MP3 Player Buying Guide: Part 2

By Mike on 9:00 am

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The other day, we looked at players from some of the more well known manufacturers. Apple, Creative, Sony, and Microsoft. None of these players was a clear winner. If I were to declare a winner from Sunday, I'd say it was the Sony PSP. The PSP lacked sufficient onboard storage but made up for it with a robust array of features. The ability to stream music, surf the net, and play games scored it big points. The Microsoft Zune was easily the worst player looked at due to its limited usability and highly intrusive digital rights management protocols. The iPod and Zen players from Apple and Creative were near the top. Creative beat out Apple for having similar features and quality but at lower prices.
Today we'll look and some of the lesser known MP3 players. Particularly units from iRiver and Cowon/iAudio. Finally I'll help you decide which of these players is best for you.

iRivier is a more obscure brand but they arguably make some of the best MP3 players out there. We'll start with the new Clix 2. It's a video MP3 player with 2-8gb of storage. It boasts a 320x240 res screen. It's a slim flash type player. Flash is kind of inappropriate for video due to lack of storage. You can put several full length movies on the 8gb model. A huge plus with all iRivier players is support for the OGG format. OGG Vorbis is an open source audio compression format and arguably one of the best. It's superior to MP3 and WMV at lower bit rates and is similar in quality to the patented MP4 AAC format. Another video player along the same lines is the B20. Comes in 2gb and 4gb and features a digital radio tuner. Not many digital radio stations though and it's not satellite radio compatible.
For audio only flash players, iRiver has some more bizarre styles such as the odd S7. The S10 is a conceptual player with an OLED screen. The T60 is a more conventional design. All have similar features and support the same audio formats. iRivier does have some hard drive based players. None worth looking at. They're expensive and lack storage compared to models from Creative and Apple.

Cowon is yet another more obscure brand. They call their MP3 players the iAudio series. I guess people think adding a lower case 'i' to a product automatically makes it good. Cowon's players aren't bad though. In fact, they're supposedly some of the best. Unfortunately I've had to take a lot of stuff from hearsay since there's no way I could test every one of these players. We'll start with the iAudio 7. It won a CNET award. This particular player is a sleek black design and comes in either 4gb or 8gb flash. This particular player actually offers a full function graphic equalizer. Rounding off features includes 3D surround sound , FM radio, and microphone. It's a little on the chunky side though for a flash player, at least as fat as the PSP. It's got a full colour screen. iAudio players, like iRiver's, also play OGG Vorbis files.
For Video, Cowon has the X5. It' has a 20gb or 30gb HDD. As a video player, it's pretty pathetic. The screen has a resolution of only 160x128, compared to the 320x240/480x272 standard that other players have adopted. iAudio boasts that it supports 260,000 colours and plays video at 15fps. Most players today support millions of colours at 30fps. For audio, it seems pretty decent. Supports MP3, WMV, Wave, OGG, and FLAC. FLAC is a lossless version of OGG. It has similar audio features to the "7".
Then there's the iAudio 6, the latest HDD player. It's essentially a cross between the "7" and the X5. For a HDD player though, it only supports 4gb on an ultra tiny drive. For that type of application, flash makes more sense. Video playback and supported codecs are identical to the X5.

Well, that's it for the round. Multiple players from six manufacturers. Today's winner, well, there really isn't one. I'd call it a tie. Both iRivier and Cowon have excellent players with excellent quality. They also support the elusive OGG Vorbis audio format which is perhaps the best lossy encoding format out there. That scores them big points. However, both lack storage. For video, iRiver is your best bet. The video playback on the iAudio players just sucks. 128p is far too low a definition to enjoy watching videos. You need 240p minimum.

So now you've looked at this multitude of players. There are others out there too from other companies, both good and bad. Which one should you pick. Well, it depends on your lifestyle and what you're using it for.
HDD based players are the best for people with large media collections. All HDD players except for the iAudio 6 had at least 20gb of storage. Twice what the largest flash player looked at. Flash on the other hand is for people who want something low cost, or are on the move. If you're working out at the gym, flash players aren't effected by movement like HDD players are since they contain no moving parts.
For video watching, I'd look at players with relatively large screens with widescreen support. Here I'd pick the PSP. since it has a nice big screen and it's lack of storage is made up by the fact that hard copies of videos can be purchased on UMD. The PSP also plays games too so you've got all your bases covered. It's bulky though though the PSP Slim will be better. The Zen Vision W is also another good player to take a look at. Though it doesn't have as many features as the PSP does, it's mechanical HDD gives it massive storage space for watching uncompressed video.
Small flash based players such as the iPod Shuffle and Creative Stone are the best for active people. They're relatively small size keeps them out of the way. The Stone is the best choice here since it's cheaper than the shuffle and features a display.
For your average day to day player, I'd look at the Zen V since it has all the same features the iPod shuffle does but at much lower cost.
If you're an audiophile, look at the iAudio and iRiver players. They features the best audio quality and the richest variety of coding formats.

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