Buying Guides -> Software -> Audio Editing
Best picks: MP3 Players
Team CHIP | 01 December 2008
There were days when a portable audio cassette player would cling onto your belt as it played your favorite tracks one after the other. Just imagine those bulky players competing with each other in size and quality. The first flash based MP3 player made its debut in 1998 and had a whopping 32 MB of storage space which could store around eight songs on it. Bulky and expensive back then, they did not sell much and were only available as a lifestyle product for those who could afford it.
The next portable music player (after quite a long time) was a portable CD player which would let a person store MP3 songs on a CD and was the size of an average CD case. Not too long ago, MP3 players have been increasing the storage size, due to falling rates of the silicon chip and the package has come down to as small as a piece of candy. The next generation MP3 players have a lot more features added to it, which makes it a gadget to drool over. Features such as style and size were things that seemed unbelievable in the past. Today, MP3 players have integrated themselves into other gadgets like mobile phones and cameras too.
Now the music player is going a few steps ahead, by leaping into the segment of mini computing. MP3 players have now also been integrated with hard drives (1.8-inch) because of the immensely steep prices of solid-state storage. The iPod classic is a fine example with a 1.8-inch 120 GB hard drive. Players are also embedded with higher quality TFT screens for video playback, enabling the user to store, watch and even record videos. Of the players we tested here there were two such examples—the iPod Touch and the Cowon Q5W, which have features that MP3 players and PMPs need to offer in the future. Players like these have been embedded with Wi-Fi and also can also record videos with direct encoding. The Wi-Fi connectivity now allows you to browse the Internet and download videos and music directly to the player, thus there is no need to connect the device to a computer to transfer files. PMPs no longer work on propriety operating systems but are now using Linux, Macintosh and Windows operating systems. Processors onboard these players are so powerful they can actually run 3D games or play HD content too. Accelerometer and multi-touch screen is another feature incorporated into the iPod Touch. This feature eliminates the need of using the control buttons to browse through the menu or play games. We have yet to see what PMPs will be like in the future.
This month, we tested 24 MP3 players in three categories comprising of music players, mainstream and high-end PMPs. Each player was scrutinized and matched against its contender in the same category which is purely based on the features and performance. To find out how we tested each player and which took home the winning titles, read through the next few pages which mention a detailed test process and a table listing the features and performance scores. Finally, have a glance at the buying guide to find out which one suits your needs.
cowon has something for everyone, but the Cowon IAudio 7 is perfect for music lovers. Ranking highest in its category in almost all aspects including features, the IAudio 7 offers quite a bit for its price. It flaunts its glossy black body and a sensitive touchpad. The 1.3-inch color LCD screen with a resolution of 160x128 pixels adds to the panache. The IAudio 7 has 8 GB of flash storage and a mammoth 60 hours of battery life. It plays almost all common audio formats such as MP3, FLAC, and WAV. Other features include FM radio, voice and line-in recording and direct encoding. It also offers text and picture viewers and file and playlist management. It’s not only the features that impressed us, because even the build quality, ergonomics and performance are worth mentioning. Apart from a sturdy shell and good quality buttons, the interface is intuitive and user-friendly. At this price, it’s a good choice if you’re not looking at high-end features and excellent video playback.
For: Excellent build quality, good sound, excellent ergonomics and good features.
Against: A memory expansion slot is needed.
There’s no need to look beyond the Samsung YP-U3 if you’re very particular about sound quality. The player is about the size of a cigarette lighter and has a matt black finish. Without many buttons the YP-U3 looks quite plain, but it has a lot to offer even though it weighs merely 22.8 grams. Out of all the players in its category the U3 offers the most intuitive user interface. The face of the player has a 1-inch OLED display to the right of which lies touch-sensitive controls for volume, playback and menu navigation. The play/pause and record button are placed on top of the player. The player starts recording voice as soon as you keep the record button pressed for 3 seconds. You can also tune in to your favorite radio station, but unfortunately the player doesn’t support recording from FM radio. Transferring music to the player is hassle-free as you don’t need any cables—it becomes a USB flash drive when you flip out the USB connector.
We strongly recommend this player if you want the best without spending much.
For: Excellent earphones, easy to operate, retractable design, direct encoding.
Against: Cannot record from FM radio.
Mix a whole lot of features with performance and you get the Cowon D2 that won the Best Performance Award in the mainstream PMP category. The D2 is fully touch sensitive with minimal buttons and all actions are performed via the D2’s 2.5-inch touch screen interface. A multi-purpose stylus is also included which doubles up as a stand, giving you a viewing angle of 70 degrees. The player is able to deliver a monstrous 52 hours of audio and 10 hours of video playback. Video playback is what the Cowon D2 does best. With a 2.5-inch display the D2 is able to playback videos at a resolution of 320x240. The D2 also has a TV-out port that allows you to connect the player to the TV or high resolution monitor.
The player also comes in 2 GB, 4 GB, 8 GB and 16 GB variants. Apart from the built-in flash memory, the D2 has an SD card slot and, with SDHC support the player can accommodate a maximum of 32 GB memory. While MP3, WAV and WMA are supported, the D2 is also able to play OGG, FLAC and APE formats.
For: Memory expansion, SDHC support, large display, superb video playback.
The Aigo F586 doesn’t have anything to boast other than its super-affordable price tag. The glossy black face with a 2-inch color LCD display and backlit 5-way touchpad gives the F586 a classy look, but don’t judge this player by its looks. You’ll be very disappointed after you start the player. To start the player you have to release the hold switch and press the play button on the side. It boots up with an animated heart with some Chinese text within. And by the time you manage to play a song you’ll be frustrated as the touchpad is so crammed that you’ll end up pressing the wrong button accidentally. To top this, the earphones that came with this player were the most awful sounding. Throw them away and get a new pair if someone gifts you this player—go ahead and buy it at your own risk. The only good thing about the F586 is that it offers loads of features and good battery life for a very tempting price tag. We also liked the video playback quality. The videos have to be transcoded to the player’s format with the bundled utility.
For: Case, AC adapter, built-in speakers, good battery life.
Against: Poorly designed user interface.
The Q5W is a massive upgrade to the Cowon A3. Its metallic body, stylish looks and exorbitant feature set will intimidate any PMP. For starters, the Q5W wirelessly connects you to the Internet through Wi-Fi and lets you surf, watch videos and listen to music on your Bluetooth headset, sounds good? The player has a Windows operating system (Windows CE), which almost acts like a mini computer. The brilliant 5-inch and 800x480 resolution touch screen is great for watching movies and playing games. With support for all common video formats such as DivX, XviD, WMV and audio formats such as MP3, WMA, FLAC, the player has 80 GB of hard drive space.
All listening tests went extremely well, but the video playback really blew us away. The bundled earphones are good, but the built-in speakers just suffice for soft music. Other features include FM radio, line-in, video and audio out and direct audio encoding. We say, if you want a complete PMP, don’t look at the price tag, go for this one!
For: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, excellent video playback, good battery life.