Choosing the right mp3 player

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

Choose the wrong mp3 player and your whole performance could suffer in more ways than you think…

There are now dozens of manufacturers producing mp3 players and the task of choosing the right player is daunting to say the least! However, it gets easier when you realise that players produced by many of the smaller manufacturers are quite awkward to use, difficult to navigate and often poorly built, so that helps narrow things down quite a bit.

Without wishing to be unkind or detrimental to any of the smaller mp3 player manufacturers out there, at the time of writing this article, in our opinion, there are really only three brands of player that the serious singer/musician should consider: The Creative Jukebox, Microsoft Zune and the Apple iPod.

The Creative Jukebox
The Creative Jukebox, like the iPod comes in various models and hard disk sizes and is backed by Creative’s years of being at the forefront of computer sound technology (Creative soundblaster cards have been popular with PC users for many years because of their high qulaity and reasonable pricing – and rightly so).

Any of the Creative Jukebox models will guarantee you good reliability combined with great sound quality and price.

The Microsoft Zune
A late entry in to the hard disk based mp3 player market, the Microsft Zune benefits from a good size screen and navigation and since it is backed by Microsoft, you can guarantee it’ll do exactly waht it says on the tin so to speak.

It may be a bit pricey, but at the end of the day quality costs money…

The Apple iPod
The Apple iPod also comes in various models and hard disk sizes. Unless you are an 80 year old soldier who lives in the jungle and still thinks World War Two is still on-going, you’ll have heard the name iPod.

The iPod is, without doubt, the most popular digital music player ever invented – Apple sell millions of these units every year and hi-fi shops frequently run out of stocks of iPods.

Which is best?
So, we’ve established that the ipod is the best selling player in the world…but is it the best? Well, the answer to that is simple…YES! The iPod is streets ahead of all other digital music players currently available.

It is solidly built and reliable and when it comes to ease of use, nothing can beat Apple products…and the iPod doesn’t disappoint. I’ve never come across a small portable player that is as easy to use as the iPod and if you are a gigging singer or musician who wants to use a small portable player on stage, there is nothing better than an iPod.

The iPod has a circular touch wheel which makes scrolling through the list of songs on its hard drive real quick and a breeze to do.

One of the problems I’ve found with other mp3 players (including the Creative Jukebox) is that while one song is playing, scrolling through the track listings is really slow. However, if no songs are playing, the opposite is true – they react quite quickly to scrolling through the track list.

This suggests that the processors in these other players are using most of their resources to play the current song, so all other functions are slowed down, but as soon as the song is finished playing, the machine can devote all it’s resources to finding the next track and so quickens up.

You might not think that this is a big deal, but it does make a massive difference if you are using an mp3 player live on stage.

Imagine it is near the end of the gig and you have a packed dance-floor. As one song is about to end, you need to scroll quickly to the next song and get it ready to play, to keep the audience dancing and the atmosphere bubbling. If your mp3 player is scrolling slowly because it’s processor is busy playing the current song, there may be a few second delay before you carry on to your next song.

A couple of seconds is enough time for dancers on a dance-floor to decide that there’s no “follow up” song coming and leave the dance-floor.

Similarly, mid-way through a gig, you may perhaps decide to cue up your next song during the solo of the present song. If scrolling through the menu is slowed up, you may not get your next song cued up by the time the solo has ended and before you know it, you’ve reached the end of this song but the next one hasn’t been cued up ready to play yet.

As you probably know, when working with a live audience, timing is of the utmost importance and a break of even a second or two at just the wrong time can result in an embarrassing silence and ruin your performance.

So, in a nut-shell, there really is only one true winner when it comes to choosing a digital music player to use live on stage, and that’s the Apple iPod.

Other players will certainly do the same job (many have more features than the iPod like bigger hard drives, integrated radio etc) but none can compare with the iPods robustness and ease of use.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this article is biased towards iPods but, believe me, it’s not. Until another manufacturer can produce a player that can better the iPod’s superior qualities, the iPod reigns supreme in the digital player market and is likely to continue for some time yet.

The launch of the iPod Video (30GB and 80GB machines) makes the iPod an even more attractive buy now because they boast bigger hard drives (which means they can hold more backing tracks) and the screens are bigger (which means they’re easier to see and to use on a dimly lit stage).

Check them out.