What are some good sounding portable MP3 players that aren't iPods?
July 15, 2011 10:43 AM   Subscribe

What are some good sounding portable MP3 players that aren't iPods? What will you recommend?

I've had several iPods and always have a problem with the hardware. Secondly, I can't stand iTunes.

It seems a similar question is asked every couple years. I couldn't find a recent version of this question. Maybe I missed it. Either way here's the mid-2011 edition.

It need not play video, display photos or run apps. All that is fine if my music listening requirements are met first.

It need not be brand new. If it's good I'll consider buying a used, outdated model.

What I do want:
1. Very good sound. Yeah, I know MP3s are compressed audio. I get that much. There's still a difference in how good or how poor different players sound. I think my old iRiver 20 GB player sounded much better than the 60 GB iPod I bought several years later. Cowon also has a good reuptaion for having very good sound quality. I've even heard that Zunes sound very good (can anyone second this?) What other players are contenders here?
2. No proprietary software required. I'm a fan of Winamp and think drag and drop file transfer would be a bonus (does Zune require proprietary software?)
3. 16 GB minimum capacity. 32 GB, 64 GB, or even greater is preferred.
4. Flash based storage (it's understood that with storage capacities greater than 64GB I'm likely to have HDD storage.)
5. USB preferred over proprietary connector.

Has FLAC playback (and maybe SHN).
Works in linux or windows
Ability to use as portable USB storage
FM and/or HD radio
Voice recording
Line Level Line out
Line In

What might I be leaving out?
posted by brokeaspoke to Shopping (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a an entire enthusiast community dedicated to this very topic:

posted by BeaverTerror at 10:55 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have the Sandisk Sansa Clip+ and it works fairly well. I can't assess the sound quality because all these gizmos sound the same to me. No proprietary software needed; just put the files in a particular directory that is already on the player, and the player will find them. I use it with my Debian machines. It has FM and plays FLAC and Ogg. The connector is mini USB. The only requirement you have that it does not meet is that it is only 8GB, but it does have a micro SD slot, so you can add more storage.
posted by massysett at 11:05 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a Cowon S9 that I got a few years ago; I think there's probably a newer and fancier version by now. I think it meets most of your requirements/bonuses (it uses a funky cable, and I think 32 gigs was the largest size), and I've certainly been happy with it. Expensive, though.
posted by Vibrissa at 11:06 AM on July 15, 2011

Samsung players have great sound, I have a P3 and can confirm that -- but I don't use it often because I find the interface too cludgy (it also has a proprietary cable, failing #5). I'm still using a ~4 year old Creative Zen X-Fi everyday, which only has "pretty good" sound but is much easier to work and cable with. If it weren't for the crippling weakness of not including the SD card slot's contents in the normal music menu, I probably wouldn't even be trying to replace it... but I'm still looking hard at those Cowons (i think they fail #5, too).
posted by Pufferish at 11:10 AM on July 15, 2011

I've also got a Sansa Clip and I love it. It just works.
posted by COD at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2011

Thirding the Sansa Clip+.

Just works, plays everything, takes a microSD card so you can add more storage easily: what's not to like?

As far as "pure mp3 players" go it's that or a Zune...
posted by pharm at 11:16 AM on July 15, 2011

Pretty much all the Sansa stuff is good. Plug it in and it just works. I've beat the hell out of several of their products over the last 10 years, and all have preformed solidly.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2011

Anything but iPod comparisons are great for all your queries, except for audio quality.

With the qualifiers of 16gb+, flash storage, FLAC support, and standard USB connection, I got:
* Archos 2 Vision
* Samsung YP-R1
* iriver P7
* Archos 5 Android (Flash)
* Cowon iAudio O2
* Cowon iAudio 9
* Creative Zen X-Fi2
* Cowon iAudio 7
* Cowon iAudio D2

Here's the ABi comparison for Sasa Clip vs Sansa Clip+
posted by filthy light thief at 11:21 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also have a Cowon S9. It has a user-modifiable UI. You can find UI packs on the above mentioned anythingbutipod.com. If you like messing around with things like this, you'll love the S9. The standard interface is a little clunky.

It doesn't have a line in or HD radio, and it has a proprietary connector. Otherwise I think it meets all of your criteria. It works fine with Linux. The sound is good. I know it's not a criteria, but the AMOLED screen looks really nice.
posted by Quonab at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2011

My Cowon D2+ has been awesome except for the clunky interface, which isn't really very adaptable to use on the run. You can put a 32GB CF card in it and the D2+ comes with either 8 or 16 GB of internal storage.

It can be used as USB storage. There are some issues using it with Macs in MSC mode (mass storage compatible) which are tractable if you fuss with it a bit.
posted by jet_silver at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2011

is there any reason you're not using the mp3 functions on your phone?...most of the phones these days have the removeable microSD so you could just move your music from phone to phone as you upgrade...supposedly the sony ericsson android phones have better than average audio...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: General comment: Exclusion of proprietary connector should have been under the bonus section. I realize that's tough to come by and might rule out an otherwise very good player.

sexyrobot: I'm not using my phone since I htink the battery life is terrible as it is. Also, I don't want to take my phone on runs or hiking if I can avoid it. And, though not critical, it's locked into 16 GB that's also for apps etc. and isn't expandable.
posted by brokeaspoke at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2011

I don't really keep up with their offerings, but Cowon has been the usual audiophile recommendation for a few years now.
posted by box at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2011

I have a Cowon iAudio 7 and a J3. I actually kinda like the interface of the iAudio 7 better, but they are both excellent players.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2011

N-thing SansaClip+! They. Just. Work. And they're adorable.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:46 PM on July 15, 2011

Thirding Cowon S9. I got mine about two years ago, and it's been great overall. My favorite thing about it is that its battery lasts about ten eternities. (okay, well, at least a full day or two. I've never timed it) I rarely have to charge the thing and I use it/accidentally leave it on all the time. Only downside is the headphone jack has gotten loose (I think I could solder it back or something) over time, to where I have to set it just right to get both channels, but I think that was my own fault using a big ol' heavy Sennheiser connector in it all the time.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2011

My favorite thing about it is that its battery lasts about ten eternities.

Oh, man, for serious. I forgot to turn it off once when I got to work and didn't notice 'til the next morning when I got on the bus and it was still playing. I think it was advertised as getting, like, fifty hours of audio playback on a charge or something crazy like that.
posted by Vibrissa at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2011

Clip+ with Rockbox. I lost mine two weeks ago, and have been one sad puppy since.
posted by ropeladder at 9:17 PM on July 15, 2011

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