Ask the Readers: Which MP3 Player Should I Buy?

Dec 8, 2008
Updated • Dec 3, 2012
Music, Music and Video

In today’s world, owning a cell phone and/or a portable media player has practically become a necessity. The thing is I don’t own either. No, I do not live in a cave, I just took a conscious decision not to own one.

Recently though, I’ve decided to invest in an mp3 player. I knew about the standard players available but after doing some more research, I’m more confused than ever. So I decided to ask the tech-savvy readers at Ghacks to help me make my decision.

Now I’m looking at hard-drive based players with a minimum capacity of 60 GB. Here are some of my thoughts on the different players so far:

Apple iPod Classic: Good battery life (30 hours for audio) and file storage capacity (120 GB). I’m not too keen on it though because it’s very restrictive as far as supported file formats are concerned. I don’t want to spend hours just converting my videos. Also, I’ve read that new versions of iTunes place a lot of restrictions on the machine.

Zune 80/120: This one is last on my list. Battery life is decent but that’s about it. Video format support is really poor.

Archos: Not bad but not great either. Battery life and file format support is just about okay. Storage capacity is good. The player itself is a little on the bulky side as well.

Creative Zen Vision W: The sort-of runner up. Creative had decent battery life (13.5 for audio and 5 for video) and supports a good-sized number of file formats. However, the player doesn’t seem to support videos encoded with the H.264 codec or those in the Mpeg-4 format. Also, at 60 GB, it’s the lowest in terms of storage capacity.

Cowon A3: If I had to choose a player based on features alone, this one would be it. The A3 has 80 GB of storage and plays virtually every audio and video file format you throw at it. In fact, the only format that it doesn’t play is AAC file with DRM and Quicktime movies, both of which I don’t use anyway. Besides this Cowon’s A3 can be connected directly to both standard and hi-definition TVs and can even record from the TV. It’s perfect. The only drawback is the battery life. The official site says that the A3 can play 7 hours of video and 10 hours of audio. In practice, I have no idea how long it lasts.

So now I’m stuck between the Creative Zen Vision W and the Cowon A3. They cost almost the same. Should I be concerned about the lesser battery life on the Cowan? I assume I can also hook it up to an adaptor and play it when I’m at home. If I do take my player out, it’s probably not going to be used for more than 5-6 hours.

Please help me out with this. What portable media player do you use? Are you happy with the storage capacity, file formats supported, and battery life/ Any advice for me? Let me know in the comments.


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  1. CristiP said on December 11, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    For me Samsung has the best sound..Just please listen to one!!!

  2. murlidhar said on December 11, 2008 at 5:16 am

    since you said you need an audio player , i would suggest you Cowon iaudio 7 . Pretty decent backup with very good sound quality . I advise you to look for the reviews for it before considering it though .

  3. Steven said on December 9, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    I bought an Archos 605 wifi a few months ago & whilst I know there are a few problems like having to pay for the web browser plug-in (the new gen6 machines come with it for free), so far I’ve been loving it. The screen quality is amazing (800 x 480) & it’ll even play flv files. Music playback is good & it has an excellent picture browser/viewer. One can add widgets & flash games so all in all it’s a decent little machine.

  4. DC said on December 9, 2008 at 3:32 am

    I gotta agree with Susan. I’ve used the Sansa Connect and the Sansa e200 series and they are both great. True there’s not as much space as the Cowon but even Cowon’s website classifies the A3 as a PMP and not an MP3 player. The Sansa View has a decent size screen for a little player. Price is good too for what you get.

  5. Joe said on December 9, 2008 at 2:30 am

    I love my zune. I bought the 30 Gig version on for 80 bucks, and I haven’t looked back. Nearly all the features of the new zunes are in my first-generation zune (except for the touch-pad and the bigger screen).

    The biggest feature for me is the ability to download music from any wifi hotspot without having to plug it into a computer.

  6. CO7DFiRE said on December 9, 2008 at 2:12 am

    I prefer Zune or iPod……. Though I personally use an iPod….. :D

  7. Susan said on December 8, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Zune is great, but for a wonderful compact player, SanDisk Sansa has my vote hands down.

  8. yair said on December 8, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    rockbox looks amazing, i’ll def check it out.
    i own a cowon A3, its not a music player. i love it, i use it to record videos, watch them (great screen res), move files (- its fat32 so no files bigger then 4gig and its usb1 dont belive the hype). its interface is stupid (i hate the tiny joystick), i think the next version will be touch, but mp3 players should be something you can navigate when in your pocket.
    i would get a solid mp3 player, flash based if your physical.

  9. Bob Shacklock said on December 8, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I would get the iPod simply because I love my iPods. I agree iTunes kida sucks though. You don’t have to use iTunes, there are alternatives!

    As for converting the video, are you really planning on watching video on that small screen? If you want to watch video, I suggest the iPod Touch or the Zune. I have a Touch and I realize it doesn’t have the size of the classic, but it is a super piece of hardware.

  10. Ben said on December 8, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    I say ipods and and I wouldn’t suggested ITunes but something better like amarok for windows when it is released as a stable version

  11. Cindy said on December 8, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I’ve had 2 Ipods, and would never, ever get one again, after my horrible experiences with the player itself (the 80GB), customer service, and of course, the infamous Itunes. Every time I tried to synch the Ipod, the songs would simply disappear, or there’d be some sort of error, and it was frustrating.

    My oldest daughter had a Zune, she liked it, so I got one, too. And I’d never go back to the Ipod. I absolutely love the Zune (120GB). (I especially like the 14.99 a month or however much it is where I can download all the music I want. So I can’t keep it forever if I let the account lapse. At least it stays on the Zune, unlike the music I paid for that was supposed to stay on the Ipod!)

    For videos, I just use freeware to convert whatever I want to play to the format Zune uses. It’s not difficult, and it’s exceptionally easy to add things, once they’re in the right format, to the Zune. I think, too, that there’s an automatic format now on the Zune, where if videos are in the wrong format, the Zune will fix them to be playable. But, I could be mistaken about that.

    My youngest daughter has a Zen, and she loves that, too, though she keeps trying to steal my Zune. The Zen is so easy to set up, download music to, and it, like the Zune, is very easy to use with if you like audio books.

  12. Amos said on December 8, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    As long as you’re happy with one machine, Zune, 100%.

    Brilliant interface, smart and creative (if slightly sluggish) software, FM radio, latest X.X firmware updates, stable, strong and well-built, very good sound. Super should be able to encode any videos you want on there:

  13. rockboxluvr said on December 8, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    The only player worth owning is a player that can install Rockbox with minimal difficulty. Then you are in control of your hardware, and your range of playback and record formats has expanded tremendously.

  14. garbanzo said on December 8, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    i had an early archos, and it was good while it lasted, but they have always seemed kind of hacked together.

    now i have an ipod and i love it. i would recommend an ipod over anything else. there is a reason they’re so popular you know…

  15. Rogerebert said on December 8, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    I would go with the ipod and use winamp or mediamonkey to transcode your audio to the unit. That way you don’t have to use apple’s horid software and restrictive formats.

    The ipod accessories alone make the choice easy. Too few options for the others. Get cheap docks, and speakers with the knowledge that you beat the apple man at his own game.

  16. Mezan said on December 8, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Ooops, sorry i addressed you, Cheryl as Martin, i noticed it just now. Sorry for overlooking that.

  17. Mezan said on December 8, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Martin, you can try the Cowon Q5W, it is the best, 13.8cm tall, 2cm thick, weighs 380gms, it has insanely long list of features, in the box you get, a charger, IR remote, headphones, usb cable, video breakout cable, manual, software cd, even a wrist strap, it plays nearly every audio and video format under the sun, MP3,WMA,ASF,OGG,WAV,FLAC,APE,MPC,AVI(divx,xvid),ASF,WMV 7/8/9,MPEG 1/2/4,OGG etc, and many more, it supports Flash,JPEG,BMP,PNG,and even text files,built in FM,voice recorder, you can browse web by using its Wi-Fi b/g connection, you can plug in any usb storage device and read its contents! Long list, and it is truely a geek toy, and will make you (a technology lover ;-) ) happy!

  18. Nicbot said on December 8, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I love the Zune, but don’t forget it’s lack of media player support. You can’t just plug it in to any media player and go…and that’s a huge downside IMHO.

  19. Cheryl said on December 8, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Jon, I realize my description of the Zune is very small but the missing video support is a big drawback for me. A lot of my videos are divx/xvid encoded and if I can’t play them then the player isn’t much use to me. Another thing is that it doesn’t seem to support wav, flac, and ogg formats. I will admit that the Zune has an attractive price tag.

  20. Max said on December 8, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    I have a Zen:M 60Gb for about 2 years and I really love it. go for the ZEN !

    I also used it for watching DIVX on my TV and it was working with almost any divx (or other code) I threw in

  21. bl said on December 8, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    What about iriver ?

  22. Arvin said on December 8, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve consistently used a Zen in one form or another for years, and had owned a Zen Vision M until it broke on me after almost two years recently. The main thing that did it for me was codec support for mpeg-1, DivX, and Xvid, the latter two still very popular formats for feature length films. The interface was fast and ipod-esque, and it had good battery life.

    I’d recommend you seek videos or first hand knowledge of the Cowon’s interface, as I’ve heard they can be sluggish and frustrating sometimes.

  23. jon said on December 8, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    You seem to dismiss the Zune without any real reason. I currently own a Zune 80 – and have owned iPods and creative players (no experience with the others mentioned). Zune is my favorite of the bunch by far. Unlike iPod and Creative, Zune updates apply to all generations of the device so that all the devices remain current. The device has FM radio, wireless sync and a very friendly navigation pad. The Zune software and Zune pass are way more enticing than iTunes – Zune pass is subscription based but you get to keep 10 free tracks a month!
    I agree the big video support missing is .avi but it does support h.264 encoding.
    I swithced from iPods because both of my previous ones broke and I left creative because they seemed to abandon their customers and devices and stopped releasing firmware updates.
    I would recommend you at least do more/ better research before making such a swift judgment.

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