Choosing an MP3 Player for Traveling

Apple iPod VideoWhether you like Bob Marley or The Black Seeds from New Zealand, you will probably want to take some tunes with you when traveling.

Maybe you have some kind of DAP (Digital Audio Player) aka MP3 Player already, or you might be looking for your first one. In either case, you want one that will work well on the go, to match your jet-setting lifestyle.

Simple choice! Just pick the coolest, smallest one, right? Uhm, maybe not. As you already know, (remember, you’re a jet-setter!) when you travel things aren’t the same as when you’re sitting at home, eating your pizza dipped in ranch sauce.




Here are a couple things to consider:

  1. How much do you want to spend? Price is usually a large determining factor in purchases, if not the one single thing that helps narrow down your choices. Some of us (I say that like I’m in this group – I wish) don’t have to consider this at all, so just skip on to number 2 below. The rest of us need to consider things like:
    • Total cost of ownership: If you pick one that uses disposable (like AA batteries) you will need to spend money on batteries or rechargeables. This increases the cost of purchase a bit, but also increases the cost of ownership over the long haul.
    • Manufacturer quality: Sure, you can get an MP3 player for CHEAP. But will you have to buy 3 of them to last as long as a better, more expensive one? I’m not trying to talk you into thinking an MP3 player is an investment, because it’s not. But how will you loose the least amount of money on crappy devices that break all the time? Also look at the warranty provided. While some are 90 days, others like Apple, even provide warranties on refurbished iPods for up to 1 year.
  2. Do you want an internal battery or some that you can exchange, like AA or AAA’s?
    • Internal batteries are a peach when you can charge it easily. This usually requires one of the following: an AC wall-plug charger, a USB cable and computer unless you have a wall adapter, car charger. Internationally, you may need a travel plug adapter too.
    • Disposable (ex: AA) batteries, even if they are the rechargeable kind mean that you’ll have to carry more of them to swap out when you run out of tunes. You may need to carry a battery recharger too. You’ll potentially need to buy new ones on the road, which can increase your budget.
    • Eco Friendly: Some of you will care about tossing used batteries into the garbage, and in many countries that’s your only option because they don’t have recycling facilities like you may be used to at home. Even if they do, how will you ask them about recycling in Hindu?
  3. What is your personal style: Do you want a hip iPod, or do you not care? Do you put value in form over function or vice versa?
  4. Do you want audio only, or video too? With the onslaught of new devices hitting the market before the holiday shopping season, your available selection is becoming larger by the day. Many of the newer ones will play some video format, and include screens from tiny to decent enough that you might actually want to watch something on it.
  5. How much storage capacity do you need? If you decide that you want video capability, or if you have shelves full of CD’s you’re planning to convert to digital audio you will need much more storage if you plan to have everything on your player.
  6. Where/how do you buy your music? What format is it? This is a really complex and continually changing matrix. That said, here are some simple guidelines. Those of you who are tech savvy know that it won’t by any means be the hard rule, and may be out of date tomorrow.
    • CD’s from used/new music stores: Congratulations, your CD’s can be loaded onto almost everything. But, you have to do the work and take the time to rip every CD into MP3, or whatever format you choose.
    • iTunes: Sorry folks. There aren’t too many devices that play Apple’s protected audio (AAC) format other than their own iPod. An iPod is your best choice unless you want to convert every song you buy.
    • Rhapsody: Good news, there are many players that support Rhapsody purchased music. Their “Rhapsody To Go” service (similar to the new Napster) where you can refill your player with as much as you like limits this to certain compatible players. Here’s a very comprehensive list of Rhapsody compatible players
    • Microsoft (or other WMA format providers) will play on many devices (other than iPods) without converting them first. If you have protected (almost all purchased files) WMA this becomes a bit more complex.
    • Limewire, stolen, borrowed, or from a friend: In a nutshell; your mileage may vary. The format that it’s in dictates whether you’re going to have to convert it first.

    Basically what I’m saying here, is figure out where you’re going to get your music from, and make sure it’s compatible with the device you’re going to buy. Having a surprise later is no fun. And this is by no means a complete, comprehensive list. If you really need help, you can post in the comments and I’ll do my best to give you suggestions.

  7. How much do you want to accessorize? Apple’s iPod is the king when it comes to available add-ons like speakers, cases, (from waterproof to floating or stupid hats) backpacks and even clothing. Basically, decide how important these accessories will be to you. Some are quite ridiculous but others are actually quite useful and help you get the most out of your listening experience.
  8. Finally, does size matter – to you? I remember a wise young man that once said, “size always matters” and I live by that rule. As it relates to MP3 (aka Digital Audio) Players I give these following generalizations:
    • Smaller = light, less storage capacity, many have proprietary batteries and chargers, and more expensive than a larger device of the same capacity, potentially less features (ex: iPod Shuffle) solid-state memory is less prone to damage from dropping
    • Larger = more storage, heavier, can include disposable batteries, more expensive, support for video, larger screens, more features, more expensive, some include hard drives instead of solid-state memory and are more easily damaged by dropping

There really is no “right” answer to any of these, so I’m not going to recommend any one specifically. You need to choose what’s important to you, and hopefully the thoughts I’ve brought up will help you in making your choice.

Here’s my personal choice, and the reasons why I chose it: iPod Video 60GB (pictured). I would have bought the 80GB but it wasn’t out at the time of purchase. I don’t watch video on it (I’m not as hipster as others) and I only have about 30GB of music. I wanted the extra 30GB to use as a backup external USB drive while on the road and it works great. I always have access to crucial information if I need it, whether my computer is with me or not and I can backup my computer in case of a total system crash or if it gets broken. Size is still relatively small, price was $369 when I bought it – plus the case too. The one I bought has a case, armband for exercising, a belt clip (works great for attaching it to my backpack straps for biking) and a neoprene case to protect from scratches and water.

Good luck in your search!