I'm looking for an MP3 player that you can treat like a USB drive. With recording capabilites.
December 24, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an MP3 player that you can treat like a USB drive. In other words, I want to load MP3s onto it by just plugging the device into my machine and the copying files over. I do not want to use a specialized program like Itunes, and I want to use a standard USB or Firewire cable to plug the device into my computer.

Additionally, I would like the ability to plug a microphone in and use the device record my band practices. This would be an awesome feature, but it isn't necessarily a dealbreaker.
posted by Afroblanco to Shopping (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's this Creative model, but it only has a built-in mic; I don't of any player like this that has a line in type input.

FWIW, I've got a one and two gig version, and they both work okay. AAA battery as well, so no waiting for a recharge.
posted by landis at 11:24 AM on December 24, 2007

Isn't this state of the art? Most USB-mp3 players should have this.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:26 AM on December 24, 2007

My Creative Zen Nano Plus has those capabilities (including a line-in jack--I assume you could connect a microphone to it), but it's small (1 GB) capacity.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:30 AM on December 24, 2007

If I'm understanding correctly, you want to be able to 1. Load MP3s onto the player just through drag and drop 2. Be able to listen to them this way, 3. Be able to load them back onto other computers and 4. Record through line in?

If so, I don't know of anything that can do this out of the box that has a decent-sized capacity, but if you're willing to drop your first two requirements, an iPod could be your friend. You'd need iTunes to load the music, but you can use third-party utilities for putting them back onto other computers and recording through line-in.

Also, although it's not *quite* what you're looking for, you can enable disk mode and treat it like a hard disk. (You still won't be able to listen to tracks this way, though.)
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:39 AM on December 24, 2007

Seconding needs more cowbell. I've got a Creative Zen Nano too--it's great. Also has an AM/FM tuner!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:54 AM on December 24, 2007

I have and love the Insignia Pilot. It has line-in recording and 8gigs plus a SD slot for expansion. You just plug it in and it shows up as an external hard drive. The audio quality might not be the best, which may be a concern for you. My criteria was pretty much the same as yours, sans the line-in feature. There's some other handy features too, like bluetooth, video, fm tuner, and two headphone jacks (one doubles as a tv-out I think). Pretty cheap too, I think $160 these days. I've been extremely happy with the player, despite my initial skepticism of it being a house brand.

"You should totally consider an iPod, despite the fact that it makes you compromise your must-have requirements." That mentality makes me nuts - I was not willing to compromise my requirements just to own an iPod and be cool. :)
posted by ml98tu at 11:55 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a look at what iRiver's making these days. A couple years ago they were the choice of the live show taper crowd for their recording capabilities.

I had an iHP-140, which was basically an iPod without the sleek and styly design and interface, but also without the layer of "sorry we can't let you do this with your device" cruft. It had a 40GB hard drive, USB port (just run a cable between it and the PC and it popped up like any other external drive) a built in mic that was fine for typical voice recording and not only good line in jacks but honest to god optical jacks. All in a unit the size of a cigarette pack. It was sweet as hell. It's obsolete now, but I'm sure they've got something to replace it.

Be warned though. The only problem with it was that the power system kept dying. It would be working fine when I turned it off. The next day when I tried to power it up it would just be a brick with a faint ozone smell. The first time it was still under warranty and they sent me a new one. A few months later the new one did the same thing and I just gave up. I don't know if I was just unlucky - I don't recall seeing a huge outcry about this on the user forums. Anyway, while it worked it was a hell of a machine.
posted by Naberius at 11:56 AM on December 24, 2007

If you're cool with getting an older model, most likely used, the iRiver H3XX Series has all that. It has both Data and Media USB transfer modes, the Data connects it just as a Universal Mass Storage Device, no additional drivers required, works from any PC with USB. It also has a built in mic, but also a Line In so you could hook up a microphone.

I have the iRiver H320 which sports a 20gig hard drive which has been fantastic. You'd have to buy it off eBay now though as it is a fairly old model.
posted by Nerro at 11:57 AM on December 24, 2007

Best answer: Any player by Cowon will function exactly like this. Standard mini-USB cable, recognized as removable storage by any normal OS, plays almost any format you throw at it, recording through a line in or (most models) a built in mic.
posted by anaelith at 12:10 PM on December 24, 2007

I used a Sandisk player for a while. It was very simple, drag & drop into the device. No software needed.

The model I had did voice recording.
posted by Argyle at 12:12 PM on December 24, 2007

My old Muvo Micro has a plug for an external mic. Only records in mono, though. Acts just like a USB drive when you plug it in (it's a very standard USB to USB mini).

Great, cheap little player. I used it for a few years before the battery cover broke off (then I used an elastic band around it until I upgraded to a Zen).
posted by porpoise at 12:14 PM on December 24, 2007

I have an 8GB Meizu M6. It has very good sound quality, and acts as a USB mass storage device, though I think it also has support for iTunes-like synchronization crap if you need it. It is an attractive looking unit, not quite as thin as a ipod nano, but small and pretty. The user interface takes a little getting used to, but is not bad. It was also cheaper than an iPod.

Probably my biggest complaint about it is that it takes a few seconds to turn on. I recommend at least looking at reviews of it.
posted by aubilenon at 12:39 PM on December 24, 2007

I own a Creative Zen Nano, and it fits the bill. So, backing up the recommendation of the Nano Plus.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2007

There are a billion chinese ones all over ebay that work this way. I got a 1gb one there over a year ago for something like $15 shipped.
posted by TomMelee at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2007

Back when RCA was still making mp3 players with the Lyra brand, they made models which accepted SD memory cards, which was great. I still have one. A check of their website doesn't show that feature in the latest models (didn't check every last one), but it does look like you can still drag/drop files onto them--which I'd expect of any such device I'd buy today. (Lyra is now the brand for their video players, btw.)
posted by gimonca at 1:26 PM on December 24, 2007

I use Rockbox with my iPod because I dislike apple's software.
posted by boo_radley at 1:38 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Creative's Zen Stone 1GB and Zen Stone Plus 2GB work as drag-and-drop USB mass storage drives. Both are tiny flash players (like the iPod Shuffle). The Zen Stone Plus has a little screen.

Several of the Sandisk Sansa players can switch modes from MTP (media transfer protocol) to MSC (mass storage class, also known as USB Mass Storage - this is what you want). Some playlist-related features might not be available in MSC mode. You can often find more MSC mode info for specific models on anythingbutipod.com.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2007

I'll add a "me too" for the Creative Zen Nano Plus. It's a nice little device. I think the "plus" just means that it has a radio tuner. I've used the line-in with a turntable to digitize some old vinyl records and it worked pretty well. Note that the line-in is not a microphone input. I haven't tried it with a microphone but I doubt that it has enough gain / sensitivity to accept a microphone directly without some sort of preamp. As others have said, it has a built-in microphone for the voice recorder but I don't think it would work very for your band practice. It's really for up close speaking into.

I also have a Creative Zen V 4 GB. That has all the same features with a little video screen for photos etc. That works for me as a simple USB drive too although I've read of some people having trouble and only getting it to work with the supplied software. The big feature and the reason I bought it is its bookmarking which is a must for me on long podcasts or audio books. Most other players I've seen don't have bookmarks for plain mp3's, only for audible.com files.
posted by tetranz at 1:54 PM on December 24, 2007

I used to have a 20G Dell DJ that worked exactly as you describe. It even had a built-in microphone that had pretty good sound recording capability.

Too bad I gave it away already or I'd offer to sell it to you.
posted by spacewaitress at 2:18 PM on December 24, 2007

I have an older Creative Muvo that does this. To me, the iPod Nano was a major step back, precisely because of the lack of microphone and drag/drop music via usb drive capability.
posted by davar at 2:30 PM on December 24, 2007

Best answer: Second Cowan iAudio products. iRiver sorta turned evil last time I checked but their older stuff is good. My ancient Cowan G3 1G flash has a mic, line-in, FM tuner, plays OGG and FLAC, runs forever on a AA battery. The X5 20G HD based player is the same (also plays vidoes, view text files, pictures), but around 16 hours or more per charge. Both are simple USB Mass Storage Devices.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:40 PM on December 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all for your responses so far. This thread has been *a lot* of help. So far, the iRiver x20 is looking really really good. Anybody have experience with this model? How are iRiver's products in general?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:45 PM on December 24, 2007

Response by poster: Also, can someone please explain to me what the various acronyms for media transfer mean?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:48 PM on December 24, 2007

Response by poster: hmmmm. The Cowon IAudio U5 looks really good, too. This will be a difficult decision.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:54 PM on December 24, 2007

As shown in this thread, pretty much any MP3 player can do this. The only ones that make it hard are the ones with some sort of DRM legacy, such as the iPod and Zune.

Oh, and I love the fact that after 24 posts, nobody has mentioned the Zune. AbandonedForSure :)

For me, the big differentiating feature is whether or not I need a cable to connect the player to the computer. The Creative Muvo line does not require a cable -- it plugs directly into the computer's USB port. The problem with requiring a cable is that you are likely to not have it when you need it, especially if you transfer on more than one computer.
posted by intermod at 3:46 PM on December 24, 2007

I am fortunate enough to own an iRiver ihp-120 - I am a musician and have used the iRiver to record countless practice sessions, lessons, and rehearsals. Sounds pretty darn good with a Sony ECM-MS907. You can even install Rockbox, an open-source replacement firmware that adds the one feature I was really missing: a live mic level meter, to prevent clipping.

As has been said, the old iRivers (ihp/H-120,140,320,340) all feature:
-USB drag-and-drop of audio files
-no DRM
-line in
-mic in
-record to mp3 / wav
-I'm pretty sure it has an AM/FM tuner if you use the in-line remote control that comes with it? I'm not sure - I had no use for this feature.

Of course, I'm now lusting after the next gadget - an Edirol R09 or Zoom H4, which have more sophisticated recording features, but are really not suited to be mp3 players.

Get ye an old iRiver!
posted by violinflu at 8:09 PM on December 24, 2007

Best answer: I've owned an absurd number of MP3 players over the years -- over 20, at least.

I agree -- it's just not worth messing with anything that isn't a Mass Storage Device. The #1 thing I'm waiting to see for the iPhone? True MSC support. It's coming.

Until then, I took a look on DAPreview to see what's the latest in MSC-land. Here's what I've found:

Samsung P2: Very, very nice player. MSC is available in the Korean firmware; you have to hack a little to get it in.
Trekstor Vibez: Based on an old player I had (RIO Karma), looks fantastic. MSC out of the box. No video though.
IRiver Clix: Tiny, supports a ton of formats, including video. MSC out of the box too.
Cowon D2: Ridiculous battery life (52 hours), just got support for Flash interfaces. Big win here is the SD slot -- 8GB cards are only $75, so you can bring this thing up to 12GB pretty easily. MSC OOB.

For what it's worth, I hear the new Zunes are nice, but yeah, no MSC, no consideration.

Right now, having looked at all four, I'm leaning towards picking up a Cowon D2 and a 8GB SD card. I mean, $225. That ain't bad.
posted by effugas at 1:04 AM on December 25, 2007

Best answer: And of course I missed your "nice to have" for recording. Going through the four:

Samsung P2: Voice Record
Trekstor Vibez: Line-In Record
IRiver Clix: Voice Record
Cowon D2: Line-In Record

Yep, looks like the D2 is the winner.
posted by effugas at 3:21 AM on December 25, 2007

(Side note: I used to be a HUGE Archos fan. But their MP3 players stopped being MP3 players, and are now mostly dedicated video beasts.)
posted by effugas at 3:22 AM on December 25, 2007

(...with ugly, interlaced screens.)
posted by effugas at 3:22 AM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: Oooh, that Cowon D2 really does look tasty... I'm kinda leaning toward that now.

Thanks all for your help in this thread. It's good to know that what I want is out there. I knew I couldn't be the only person out there who wants a music playrt that doesn't subject me to a ridiculous amount of lock-in.

I'll update the thread after I make my purchase and have a chance to try out the player.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:19 AM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: ..... and one Cowon D2 has been ordered. Merry Christmas Afroblanco! I'll post a review once I've had a chance to play around with it.

posted by Afroblanco at 9:30 AM on December 25, 2007

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