I love my headphones, but....
August 17, 2009 11:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I best leverage my mp3 device, considering it is not an iPod?

Here's the scoop. I do not have an iPod. I do have another portable mp3 device (iriver clix) that has about 4-gig flash capacity.
I'm relatively happy with it, and using MediaMonkey to fill it and organize my music (which is substantially larger than 4-gig).
Where it all falls apart for me is when I attempt to play my music through portable speakers, or if I want to listen to something in the car.
Seems like people with an iPod can get boomboxes or car audio docks that they can just plug into, and the boombox/other device is able to control the mobile device (previous, next, scan, etc.)... whereas anytime I want to plug into anything, I'm plugging a line-in from my headphone jack, and I still need the mobile device to control the music (previous, next, etc.)
Also, it seems to me like the sound quality is poor (low) when compared to that of the iPod with it's fancy-dancy connection.
Very frustrating.

So I guess what I want to know is: how best to leverage my mp3 device for projecting my tunes.
I'd like to hear solutions for portable speaker capability (boombox, or something with a bit of balls), and even what I should be considering when I look at eventually getting a new car stereo... are there any types that allow you to read the files from a non-iPod device? Or is getting an "aux in" jack about the best I can hope for?
posted by Tbola to Technology (9 answers total)
 
I'm plugging a line-in from my headphone jack, and I still need the mobile device to control the music (previous, next, etc.)
Also, it seems to me like the sound quality is poor (low) when compared to that of the iPod with it's fancy-dancy connection.


Are you using high quality mini-to-mini cables to make the connection? Because that's normally considered a fairly high-quality connection unless you're a total audiophile.

The problem is probably more likely due to your MP3 player's internal headphone amp, which processes and boosts the signal to be audible in your headphones. The iPod's connector gives access to an unprocessed line out, which will sound better when run through a better amp than the internal one, but your player probably doesn't have any outputs other than the headphone jack. So unless there is some way to get a line out connection for your model, you'll be stuck with whatever your headphone connection sounds like.

Also, for controlling the player you're probably not going to find a good solution to that either. The iPod's dock connector is proprietary, and there is no standard interface to do those sorts of things with other players. Since most MP3 players other than the iPod are not popular enough for third party companies to support, you're most likely stuck with whatever accessories the manufacturer sells.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:47 AM on August 17, 2009


I've had the internal headphone amp issue mentioned above ... often there was a sweet spot in the portable device's volume where it worked best as an audio out.
posted by samsm at 12:04 PM on August 17, 2009


The problem is probably more likely due to your MP3 player's internal headphone amp, which processes and boosts the signal to be audible in your headphones. The iPod's connector gives access to an unprocessed line out, which will sound better when run through a better amp than the internal one, but your player probably doesn't have any outputs other than the headphone jack. So unless there is some way to get a line out connection for your model, you'll be stuck with whatever your headphone connection sounds like.

This. Some older players (like the Rio Karma) actually had dedicated line outs for this exact reason, but very few do nowadays. Sigh.
posted by somanyamys at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2009


What encoder did you use for your MP3s, what bitrate? Stuff that sounds fine on earbuds can sound pretty crummy through other speakers. In particular, I've noticed weird phase issues on high-frequencies played through speakers, that I've never noticed with any headphones
posted by Good Brain at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2009


You might want to try adding a headphone amp to the mix and keeping the player's volume lower; this will prevent it's crummy little amplifier from introducing a lot of noise to the music. The quality of your mp3s might have something to do with it as well; what is the average bitrate of your collection?

somanyamys: The Rio Karma doesn't have a line out, only the dock does; "19" on the player's volume is the closest to line-out through the headphone jack. I'm taking mine to my grave.
posted by bizwank at 2:43 PM on August 17, 2009


The bitrate of my collection is mostly 128+, usually CBR.
A good chunk are 192.
I admit that my procrastinating in buying a new hard drive just for music has kept me from ripping at higher rates. =(
Also... I have a Roku Soundbridge to go with my home stereo, and it doesn't recognize the more lossless formats, so that's a bit of a pain point there, too.
posted by Tbola at 6:02 PM on August 17, 2009


What kind of systems are you hooking into? You could start by re-ripping at least one album with LAME (quality setting -V3 or higher) to ensure low-quality MP3s are't compounding the problem; pick one of your favorite albums to test with and you'll probably be more likely to notice audio deficiencies. 128-192 CBR will sound bad on many speakers/headphones, and even more so if your little MP3 player is doing all the amplifying.

I wouldn't worry too much about lossless compatibility, a properly encoded MP3 (at a sufficiently high bitrate) will be indistinguishable from a lossless file (by human ears anyway), and at a fraction of the file size. Plus practically everything plays MP3s these days vs. few devices that support the various lossless formats.

As far as car audio goes, if you don't have the popular device that all the manufacturers are scrambling to incorporate into their head units (ipod), you may want to look into a unit that can play MP3s either from it's own internal HDD or from CDs/USB drives. Save the portable player for the bus.
posted by bizwank at 7:23 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd definitely compare your existing encode to a higher quality encoding on a few albums. LAME 3.8.x should do a good job at ~192kbps if you use an appropriate VBR preset.
posted by Good Brain at 10:05 PM on August 17, 2009


somanyamys: The Rio Karma doesn't have a line out, only the dock does; "19" on the player's volume is the closest to line-out through the headphone jack. I'm taking mine to my grave.

You are so right. My apologies. (I actually kept an extra dock in the car for exactly this reason.) Disregard.

Sadly, both my karmas died, and I ran out of parts to Franken-karma them with. *sob*
posted by somanyamys at 8:18 AM on August 18, 2009


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