MP3 Players
February 6, 2005 1:04 PM   Subscribe

What non iPod hard drive MP3 players are you impressed with? Which are you envious of? Are there any that should be avoided? I'm looking to buy one in the range of $200-300US, with sound quality (especially a rich low-end) being of primary importance. Thus I'd probably end up buying one with a 1.5G capacity that had great sound over a 5G player with only decent sound. Also, I'll probably be buying on eBay, unless anybody cares to persuade me otherwise.
posted by baphomet to Shopping (35 answers total)
Get the size, speed, and looks all in one.

To optimize sound, get a decent pair of headphones too. I love my Shure e3c's, but for someone enamoured with the low-end they probably aren't the best choice.
posted by drpynchon at 1:09 PM on February 6, 2005

Oops.. meant sound not speed.. what am I on?
posted by drpynchon at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2005

The players all use the same decoder chips, for all intents and purposes. Sound quality will depend more on the bitrate of the files you're putting on there, and the headphones you use with the player.

The higher the bitrate, the fewer songs you'll store on the device. You'll likely have to discard the buds that come standard with MP3 players.

Is there any particular reason you wish to avoid the iPod? It handles MP3s as well as any other player. That reasoning might help with a recommendation for a different player.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2005

Response by poster: I have never supported Apple with my money and that's not going to chance, now or ever. Even aside from this consideration I've used my girlfriend's iPod, which stopped working after a year and a half (not because of the battery issue) and I just don't like their product.

And before I get accused of being a schill for Bill, I've never supported Microsoft with my money either.
posted by baphomet at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2005

For what it's worth, I bought a 20GB iPod from Best Buy for $299 and it crashed the second day I owned it. I didnt drop it or anything, in fact it just sat on my desk after I had loaded a few songs. An icon of a folder/exclamation point stayed on the screen and the reset feature wouldn't work. Best Buy in-store techs got it working again, but I swapped it for a 30GB Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra which retailed for $210. So far no problems with the Nomad. Lower "cool" factor than iPod, but I'm not complaining. I'll take function over form anyday.
posted by punkfloyd at 1:21 PM on February 6, 2005

Archos: decent design, poor quality control, terrible firmware.

posted by orthogonality at 1:22 PM on February 6, 2005

I lust after an iAudio M3, because it plays MPEG 1/2/2.5 Layer 3, WMA, OGG, WAV, and even flacs. I don't really want 5 bajillion songs, so much as I want the equivalent of a stack of CDs. I'm used to carrying around a stack of CDs, where you plan your mood before you leave your domicile. The battery life isn't as halved when playing flacs apparently. They seem pretty on top of firmware updates. The m3 is really small, and you can leave the remote at home, and just use the three big buttons instead. I agree re: headphones, headwize is where the headphone nuts hang out, I like Grado SR60s.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 1:26 PM on February 6, 2005

I vouch for iRiver. I've had access to 3 of their players (SlimX 350, 400 and iHP-120). All very good.
posted by Gyan at 1:28 PM on February 6, 2005

Evidently iRiver has the some of the best audio quality: iPod and others compared.

Hydrogen Audio would be a good resource to check out, specifically, the Audio Hardware forum. Make sure to look through the previous threads first.

For decent quality sound, you'll need some decent headphones. Shure, Etymotic, Grado SR60s are all good. You'll see certain Sony models a lot of places like headwise, but I can't remember which ones at the moment.

I am just fine with my iPod and Shure E2s, but I did get them both for very cheap. The user interface does it for me. Though, the Rio Karma has always looked good...
posted by easyasy3k at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2005

I've been pleased with my Dell DJ. It's cheap (was $200, probably less now) and holds 15GB.
posted by mookieproof at 1:51 PM on February 6, 2005

Yeah, I agree with the assertion that the headphones really matter. I always recommend Headroom for information (and, sure, sales) about headphones, amplifiers, etc.

I have Etymotic ER-6 and they are *wonderful*.
posted by thethirdman at 1:52 PM on February 6, 2005

Disclosure: I have a iPod. But if I didn't, I'd seriously consider the Olympus m:robe, 5GB/$250, and nice looks (I think).
posted by carter at 1:57 PM on February 6, 2005

My 20 gig Rio Karma has consistently ranked just behind the iPod, though the new iRiver might have jumped ahead until the new Karma hits. I like it because it plays Ogg Vorbis files, and has gapless playback capability -- the iPod doesn't.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:57 PM on February 6, 2005

I third the Rio Karma, although I cannot attest to its low-end.
posted by falconred at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2005

the iaudio m3 comes in a 40Gb model that plays no-loss (flac) format (you need as much disk as possible for the larger files, but they're going to give better quality). i don't own one, though, and they're $399 online.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2005

I have a Karma, and while it's pretty chunky compared to the iPod, it sounds great. If you're concerned about low end, the equalizer beats the pants off anything else and the built-in headphone amp packs a punch (about as much as the iPod's). The gapless support was *very* important to me when I was shopping for an MP3 player, and the Karma was the only one that could do it aside from a kind of strange RCA Lyra player.

Negatives: Chunky, not as stylish as the iPod or iRiver players. There were some problems with the Hitachi hard drives built into the things failing, but I think that's not much of a problem these days (?). No USB "mass storage" ability. 20GB is the only size, though some people have hacked theirs to 40GB with new drives and some Dremeling.

Positives: Gapless support. Dock with RCA outputs for home use. Good sound and good EQ. Can be found for under $200 now (possibly because stock is being cleared out for a successor model). Plays Ogg Vorbis and FLAC if that's your kind of thing (it's mine).
posted by zsazsa at 2:14 PM on February 6, 2005

Another vote for iRiver. I'm not an mp3 player person, but the H10 is a nice thing (even though it sounds like you, like me, are wholly disinterested in superfluous stuff like photo viewers -- which, in fact, is another reason the Rio Karma is good).

That being said, you can find the 20GB H320 on eBay for very small prices.
posted by gramschmidt at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2005

I 3rd the M3
posted by scarabic at 3:17 PM on February 6, 2005

I've been really pleased with the iRiver h-120. The guys over at rockbox are working on a firmware for the iRiver that will allow playing more file types (flac, ape, etc.), among other things. Like the M3, it's also got a remote control and optical input output lines, which is pretty cool. Personally, I was scared off from spending the same money on an iPod, despite its charming good looks, because of the many bad stories about flaky machines and blood sucking Apple service. Apparently, iRiver is known for its customer service, which includes free replacement of a unit if it fails during the warantee. Even if you drop it. Check out these forums for more about iRiver.
posted by sic at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2005

FWIW, Napster's offering the iRiver H10 with 1 year of their service for $179. I have a different iRiver product and am pleased with their quality.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2005

I've got a couple of Archos jukeboxes. They're ugly but they do the job nicely, have Rockbox firmware available, and can be bought super-cheap second-hand on eBay with lots of advice available on upgrades. Sound quality? My ears have been wrecked by years of noise abuse but I think most folks won't complain.

My advice is get a 6GB or 10GB archos jukebox - then upgrade it if you wish
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:56 PM on February 6, 2005

Ugh... I had a rio karma totally fall apart on me. That thing was a good idea, poorly executed. I've always liked Creative's products, though -- I had one of their old nomad jukeboxes that had all kinds of clever features and whatnot.

I'd imagine that the newer hd players are even better.
posted by ph00dz at 4:57 PM on February 6, 2005

I have a 30GB Creative Jukebox and it stopped working after about 5 months. The main problem at this point is that the screen is blank (although sometimes it won't play either). The tech support there won't talk to me because my warranty has expired--they just refer me to their user forums, which are full of people saying "Creative sucks and I wish I bought an ipod." Not great marketing on their part.

Not to derail...but does anyone know if there's a way to fix this problem? It isn't the battery--I got a new one and the screen is still blank most of the time.
posted by equipoise at 5:18 PM on February 6, 2005

I have an h140 and like it fairly well, but iriver really piss me off. they had great support back when I used an imp-350 but now they seem to ignore their customers.

that said, as sic mentioned, rockbox are currently porting to h1xx (in fact I just injected their bootloader into a stock firmware, and am currently running rockbox on my 140... it can't do much yet besides browse files, but soon I'll be able to listen to musepack!)

if I were to buy a player right now, it would be an m3 (or maybe m5) -- the iriver hd players will most certainly kick ass once rockbox is done with them, but no thanks to iriver.

also, the misticriver forums are somewhat pathetic, they seem to redact and ban people for commenting negatively about iriver.
posted by dorian at 6:39 PM on February 6, 2005

A friend just bought a JNC SSF-M3 and it seems very cool. It's slimmer than an iPod, has a nifty backlit remote, and supports a bunch of different formats. I had a listen to some OGG files on it and the sound quality was terrific.
posted by bruceyeah at 7:16 PM on February 6, 2005

Oops, ignore that.

I just worked out that the JNC is actually the same thing as these iAUDIO M3s that other people are recommending. Must have different product names for release in Asia/Australia.
posted by bruceyeah at 7:19 PM on February 6, 2005

I have no idea how good this is as the reviews I've found are sketchy but it looks like the one for me. I have had bad experiences with iPods and I fail to see how a mass storage device can be anything but. I don't like having to put some software in the middle. Messes with stuff and really takes away the perceived simplicity of the Apple brand. IMHO. I just want to use it to store stuff as well as play music. Now, I've left my flying car running out the front so I must depart...

And G'day, bruceyeah.
posted by bdave at 8:29 PM on February 6, 2005

Another vote for the iRiver--I have the iHP-140 model, the 40 gig version. The only real complaint that I have about it is that it doesn't do gapless playback--there's usually a slight pause between each track. However, I haven't checked for an official firmware update any time recently, and it makes me happy to hear the Rockbox folks are also now working on their own for it.

I had an Archos 20 gig jukebox prior to the iRiver; it worked like a charm, once I switched over to using the Rockbox firmware on it. It was, however, heavy enough to be used as a blunt weapon.
posted by Drastic at 12:10 AM on February 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, I really appreciate the feedback. The iRiver and iAudio products both look fabulous, so it's going to be one of the two...I guess I'll have to actually check them out before I decide. This is exactly the kind of response I was hoping for, so thank you for helping me out.
posted by baphomet at 7:11 AM on February 7, 2005

I'm an iPod user, but I must say I really liked the Sony Network Walkman when I saw it. It's a tad bit smaller than the iPod, has up to 30 hours of playback, has a g-shock mechanism that stops the hard drive from being wrecked if it's dropped, and is almost as easy to use as the Apple product. That said, the one downside is that it is $50 more expensive than the iPod and certainly pricier than a lot of iPod competitors. (ie iRiver, Rio, etc.) All in all, though, it's a nice little player.
posted by dogmatic at 8:05 AM on February 7, 2005

i love my creative labs nomad zen xtra jukebox the 40 gig lists at $250 on their website, but i know a couple people who've gotten it cheaper at the best buy. it is a little larger than the iPod, but it was much cheaper and didn't have all those iPod drawbacks. i've dropped it twice with no negative consequences; moving files between it and my computers is very fast. i found the controls simple to use even without looking when i've got it in my pocket. it even looks like the portable tape player my dad brought me back from korea in the early 80's, which i happen to think it cool. (it's not as big or as heavy as the tape player, but it is bigger than an iPod.)
posted by crush-onastick at 8:17 AM on February 7, 2005

Is it OK to piggyback in a thread and ask a related question?
Are there any MP3 players that also play MIDI files?
posted by straight at 8:54 AM on February 7, 2005

I'm very happy with my Archos Gmini XS200. It's very tiny, decent looking, the control design is easy to use, and I've had no problems with the quality of the hardware or the (updated) firmware. Best of all, it's a 20G player for around $200, and it uses USB 2.0 Mass Storage, so you won't need any particular software. I've had no trouble using it under both Windows XP and Linux. You can store any kind of files on it, so it also works as a USB hard drive.

Drawbacks: the earbuds are terrible. They're essentially trash, as a $10 pair of Sony earbuds are twice as good. Also, it doesn't play OGG or FLAC files. Rockbox is being ported to it, though, so OGG and FLAC support should eventually be available.
posted by vorfeed at 11:36 AM on February 7, 2005

straight: not that I can recall. however, cowon/jetaudio/iaudio have been amazing with their firmware releases and may be willing to support midi if asked nicely (esp. since it is not algorithmically complex vs. vorbis etc.); similarly, anything that runs rockbox will have a chance if there is someone willing in the community to write a plugin/driver for it.
posted by dorian at 3:28 PM on February 7, 2005

btw there's been discussion on the rockbox irc channel for the last half hour, of how they're going to implement mod/midi/etc. heh. guess it should not be surprising, bunch of scandinavians and germans.
posted by dorian at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2005

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