Help Choosing an MP3 Player: Anything but iPod... but What Does That Leave?


I recently decided to finally buy an MP3 player, but I've found researching it to be quite overwhelming.

This is what I want from an mp3 player:

  • Lightweight and fairly compact - so that it doesn't weigh me down or become uncomfortable after walking/riding/etc. a while
  • Fairly durable - I don't plan on dropping it often, but I don't want it to break the first time I do.
  • Storage space - I think 4GB will be enough room for me to have enough songs with some extra room left over to make me feel good about not being close to full
  • Battery life - I would like to be able to use it for a few hours without having to recharge it.
  • Music selection - I need to be able to select specific songs. It would be nice to be able to make playlists too.
  • Sound quality - It doesn't have to be the best, but I'd like it to sound pretty decent. I plan on getting some good headphones with it.
  • Other features - I don't really care. It's going to be for music, anyway. I don't care too much about bells and whistles unless they're part of the song I want to hear.
  • Price - I don't want to spend all the money, but I can pay more for the things I really need.

Another problem ties in with which MP3 player I want; everyone loves the iPod, but I was under the impression you had to use iTunes with it. Therein lies my second problem. I want to get my music legitimately, but it doesn't seem like anyone is willing to meet me halfway. It's almost like they don't care that they're not giving someone like me a reason to go legit and purchase music. I'm sorry, but even 99 cents per song is just too much for someone who wants to buy a new mp3 player and start a music library from scratch. I'd sooner pay nothing and get only the music that is legally offered for free download. There are streaming sites, but they're even worse. I could pay a dollar per song and keep that song forever, OR I could pay 15 bucks a month forever, and lose everything the minute I stop paying. That's ridiculous, and even Zune's offer to allow you to keep 10 songs per month is a drop in the bucket - keeping ten songs for 15 dollars is the equivalent of charging 1.50 each, so that's no better than iTunes. There are sites that say you can pay a larger yearly (or multi-yearly) fee for unlimited downloads. That's something more like what I want to hear, and I'd be very willing to pay a larger fee for something like this, but those sites seem to be falsely claiming to be legitimate, and remaining illegal and costing money defeats the purpose of trying to go legit.

So, although it seems like all I have are complaints, I know I can't be the only one thinking these things. My question is this: does someone legit want my business? Is someone willing to give me a deal that is really worth it? Why can't my desire to buy "bulk" translate into a more reasonable price, as it does with other products? Or are these problems simply unaddressed by an industry that doesn't even attempt to offer me a chance to get music the right way simply because others will pay more?

- submitted by member 'falseusername'


Your username may be false, but your analysis of the MP3 market is pretty spot on. I've been right where you are, wanting to buy an MP3 player, but not wanting to shackle myself to a particular music store or service like iTunes or the Zune Marketplace. 

Fortunately, there is hope. The best thing I can recommend is to look for products that are not tied in to a particular music store or service. That pretty much eliminates the iPod lineup, Zune, and a few others that tie into services like Napster. There are players out there that are merely players, not shackled to one particular thing. 

That said, if you want to purchase music online, there are caveats. Some places offer DRM free (un-copy protected) music for sale, but many online stores don't... particularly the larger ones like Wal-Mart. That means you'll want a player that can play the most common format of DRM music outside of iTunes, and that's Microsoft's PlaysForSure labeled players. Not Zune (I know, weird), but many players offered by Samsung, Sandisk, Creative, and others. All of these sync up with Windows Media Player to transfer protected content, but un-copy protected stuff can be synced with other popular music suites.

Believe it or not, there are a pretty good number out there. A few years back, I purchased my wife a Creative player (the MicroPhoto was the model) which offered an 8GB hard drive, color screen, decent battery life, and a fairly user-friendly interface. 

When I was looking for a player for myself, space wasn't the issue, but size was. I wanted small and portable, and ended up being drawn to the Sansa line of players from Sandisk. I ultimately chose the Sansa Clip, which I find to be the most stellar MP3 player in that size class... and the audio quality is actually superb.  It even has great battery life.


It's tough to pick make a solid suggestion without more specific requirements,  but based on what you've asked for, here are some of my top picks:


  • Sansa Clip - Can be purchased at 1, 2 or 4GB, reasonably priced, very small and compact, good battery life. Personally, my favorite player. Good for music, doesn't play photos or anything else.
  • Sansa Fuze - If you want a little bit bigger player, more memory, and a color screen, the Fuze is a good one. It's reasonably priced, still compact, and plays photos/video. Comes in 4 or 8GB size.
  • Samsung - S3 4GB - Small, good battery life,many features. Personally, not the biggest fan of the control pad, but it's a solid player.
  • iRiver E100 - Can't speak for the battery life since I've only played with it at shows, but the interface was nice, and it seemed like a solid player. 

Hopefully that will get you started. Good luck, and let us know what you decide to get.

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Thank you. I was concerned with the tone of the questions, due to my frustration. Like I said, it can get overwhelming, especially when an online search can yield results that don't seem to be unbiased, trustworthy information.

This is not the first time the Sansa Clip was recommended to me as a possibility, and that's where I'm going to start. Thanks again.


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