YAMPQ: Yet Another MP3 Player Question
November 13, 2006 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for reccomendations for a sturdy, large capacity MP3 player for an overgrown klutz.

I've read through the other MP3 player questions, but those don't meet my requirements. Basically, I'm looking for suggestions for MP3 players with these specifications, in order of importance:

* (Most Important) Easy to use physical interface. I've looked into the Creative Zen:M and the iPod, and I found the touch-sensitive scroll wheels to be way too sensitive and difficult to deal with. I'd like the interface to utilize actual buttons. In fact, the ideal MP3 player would be very similar to standard CD Walkmen, except he wouldn't have to carry around a CD case.
* Does not require proprietary software to upload music - the user should be able to treat it like a USB drive, if necessary.
* More than 20 GB hard drive, the larger the better.
* Sound quality is also important.
* Peripherals or headphones are not important.

Personal anecdotes about the useability of specific devices would be wonderful.
posted by muddgirl to Shopping (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
(And here I was thinking by "large capacity" you meant over 60GB ...)

I would suggest getting an iRiver or a Cowon iAudio and then putting the RockBox firmware on it.

Those players have really good cost/GB ratios and RockBox will more than make up for shoddy user interfaces. My best friend has a now-ancient 40GB iRiver with RockBox, and it seems to work pretty damn well.
posted by DrSkrud at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2006

I agree with DrSkrud. I LOVE my 40gb iRiver H140. 3 years old, and still going strong. Last month I put a new battery in it ($20 online) because the stock battery was down to 5 or 6 hours of use (vs. 13-14 out of the box). The new battery has more mAh, so I'm getting 20+ hours of actual use (the battery meter reads 23h59min after a full charge, but I don't know if it's accurate).

iRiver mainly makes Personal Media Players (PMP's) these days, but you can still find their Digital Audio Players (DAP's) on ebay. Here are a couple of searches for you to copy/paste, since people list them by a variety of names:

40gb version:
iriver (h140,h-140,ihp140,ihp-140)

20gb version:
iriver (h120,h-120,ihp120,ihp-120)

These match your criteria completely, especially in the sound department. I have A/B compared my iRiver with iPods and other mp3 players using the same source file and same earphones, and can hear the better quality in my iRiver. We have two H120's and one H140 in my household. The hard drive in my wife's H120 failed a few months ago, and I bought a non-working H120 off ebay for $20 and just swapped the drives. Very easy.

Rockbox is the way to go for firmware, as DrSkrud said. And iRiver has a decent fan base, with good message boards at Mistic River.
posted by Bradley at 2:29 PM on November 13, 2006

a now-ancient 40GB iRiver with RockBox

I am not familiar with the iAudio devices, but I do have an iRiver and the even-more-ancient Archos V1 and V2 that were the original Rockbox targets (and are still the only non-beta installs).

The controls on the iRiver are a little fiddly. Except for very late and rare models, the iRivers use a push-joystick toggler along with some very small side buttons. It's a powerful, multi-modal interface but does take some getting used to.

The Archos V1 has very large, plain buttons. The V2 has slightly smaller buttons. Many of the blind users of Rockbox (of whom there are many because of the Talking Menus) seem to have more trouble handling the iRivers than the Archoses.

The Archos players are very large (2001 vintage). They take 2.5" drives, which means that you can expand them with standard PATA notebook drives. It's quite cheap to expand them to 120GB. Unfortunately, you can't go beyond this (128GiB) because the Archos disk controller is only 28-bit.

As regards sturdy, the Archos players are built like tanks. Be careful with the V1 models because early ones were limited to USB1, whereas later V1s use USB2.
posted by meehawl at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2006

Oh, one more difference between Archos V1s and V2s. The V1 uses 4 AA NiMH batteries - easy to replace with newer, higher capacity versions. The stock player ran ~8 hours on battery @ 128kbps. Modern AAs can go to ~16 hours, and a set costs like $5.

The V2 uses a lithium ion pack, which makes it slightly smaller than the V1. However, it's a lot more expensive to replace than simple AAs. Around $30.
posted by meehawl at 2:59 PM on November 13, 2006

Best answer: I have a Creative Zen:M and I love it. You get used to the scroll wheel with use - otherwise it has everything you mentioned.
posted by Big_B at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2006

Meehawl is right about the Archos being a sturdy player. It was my first hard-drive based player (purchased in '01), and I sold it to a buddy for $75 when I got my iRiver H140 and the old Archos still gets daily use. I find the screen on the iRiver to be much easier to read. True, the joystick is occasionally "fiddly", but the size/weight of the Archos is about twice the size of the iRiver, which prompted my upgrade. And since the iRiver is a more recent (though discontinued) model, you can get a nice protective silicon rubber skin and screen protector for it for about $15 shipped at iSkin.
posted by Bradley at 3:37 PM on November 13, 2006

Response by poster: (Big_B: Yeah, I probably would get used to it, but as I said, this is a present, and from past experience I KNOW if it's fiddly at all right away, he'll never ever use it. I want this to be the Christmas he FINALLY uses what I get him).

Thanks for all the advice so far. I've been looking into Rockbox, and it may be what I need. I *heart* the internet.
posted by muddgirl at 3:40 PM on November 13, 2006

I've got a 40 GB Creative Zen Xtra that I've had for a few years. Recently, they've released firmware that allows it to work as a USB drive (PlaysForSure). It uses only physical buttons, and I've dropped it several times with no ill effects. If you can find it for sale, it would probably work pretty well for him.
posted by concrete at 5:01 PM on November 13, 2006

As a utility MP3 player, I got an RCA Lyra.

Now, I know, I know, this falls way short of your 20G standards, however the memory is expandable using removable SD cards. It is cheap, easy to use, requires no software you don't already have, uses standard AAA batteries (a huge plus for travel) and plugs into a USB port.

I have been quite satisfied with it and it has served way more than it's utility purpose.

I swear I do not work for RCA and that this is a genuine satisfied customer response.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:04 PM on November 13, 2006

Me, too, Pollomacho! I adore my tiny, sturdy RCA Lyra. I've expanded its memory with a card, it requires no software, and the battery life is pretty impressive for one little AAA. I've had mine for almost three years and the little guy just won't quit.

Sound quality seems good to me, but I'm not much of an audiophile. I will say that I can't hear a difference in quality between my Lyra and Mr. Paleography's Creative Zen Xtra (which he's loved, by the way, ever since they came out with the new firmware--without the firmware, it's kind of a pain).
posted by paleography at 5:23 PM on November 13, 2006

I saw this yesterday and I knew what the responses were going to be but now I'll chime in: yes to I-river. I have an H140 that I've had for well over two years and I love it.
posted by ob at 6:31 AM on November 14, 2006

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