Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

MP3 player?

My iPod died. I'd like to replace it, and I've become disinterested in Apple and Apple products. What should I get? I'd like:

And I guess anything after that is just icing. Ogg would be nice, but honestly I've pretty much given up on it -- MP3 is just too Good Enough. Video is utterly uninteresting. Radio would be nice. Using removable storage instead of internal storage is interesting; is it practical?

Opinions much appreciated.

Created 19 Aug '06


i've an archos gmini 402. it's linux compatible in that it mounts as an external usb drive if desired. i can't say that i'd recommend it as yet because the hard drive died and I had to RMA it.

When it did work i was quite fond of it.

# Darryl

I have a Samsung YP-F1 512MB player. They also have a 1GB version, but the local store only had the 512MB in stock. Paid around $100 for it. It plays oggs flawlessly, I've had it since January. Has radio, voice recorder, etc. Works great.

My only complaints are that 10 hours of battery life is just a little skimpy, only a little though, and that the charger/transfer uses the same port as the headphones, so you can't charge and listen at the same time. I really like the metal clip on it, I thought I wouldn't, but I end up clipping it to my collar a lot and it stays out of the way. I think it's locked up once on me.

This replaced an Enox EMX-900, which I had from August to October of last year. The battery died. It was an import from Asia, because you couldn't get them here. I liked that it had a built-in USB so I didn't have to carry anything else. Then I realized that with it plugged directly into my laptop it was likely to be broken. That didn't happen. The user interface on it was slow and sluggish, and the thing would hang on playing about 5% of my oggs. It did have 1GB in it though.

efm has a iAudio F1 with 1GB that she's had since November of last year. It also plays oggs, and is a bit bigger than mine. It's shaped like a little race car, if that's important to you. It has a nice OLED display, where the Samsung has an inverted LCD. She's really liked her player. No problems with it. I think it has better battery life than the Samsung, but I wouldn't trade the small size and the metal clip.

I will say that I find 64kbps oggs sound acceptable to me, where 64kbps MP3s do not. 128kbps mp3s are the lowest quality where the codec artifacts don't bug me. So, a player that can do oggs gives me about 2x the capacity of a player that does mp3s only.

If I were to buy a new one today, I'd consider the Apple Nano running the rockbox firmware which does oggs, and has 4GB, but not very good battery life, and is much more expensive than the samsung. If my samsung died today, I'd probably just buy another one.


# Sean Reifschneider

Take a look at SanDisk's Sansa e200 series: http://www.sandisk.com/Products/Catalog(1166)-SanDisk_Sansa_e200_Series_MP3_Players.aspx. Solid state 2-6G + external Micro SD. It can be used as a flash drive => you can copy your mp3 (or wma) directly using any OS. Can be bought for reasonable price, especially with rebates. While you don't care it supports pictures and movies. I replaced Sansa's stock ear buds with Sennheiser PX 100, and now I am a happy camper.

# Eugene Lazutkin

I've got an iRiver T10. I use it to play OGGs, MP3s and listen to the radio. Runs (runs for a long time) on AA batteries. Don't remember the cost, but it was at the bottom end of the range. Mounts as a flash drive when plugged into USB.

It's only got 512MB of storage. I plug it in every week or so and run a little script to fill it up with random tracks. I'd need more than 20GB to store all my music and I really don't need it all when I'm commuting :)

# Richard Jones

The good news on Ogg (Vorbis or FLAC) is that the vendor doesn't have to support it -- provided you can replace the vendor OS with Rockbox.

# Ben Finney

my current mp3 player is an iaudio x5.

My next mp3 player will be an iaudio x5.

# Pistahh

Not a recommendation, but a question: which good (ogg) players do gapless playback?

Gapless means that there is no artificial pause introduced between two tracks when played back. Imagine The Wall, for example, being played back with 2 seconds of silence between overlapping tracks. Same for most live albums, of course.

I still have an iriver H140 which does all you want (it's still cool, but a bit bulky and old), except for gapless playback.

# Andre

An iPod running the Rockbox firmware will play Ogg with gapless playback. It also supports the Lame extensions for gapless MP3 playback. Works great for me. Thinking about it, you may be able to run Rockbox on your existing iRiver.
# Menno Smits

I also have an Cowon iAudio X5 and I love it - USB Mass Storage, 30 Gigs of space, Ogg Vorbis AND FLAC support, great audio quality, radio (with recording feature), voice recorder, line-in recording and 35 hours of playback time (on the X5L) without recharging certanly convinced me when I bought it... If you don't want video, there is a smaller one (I think called M5) - the x5l is quite huge. Oh and yeah - no DRM b****sh** ;)

cheers, Chris

# Christoph Neuroth

Well, it looks like it's about the same size as my 40Gb iPod (just slightly smaller). And about the same size as the Archos gmini -- the Archos has a camcorder in it, though, which is kind of neat. I've enjoyed the low-quality video that my camera takes, and the Archos would be a (small) step up from that plus music (though as a camera it sounds like it's about cellphone quality).

The Amazon reviews make it sound like the iAudio is a more polished product. But then, a lot of the complaints about the Archos are about features that the iAudio just doesn't have. And the Archos is actually cheaper (though it's sale price at Amazon does make me wonder if there's something wrong with it). Oh, though the iAudio has FM radio, which is nice.

# Ian Bicking

I have an old iAudio with 40GB harddrive, and the ability to play Oggs and mp3s. The user interface is a bit odd, but I am still quiet happy with it.

# edomaur

I'll chime in with another vote for the iAudio. (I have the 20GB M5). It'll play Ogg, Flaac, MP3--just about any music file. It's compact (not as small as iPods, but small), good looking, and can take a couple of drops (yes I've dropped it a couple of times) Sound quality is excellent. It is Linux compatible, when you plug it into a USB port it shows up as a harddrive. You can transfer to and from your harddrive, and it plays well with Listen music player (which I prefer over Rythmbox).

# Keith

I also have good things to say about the M5. My audio files (ogg,flac, and mp3) are already in a nice directory structure, and I like just having to use cp, mv, and rm to manage the files on the device. I'm also happy with the quality of the line in recording, but that requires buying a proprietary dongle for 20 bucks or something. There is no option to record to wav, but at 320kbs, mp3 sounds good enough. I love that the screen has rainbow text which says "COLOUR SOUND" though there's nothing colour about it.

# velotron

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_Karma 20GB HD-based, supports OGG and FLAC. IIRC, it's Linux compatible. I'm not 100% sure though. I don't think it's still in production, but it looks like you can still get 'em (according to Froogle).

# Chris R.

I've had two of these, and they die rather quickly (something weird going on with the hard disks). Plus, they're EOL'ed, so I don't think you can get much support. Although the Karma is pretty great if it works, I wouldn't actually recommend it (anymore).

# Manuzhai

Definitely check out iRiver's offerings. I'm not sure what they currently have, but they have open-source drivers and OGG support.

# Andrew Barilla

You may want to check out this episode of dl.tv: http://dl.tv/blogs/digitallifetv/archive/2006/08/16/18662.aspx They go over three alternatives to iPod. I can't recall which had which features, but one player did .ogg and I think two of them had non-proprietary cables. I'll be entertaining if nothing else.

# Jeremy M. Jones

I have an iAudio G3 - solid state 1GB. I picked it because it was cheap, it plays oggs, acts as a USB mass storage device and runs on an AA battery, not a proprietary one. I can't update my firmware from Linux, and I don't believe anyone has hacked firmware. As mentioned earlier, it lacks gapless playback. It's spontaneously rebooted maybe three or four times in six months of continuous use.

From my experience and reading the iAudio forums, I have a good impression of iAudio's players in general.

Oh, and my iAudio has color sound. i mean who else has got that. omg teh w00t.

# jared jennings

Although I bought an ipod for my girlfriend, my criteria for a mp3player for myself were quite different (non-apperance dependant):

* It must connect with my linux laptop simply and easily
* It must have radio 
* It must be small
* It must be <= 1Gb
* It should preferrably be cheap (not -ish!), as I used most of my gadget budget on buying my girlfriend an ipod...

I ended up with the creative zen nano plus, which have served my just fine, fulfilling all the above criteria,

# st1

I bought an iAudio X5 just a couple of days ago. It's early days but I'm quite happy so far. The reasons for buying the X5 over other players were...
[1] Linux support - the x5 is just a USB mass storage device - no proprietary software needed to transfer music to and from the device.
[2] 20G storage - I have maybe 300 CDs (actual CDs that I bought - Imagine!) so my music collection fits easily on the device.
[3] The X5 has 95dB SNR - OK I won't even pretend to know what that really means but allegedly it has better sound quality than the iPod.
What I don't like about the X5:
[1] Battery is not user replaceable.
[2] Requires a propietary dongle to connect to PCs and to recharge. I know I'm going to lose the dongle. They should have put the connecting ports on the player itself.

While not as important the following has turned out to be a nice extra...

[1] Video playback. My 5-year-old daughter loves this. (so much so I'm wonder should I have got an iPod video instead - they have much larger screens). Great for long car journeys, and it's surprisingly watchable. (I was skeptical about video playback too - the quality really isn't that bad).
[2] The X5 can operate in USB host mode. If you have an SD/Flash card reader you can plug it into the X5 and transfer files. (I haven't tried this out yet).

The X5 is old-school in that if you want to easily navigate your collection, you really need to have it organized something like this...

${LETTER}/${Artist}/${Album}/${TRACK} ${TITLE}.mp3

I've ripped my CDs using different software over the years so they didn't all use the same ID3 tags (some were ID3v1, some ID3v2), and the X5 didn't recognize all the different tags. So I nuked the tags and retagged based on the directory structure with a bit of perl code (yeah I probably should've just used iTunes but that wouldn't have been as educational ;-).

As an aside - do any MP3 players support tagging ? Organizing an MP3 collection by tags (I mean del.icio.us tagging not ID3 tagging) would be cool. A player that lets you tag stuff as your listening to it and constructs playlists based on tags (single or combined) would be nice.

# walter

I've bought a Sony Ericsson W810i recently. It uses the Memory Stick duo (comes with a 512mb one). Supports bluetooth, mounts as a usb drive (tested on Windows and OS X). Can play .mp3 and .m4a just fine, have't tried .ogg. If you need a new phone and don't mind the storage limit (biggest Memory Stick is 2GB? Maybe 4GB?). I'm still to try it under linux.

# Sidnei da Silva

If you're going to spend $200+, why not get a nice game machine as well?

A friend of mine loves his Linux-based GamePark GP2X ($170); throw in $50 for a 1-GB SD card, and you have a nice little MP3/Ogg/whatever-anyone's-ever-written-a-player-in-Linux-for player that you can also play lots of classic arcade games on.

The screen's 320x240 pixels, 3.5" diagonal, so I don't foresee watching feature-length movies on it, but for Red Dwarf or RocketBoom it'd be fine.

And, of course, it runs on AA batteries, so you wouldn't be adding yet another charger to your life.

# George Paci

I looked into digital music players last year and finally just got another walkman. It doesn't have compatibilty problems, is reliable, much cheaper ($50), and one AA battery lasts at least 24 hours. "Memory" units are $1.50 per cassette. Of course you need a tape recorder to "format" them.

# Mike Orr

I just bought the second-cheapest 512Mb thing on amazon (it's labelled "ATMT"). Plays MP3s. Seems there'll likely be 16 Gb flash drives around not too long in the future, which would hold all the CDs I own ATM with lots of room to spare, and though the difference between ~10 CDs and "all of my CDs" seems significant, any smaller increase in capacity doesn't seem like a big deal. But then I haven't used it much yet...

# John Lee

Hi. www.TheDigitalBeat.com/test.html is a cool site that will help you figure out which mp3 player to buy. There are a bunch of reviews of the top mp3 players and side by side comparisons of the ipod, zune, creative zen, etc. Good luck!

# Al Masterson