An MP3 player is basically an electronic gadget that has the primary purpose of storing, organising and playing music files, commonly known as MP3 files. MP3 players can download MP3 files from the Internet, computers or transfer them from CDs.
A major advantage of MP3 files is you only need a very small device to hold them; hence the players are small and portable. Another feature of MP3 players is the ability to compile personalised play lists. MP3 players can also be combined with other functions such as a radio or voice recorder.
An MP3 is a type of computer file which digitally compresses the data which makes up a sound recording. The term is derived from MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) a system designed to compress video data into smaller spaces. The MPEG system includes a sound data compression component, MPEG Audio Layer-3 - MP3. MP3 files first became popular in the late 1990s when file swapping services and the first portable MP3 players were made available.
The two main types of MP3 players are hard drive and flash memory. Increasingly MP3 players combine other functions, including FM Radio, photo display and video playback.
Hard drive players tend to offer greater capacity for storage of files. This is seen as the key advantage of hard drive models. Hard drive players offer better storage not only for MP3 files but photos, videos and other recorded data. Hard drive players often provide better features and more of them compared to their flash player counterparts, including video, radio and faster connections for data transfer; although the two types are now becoming more equal in terms of the features on offer.
Some players - flash and hard drive - now offer media card slots. This offers potential for unlimited storage. Hard drive players are often larger and more expensive than flash players and they use moving parts. Flash players like the iPod Shuffle are tiny but hold less music. Because flash lacks moving parts they are less expensive, more shockproof and less liable to breakdowns; and therefore less prone to tracks skipping, etc.
As well as being smaller, flash models are also lighter, so they are perceived as better for music on the move. Both flash and hard drive technologies allow for a range of quality players and both types can provide similar high standards of sound quality. MP3 players look set to evolve even further with Bluetooth and wireless capabilities likely to be added, as well as digital radio and multimedia possibilities.
The price of a player often will relate to its capacity for storing files. Many people are not content with the ability to store dozens of tracks. Some players offer huge capacity creating space for thousands of tracks. The more megabytes (MB) of storage capacity the more music you can store offering you more choice and enjoyment.
Size and weight
This can be a major consideration for many people. Those who want a player to use while exercising or travelling will want a smaller, lighter model. Newer models tend to be smaller and lighter.
Always compare battery power. The bigger the battery the better. Hard drive players with moving parts use up more power whereas Flash memory players with no moving parts are often considered more economic.
Some players may offer rechargeable batteries, so check the recharge times. Also, consider the balance between battery life and file capacity as there may be a trade off on some models.
The faster you can download music the more convenient for you. Some devices now let you put songs on removable SmartMedia or CompactFlash storage cards. Newer devices support the faster USB 2.0 and FireWire interface. Speed is clearly less important on players with smaller storage capacity.
Check your level of accessories and features. MP3 players offer a differing range of built in extras such as FM recorders, alarm clocks, games; as well as accessories such as earphones, armbands, belt clips, cases etc. Alternatively if you want your music player to be an accessory to your mobile phone check out the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, as well as other mobile phones with music player capabilities.
Portable MP3 music players offer different quality recording inputs and connectors. You will find some players offer analogue in or digital in connections and record facilities from a variety of sources like CDs, tapes, albums, micro cassettes and microphones. Newer models offer faster high speed connection inputs to speed up transfer from your PC or elsewhere.
What does it look like? iPods have developed a considerable reputation for creating not just a music player but a design classic but other makes such as Creative ZEN can more than hold their own as style accessories.
Check your display. You need a menu display to select songs and other features such as your radio. Check the display is suitable and easy to use. The size of display may be an important issue for some. Hard drive machines often include bigger displays, which can be a bonus, especially if there is a video or photo function.
Headphones or earphones massively influence how your MP3 music player sounds. These are like the speakers on your stereo. They are the final filter for your music so if your earphones are of poor quality then final sound quality will not be good. Check the quality of earphones provided with your player, and if necessary considers investing in separate earphones.
The sound qualities of MP3s are usually described as 'near CD quality'. When music is compressed from CD format to create an MP3 file some data is actually removed from the file. This creates a subtle change in music quality but the difference is barely noticeable compared to the original.
The distribution of MP3 music via the Internet has prompted a lot of legal debate. Although MP3 file sharing is a legal technology with legal uses it can be used to share copyrighted materials without permission of the owners. This has led to interventions from some copyright owners via the courts.
There continues to be a lot of discussion about legal issues surrounding file sharing. In circumstances where trading partners are in different countries with different legal codes, there are complex problems which still need to be resolved. As a quick rule, downloading MP3 songs from the Internet if the artist has authorized those songs for distribution is legal. Making MP3 copies of your CDs for your own personal use is legal.
MP3 players have general data storage capabilities for photo files, emails and other documents. MP3 players can hold a lot of data and newer models, up to 1,000s of times more than a traditional CD. Other features include built in microphones and FM radios, often with record function, stopwatch and increasingly video and other multimedia.
When we are talking about MP3 players often what we actually mean is portable Digital Audio Player (DAP). Although MP3 is the best known music file format there are other formats. The availability of many different formats, often linked to specific players, often creates confusion among consumers. Not all MP3 players can support multiple formats so it is important to check you have the right software on your player for the formats you require.
WMA (Windows Media Audio) is popular as it is compatible with the built in software on many PCs. Remember, support for a greater variety of file formats on your player lets you listen to a wider variety of music files. The popularity of players such as Creative, iRiver, and Rio is partly due to the fact they support a variety of formats.
Some different file formats:
Many portable music players are compatible with downloaded music from online music stores. Services like Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited and iTunes allow you to sample and purchase songs either on a limited or permanent basis via direct purchase or subscription services.
Many MP3 players are designed to work hand in hand with specific online stores in an own brand content system which may attempt to limit your choice. The main formats are WMA/PlaysForSure-Microsoft, AAC/FairPlay-Apple and ATRAC-Sony, all of which are mutually incompatible.
Since launching in 2003 iTunes has proved online music sales are big business. iTunes Online Store is the first online music store to gain massive media attention and with over one billion songs downloaded so far iTunes is the online music sales market leader by far.
Apple's iTunes music store allows users access to songs via easy transfer to iPod products via the iTunes system. The iPod remains one of the few digital music players to work with the iTunes Music Store. Read Review Centre consumer reviews to find out what real people think of iTunes as well as other music player services and products.
A Podcast is a means of showcasing MP3 files on the internet which can then be played back on MP3 Players, mobile phones, PCs or Web Browsers. To download Podcasts you need a computer, internet connection and Podcast software. To listen to Podcasts you need an MP3 Player or computer with MP3 software. Podcasts can also be downloaded automatically using RSS and Atom feeds.
Podcasts are a growing trend and are not only seen as great fun but also as an extension of the concept of freedom of information on the internet. It's easy for anyone to create and listen to them whenever and however they want. The term Podcasting is derived from 'iPod' and 'broadcasting'.
Again, while many people think iPod when they think of an MP3 music player you may want to check out other options. Review Centre user reviews offer insights into the quality of the many desirable and different products that are available. If you want to consider the whole range of portable MP3 music player products remember to read consumer reviews at Review Centre to provide an insight into the best models on the market today.