iPod or ?
April 15, 2005 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a hard drive based mp3 player player. question: can anyone recommend a good alternative to Apple's iPod? If you can please tell me the pros and cons of your choice.

More on the situation: I've owned an iPod before but returned it after deciding it's way too pricey (I bought one around the $500 range. It was very cool but pricey and had more features than I need.) I have many more CDs than even a 60GB model would hold. I don't need a color screen as I'll never view photos or video on it. If that's part of a reasonably priced package so be it. Also, the device would be used for playing podcasts. Maybe an iPod mini would do the trick. Maybe I need a 20GB. If the iPod is the answer I'm fine with that but I'd like to entertain the idea of alternatives. What do you recommend?
posted by horseblind to Technology (22 answers total)
I also have way more than even a 60g would hold, however at my most flighty I barely need more than 15g.

I choose the ipod but I DO hate the iTunes management of it; I may soon switch over to ephPod or the like to put things on it. However after owning a few others, including the original Archos, I have found nothing else as usable as the ipod.

Perhaps you should look into a good price on a 3rd gen 40g model. Someone with one surely wants the newer controls and you ought to be able to get one cheaper than a 20g and still have some left over for a batt replacement, if necessary.
posted by phearlez at 2:12 PM on April 15, 2005

I love my Archos Jukebox. In fact I have two.

- It's cheap
- Excellent open source firmware (here)
- You access it as an external hard disk and you don't need any horrible software to copy files over

- It's ugly
- They're no longer manufactured and if you want one you may have to get it second hand
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:29 PM on April 15, 2005

On preview: one more Archos disadvantage: it's big. And I should perhaps point out that the Rockbox open-source firmware developers are working on porting it to other devices, iRiver HD players among them.

I, too, have way too much music for a 60g mp3 player, and as such, I do a lot of shuffling mp3s in and out between my home server and my 40g player. I've got an iRiver IHP player (and before that, I had an Archos Jukebox 6000 and a Rio 500, the last of which I still use for hiking and whatnot), but I don't think it would be a good choice for you.

The principal advantages of an iRiver over an iPod all fall into the category of additional features--more useful remote, recording without additional geegaws, optical outs, etc. Well, that and that it can mount as a removable drive. The big disadvantages are that it's a tiny bit bigger, arguably harder to use and less attractive (and certainly less hip), and not as tightly-integrated with iTunes. (Of course, some of these advantages and disadvantages are in the eye of the beholder.)

If I'm reading right, your main objection to the iPod is that it's too expensive? What you want, then, is a used iPod, or a 'budget' mp3 player. How much capacity are you looking for?

Also, this is by no means the first time that what-mp3-player questions have come up on AskMe. Looking through some of the previous ones might be helpful.
posted by box at 2:31 PM on April 15, 2005

I've had a 40GB Creative Zen Touch for a little over a month now and can't really complain about it too much. The library software is easy enough, despite grumblings on the 'net. I use a separate library/playlist manager. You can get a dongle for audio-in and the interface is fairly friendly with it's touchable slider(non-moving). Aesthetically it's personally pleasing. $260 from Buy.com at the time.
posted by mnology at 2:32 PM on April 15, 2005

Previously there were some good sugguestions too.

Still check HA’s hardware forum.

I still would love a player that does ogg and has a bit more playlist management features onboard, but it seems like the iPod still has the best user interface (software on both sides and hardware). I also got my for really cheap and I’m not willing to spend any more.
posted by easyasy3k at 2:44 PM on April 15, 2005

I have about 200 gbs of music and a 40gb iPod (up until a month ago I had a 15gb). I have owned an Archos Jukebox and an mStation, neither of which I'd recommend. Clunky is how I'd describe them.

I used to also have an iRiver CD/MP3 player and it was most excellent except the interface sucked. They make hard drive mp3 players now and I've heard they're good but I still bet the interface blows.

As for the price of the iPod, I would recommened buying one on eBay from a reputable liquidator. I bought my 3G 40gb for us$230 and it was C$10 to ship by courier (I'm in Canada, as was the seller). The liquidators generally rate the items on two scales: performance and cosmetics. I just kept looking for a 100% performance and an 80% or higher cosmetic. When I got the item, I was very pleased. I did a battery check and it ran for 7.9 hours and the hard drive was perfect from that scan disk utility that's built in. The only prob was the headphones were 3rd party, but I was buying etymotics anyway.

And I agree with you. That color/photo functionality is nonsense. I wish they'd make a 60 in b&w without it.
posted by dobbs at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2005


I had a thread some time ago where I asked about mp3 players that could also handle oggs; I ended up getting an iAudio m3 (20 gigs) which I think is great. Potential con: the idiosyncratic interface (there's a hard drive and a separate part that actually has the screen and controls, both are pretty small for their roles). Really though I don't have any major complaints at all. There are also 40 gig versions.
posted by kenko at 2:59 PM on April 15, 2005

I enthusiastically second getting an iRiver.

I'm another former Archos user, and when my Archos got stolen, I replaced it with an iRiver HP-140, which got an Editor's Choice Award from PC Mag.

I had hacked a 60GB hd into my Archos, but the 40GB on the iRiver isn't too confining. In total, my server has about 100GB of MP3 files, but that includes audio books and classical music, ie: stuff I don't need to carry around all the time and have instant access to.

I have a number of other criteria that I based my iRiver purchase on. Sorry, this is going to get long, but it's important.

* No DRM. DRM is an absolute, no-questions-asked deal breaker. I simply won't tolerate it. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, no one gets up in the morning and wishes they could do less with their media. Including me.
* Full Windows Explorer integration is mandatory. If external software is required in order for me to load my media, I'm looking somewhere else. And partial Explorer integration, like iPod uses, is not acceptable. You won't see iTunes on my computer.
* Recording capability. I had no idea how nice this was until I bought an MP3 player with real-time MP3 and WAV recording, and I've never looked back. Really, I don't need this much of the time, but when I need it, I really need it now. I'm never going back.
* FM Radio. Yeah, my music is great. But I need to let in the outside world from time to time, and I'd shrivel up and die without NPR.
* Multi-format capability. My current MP3 player supports MP3, OGG, WAV, and a host of other formats. Odds are I'll never use most of them. But again, I've never woken up in the morning saying "I wish my MP3 player could do less."
* Preference: 40GB+ hard drive. This one gets wiggle room, because different users have different needs, and capacity is a commoditized feature. So determine your own capacity sweet spot, but mine is at least 40GB.
* Preference: Open-source firmware. My Archos ran RockBox, an open-source firmware package that was far superior to the factory firmware. RockBox is currently being ported to my iRiver, and I've donated real money to the cause. I currently wait about 1.5 minutes for my iRiver to boot. When I get RockBox on there, it will drop to about three seconds, and no, I am not exaggerating. I wouldn't lie to you.

That's a snip from a post at my blog, back in Feb. 2005.

And by the way, you really should check out the RockBox project. These guys are serious. And amazing. And seriously amazing.

Sadly, iRiver h140's are also out of production. Luckily, they're still on the market new, as you can see by this Froogle search.

What can I say? I'm a fan. iRiver wins, hands down. After that? Archos. But an Archos is bigger and more fragile.

Besides, you don't really want to look like every other damned college kid with stupid white headphones, do you?
posted by SlyBevel at 3:11 PM on April 15, 2005

Many great ideas so far. I guess I should have stated that I'd like to spend $250 or less if possible. I might be willing to spend $300 (with shipping) for the right solution. Sound and usability are more important than capacity (6GB is the lowest capacity I think I should even look at.)
posted by horseblind at 3:13 PM on April 15, 2005

Update: The Froogle links were all bad. Sorry. Ebay's still an option, though, if you work with a reputable seller.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:18 PM on April 15, 2005

iRiver. I'd list my reasons, but I think SlyBevel has already done a great job of it!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:19 PM on April 15, 2005

I have a Zen Micro and I think it is appallingly, ridiculously awful. It has already been replaced once because the last one completely failed to work. This one works, mostly, unless it's crashing or freezing. The interface is dire, the speed moving between tracks is dreadful.

The ONLY reason I continue to persevere with the Zen Micro is because it is compatible with Napster To Go.

I wish I'd bought an iPod. Save yourself the heartache and get an iPod - whether it means getting one second hand or saving up or whatever.
posted by skylar at 3:43 PM on April 15, 2005

Another vote for iRiver. Simply put, they are superior to the iPod line in every way.
posted by Jairus at 4:40 PM on April 15, 2005

If you already had an iPod, I'm guessing you use iTunes, and if so, you'll seriously regret the hassle of using anything but an iPod with it. The problem with the full-sized iPods is they are a bit flimsy. You can't keep them in your trouser pocket without twisting it enough over time to damage the hard disk. The mini might not suffer from this problem - I haven't tried one. A shuffle might be a good way to work through a big collection.
posted by cillit bang at 4:41 PM on April 15, 2005

I really like my Rio Karma, but I just got it yesterday. Plays OGG and FLAC, 20gb, 180 bucks on New Egg, has ethernet and RCA support through the dock, has pretty good battery time. People've had hard drive issues, but I think they're all morons and probably dropped them thinking they'd be invincible. Besides that, there's an issue where you have to slap your device to dislodge the head from being stuck to the platter, apparently, but according to a Rio engineer, it's a firmware issue they're hoping to correct.
posted by angry modem at 5:01 PM on April 15, 2005

Another vote for Archos Jukebox recorder 20. Cheap and more powerful than the ipod, just uglier. As well as the things already mentioned, it has recording functions, digital output (better for home theatre hookup than analogue, as no portable player can have a DA and analogue pre-amp as good as your theatre system), digital input, no DRM, works as a removeable/external HDD (ie you don't have to install proprietary software that attempts to restrict what you can copy where on the assumption that you're a theif), and you can easily swap in a bigger HDD. Firmware is powerful and allows you to customize the interface to far greater extent than any proprietary firmware I know of.

The buttons are well designed for operating through the fabric of your pocket (or gloves), so you don't need to hold it in your hand all day like an ipod.

It uses standard laptop HDDs so you can boost it to 100 GB if you want. Archos+100 GB drive is still cheaper than an ipod that falls far behind in features and storage. Ipod will be smaller and prettier of course. But I find the archos fits fine in my jeans pocket without a big bulge, and I'm skinny and wear tight-ish jeans :-)

I've dropped it a 4 feet onto solid marble without problem, more than once... A friend of mine tripped and threw it, slamming it into concrete at high speed. That DID cause some internal connections to break, but I fixed them myself. (Soldering iron is a useful thing to have around :)
I have an earlier model (jukebox recorder 6 - don't get that model as it's only USB 1.0) that I bought in 2001, have used it nearly every day since then, and it's still great. (Jukebox Recorder 20 is identical but with USB 2.0, which is important since USB 1 is slow) My brother has the 20.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:22 PM on April 15, 2005

iriver, the learing curve is higher, but I like it better then ipods.
posted by edgeways at 8:29 PM on April 15, 2005

To correct some mis-conceptions: 1. The ipod works as a removable drive with no additional drivers. However if you have iTunes installed you need to tick the option "enable disk use" otherwise iTunes will only mount/unmount it when syncing. You can store whatever formats you want on it, however music needs to be put on using itunes in order for it to be playable. 2. You can access your music using Windows Explorer if you show hidden files and folders. However they aren't nicely organised but a free download (ipod agent) will sort that out. Other items of content are as a accessable as a normal hard drive. 3. Although the iPod supports DRM, its unfair to say it only supports that. You can use non-DRM'ed wav, aac or mp3 just fine.
posted by ralawrence at 2:42 AM on April 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

One more for the iRiver, had the iHP-120 for a year or so and it's been a life-changer for me. I use it for music and data backups. It does hang occasionally and I carry a bent paper clip at all times for emergency resetting.

I've recently discovered Ewan Cunningham's Tag Database Tool which amongst other things overcomes the player's limitation of only being able to create playlists for mp3s (I mostly rip into ogg). Hadn't heard of the Rockbox firmware port before, look forward to trying it out.
posted by amestoy at 2:49 AM on April 16, 2005

Another iRiver vote, I've been very pleased with my h-120. iRiver is also famous for its customer service; apparently, they will replace damaged models with a new unit even if the damage is caused by a negligent customer. That is worth the cost all by itself. The internal mic on the iRiver is fantastic as well. Optical lines allows you to directly plug your player into your car stereo (if it has an input jack, naturally) and record directly from other devices. I use it the remote more in winter, when wearing a jacket, but it is very handy, indeed.

iRiver outperforms the iPod in all the important categories according to the experts, but the iPod is definitely prettier. I've also heard that Apple's customer service is crap and I can't stand the idea of having to use propietary software that limits what I can or can't have on my player.

Oh and Rockbox. Definitely.
posted by sic at 2:53 AM on April 16, 2005

iRiver H340 - plays movies, pictures, txt files and has probably the best sound quality of any portable mp3 player. Get some decent headphones to go with it and you will be sorted.
posted by longbaugh at 3:03 AM on April 16, 2005

my h140 is great but I would recommend against supporting the asses-which-are- iriver regardless of rockbox making something even better out of it.

if I had to do it again I would get the iaudio / jetaudio / cowon (jeez, would these guys just pick a brand already?!) m3 or m3l or m5/x5. gotcher quality AND your amazing customer support, they do.
posted by dorian at 4:22 PM on April 16, 2005

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