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Ok, so I'm not fourteen, I don't have a degree in computer science and my Sony Walkman's given up the ghost. I need a portable audio player.

Mp3 players, flash mp3 players, dvd mp3 players, mp4 players, hard disk players!!??? I don't want to hack into the Pentagon - I just want to listen to some music! For anyone old enough to shave, your first step into portable audio can be mighty daunting. So we're not going to go into all the clever jiggery-pokery here, we're just going to try to point you in the right direction for your needs.
Although there are many types of music file out there, for the beginner mp3 is your best choice for normal, sound-only portable digital media. There are four types of MP3 players you can buy: flash-based, hard drive-based, micro hard drive-based and CD-based. So what does that all mean?

Flash-based MP3 players have a flash memory chip built in. They're very small and have no moving parts, so they're perfect for the gym or whatever, as the music won't skip as you do. The bad news is that the more songs they store (from about 32MB to 2GB, with 1Gb holding about 250 songs, if they're not all Stairway to Heaven), the more they cost. Take a look at the (admittedly brilliant) Apple iPod Shuffle and you'll see what we mean.

Hard-drive based MP3 players use a 1.8-inch hard disk drive to store your tunes, and can hold an awful lot more of them - ten gigabytes worth or more. So if you've got every B-side Genesis ever released, a hard drive is the way to go, as the cost per megabyte is very low. But they do have moving parts, so that French thing where they jump off buildings is out of the question. Micro hard-drive based MP3 players?are basically the same thing, but smaller in design and with slightly less room for your collection (4 to 5GB, which should still be plenty).
An MP3 CD player looks like your average portable CD player, and you can burn up to 150 MP3 songs to fill one CD-R disc. But they are much bigger and have an annoying tendency to jump the music if you move too much. Though if you're into Paul Hardcastle you probably won't notice.

So to keep it simple, if you like 'em small and you're an active type, go for a flash-based player and if you're a serious muso with a comfortable couch, then the hard drive is for you.

Battery life is important too, especially if you're out and about and don't have your charger handy. Most hard disk players have lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and some flash players can take AAA batteries from the 24-hour garage. Check before you buy. Then you've got to think about how you connect the machine to your computer to up- and download files - if it doesn't offer USB 2.0 connection, then forget it - if it's got Firewire (especially if you've got a Mac!) then even better. If mp3 is all you need, then any player will be fine, but if you're going to go into other file formats like WMA or OGG Vorbis, then make sure the player you buy can support these too, or Snot Catty Cat' latest No1 is gonna sound like a fax machine on mescaline.

Then there's all the extras, like a built-in FM radio, which can be a godsend when your batteries are low or you're sick to death of KD Lang, or a voice recorder to remind you to get up for work in the morning. But, bear in mind that any player with hundreds of features, a name you never heard of and a price tag that's too good to be true will probably styop working 15 seconds after the guarantee runs out.

And that's just sounds. Then there's video..

Author R. Germain
date added Wed 29 07 2009

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