Understanding Your MP3 Player
MP3 players have become a phenomenal success in recent years and many people credit Apple with their invention, although this is not the case. The history of MP3 dates back 40 years, when Dieter Seitzer of Erlangen-Nuremberg University in Germany began to look into the problem of how to compress music files so that they could be sent over telephone lines.
This in turn led to others to join audio codec research and eventually, to the creation of the MP3 format in 1992, although it wouldn’t become known as that name until later in 1995.
The technology was worked on further in order to adapt it so that it became the portable format we know today, and the first compression standard (MPEG-1) was used initially to make video CDs.
In the year 2000, the first MP3 players, headphone stereos with built in hard drives, began to emerge on the US market and since then have evolved to become one of the most popular devices around. Indeed, if you think about it, the technology is everywhere; people play MP3 music files on phones, computers and other devices daily, making for a hugely successful commercial market.
The world’s first, mass-produced MP3 player was Saehan’s MPMan, although many people think that it was the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300. In fact the Saehan MPMan came out just before it in spring 1998, appearing first in Asia before emerging on the American market as the Eiger Labs MPMan in summer of the same year.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Apple joined the fray with the iPod, a device that has since gone on to be the most popular make of MP3 player out there, and where Apple trod, many would soon follow and give us the incredible amount of choice that we see today.
Now we can purchase MP3 players that are closer to computers than mere music players; the Apple iPod touch and the Samsung Galaxy Player are just a couple that allow users to download apps, access the internet, take and manipulate photos and much, much more.
These days you can even watch TV and movies on an MP3 player, as well as access social networking sites and listen to the music that they were designed for.
How do MP3 players work?
In simple terms, a typical music track is around 50MB in size, which is not the most convenient to carry around with you unless you’re willing to lug around an external hard drive too. MP3s are compressed files, which means that a lot of the sound that’s indiscernible to the human ear is stripped out in order to make the file around eleven times smaller.
This allows for far more music files to be stored on a device using internal flash storage, which comes in sizes of up to 160GB in today’s MP3 players. However, just to muddy the waters a little, MP3 is no longer the only music format available as Apple and Windows (amongst others) have also come up with their own, similar, formats.
The main difference between these is simply that they use different ‘codecs’ to compress and decompress the files and some keep more background sounds than others, in order to claim better quality of sound; these are known as ‘lossless’ devices.
The following will give you a better idea of which is which:
- AAC is used in Apple devices and is a part of the MPEG standard
- WMA is Microsoft based and the main competitor to AAC
- OGG is not yet widely supported but has excellent sound quality
- FLAC is not widely supported but offers great sound quality but larger file sizes
- MP3 is the popular standard
Which is the best MP3 player?
Like anything, this is subjective and will depend on whether you want a simple, straightforward music player, or an all singing, all dancing device that allows you to use it in a similar way to a smartphone or computer.
Whilst Apple’s AAC was developed to offer better sound clarity, the problem with this is that you’re bound to Apple devices. Of course, this won’t present a problem for many as Apple now has a range of inter-connectable devices which enable you to share settings, apps, contacts and more.
The main competitor to Apple in terms of sound is thought to be WMA as it supports DRM and provides improved sound quality. It’s as well not to forget Android MP3 players too though, as Android itself has become the most popular mobile operating system the world over and high-end, top-spec MP3 players based on the OS are now beginning to gain a foothold in the market.
When thinking about which is the best MP3 player before you make a purchase, consider the supported formats above all else as many are hard to get hold of and you could find your music choice limited. For example, if you want to purchase a player because it supports OGG, the have a look around and see how many tunes you will actually be able to find in this format before making your decision.
MP3, AAC and WMA are the most popular formats and these are easy to find in a number of places online, including iTunes, Amazon and HMV. It’s also worth thinking about how much better quality of sound you will get, there really is very little in it so offset the hassle of lesser known formats against very little loss in sound quality if necessary.
Copyright – can I legally rip music to use on my MP3 player?
Strictly speaking, ‘ripping’ a CD/DVD to your computer in order to copy music to your MP3 player is classed as copyright infringement in the USA. However, this is a somewhat outdated law that hasn’t been properly addressed for the digital age and it’s generally accepted that it’s OK to copy music for personal use.
Copying music in order to share with your friends, or distribute in any way, is completely illegal though and something that is frowned upon the world over. Not only this, but downloading music that you haven’t paid for is highly illegal and governments all over the world are taking steps to come down hard on any form of online piracy.
Songs available online as MP3s are easy to come by though, and inexpensive to buy from sites such as iTunes, Amazon, HMV and Play and all of these sources are completely legal.
There’s so much choice!
There are an incredible amount of devices on the market yes, and this can make for confusion over which you should buy, especially as your friends are likely to give conflicting opinions and advice. This is because there is something for everyone out there and due to the range of features, they tend to vary in price wildly.
If you’re thinking about parting with a lot of cash for the best MP3 player you can find, then do a little research first. Whilst you may think ‘I’ll just buy an iPod’ as you think this is your safest bet, then don’t, read up first. This is because, whilst Apple products may be superior to many, there are others that definitely match up and even surpass them, such as Samsung’s range of MP3 players.
If you’re looking for a lower end, basic music player, then it’s advisable to go for well-known companies such as Coby, who manufacture robust MP3 players that are inexpensive and yet still provide decent, hardwearing products. These are also ideal for kids and teens who want to take their music with them wherever they go as you won’t have the worry of them losing or breaking an expensive device.
If you’re going to be watching a lot of video, it’s as well to go for a top-of-the-range device as this will give better picture quality than cheap MP3 players, even those with screens. Apple’s iPod touch and the latest version of the classic and Samsung’s Galaxy Player are ideal for this as both have larger screen which use the latest technology in order to give the best possible viewing experience.
Whatever you decide, an MP3 player is a fun, handy little device to own, whether it’s the most expensive model, or the cheaper basic, all will transform the way you listen to music.