How to Buy a Mp3 Player

By Brooke Kaelin on 27 May 2011 (Updated 2 June 2011) 5 comments
Photo: homard.net

This is a Guest Buying Guide written by the editors of Cheapism.com.

MP3 players have become ubiquitous. Just look around at the gym or subway car. Everyone's got headphones on. While plenty of cell phones now double as MP3 players, some people don’t have a phone with that capability or simply prefer a dedicated device with better sound quality. If you’re in the market for a new MP3 player, here are some things to keep in mind.

What Is an MP3 Player?

To many people, an MP3 player is an iPod. Apple sold more than 9 million of the sleek, simple gadgets in its most recent quarter and has sold hundreds of millions in total. But Apple isn't the only company to offer good MP3 players. Don’t discount brand names such as Sony, Creative, SanDisk, Philips, Cowon, and, of course, Microsoft.

MP3 Player Features That Matter

When shopping around for an MP3 player, pay attention to a couple of key features.

Size

You don’t want a portable music player that weighs you down. Many MP3 players come in at no more than a few ounces, and some weigh less than an ounce. If you find a model that’s not so svelte, make sure the extra weight is due to extra features or extra storage capacity. A portable music player should also be slim enough to slip easily into a pocket. Some are so compact you can clip them onto a lapel. The flip side is they can be easy to lose or put through the wash.

Storage Capacity

Luckily (and ironically), as MP3 players have gotten smaller, their storage capacities have gotten bigger. Even budget MP3 players can hold up to 8 GB, or about 2,000 songs. Consider the size of your music library and how much of it you’d like to carry around. The biggest MP3 players can handle entire hard drives worth of media files.

MP3 Player Features That Are Just Hype

While certain features can come in handy, others don’t make much sense on a device this size.

Video

Many MP3 players offer video playback, but it’s tough to enjoy staring at such a small screen. Unless you’re spending an afternoon at the DMV, you probably won’t find yourself using an MP3 player for video. Video files also take up a lot more space than songs. If watching a movie or TV show is your preferred method of killing time, consider a portable DVD player instead. Otherwise, save your money and stick to audio entertainment.

MP3 Player Special Features

Some MP3 players are practically mini computers, complete with web browsing and e-mail. As you go up in price, you also start seeing features such as games and cameras — even video cameras. The best cheap MP3 players boast some appealing extras too.

FM Radio

An FM tuner is especially useful on an MP3 player with limited storage capacity because it gives you more choices. Some players even allow you to record songs off the radio or use an FM transmitter to wirelessly stream music to a home or car stereo.

Photo Storage

MP3 players usually support not just audio but also image file formats, so they can accommodate photos as well. It’s this century’s equivalent of carrying pictures of your kids in your wallet.

Best Time to Buy

To make room for the newest models coming out for the Christmas, retailers will often do a price-drop on older models in August and September.

See our shopping calendar for more tips on the best time to buy anything and our other buying guides.

Recommended MP3 Players

Here are two MP3 players that stand out for their features and value.

Best Value MP3 Player

Apple iPod shuffle: For $46 you get an iPod that syncs with iTunes, the industry’s 800-pound gorilla, in a teeny-tiny shuffle. We wish it had better battery life and more storage space, but MacRumors reports that the shuffle is due for an update, so keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed.

Best Special Features MP3 Player

SanDisk Sansa Fuze+: This MP3 player starts at $53 and holds 8 GB of songs, photos, and video. An FM tuner allows you to listen to and record songs off the radio. It weighs in at just over two ounces and boasts up to 24 hours of battery life.

This buying guide comes courtesy of the team at Cheapism, which researches the best available products in the budget price range. For more information, check out Cheapism’s in-depth guide to cheap MP3 players.

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Guest's picture
joe

The shuffle is worthless, if you want a good value (aka cheap) mp3 player, look at the Sansa Clip. It is 100x better than the shuffle.

Guest's picture

I think the shuffle is great and a great value. Especially for non-tech people like older generations. My parents for example just throw the music on it and the don't have to worry about it. Just plays music and that is usually what they want.

Guest's picture
WittyWolfie

Microsoft no longer makes stand-alone MP3 players. Zune functionality is included with Windows Phone 7 now.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'd add Ogg Vorbis capability. Ogg Vorbis allows for better sound in the same file size.
Also, I really want SD card, or micro-SD card, capability. External memory (SD/uSD) allows me to keep a number of audio books on the SD/uSD cards. Thus when one story ends, another is at hand. Also, audio books are generally one time listened to, or repeated at long intervals. Thus the audio books on SD/uSD cards are written to and erased many times, relative to music entries on the player. The flash memory in the player or SD/uSD cards has a relatively limited number of re-writes. I'd rather replace SD/uSD cards than players, SD/uSD cards are much cheaper.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hemmmm

... "some people don’t have a phone with that capability or simply prefer a dedicated device with better sound quality". So the device provides sound quality??? Come on! Be serious... the quality in the sound is given by how you recorded the mp3 or the head-set you use! The player is just a memory with screen and options!!!