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Schlock Mercenary
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May 7th, 2005

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02:34 am - Portable music !
First, a tangent to the actual question I'm about to ask. For the past week or so, I've borrowed rwrylsin's iPod, since she hasn't been needing it at work, and I've been feeling the need for some music. While searching for some albums I knew were on it, I noticed that a few of the Genre tags were wrong, and decided to fix them in iTunes tonight. I've just finished doing so, and I only have this to say : "What sort of crack were the people who set those Genre tags on ?". Dead Can Dance filed under "Alternative & Punk", and Classical, and Pop, and Gothic ? Only one of those is even vaguely close, and even then only in Record Store Categorisation[TM]. Sopor Aeturnus under Metal ? Hesperion XX under Pop ? Sheesh.

So, on to the actual question : Recommend for me a portable music player.
(not a cassette player or CD/MP3-CD player, because I have one of each already, and they don't fit my needs these days)

What I want :
  • Small (I've been spoiled by my digital camera, the Pentax Optio S, which I can just stick in my pocket every time I go out)
  • Reasonable battery life, with removeable batteries (AA or AAA, should accept rechargable versions)
  • Good interface (e.g. make ad hoc playlists, easily select by artist or tags in formats like MP3, ideally I'd be able to impose my own directory structure too).
  • Robustness (I drop things. Often. My phone, fortunately, has survived its many landings. My music player will need to be able to do the same)
  • Anti-skip - not an issue for a flash memory device, but could be if hard disk based (iPod etc). I want to use the device while walking (briskly, and for up to an hour or two), and during exercise in general.

    Also nice to have :
  • Some sort of equaliser/tone settings
  • "Gapless" playback
  • If flash-based, expandable memory (e.g. using SD cards)
  • If hard disk-based, ability to copy music back off it (so it can act as a backup for my collection).
  • For either format, it would be nice to just mount it as a removeable drive and copy files straight across
  • Obviously, MP3 support. AAC would be nice, maybe even OGG.
  • Linux support ? I'm such an optimist :-)
  • Reliable, good support
  • Decent sound quality (I'm no audiophile, but it should be noticeably better than the old walkman :-) ).

    What I'm considering :
  • iPod, of course. My main concerns are the battery (and battery life), robustness, not being able to copy things back off, and as I understand it, the only interface is through iTunes (no Linux version, I presume).
  • Flash-based players in general, in particular expandable ones (SD cards preferred, since I can also use those in the camera).
  • The Rio Forge seems to meet most of those requirements, but it seems that quite a few people have had reliability problems with them, and had bad experiences with Rio support. Also, the sound quality is apparently not quite up to the standard of other players.
  • Other hard drive-based players - I haven't looked into these in great detail, though.

    I'm in two minds whether I want to be able to carry my whole music collection around with me (which requires at least a 20 Gb hard disk player), or whether I can select a few albums according to my mood (should be able to fit 7-10 albums on a 512 Mb SD card, depending on quality, plus a few more in whatever internal memory the device comes with) every week or so and just play those.

    So, any suggestions ? Any devices I've overlooked ? Are newer generations of iPod improved in the areas I'm concerned about ?
    Is Rio really so horrible ? Will anyone read this, or will it succumb to the Weekend LiveJournal Effect[TM], where everyone is running around doing stuff and not reading LJ ?
    Current Mood: curiouscurious
    Current Music: Sophia - Sigilum Militum
  • (7 touches | En garde !)


    [User Picture]
    Date:May 6th, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC)
    Ok..I swear by my MPIO FL300. Charges through a USB port, straight copying of files, auto update of software etc etc etc. Doesnt hold much, but for my purposes (fencing comps and plane trips) it works quite happily. Good sound quality, tiny (5cmx2cmx1cm if that), light, and comes with either an arm band or necklace type thing. Cant give you a price as mine was a gift from the US, but REALLY REALLY good.
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 6th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
    I don't know if L reads your entries, so I'll drop in a vote for the iRiver HD-320/HD-340 players on her behalf.

    - It's not as small as some things - I'd probably rate it as "medium", but it's definitely portable.
    - I haven't heard any complaints about the battery life, so it should be quite good. Battery is rechargable; I can't remember if it's AA or something else, sorry.
    - Regarding the interface, it's not quite as nice as the iPod, but it does a good job of keeping things simple, as far as I can tell (haven't played with it much).
    - Robustness. Hmm. Don't know. I'm not going to shock-test it for you, sorry! =)
    - Anti-skip. L bought it precisely so to be able to listen to music while walking to/from work, and it's coping just fine with that.

    - I'm pretty sure it's got an EQ. But don't quote me on that one.
    - Gapless playback, well, iRiver is mentioned in the linked page, so I won't say anything else (because I have no idea).
    - With the iRiver you don't get any of the DRM junk - you can copy files on and off it as you please. It's a standard USB "mass storage device", so it shows up as a normal FAT32 filesystem (because it is). That also means that it works just fine with "alternative" OSes (we're using FreeBSD without any problems).
    - It's got OGG support. Only way you'd get AAC is via a Sony product, and then most likely that'd be the only format it'd play (unless I'm getting AAC and ATRAC mixed up)
    - What little I've listened to, the sound quality is good.

    As a final note, L is extremely satisfied with her iRiver (the HD-320 I think it is) :)
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 7th, 2005 12:15 am (UTC)

    Buy an iRiver!

    Yes, I think my iRiver is great and would recomend it to anyone looking at getting a new portable music player.
    - Battery is a built in rechargable. I tend to listen to it for a one or two hours most days and recharge it about once a week.
    - I actually prefer the interface to the iPod one. It also allows you to set up your own directory structure.
    - Robustenss. I have done the shock test. I have dropped it a few times on solid surfaces. I have mostly dropped it in its case which is a good compromise between protection and bulkiness. Once I dropped it on the street out of its case. Amazingly, I haven't managed to damage it at all yet.
    - Anti-skip. I have never had it skip on me.
    - It does have variouis sound settings that you can play around with.
    - I think it has gapless playback but to be honest I am not 100% sure.
    - The way it shows up as a standard USB "mass storage device" is utterly brilliant. I have heard so many people complaining about the iPods having to have a "home computer" and difficulties with compatibility. The iRiver is just so easy to interface with any computer (or apparently many other nifty modern gadgets that connect via USB like digital cameras).
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 7th, 2005 12:39 am (UTC)
    I am also an Optio S (or actually S4) user, and you should know that I've totally drunk the Apple koolaid.

    You should definitely aim to play with mp3 players before buying.

    iPods have vastly better industrial design than their competitors. I don't know why this is, but despite the fact that it's obviously true that mp3 players are a classic area where you want something that does one thing well, most of its competitors have teensy buttons or a rotten UI. Dunno why. They are supposedly getting better, though.

    The thing that was life-changing for me was being able to carry around 'quite a lot' of music. I'd love to carry my whole collection, but the iPod that does that doesn't yet exist. I bought an iPod first, and then (because I carry it every day) an iPod Mini. The Mini does frustrate me a little; I have to pay a little attention to make sure the new stuff is on there; I have to change the music periodically (perhaps once a month) or I start to get fed up that it's repeating. But it's small and cute and beautiful. I use expensive third party headphones with my iPods, and I would have thought you would want to too, no matter what brand you get.

    Do you actually use Linux? If you do, then you don't, indeed, get iTunes so one of the key benefits of the iPod (smart playlists) is lost to you. There are various solutions to this -- but it strikes me that if you buy an iPod and then completely change the gui and spend weeks getting the OS running and so on, that's sort of missed the point. So if you are actually using Linux I wouldn't get an iPod.

    If you're not using Linux, then the other major contraindication for iPods is that if you want to buy windows-drm-type-music then you can't use the iPod. I can't see any reason why anyone would want to, but there you go.

    iTunes is jolly good -- the smart playlist feature is great, and then there's lots of scripting available to tweak iTunes to your precise circumstances. I don't do this, but I do know lots of people who fill their iPod with random albums each morning, so that if you then leave it on shuffle you do hear everything you own eventually. Smart playlists make the business of filling your iPod very easy; so I have smart playlists for things like 'all music I've bought in the last two months' and I just drag that to the iPod to fill. I don't believe anyone else does this.

    I walk with my iPod and have never had any trouble with skipping. I don't exercise harder than that using an iPod and people who want one for running recommend a flash player. Steven has an iPod shuffle, which is extremely minimalist and so tiny he risks losing it. Obviously if you go for an expandable you're introducing a layer of complexity. The interface on these tiny players means there's not a lot of point having a lot of music on them because it's so painful to navigate -- the point Apple was making by ditching the screen all together.

    I can't think of much reason to share a flash card between a camera and an mp3 player; I've owned multiple flash-card using devices over the last decade and I don't think I've ever shared flash in any meaningful way.

    Battery life on iPods has improved substantially, especially on the iPod mini where battery life is now, I think, twice as good as mine. I don't have a problem with the battery life except insofar as I have a problem with all battery powered devices (ie, I let them run down: longer battery life just means I let them run down less often). I do keep a charger in the car.

    You can copy music back off the iPod, it's just tedious. Apple periodically breaks the utilities that are designed to make this easier. Part of their deal with the record companies.

    Hope that's useful!
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 7th, 2005 03:02 am (UTC)
    What she said. Make an account on the powerbook if you haven't already, build a big disk on some machine to store all of your music on, and periodically dump some onto an iPod mini or a shuffle. I love my (20Gb, rev 2) iPod, but it's too small now to be comprehensive and too big to be "I don't care if I drop it in a storm drain".
    If you get a little thing and keep everything on a big central thing then (a) backups are easier and (b) if you pick up some tunes elsewhere you can extract them (with some effort).

    Get replacement headphones, whatever player you buy. in-ear: kos "the plug", sony something or other, or ideally etymotic 6i. if you like cans, get some cans.

    the "genre" tags: argh argh argh. periodically i relabel everything either (a) "dance music" or (b) "music damien likes".

    look at audioscrobbler.com and see if you can get it to work with whatever you choose, so that I can vicariously browse your active listining (i am called damienw there).
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 7th, 2005 03:17 am (UTC)
    ok, i think most comments stand, but have now properly read the "gapless" stuff: if you buy an iPod, you will want to get a new one and use iTunes to rip some albums to "single track". take a cd to a store and make them let you try it there before you buy. gaps between tracks on mix/dance albums drive me wild, and you will go into a stabba stabba frenzy.
    [User Picture]
    Date:May 11th, 2005 08:50 pm (UTC)
    Genre tags: no idea what they're on :) When 90% of your eclectic music collection is classified "Rock" by the computer, you know the computer's got a strange idea of what a genre is...

    Recommendations: I was probably looking for different properties to you, but I've had no problems at all with the JNC-3100 (some info here)

    It's a 1GB flash player, which is tiny (6cm long, 2.5cm wide/deep) and has an excellent battery life (50 hours, from a standard AA). No issues with internal battery life, as you can just pick up a new AA battery for it. The player handles VBR, MP3 and WMA files. You can keep files in your own directory tree (modified on a PC) but can't do any searching beyond changing the playing directory - there's just not enough space on the unit for a screen big enough to search on ;)

    I tend to just play tracks on full shuffle, or within one directory. I don't think you can set playlists on the fly though, so it's something to do when loading tracks on. It also has a microphone (handy for meetings at work) and an FM radio. Can also record radio to .wav, if you really feel the need...

    It doesn't have a lot of your "nice to have" list though - I doubt it would do gapless play (better off ripping the tracks as a single file), and the memory isn't removeable/expandable. It has plug & play USB compatability for PCs (no Mac support at present) and a tiny USB adaptor - I occasionally use mine to transport files between work and home.

    1GB was a good tradeoff for me, between wanting lots (ALL!) the music on one player, and having a small selection to change from time to time. I generally have about 120 songs on mine, with spare space for work files - it's enough for some variety over the week, and then I change things around. The player weighs about the same as two AA batteries (when loaded), is slightly bigger than one of them, and the batteries last several weeks between recharges.

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