Best portable music player for a finnicky music collector?
January 2, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I can't really be looking for the Holy Grail of MP3 players, can I? Big drive, SSD, straightforward file management and control over my music collection - too much to ask? Which one do I pick, or how do I make a current one in to what I want?

I need something that
  • Holds at least 50GB
  • Uses SSD
  • Doesn't require syncing, and lets me just drag and drop files from my computer to its drive and vice-versa with minimal complaints
I'm a bit of an audiophile so I'd really prefer something with true lineout, and FLAC support would be great.

I'm totally willing to jailbreak (or whatever) an existing SSD player and/or use 3rd party software if that's what it takes. Apple's philosophy kind of bugs me so if I can avoid buying an iPod Touch I'd be much happier, especially since a Touch has far too many bells and whistles for my needs, but if it's the best option, it's what I'll get.

FM radio would be pretty damn sweet, but not a deal-breaker.

Price isn't an issue.

posted by regicide is good for you to Technology (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Why SSD? I don't see where it is a benefit for this kind of use.

Don't the Zune (Xune?) players have FM radios built in? It is possible that if it has a built in micro HDD, you might be able to swap in a micro SSD.
posted by gjc at 3:40 PM on January 2, 2011

I think he means "solid state", as in "flash memory based" rather than "SSD" in the classical context. So iPod Touch, Zune HD, etc, but not iPod Classic.
posted by Oktober at 3:54 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The forums at will also be an excellent place to peruse.
posted by episodic at 4:07 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Sansa Fuze does all that, although it only goes up to 16 GB. But it does have a card slot, so you could add 16 GB more that way. I've got a Sansa Clip, which is their smaller sized player, and love it. I use it with Linux - worked out of the box just fine by dragging and dropping files.
posted by COD at 4:12 PM on January 2, 2011

Best answer: regicide is good for you: "I'm totally willing to jailbreak (or whatever) an existing SSD player and/or use 3rd party software if that's what it takes."

Would you be happy to replace a hard drive with an SSD in a player? If so, you have plenty of options. Also, you should be able to get more than 50 GiB which is a pittance if you're using mp3s let alone FLAC.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:20 PM on January 2, 2011

If you can settle for 40gb, get a Clip+ 8gb and put a 32gb microsd card in it. Put Rockbox on it and you're all set. FM radio, recording, FLAC/vorbis. It's teensy tiny and it still plays Doom! (sort of)
posted by ropeladder at 5:22 PM on January 2, 2011

Best answer: 1) Find an iPod Video, 5.5 generation. These things are plentiful, cheap, and serviceable for years to come.
2) Pull out the hard drive and install the SSD of your choice.
3) Install Rockbox. Using Rockbox instead of the native iPod firmware, you can use drag and drop to manage your files on any OS (no need for iTunes whatsoever, except for the initial format when you put a new drive in the player), listen to almost any file format, and have very fine-grained control over the audio that you never thought you could have on an iPod. Rockbox makes old iPods seriously kick ass.

(For clarification, using Rockbox is not "jailbreaking", is an entirely different, non-Apple system running on your iPod hardware. It is easy as pie to set up and will not harm your iPod).
posted by quarterframer at 5:34 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you want to overpay for a something that hasn't been manufactured for years, then replace the hard drive yourself (and, almost certainly, the battery), the iRiver IHP players are another possibility. Optical out, which is rare and might be appealing. And they run Rockbox.

You may also be interested to know that there's a FLAC player app for the iPhone//iPad/iPod Touch. Ten bucks, though.
posted by box at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2011

if you can really give up on the notion of the SSD, the Cowon X7 (warning, audio) is everything you're looking for. Plays any audio format you can throw at it, drag-and-drop library management, up to 160GB storage...
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've really loved my Creative Zen. (It looks like the Zen x-fi is the current incarnation.) They come with an internal SSD and an additional SD card slot (or microSD, in some of the newer ones). Combined, this easily can add up to over 50gb of music. (Personally, I use an 8gb SD card almost exclusively, and switch out the music on it from time to time, re-upping from the mothership at home as necessary.)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:19 AM on January 3, 2011

It would be useful to know why you want SSD as it costs a hell of a lot more for no real benefit as hard drive players aggressively cache songs (to a small internal SSD) in order to reduce power consumption and avoid skipping.

In short, you'd be wasting money and not getting much in return.
posted by mr_silver at 2:12 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention the Hifiman and AMP3 players, both of which are marketed toward the audiophile crowd.

Neither is exactly what you're looking for, and I think they're both kinda laughable (though different strokes, right, plus I've never listened to either, so, hey, what do I know?) Or, rather, I doubt that either one sounds much better than the combination of lossless files, a line-out and a headphone amp.
posted by box at 8:31 AM on January 3, 2011

Hard drives use mechanical disk access with magnetized heads; they're much more vulnerable to damage from being dropped or exposed to a magnetic field. It's true that drive parking initiated by an internal accelerometer reduces drop damage, but it's nothing compared the resilience of a flash memory device. You can spend all day throwing an SD card against a wall, and then run it through the washing machine for good measure, and chances are it will work just fine. Not so for a mechanical hard drive. As an unrelated example, I regularly let my netbook run calculations while I travel, with it jostling around in my backpack. This wouldn't be a great idea if it had a mechanical hard drive.

It's true that SSD's have faster access times, but in this context the real advantage is their resilience.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:53 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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