MP3 Buying Guide
Picking your player
There’s a wide variety of choice when it comes to selecting the best digital media player device, depending on what you need. If you’re only interested in music playback, then an entry-level MP3 player will meet your requirements. If you want to enjoy both music and video playback then you’ll need to be looking at more upmarket digital media player devices. And if you want it all – music and video playback as well as game functionality, wireless internet connectivity and more – then there’s options for that too.
How easy is it to put music on it?
Nearly all digital media players are sold with sister software designed to make the task of copying media from computer to device a whole lot easier. Entry-level MP3 players will generally not include software, but this is because they are designed as the ultimate user-friendly digital media devices. Simply connect them to your computer with the bundled USB cable or connector, wait for the device to be detected and you should be able to drag-and-drop music from your hard drive to the MP3 player.
More upmarket digital media players, such as those that allow video playback, include software that must be installed before media can be transferred to them. Also, take note of any supporting documentation included with these devices, as it should let you know what file types are supported, as well as the process for transferring from computer to media player and vice versa.
Certain devices will also have preferred digital media playback software that they are most compatible with, and should be taken into account before purchasing or attempting synchronisation between player and unsupported software. Should you get stuck or want to know more about a particular media player or type of software, the internet is a wealth of knowledge for such matters.
One of the most complex aspects of using a digital media collection is the diverse numbers of file types out there. Over the years there have been many ways to compress audio and video. This determines what kind of device can play the file and is important to keep in mind.
Most media playback devices will cope with a vast array of video and audio types. These commonly include MP3, MP4, Ogg, FLAC, MPEG 2, DivX, MPEG-4, h264, WMV and Mov files but there are many lesser types that are commonly supported.
Can it play everything?
Where one is likely to run into issue is with files protected with Digital Rights Management. Designed as a means of copy protection, DRM will often limit playback of files in some way. A common example of this is Apple's iTunes, which locks songs to certain devices and players. Similarly most PVRs will limit you to watching shows back on the same device. If your file collection does include DRM protected files then you will likely need a specific type of playback device or software in order to use them.
A dedicated media player is designed to do just one thing, and do it well. But you may want to look beyond and consider a device that includes media playback in its suite of other talents.
Portable gaming devices are an appealing alternative, offering quality media capabilities plus the obvious advantage of handling the fun side as well.
Nintendo DSiMedia types: Music, images, games.
Capacity: SD card slot.
The DSi is the third generation of Nintendo’s handheld console range. Not only is it capable of playing games, it also allows users to enjoy music playback and image viewing. The DSi has inbuilt Wi-Fi capabilities and a camera for taking happy snaps. The combination of dual screens (one touchscreen), and a foldable design makes the DSi easy to tuck away when not in use.
Sony PSPgoMedia types: Music, video, images, games.
The PSP Go is the latest model of Sony’s handheld gaming consoles that has all the mobile entertainment bases checked. It’s capable of playing back games, videos, music and images, all within a compact casing. It won’t slide into your pocket, but the Wi-Fi connectivity and extended entertainment options are well worth the trade-off.
Or a smartphoneMost new smartphones have decent memory capacity and quality playback. On the flipside, playing media can drain a battery quicker than you may like and hamper the usefulness of the phone as an actual phone.
Headphones: try before you buy
It's important to try out your headphones or earbuds. The specifications on the box give some clue to the expected quality but only a listening test can provide the ultimate feel for what you’re taking home. Most manufacturers focus on different types of sound reproduction; for example, Boss favours low end bass in their speakers, while Audio Technica have better mid-range response. This is why an audition is crucial for any type of audio device.
Read the Headphones Buying Guide to learn more.