Boosting the output of your mp3 player

All mp3 players have differing output volumes. Normally this isn’t a problem if you’re putting your mp3 player through a professional mixing desk. But if you’re plugging it directly in to an amplifier or mixer/amp with limited controls over the channel, you could find yourself with volume problems that are not so easy to solve…

We are busking with karaoke backing tracks on an mp3 player connected to a Roland Street Cube. We use 2 mics for the vocals. The problem is that the output volume of the backing tracks which is controlled from the Philips 4GB GoGear Vibe mp3 player is not loud enough, even though it is on max. The mic volume is fine as it is controlled from the Street Cube. My question is: is there a way to increase or boost the volume from this little mp3 player or do we need to buy a new one? I tested using an iPhone for the backing tracks and the volume was a lot higher, but can’t use the iPhone permanently. Any ideas, please? Many thanks! 

Hi Johanna

Sounds like your mp3 player just doesn’t have a very powerful earphone output and that’s why you’re finding a lack of volume. The iPhone obviously has a much better built-in earphone amp inside it so that’s probably why you’re noticing a difference.

There is a little device you can buy called a headphone amplifier which will boost the signal of your mp3 player.

It may be better though to just bite the bullet and buy an iPod. You don’t have to buy anything as expensive as an iPhone – a cheaper iPod Classic, Nano or Touch should do the job, especially if you’ve already tested it with an iPhone and it works well.

Using an iPad for backing tracks

Is using an iPad for backing tracks really all it’s cracked up to be? One of our customers, Kevin, has an entertainer pal who definitely thinks so…then again, why wouldn’t he? Therein lies the inherent problem with many of Apples products…

Hi Kenny
Im getting an iPhone soon and hoping to use it to play backing tracks. I have a creative mp3 player too. A friend of mine who is a successful professional performer recently got an iPad and swears by it! He downloaded some app for about £1 that plays everything just like a dj’s deck…he can even scratch the flippin’ tracks!! Also, nice big screen, and everything well laid out. It also works on the iPhone. Another thing about the iPhone….what if it rang in the middle of a gig….!!!!?? 

Hi Kevin

Yes, I know quite a few people who are using the iPad for backing tracks now. I can certainly see the attraction of an iPad for backing tracks because for usability it probably sits somewhere between an iPod and a laptop. You get the big screen advantage of a laptop combined with the user friendliness of an iPod and that’s quite a nice combination for many people.

I must admit though that, good as the iPad is, I’m not personally convinced that the iPad is really as exceptional as iPad users claim it is.

Although all Apple products are generally very user friendly and usually do the job they were intended for pretty well, my sneaking suspicion is that once you’ve paid $500 for a piece of kit then you’re unlikely to be too quick to admit that it’s actually not giving you any better results on stage than you would get using a standard laptop PC at half the price or a simple mp3 player at a fraction of the price…

Don’t get me wrong, I do like Apple products and I have a few (I have an iPhone, a Macbook Air, two iPods and an Apple TV box), but I’m also acutely aware that Apple are one of the most clever marketing companies in the world and they go all out to make you feel that their products are superior to everyone else’s products when in fact they are not.

While it can’t be denied that Apple make good, easy to use, products, the problem is that Apple marketing have cleverly found a way to charge you twice as much as everyone else in the industry but supply you with products that can only do half as much as other products can do. For example there’s no flash in the iPhone and iPad, their Mac computers won’t run half the programs you want to use, their Safari browser doesn’t conform to standard internet protocols and doesn’t display websites the way they were intended etc – the list of problems and incompatibility issues with Apple products goes on…

To add even more insult to injury, Apple also cunningly attempt to instil a feeling in to the buyer that if he uses an Apple product then he’s somehow smarter or more intelligent than others or is of a higher social class than others because he can afford the higher price ticket of an Apple product (i.e. snob value – “…look at me, I’ve got an Apple product so I’m richer than you and smarter than you..”).

I always say that buying an Apple computer is a bit like going to a restaurant where they charge you double for food you can get anywhere else for half the price and only give you a very small limited menu choice. Then they convince you in to believing that it’s all ok because you are getting a dining experience that is superior to other restaurants (it’s not) and making you feel quite elite and exclusive because other mere mortals can’t afford to be a part of that dining experience. The poor people have to stand outside in the rain with a half eaten burger in their hand enviously looking in the restaurant window at you while you snap your fingers and waiters fawn around you (mmmm, an idea for a new Apple advert perhaps LOL)?!

Of course it’s all complete rubbish and is simply the Apple marketing machine in full flow.

But people do fall for it (which is why Steve Jobs was a billionaire and Apple are one of the biggest companies in the world).

Hang on, did I say I have an iPhone, a Macbook Air, two iPods and an Apple TV box?

Damn you Apple, you got me again, maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was!


…..maybe I AM smarter than I thought, because I use Apple products…

Oh dear, I’m confused now!

Seriously though, Apple do make good, robust, reliable, products and if you’re a gigging musician the words “reliable” and “robust” do carry a LOT of weight when deciding which devices to use on stage. The iPod classic is without doubt the mother of all mp3 players and scores full marks on every single level. It’s a faultless product and blows every other mp3 player in the marketplace to smithereens. It really is that good.

You just have to do a bit of a reality check before buying Apple products and try as best you can to see through the hype first. Then and only then can you objectively look at the product with cool and clear vision and decide if it really is worth the money or whether you’re being sucked in by the Apple marketing machine and letting your heart rule your head.

And beware, Apple really are experts at knowing how to pull at those heart strings (and wallet strings)!

Laptop, iPod, iPhone or Minidisc?

Kevin asked a question about which is best for playing backing tracks – a laptop, iPod, iPhone or Minidisc?

Hi Kevin

In my opinion the best mp3 player for playing backing tracks from a choice of laptop, iPod, iPhone and Minidisc player is most probably the iPod – it was designed to play music and is the most robust of them all. Remember it was originally designed to play while people are out jogging etc so it can stand the punishment of being on a stage and handled a bit roughly. The iPod Touch and iPhone are not very robust though – it’s the iPod classic that is the most sturdy.

Minidisc used to be a good format and very reliable but the minidisc decks are getting impossible to find and even then it’s still not as reliable as an mp3 player like the iPod because with an mp3 file there are no moving parts whereas a minidisc has a mechanism and moving parts inside that can break or go wrong.

Regarding keeping a copy of your tracks on your iPhone, yes you can do that. I actually firmly believe that you should keep a copy of EVERYTHING, not just your backing tracks. Computers, gadgets and technology are handy things to have and use but when they go bad you risk losing everything so you should never commit all your information to just one device.

As for reliability on stage, I would say that the most reliable devices in order of best to worst would be:

1. iPod/mp3 player
2. Minidisc
3. Laptop

All 3 have their pros and cons.

The iPod has a small screen which can be hard to see depending on your eyesight, but the laptop has a lovely big easy to see screen.

With a laptop, Windows might crash halfway through a gig, whereas the iPod is less likely to have any problems like that.

Minidisc is kinda in-between, but because it’s such an old format I just wouldn’t risk gigging with any of those old Minidisc decks any more (plus you’d be climbing the wall having to change minidiscs in between songs as a minidisc can only hold about 20 songs or so).

Preventing your iPod switching off during playback

Thanks to James for this question about how to stop his iPod switching itself off while playing his backing tracks…

I have back trax on my ipod under “Music”. When I play…the screen goes blank after a few minutes. When i need to stop the music i have to “unlock” the ipod. Go to the “music” section and then use the controls.  Is there an adjustment to keeeping the screen displaying for longer. James.

Hi James

If you go to the settings of the iPod you can set the auto-lock to “never”.

This will stop the iPod locking itself.

Just be aware that your iPod will now be always on so the battery will run down a lot quicker. I always advise using a power adaptor on stage – there’s nothing worse than your battery running out midway through a gig!

Different tracks, different bit-rates problem

Thanks to Glenn for asking this question about bitrates…

i would appreciate if you could help me.I am a solo artist. having read your excellent article on bitrates I have found in my itunes library tracks that have different bitrates from 128,156, 320. also some tracks are stereo and some joint stereo. I can alter these with audiograbber myself,but what too ?. please advise. regards glenn

Hi Glenn

If you want uniformity on all your tracks you should re-encode them all to mp3 at 128 kb/s.

Stereo is generally better than joint stereo (although in some cases a stereo file made with a poor quality mp3 encoder will sound worse than a joint stereo file made with a good quality mp3 encoder).

You mention that you have Audiograbber which I believe now uses the LAME encoder to process its mp3 files. LAME is one of the better mp3 encoders so you should be fine with that.

Convert all your tracks to mp3 stereo at 128 kb/s and you’ll find they’ll still sound as good on stage, they’ll take up less space on your player, and the smaller file sizes will mean that there’s less processing power needed to play each song thus lessening the chances of glitches and stutters during playback…