Before You Buy a Portable Audio Player
Looking for a portable digital audio player? There
are plenty of choices, but this can just lead to confusion. Here
are some questions to ask yourself before you buy.
How Much Memory Do You Need?
CD-quality audio consumes about one megabyte (MB)
of memory per minute, so a 64MB unit can only hold about an hour
of MP3-encoded music. You can always erase the player's contents
and add more music, but more memory is always better. My advice
is to buy as much memory as you can afford. Also, check to see
if the player's memory can be expanded later.
Flash Memory, Hard Drive, or CD?
The earliest players used built-in flash memory,
later supplemented by plug-in memory cards, and 64MB was as
large as they came. Now, models like the iRiver iFP 595T and Rio
Forge come with up to 512MB of flash memory. Hard drive players
like the Apple iPod, Rio Carbon and Archos Jukebox hold from 4
to 60 gigabytes or more (a gigabyte is 1,000MB). Many CD players
come with MP3 decoders built in, and they hold 700MB on
inexpensive disks. Finally, you can play MP3's with some cell
phones and PDAs.
• iRiver iFP series flash players
• Apple iPod hard drive players
• Panasonic SL SV570 CD / MP3 player
How Will You Use It?
If you use your player while jogging or playing
sports, a flash memory player is the best bet. Hard drive
players hold incredible amounts of music, but their size, weight
and fragility are a disadvantage. CD players are even bulkier,
and are prone to skipping under rough use. If your budget is
limited, a CD MP3 player is a good choice. You will need a CD
burner on your computer, though. Hard drive players are sexy and
versatile, and are the best choice if you have a large music
What Kind of Files Will It
All portable players work with MP3 files, but
some will play WMA, OGG and other formats. Not all players
support the protected AAC format used by iTunes, so if you buy
music from Apple's famous online store, be sure your player
works with it. Napster, MSN Music and Wal-Mart stores sell WMA
files. If possible, buy a model that can be upgraded to new
audio formats as they become available. Some players also double
as storage devices, so you can transport pictures, documents and
Is it Convenient to Use?
Before you buy a player, pick it up and try out
the controls. Are they easy to reach, and logically arranged? Is
the display clear and easy to read? Some units come with a
remote control - a convenient feature for joggers and other
Does it Have the
Features You Need?
Some portables can record voice or music through
a built-in microphone or line-in jack. Many models also feature
an FM radio. The latest gadgets can also store and display
pictures and video. If these features are important to you, shop
around for the best option.