Mon, 07 Mar 2005


With portable music players, quality earphones a necessity

Talk about portable music player, and nothing will beat Apple iPod. Its runaway success is definitely the result of Apple's renown acumen in design and technology advancement.

Nobody is really surprised to see the iPods selling like Toyota Avanza or Honda Jazz. Even premium car makers such as BMW have worked together with Apple to seamlessly integrate the iPod into the audio system of its 3-Series, Z4 Roadster, X3 and X5 SUVs.

Last month, at the 3GSM World Congress 2005 in Cannes, France, Sony-Ericsson made a pre-announcement of what it called Sony Ericsson Walkman. It will be launched later, and it will be a combination of a digital walkman and a cellular phone. No detail was given, as it was a pre-announcement.

However, it certainly seems that Sony-Ericsson will have to fight an uphill battle against Apple. The company apparently believes that it can leverage the Walkman brand to compete with those who entered the market earlier.

Regardless, it seems that consumers have a wider and wider choice of great sounding portable digital music players.

Currently, for example, in addition to Apple iPods, we also find JetAudio iAudio M3, Creative Zen Portable Media Center and Rio Karma.

Although we almost always call them MP3 players by default, the current crop of players can also play other music file formats such as WMA (Windows Media Audio) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). The more formats a player supports, the better it is, as your choice of music sources will be less limited.

A new variant of the file formats has also arrived on the scene. Called lossless, it is around 50 percent smaller in file size as opposed to the original, uncompressed file formats such as WAV and AIFF, but it gives virtually the same audio quality.

In other words, no audio fidelity is sacrificed in the compression. Unfortunately, the choice of players supporting the lossless formats such as Apple Lossless and WMA Lossless is still very limited at this point.

Larger file sizes mean that you need to have a large storage capacity in the portable music players. As you can guess, players with 20 GB of storage must come with a hard disk. Smaller capacity players usually use mini drives. When looking at the specs, check the expected battery life, although you cannot really trust the manufacturer's claim.

Another important thing to check if you are looking for an MP3 player is its ease of use. Try it out at the store before you buy it, and see whether you can easily navigate across the folders to get to the songs you want to hear. The LCD screen should be legible, too, of course.

However, keep in mind that no matter how expensive and sophisticated your new MP3 player is, you will not get the audio quality that will satisfy your golden ears unless you match it with a pair of high quality headphones or earphones. So, to maximize your enjoyment, plan for the purchase of a really good pair of headphones as well.

--Zatni Arbi

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