Buying guide: MP3 players

Shopping for an iPod, Sony Walkman or other MP3 player? We've got you covered

FAQ: MP3 players

What is an MP3 player?

An MP3 player is just like a portable CD player, only instead of using CDs to store and play your music, the music is stored in digital format as small files. These files can be stored on an MP3 player either on its hard drive — similar to the one found in your PC — or on flash memory, similar to what is used in a digital camera.

What is the difference between an MP3 player and an MP4 player?

MP3 files are audio files and MP4 files can be both audio and video files. An MP4 player should have a video display and be able to play MP4 video as well as MP3 audio files. Read our portable media player guide to find out more information about MP4 players.

What is the difference between MP3 and other audio formats?

High quality audio takes up a lot of space on your player. So instead of music stored at the same quality as it is on a CD, MP3s are shrunk down (compressed). With MP3 you trade off some audio quality — usually not a lot — for the convenience of smaller files. The difference between MP3 and other audio formats is how they are shrunk down and how much quality is lost from the original.

Is MP3 legal?

If you download your MP3 files from a legitimate online music store, MP3 is perfectly legal. Similarly, converting your own CDs to MP3 format for your use is fine although it’s advisable to retain the original CDs.

What is an iPod?

An iPod is an MP3 player made by Apple.

Can I plug my MP3 player into my surround sound/stereo/TV?

Yes, this can easily be done using a regular stereo cable that plugs into the headphone jack of your MP3 player.

How do I download music onto my MP3 player?

In most cases, this is a simple matter of connecting your MP3 player to the computer using the USB cable, and then either opening the included software and copying your music that way or just dragging the files with your mouse across to the player like you would move any other file.

What is ripping?

When you copy music from a CD to the MP3 format you are "ripping" it from the CD.

What is encoding?

Encoding is the process where the music is converted from one audio format to another.

What is streaming?

If you want to listen to a song or watch a video while it is downloading, you will need to stream it. Music that is streamed is generally not saved to your computer when the song finishes. You can also buy devices that allow you to stream music from one room in the house to the other.

Do I need a computer or specific software to download music onto my MP3 player?

In most cases to use an online store to buy music you will need to own a computer. Many MP3 players also come with specific software that needs to be used to transfer your music to the player as well. Consult the manual and any documentation for your MP3 player and favourite online store. The Apple iPod Touch for instance, has integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and allows the user to download songs from iTunes directly to the device.

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Apple iPod Touch models

Why is an MP4 player so much bigger than an MP3 player?

MP4 players can play both MP4 and MP3 so they need to have all the electronics inside them to do both. Also, MP4 players generally have larger screens to take advantage of video content.

Does MP4 support video playback on TV?

That will depend on the MP4 player. Some devices have the option to output to a television but not all of them do, so be sure to choose the right one for your needs.

If I have an old computer, will I need to upgrade to a new computer so that I can download songs onto my MP3 player?

Most MP3 players connect to your machine using a USB cable, which is one of the most common types of computer connections. This means you will need a computer with USB ports to be able to use one; however, almost every modern computer comes with a few of these. If your computer doesn't have USB ports, you can usually buy a USB card that can be installed in your PC. Depending on the type of MP3 player, you may also need to be running Windows XP or better to use the software.

How can I tell if the MP3 player I’m purchasing is compatible with my current software?

The easiest way is to read the manual and find out. If that doesn’t give you any help, you can simply try plugging it in and seeing if it connects.

How many songs can my MP3 player hold?

That depends on how much memory the player has, and how much the MP3s are compressed. Some players with hard disks in them can hold more than 20,000 songs, while smaller devices with flash memory may only hold 50 or 100. MP3 players like the latest Apple iPod Shuffle can now hold up to 500 or 1000 songs. MP3 players like the latest Apple iPod Shuffle can now hold up to 500 or 1,000 songs in 128-Kbps AAC format.

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The tiny flash memory iPod Shuffle stores a lot of music!

Will I need any extra equipment to enable me to download music onto my MP3 player?

All MP3 players should come with the necessary cables and software in the box. As long as you have all of these you won’t need anything else to copy music to your player.

If an MP3 player is small in size, will it hold less music?

Generally this is true to some degree. The really big players tend to have hard drives in them, which can hold a lot more. Meanwhile, small players tend to have flash memory in them, which takes up less space but also holds fewer songs. But do check the specifications to see how much memory the MP3 player you are interested in has.

Does the music download directly onto the MP3 player or do I need to purchase a memory card?

The majority of players have internal memory these days. There are a very small number that run off memory cards, but these are hard to find. Ask the store before you buy and they should be able to tell you if you will need a memory card.

What kind of accessories can I purchase to go with my MP3 player?

MP3 players have a wide variety of accessories available for them, including protective cases, speaker docks like the Edifier Luna 5 encore iF500 iPod dock and car chargers. One very popular accessory is an FM transmitter that allows you to tune a nearby FM radio to play songs from your MP3 player. The most popular use for this is playing your music on your car stereo.

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The Edifier Luna 5 encore iF500 iPod dock

Is the MP3 player rechargeable or does it use batteries?

Most MP3 players use an internal, rechargeable battery. This is charged either using an AC adaptor or through the USB cable. Some players use AAA or AA batteries. These will accept standard batteries as well as rechargeable AAA or AA batteries.

How long will batteries last?

Depending on whether it is flash- or hard drive-based, your MP3 player will last anywhere from four to 25 hours when playing music. Generally, players that have hard disks rather than flash memory will require recharging more frequently; however, that should be weighed against the fact that they can store more music. Playing videos will shorten the time between recharging.

Can I listen to my MP3 player while jogging or playing sport?

Yes. Unlike CD players, MP3 players don’t use a laser, so movement doesn’t easily interrupt them. However, if you want to exercise with a digital music player it would be wise to buy a flash-based player, as hard disk players do have moving parts in them which could be damaged by consistent and extreme motion. Flash players are usually lighter and smaller as well.

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The Cygnett GrooveRide Touch is an ideal companion for people on the go

Does an MP3 player also have radio stations available?

Some do and some don’t; you will have to check with the store before you buy the player.

Do I need to buy an AC adaptor?

Every MP3 player should come with something to charge it; however, you may want a second or third adaptor to use in the kitchen or car, for example. Some players will only include equipment to charge directly from a computer, so an AC adaptor can be a good purchase for these models. Other MP3 players can charge via the USB connection on your PC or notebook.

What is an ID3 tag?

An ID3 tag is the part of an MP3 file that holds information about the artist, song, album, track number and so on. It is what the MP3 player uses to identify your music.

Does an MP3 player only play music?

Some players will also store text files, play video and radio, display photos, have voice recorders and even very basic games.

Can I download all music from all sites?

Music can only legally be obtained from Web sites that have the rights to sell music. The most popular places to download music are Internet music stores such as iTunes and BigPond Music, where you can download whole albums or individual songs.

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Apple iTunes

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like a radio show, except it is usually recorded, put up on the Internet and listened to later on. You can download podcasts from many different sites and there are a huge variety of topics covered. There is also software that lets you subscribe to podcast programs and have them automatically downloaded to your computer when new shows are released.

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