MP3 player/media players buying guide

MP3 players are small, portable devices that can be used to store and play MP3s - digital music files which can be quickly and easily downloaded from the internet or ‘ripped’ from your CD collection. Most models will also offer additional features such as video playback, making them a truly entertaining travel companion.

How do they work

New Apple iPod nanoMP3 is short for Motion Picture Experts Group 1, Audio Layer 3 - the standard technology and format for compressing a sound sequence into a very small computer file (about a twelfth of the original size), while still sounding like a faithful reproduction of the original to most listeners.

Loading music

Transferring music from your PC to the player is not a complicated process. Software is provided with most MP3 players (or downloaded from the manufacturer’s website), which enables music to be transferred via a cable. This same software will also convert music on a CD played in your computer into MP3 format, subject to copyright, in a process known as ‘ripping’. You will need an internet connection to download music from online stores such as iTunes. Find out more about downloading music in our expert article.

Loading movies

As the law currently stands, it’s illegal to circumvent the copy protection on DVD or Blu-ray discs, even for fair use purposes. This means even if you own the latest blockbuster DVD, there is no option with the supplied software to ‘rip’ the movie to your player.

The iTunes store sells movies as well as individual episodes of popular TV shows. Some MP3 players also offer compatibility with BBC iPlayer, so you can download that episode of EastEnders you missed for playback when and where you want.

Owners of Blu-ray players might be interested to know an increasing number of Blu-ray movie titles are being released with a ‘digital copy’ included on a separate DVD disc. This ‘iPod-friendly’ version of the film can be imported directly into iTunes via your computer’s DVD drive for transfer to your player.

Connections

MP3 players typically connect using USB, USB 2.0 or FireWire ports. Transferring a song via USB 2.0 or FireWire is twice as fast as USB and takes a matter of seconds. Top of the range players have built-in Wi-Fi, enabling you to purchase music from online music retailers through your wireless broadband router, or while out and about through public Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’.

What to look for

Memory

The amount of memory will determine how much music you will be able to store on your MP3 player. Models range from 1GB (enough room for up to 240 songs) right up to 160GB (enough room for up to 40,000 songs or 200 hours of video). If you choose a lower capacity you’ll be able to change the songs on your player but you’ll have to swap them around on your computer first. With a higher capacity model you’ll be able to access your entire collection at any time. A higher capacity is also useful if the player is capable of storing other types of media e.g. photos and videos.

The majority of the MP3 players we sell use flash drives and are lightweight and durable. Because they have no movable parts, this also makes them ideal for use on the move - while jogging or travelling. Higher capacity models such as the iPod Classic use hard drives (similar to those in a computer) enabling them to store more information.

Audio formats

An MP3 file is one of a number of different music files that are available. You’ll need to check the compatibility of your player before purchasing music online. Other similar formats include:

 

  • WMA: Windows Media Audio
  • WAV: Windows Audio-Video-Format
  • AAC: Advanced Audio Codec (Used by iTunes)
  • ATRAC: Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (Used by Sony products)
  • AIFF: Audio Interchange File Format

Video formats

There are several video file formats available. You’ll need to check the compatibility of your player before purchasing movies online. Formats include:

  • MOV: QuickTime
  • MP4: MPEG-4 Part 14
  • M4V: MPEG-4 Part 14 (Used by iTunes)
  • H.264/AVC
  • WMV: Windows Media Video
  • MPEG-2: Moving Pictures Expert Group 2 file

Additional features

Many MP3 players offer far more than just playing music. Look out for additional features such as:

  • Integrated FM tuner
  • Store and view digital photos
  • Store and watch video
  • Record video
  • Voice recording
  • Play games
  • Store data files (including documents, contacts, calendars and to-do lists)
  • Downloadable applications

Other points to consider

JBL On Time Micro Speakers, Black
 
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio Full-Size HD Headphones with ControlTalk, Red
 
Gear4 JumpSuit Case for 3rd Generation iPhone
 
PURE i-10 Universal iPod Dock

Accessories

As MP3 players have increased in popularity, the range of additional accessories has grown ever wider. We offer an extensive selection of useful add-ons from protective cases to stereo speakers.

Legal downloading

Most MP3 files can be downloaded legally. However, it is a breach of copyright to download songs that have been copied illegally and put on the internet. It is best to download music from official sites.