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"Portable MP3 Players" 
  12/15/2001

If you are a proponent of MP3 music, you probably scour the USENET for music. There are copyright free materials available in many groups as itís an excellent way for an up and coming artist to get noticed. There are also a few artists that support the format and allow early versions of their songs to be downloaded so that they can get some feedback from their fans. (Obviously, there are also materials that are illegally distributed as they have copyright protection, but this article is not going to look at the moral issues associated with MP3 music.)

While downloading the files and playing them back on a PC is fine, there will undoubtedly come a point in time where you will probably find yourself wanting to take the files with you. Like everything electronic, the prices of the devices have continued to plummet while the quality has been steadily rising. All of this makes for an absolutely great time to buy.

When considering the type of portable player to buy, you have to choose between three basic types which are separated by the type of media that they use: hard disk drives, CD-Recordable/Rewritable media and those that use solid state memory (built-in or removable such as compact flash). There isnít a single type of player that has distinguished itself as the best, but you can probably find the one type that best suits your individual needs.

An MP3 player with a built-in hard drive probably has enough storage capacity to carry all the music that you own. This is a definite plus as the other players are much more limited in their storage, but there is a trade-off. The sizes of the players tend to be much larger and weigh more. Many times, it is also difficult to navigate the large number of songs as the displays are very small.

Another type of player worth investigating is the CD player style. It provides a cheap and very efficient method of archiving materials: CD-R and CD-RW media. The blank CDís have gone down in prices especially when you buy them in bulk. A single CD can hold more than 10 hours of music. In appearance, they resemble other portable CD players. They are probably not as heavy as the hard drive players but are usually larger in size. They also have a tendency to skip when jostled, which probably rules them out for any type of activity that would require them to be moved often. Another disadvantage to these types of players is the need for a CD recordable drive. If you already have one, this is obviously not a problem. Otherwise, you should keep this in mind when you are buying a player.

The last type of player we should look at is those that rely on solid state storage. They are the smallest and lightest MP3 players and rely on flash memory (usually compact flash or smart media) for their storage. The price of flash memory has fallen tremendously, so 64MB or more is commonplace. These players are the perfect choice for users that wish to have the most portable player as they are very resistant to skipping and their battery life is typically very good.

As you can see, the three types of players are all very good and have their own strengths and weaknesses. If you are in the market, this is a very good time to buy. While these devices are the three basic types of portable solutions, you may have another option: a PDA. All Pocket PC devices come with Microsoftís Media Player and many Palm OS based devices also have the ability to play MP3ís. If you already have one of these devices, you may already have what you need.

 - by Clayton Crooks

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