Mp3 players with good sound quality?
October 24, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

mp3playerfilter: what's the mp3 player that gives the best quality sound?

My old mp3 player just gave out on me and I'm looking to pay a bit more and get a good quality one this time with sound quality as my top priority (then capacity).

Any ideas?

(checked through Askme and haven't seen a question like this, my apologises if there is one and I've just missed it)
posted by litleozy to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people rave about the sound quality of the SanDisk Sansa Clip. Other alternatives here.
posted by sharkfu at 11:05 AM on October 24, 2009

Cowon/JetAudio and iRiver have good reputations for sound quality. An iRiver IHP-series with Rockbox firmware is hard to beat (among other reasons, it offers FLAC support and an optical out). Unfortunately, it hasn't been manufactured for several years. You can still find 'em on eBay though, and replacing the hard drive and battery isn't difficult.

That said, the most popular choice among audiophile types is probably an iPod loaded up with Apple lossless files and connected through the dock/line-out to a separate headphone amp.

For most people, though, the weak point in their portable audio setup is either the earphones or the source files, not the player.
posted by box at 11:07 AM on October 24, 2009

Rockbox is also available on iPod if you really need support for FLAC. Personally I would say just get a iPod and spend any extra cash on better headphones.
posted by sophist at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2009

Seconding what Box said, when my Rockboxed IHP120 and IHP140 breathed their last, I replaced them with a Cowon S9 32Gb: excellent sound quality and file support, although the user interface is not the greatest.
posted by amestoy at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2009

Sansa Clip. The iPod classic is also pretty good, but stay away from the iPod touch.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2009

The Sansa Clip or Fuze have great audio quality. The Fuze also has video playback. You can also rockbox the Fuze, although it's not an official build release yet, and you do risk bricking your player.

I bought a refurbished 4GB Fuze recently with the intention of rockboxing it, but, with the FLAC and ogg playback, as well as the audiobook features, I haven't felt the need yet.

The Fuze and Clip also offer FM radio and voice recording. I can't compare the sound quality to an iPod because I don't own an iPod, but the reviews I've read tend to favor the Sansas.
posted by pahool at 1:01 PM on October 24, 2009

Best answer: A little clarification, after a little research: if you want the best sound possible, you need a player with a line-out, and you need a separate headphone amp (the Ray Samuels ones get great reviews, which isn't meant to exclude other brands). If folks on Sansa and audiophile forums are to be believed, the Fuze doesn't have a 'true' line-out (which is to say, one that bypasses the internal circuitry), while the iPod (among other players) does. If you're going to use a separate headphone amp, a player with a real line-out will give you the best sound.

If you're not going to use a separate headphone amp, you're dependent on the one inside the player. In that case, the Sansa ones seem to be the consensus choice among currently-manufactured players.
posted by box at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2009

This is a tricky question. MP3 is not a great format for fidelity. It's tuned to make Suzanne Vega's tune "Tom's Restarurant" sound okay, while being pretty darned small. A lossless format (FLAC, the AAC and WMA lossless versions, and even plain ol' WAV) will be some of the best quality. I use q=6 Vorbis to get similar sizes as MP3, and the quality is about as good as CD (which itself is not exactly the gold standard of fidelity, but until we get vinyl back, it's about as good as the mass-market troglodytes are going to let us have).

As for hardware, this is also tricky. Apple's hardware in particular -- even if you crack the OS and install something like Rockbox (for FLAC support, yo) and replace the cheap white headphones -- has shallow, tinny sound from cheap and small sound processor. I hear that it has gotten better with the iPod Touch.

I'm rambling and I haven't gotten to a distinct answer. I hope you find it useful anyway.
posted by cmiller at 1:28 PM on October 24, 2009

Best answer: Another vote for the Cowon S9, which sounds a lot better than any iPod I've heard. The user interface really isn't bad, though it's far from perfect. The Sansa Clip is also known for fantastic sound. These are very different ends of the digital audio player market (the Clip is quite inexpensive, but has limited features, while the S9 is a higher-end model).
posted by JMOZ at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2009

My 4gb Sansa Clip+ sounds nice, and I really like that it has replaygain. Build quality is not fabulous though, and my old Rio Karma had better "now playing" playlist management. For $50 though, it's hard to beat --especially since you can plug in a microSD card, I'm planning on getting a 32gb when they come out.

DAPReview is another good site to check out. Sound quality on a portable player is a pretty subjective thing, and other than EQ and gapless you aren't going to notice much difference. You might be better off investing in a pricier pair of headphones (if you don't have them already).
posted by ropeladder at 2:24 PM on October 24, 2009

I recently killed my four-year-old iRiver and finally caved in to buying an iPod. Sound quality is definitely not as good.
posted by mannequito at 2:39 PM on October 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for their replies, really clears up the whole thing and thanks cmiller for explaining how to get good quality sound files. In the end, looks like it's a choice between the Sansa clip and the Cowon S9 and that's a lot easier choice than, well, the whole market.

Cheers again everyone!
posted by litleozy at 3:45 PM on October 24, 2009

You can get a line out cable for the sansa on ebay occasionally. Or you can make your own. They are not available commercially, except in a powered dock, but they are available.
posted by pahool at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2009

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