Audio Formats
MP3 (Moving Pictures Expert Group Audio Layer 3) is just one of the many formats you can play on digital audio players.

MP3 is a digital audio format encoded on computer from a source such as CD. The files are compressed but retain near-original sound quality.

Most MP3 players can play one or more other compressed audio formats too, such as AAC, OGG and Microsoft’s WMA. Here’s a quick look at how the formats differ:

  • WMA: A WMA (Windows Media Audio) file is roughly half the size of an MP3 file but offers comparable sound quality. WMA was launched after MP3 had become the best-known audio format.If you want to fit as many songs as possible onto your audio player, look for WMA compatibility. A 60GB WMA-compatible MP3 player, such as the Creative Labs Zen Touch, can take up to 30,000 songs in WMA format – or just 15,000 in MP3. The popular Apple iPod doesn’t accept WMA files.

    If you want to download music in WMA format, try the Internet music store Napster. See below for details on matching your player to the right downloads website.

  • MP3Pro: Better audio quality than MP3, but hasn’t been widely adopted by manufacturers. The exception is RCA, whose Lyra range of audio players also includes video capability.
  • OGG: Ogg Vorbis format has excellent sound quality and is gaining popularity.
  • AAC: Dolby’s Advanced Audio Coding format is only used in Apple iPods and can be downloaded from Apple’s Internet music store, iTunes.
  • WAV: Uncompressed audio, just as you’d hear on a standard CD.

Storage Space
An MP3 player with lots of storage space can accommodate your entire CD collection – and probably your friend’s CD collection too. Your player’s capacity depends on its memory type:

    • Flash memory: Early MP3 players had about 32MB of Flash memory, enough to store seven or eight songs in MP3 format. You’ll still find early 32MB players on eBay, but it’s rare to find a new player with less than 128MB memory (about 30 songs). New 128MB MP3 players include the OraCom Q600167 and the Creative Labs MuVo.Flash memory players have the advantage of no moving parts, so your tunes won’t jump if you do. Storage capacity is generally modest by today’s standards – usually 4GB (4,000MB) or 6GB, enough for about 1,000 and 1,500 songs in MP3 format.

      You can increase storage capacity with a removable memory Compact Flash card. Alternatively, invest in a Microdrive, a mini hard disk that fits into the Compact Flash slot. Microdrive was launched in 1999 with a 340MB capacity, expanded to 4GB in 2004.

      Popular examples of 4GB and 6GB Flash memory audio players include the Creative Labs MuVo2, Apple iPod Mini and Creative Labs Zen Micro. Most are also available in 6GB versions.

    • Hard disk: Hard disk MP3 players are the storage giants of the portable audio world. Hard disk Apple iPods now have at least 20GB of space – enough for 5,000 songs in MP3 or 10,000 in WMA. iPods are also available with 40GB, 30GB and 60GB hard disks, as are Creative Labs’ WMA-compatible Zen Touch range. Sony’s NW Walkman range includes 20GB and 30GB versions.MP3 player hard disks are re-usable, so you can add or delete songs as often as you like. But you won’t be doing much deleting with a 60GB Creative Labs player, which accommodates 30,000 songs in WMA format.

      Tip: Most new hard disk MP3 players can also be used as portable hard drives. Connect it to your computer and download files (photos, documents etc) to the player for storage or transfer to another computer.

Software
Good bundled software is a great bonus, but don’t panic if the software CD isn’t listed for sale with the player – most software can be downloaded from manufacturers’ Internet sites.

The software included with MP3 players lets you “rip” and encode songs from other formats, usually CDs. The quality of your recordings depends on the quality of software you use. The best software will let you make your own playlists and create a database of album names, track titles and artists.

Battery
Hard disk MP3 players have a rechargable lithium-ion battery, which typically last up to four years, though this varies from make to make. Other types of player use AA or AAA batteries, and some have an internal rechargeable cell.

Display
Most MP3 players display title and artist information about the song that’s playing. Most have a backlit LCD for reading in the dark.

Many high-end hard disk players, such as the iRiver PMP, Apple iPod Photo, fourth-generation (4G) Apple iPod and Archos Jukebox have a colour screen for song info and for viewing your digital photos.

Connection
All new MP3 players use a USB connection for data high-speed data transfer to and from your computer. You’ll find older players listed on eBay that use a serial port interface, and this can mean very slow transfer rates. If in doubt, click “Ask Seller a Question”.

Computer Compatibility
Before bidding, make sure that the MP3 player you want is compatible with your computer. Nearly all work with PCs, but not all work with Macs. If you use a Mac, you’re best sticking to an Apple iPod.

Optional Extras

    • Radio: FM radio reception is more common on Flash MP3 players than in the more common hard-drive models. Some even feature FM recording and presets.
    • Line-in remote: A control area in the middle of the headphone cord is useful for larger hard disk MP3 players that you can keep in a bag. Apple’s iPod and some other players have a clip for attaching the remote to your bag, and the iRiver remote displays song info.
    • Voice record: Some MP3 players have a small internal microphone – great for conversations or lectures, but not for high-quality music recording.

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