like “album art”.MP3 players are far from perfect. I’ve wanted to get another player for about 2 years but all of them are lacking in one way or another, so I still haven’t purchased another one yet. And judging by the way that smart phones can handle music, dedicated MP3 players aren’t needed IMO. I’m about to give-up on them for good. They suck and haven’t really improved in the last 5 years (other than the screens).I hate Apple but my buddy’s Itouch is nicer than all of the current mp3 players IMO. If the Itouch had an FM radio and a built in microphone it would be a no-brainer. The competing MP3 players are lacking.There was a time when MP3 players excited me. That time has long past because of uninspired products.

Andreas Ødegård on May 6, 2009 3:50 AM

@Tony: You should try out the cowon D2. “tree structure” (file/folder browsing), and a SDHC card slot that has the same capabilities as onboard memory. Radio records to WMA though

Sky on May 6, 2009 9:22 AM

Nice article.I’m wondering if the holy grail of MP3 players will ever be made?My holy grail =1) Flash based memory (>32gb) or no internal memory, instead have flexible/expandable memory by SDHC2) Low-frills LCD monochro screen3) AA battery (yes AA!). With the above features, battery life = 50-75hrs, beyotch! Futhermore, you’ll never have to stop the rock while one AA is charging and the other is in use.4) Simple tactile buttons (perhaps user defined)5) No FM radio (they’re crap)6) No voice recorder (see above comment)7) In fact, no other features other than being a digital music player (most features are absulte gimmick)8) Optional drag-n-drop file management or software synching9) For the latter of (8), have the software write small data/text-file playlists or “intelligent” shuffle algorithms to the player’s flash memory. This way, the player is built cheap and dumb, the brains is your computer. The player just follows instructions.10) Direct USB(2) connect11) Player is sold WITHOUT headphones.12) Player is made of robust plastic or rubberized/silicone casing. In other words, it doesn’t feel like a toy that will implode when dropped from a 2 inch elevation.13) Rapid navigation of music files – I recognize this is a challenge when combining (1), (2) and (4)14) Maximum dimensions = 2-3x the size of a AA battery.I would easily be willing to pay $150-200 for this package!Here’s to hoping!

Hillshum on May 6, 2009 2:26 PM

@tonyThe Fuze now has file browing–get the latest update. on your irivers, are you using Rockbox?

mohamad on May 6, 2009 6:44 PM

please,what is the suitable earphone for sony walkman mp3 player?sony nwz-s610

Luis A. on May 7, 2009 12:52 AM

I’ll take whatever you guys say with a grain of salt. After seeing your whole “screen hardness” videos, I decided to actually go against my better judgment and removed the screen protector off my zune. I started to notice scratches and lint under the screen. Yeah, nice job guys.

Andreas Ødegård on May 7, 2009 2:02 AM

@mohamad: The S610 i a great player and like other Sony players it has ghreat sound quality. Find out how much you’re willing to spend, and post back :)

runescape accounts on May 7, 2009 5:41 AM

Nice one!Don’t forget about flash drive vs hard drive memory.My Vibez drive failed only after a month or two of regular usage.Okay, I did abuse it (leave it in my car in very cold temperatures, and had it bang around in my back-pack without a case, etc) but still…

mohamad on May 7, 2009 11:25 AM

i dont care about money .just i want which gives its best performance.thanks for your replay andreas

Andreas Ødegård on May 7, 2009 12:42 PM

@mohamad if you have $1200, the UE11 should be good :p

mohamad on May 7, 2009 4:59 PM

ohhhh hahahahah ,no it s too muchplz i have max 300$ is it suitable?:\thanks….

mohamad on May 7, 2009 8:50 PM

i searched on ue11,it is a custom made earphones,so i cant get it because i am too far away from USA or Europe.i am from Egypt,so i buy from the internet.

Andreas Ødegård on May 8, 2009 1:33 AM

@mohamad: I suggest you make a thread in the forum. That way our headphones expert (dfkt aka martin) will see it and he’ll be able to point you in the direction of the best phoens for you. Remember to include what music you listen to the most, when you have a budget that high you have a lot of great options :)

Keith on May 8, 2009 4:17 AM

Then there is the orphan factor.Many of us own and adore our Insignia Pilot players. Filled with features and only a few drawbacks, they are no longer available or supported by Best Buy. Many here believe that they were made TOO well for their own good and Best Buy was pressured into dropping the line. For whatever reason, we still love our players ’till death do us part.

Tony on May 8, 2009 9:19 AM

Thanks for the replies guys. I’ll look into the Cowon. I liked my X5 a lot. It’s just that the screen was too small. I’ll also look into flashing my fuze.As for my Iriver? I never used Rockbox. Always wanted to but never have.ThanksTony

Oli on May 9, 2009 2:03 PM

Podcast support please!

Hillshum on May 9, 2009 11:20 PM

@Tony, Rockbox is really easy to install these days, there’s a GUI installer that does it all for you. Plus, it improves constantly

EntireStore on May 13, 2009 6:55 PM

I’m a sound engineer so I’m really careful when choosing an mp3 player. There are lots of products as we see, and lots of trash. Many players seems quite beautiful and people fall for these. You give hundreds of bucks and get an 250hz-8khz response from player’s original earphones(just a little bit better than your old radio). Then you go look for other quality earphones and spend more money etc.

JJ on May 13, 2009 9:36 PM

I beg to differ on the sound quality point: While they are certianly ‘budget’ cans, the Koss PortaPro’s are the best thing out there in the $50 dollar range. They’re exceptionally pleasing to the ear, they’re very clear, and accurate. I’ve tried at least a dozen others and these came out on top. But my point is that with these, or any aftermarked ‘phones you like, sound quality is a worthy factor. I am absolutely able to suss out lousy sounding players from great ones. I think sound quality should matter to all but those using the headphones that are included with the player. If you use those, then I completely agree…don’t worry about the SQ spec…

Trondis on May 19, 2009 6:31 AM

No mention of gapless playback. THE single most important feature for me, and the one that most reviewers neglect to mention. If you make a chart with comparison of features, please include this!

mazzivo on May 19, 2009 8:39 AM

hello Andreas Ødegård, talking about Sound Quality you say: “Sound quality is the single biggest mistake people make when theyprioritize features. In almost all topics regarding choosing anew player, people say they want “good sound quality” or even”the best sound quality”. In a lot of cases that’s the feature thatshould have the lowest priority. The sound quality that makes it toyour ears is only as good as the headphones that actually spitsout the sound and while the sound quality of the player does matter,it shouldn’t be the deciding factor if your headphones is a $40pair of Koss PortaPro or something else cheap. You don’t needrocket fuel to run a lawnmower”, but Grahm Skee talking about iriver E100 Review [http://www.anythingbutipod.com/archives/2008/03/iriver-e100-review.php] said: “Sound quality is ok, nothing too outstanding. The overall spectrumis well balanced, but it lacks clarity in the mids and is not openenough with a rather confined soundstage. You probably won’t noticeunless you have a nice set up headphones, but if sound quality isone of the more important aspects you may want to look elsewhere”, then to whom should I believe??, I think if he says that connection is because the iriver must sound really bad?.please help me to choose, thanks

Andreas Ødegård on May 20, 2009 2:29 AM

@mazzivo: You must have read one of the texts wrong as Grahm says EXACTLY the same thing in the review as i do in this article.

Jonny on May 29, 2009 7:55 PM

Andreas with ref to this “In a lot of cases that’s the feature that should have the lowest priority. The sound quality that makes it to your ears is only as good as the headphones that actually spits out the sound”Of all the 10′s of 1000′s of audio reviews over many decades, the above statement goes against the grain. You cannot get out what it aint got. Should be best quality source then amp then speakers of much less value usually 20%. A common mistake by the less knowledgeable on budget audio.Much the same as Phillips marketing cd in mid 80′s as “The perfect sound” Shouldnt they all sound the same? Subsequently proved wrong. Transports, DACS, cabling, resistors, capacitors, diodes the list is endless!

Andreas Ødegård on May 30, 2009 4:27 PM

@Jonny When you take text completely out of context like that, it of course comes off the wrong way, and I completely expected certain people to do so. MP3 players are mainstream consumer electronics, where the majority of the worldwide user base use stock earbuds or some cheap crap from bestbuy. In such a case, sound quality should not be a priority on the player because you can make up the lost quality simply by spending a little more on headphones. A good sounding DAP with stock (crappy) earbuds will never sound as good as a bad sounding DAP with some decent headphones. Considering that a lot of other features might have to go in order to prioritize good sound quality, that sacrifice should not be made unless the user actually need a player with such capabilities. What people on headfi and other audio fanatics like yourself do is completely irrelevant in this case. A typical mainstream consumer couldn’t care less about your amps, dacs, cables, resistors, blah di blah di blah, and those that do dont fall into the “in most cases” classicifcation anyways. Try to realize that there are people in the world that doesnt have the same usage pattern as what you might have, I’m tired of explaining that every single time there’s an article targeted towards mainstream consumers.

Larry Harrison on July 30, 2009 4:49 PM

@skyI agree very much, here is what I’d like to see:(1) Monochrome LCD–the color ones wash-out in sunlight, and I don’t care about video or album art anyway(2) Batteries–whatever battery is used, it MUST be USER-REPLACEABLE. I simply cannot fathom why almost every MP3 player now seals up the battery. Who does that? The iPod? Well yeah, that’s Apple for you–make everything proprietary. Heck I’ve purchased $3 WalGreen watches in the blister packs which let you change the battery yourself(3) ID3 and file-browsing, whatever you want(4) Quick, quick, quick scrolling through lists. If I have 300 artists on file, I want to be able to go from A to Z in 3 seconds, yet STILL be able to get to H and R without zooming too far past(5) How about a context-sensitive menu? Something that, for example, if you’re listening to Michael Jackson, The Way You Make Me Feel–regardless of how you got there (especially if it was shuffle-play), you’d have a pop-up option to show all songs from that album (“Bad”) or all songs by that artists (“Micheal Jackson”) right there on the spot where you’re at, no having to backup and browse-over manually.(6) Memory card expansion via SD or SDHC(7) Drap & drop song loading–no iTunes requirements etc, hate that(8) Uses standard 5-pin mini-USB cableThe player that’s comes the closest is the SanDisk Sansa e-series, Rockbox’d. Too bad I keep losing them and having to start over! I can zip from A to Z in a major hurry, yet still get to the middle easily if I need to. (That also allows it to show like 15 artists on a screen, rather than just 5 or so.) It browses songs by ID3 or file-name, it accepts microSD cards, you can load songs via drag-drop like a USB flash drive, and it lets you change the battery yourself. Too bad it doesn’t have that “play all songs by this artist/on this album” feature, and uses a proprietary USB cable.

audioO on October 7, 2009 10:15 PM

Good article.The only thing missing is the media software.Sure, it’ll be better IF the company included GOOD software that will 1) rip music, 2) edit files, 3) tag album art and 4)create playlists!For all the complaining people do, iTunes really is NOT that bad!It has all those features listed!If you do NOT want to buy music from iTunes, then DON’T!!Often, people are FORCED to FIND media software that does those things listed when it SHOULD be INCLUDED with each player!How can you drag n drop music files into the player if you don’t have a music ripping software (esp. if you’re new with a mp3 player)?Some people, like myself, PREFER album art and playlists instead of looking at the company’s logo or playing music in folders.Too many people focus on Hardware and neglect Software!That said.. there are software available like mp3tag, mediamonkey, EAC, etc… but you may need to use more than 1 for your player (depending on EACH person’s needs)!!Give me a player that will:1. Have good music feedback2. Allows file editing like those mentioned esp. playlist creation3. GOOD reliability4. HIGH capacity (still waiting for 32gb/64gb players)5. USER FRIENDLY INTERFACE/DESIGNNotice how many players fall short in many aspects!

vanessa on October 17, 2009 3:04 PM

great article.. im glad i read this before buying a touch screen mp3 player :)

vin on October 28, 2009 4:17 PM

I would like large text on play lists. any suggestions

willy on January 6, 2010 2:50 AM

anyone knows any mp3 player that has both bluetooth and a sd/mmc expansion slot ???

Andreas Ødegård on January 6, 2010 7:51 AM

@willy: Archos 5 Android flash version is the only one I can think of atm, microSD slot along with up to 32GB of memory. But it’s rather big compared to other devices.

George on April 10, 2010 11:41 PM

S9 vs. P3? which one is better

Hannah on September 10, 2010 6:23 PM

What about waterproof models for the more aquatic among us?

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