MP3 help, I'm a newbie

Printable View

  • 05-27-2007, 03:34 PM
    Mr Peabody
    MP3 help, I'm a newbie
    Well, I'm long since tired of FM and looking for a source of musical entertainment for my commute to and from work on public trans. I got really escited when I learned satelite radio had portables. After reading the reviews I found the Helix received better in the reception area. I brought one in to try and was disappointed to find I could not get consistent reception at my house, even outside. I doubt if the Stelletto would be any better. So I'm thinking of maybe jumping on the MP3 bandwagon. I know nothing of I-pods and dread the idea of moving my music from disc to pod.

    Is there any difference in sound quality between Apple and other brands?
    When I rip a song from my CD and want to put it on the I-pod will it automatically convert to a MP3?
    What is the difference between mp3, WMA etc.?
    What should I look for in a mp3 player?
    I know Apple I-pods use the I-tunes software but what do some of the others use? Is one software easier than another to use? Believe me when I say I need simple.

  • 05-28-2007, 10:05 AM
    Apple is by far the most well known dap (digital audio player) but they're not the only player. First decide how you will use it. Do you need a lot of capacity or will a couple hours of music do? Personally, I find the sweet spot is 4-8 GB's. I just don't need to carry around a zillion hours of music, audio books and podcasts. I've been using Rio Carbons and Forges for a couple years and couldn't be more satisfied. Unfortunately, Rio went out of business.

    Next decide if you want a player that will be tied to a specific piece of software. Apple iPods, Sony daps and a few others cannot just be plugged into any pc or mac and be used to transfer music. There's a way around this for iPods but regardless, I find this annoying at best. I would recommend a player that is also a ums device (universal mass storage). They function like flash drives but many will also support drm schemes like Audible and Plays For Sure. Brands such as iRiver, Trekstor, Creative and Sandisk fall into this catagory.

    Sound quality is a somewhat subjective issue but basically, there isn't a great deal of difference among the name brand daps. If you're going to nit pick, I'd have to say Creative, iRiver and Trekstor are probably marginally more dynamic sounding than iPods.

    When you rip a cd, you choose beforehand what format you want it converted to. MP3 is the most well known but FLAC and Apple Lossless are a better choice for sound quality. My choice is FLAC since it's an open source format and not subject to the whims of corporate fancy. The only issue with FLAC is that it's not universally supported. MP3 will play on any dap out there including iPods. So just rip and transfer.

    MP3 and WMA are basically the same thing - two compression schemes. MP3 is a German format and WMA is a Microsoft format. WMA tens to sound a little better at similar bit rates. These are just two of probably dozens of compression schemes but they are the most widely used and best known along with Apple's AAC format.

    If you plan on buying a lot of music online and sound quality is not the top priority, I guess go with the iPod. I am not a big fan of iPods and iTunes. There are better alternatives like subscription services such as Rhapsody and Napster. All are heavily drm'd however which I find annoying. Used CD's are easily found online for 3-4 bucks and you get better sound quality, you can rip to any form at you like, no drm and a hard copy of the music you bought. So in short, unless you have to have access to iTunes, here are my two choices: The iRiver Clix Gen 2 and the Trekstor Vibez 12 GB version. The Trekstor Vibez (stupid name) would be my first choice with the Clix as close second.

    Also: if you're looking to fill up your player with new and hard to find music, check out Shoutcast. There are thousands of stations with every imaginable genre of music. Using Winamp as your player and the Streamripper plug-in, you can save tons of music in 128 kbps mp3 to your computer and listen later on your dap. It's a great way to discover music.
  • 05-28-2007, 10:55 AM
    Mr Peabody
    Thanks. I have about 4 different music player programs on my computer, I-tunes, Creative, Dell something, MS Musicmatch and Media Player and I can play through Internet Explorer. I guess that's more than 4. I put in a CD and was trying to see which would be easier to use. I didn't find any of them easy. I-tunes was probably the worst. Internet Exploer seemed to be the best. None of them gave me the option of what format to convert to or bit rate.

    If I had a unit plugged into the USB port do you think options to download to it would be more obvious? Is each song a file?

    I can't see well enough to read the menus on these things, so I was leaning toward the I-pod Shuffle due to it being the most likely one I could operate. But if the I-tune software is not user friendly that defeats the purpose. Ipods only accept Itunes, is that right?

    It would be very cool if these units just let you record from your stereo. This computer stuff is too much work and headache.
  • 05-28-2007, 01:49 PM
    all will have a learning curve..
    There are hundred ways to rip to mp3. I'm partial to Winamp but a lot of that is because I've used it for so long. To keep it really simple, I'd use Windows Media Player. It's actually a very good program for manging your audio. If you're not using the latest version, go to Microsoft's site, download and install version 11. Microsoft did a good job keeping things very simple. Start the program and you'll see two large and prominent buttons at the top that say 'Rip' and 'Burn'. Both buttons have a little down facing arrow within the button. Click on that in the 'Rip' button and you'll get a drop down box. The default format is WMA. If you want MP3, click on 'More Options'. Another window will open and you'll see 'Rip Settings'. Click on that and choose MP3. Once you do that, the box will snap shut and you'll see a slider below. The left most position is 'Smallest Size'. The right most is 'Best Quality'. As you move the slider to the right, the audio quality will get better. For a portable device. I'd go with 192 to 256 kbps. This is because as the quality gets better, the file size will get larger. 192-256 is a reasonable compromise for most. Lastly and to keep it really simple, check the 'Rip CD when inserted' box is checked. Below that, check the box 'Always'. Make sure the 'Copy Protect Music' IS NOT checked. Click ok and your defaults are now set. Now every time you insert a cd, Windows Media Player will start and rip the cd for you. The mp3's will download to the Windows 'Music' folder by default. If you want this changed, you can do it from the Rip Options menu you used to change the defaults. If you're eyesight is poor, the shuffle will answer that as it has no display whatsoever. It plays whatever you load in a random rotation. If you're considering the Shuffle, then you're in luck. Creative just released a new player called the Creative Zen Stone. It's their answer to the Shuffle. It doesn't have display either. Most notably, it's a UMS device. This means all you do is connect it to your computer, it will show up as an external drive and from there, just drag and drop your mp3's to the device. You can do this with Windows Explorer. Couldn't be easier. I've never used the Stone but it's getting good reviews and other Creative players I've listened to have had excellent audio quality. Lastly, at about 40 bucks, it's an excellent jumping off point to the world of daps. If you buy one, DO NOT load the software that comes with the device. This will needlessly complicate things for you. Good luck.
  • 05-28-2007, 04:11 PM
    Mr Peabody
    I heard that WMA sounds slightly better than MP3 and it seems most players will play it as well, would you agree?

    've been following up on some of your suggestions. I found a piece I'm pretty excited about but I'm not sure if it has a menu, it's the Trekstor ThumbDrive Music. What's cool about this one is you can record without using a computer, I could use my stereo, like the good old days:) It also has a FM tuner. The only thing is I haven't found it for sale anywhere. It may be discontinued. I sent them an email to see if it was available or a similar new model. I will also check out the new Creative unit.

    One more thing, are the flash memories removable? So if you get a player with only 1GB you can use multiple flashes for a larger collection.
  • 05-28-2007, 05:01 PM
    flash drives not upgradable..
    There are a few flash based drives that have sd slots (ie. Rio Forge and the Cowan D2) but there aren't any that you can increase the amount of flash memory. I've heard of the Trekstor unit you're talking about but I have little knowledge it. The ability to record directly to a device without a computer is probably more of a novelty than a real-world advantage. There are a number of daps that will let you do this but I don't know why you'd want to. I guess it depends on what you want to record. If it's radio you want to record, it's better to use a program like Total Recorder for the PC or Audio Hijack for the Mac. This will give you Tivo-like functionality. In other words, set it up and it will do everything for you automatically. All you have to do is transfer the recordings to your dap. A computer may seem like an unneeded layer of tech between you and your dap but in reality, using a computer to rip your cd's, dvd's, record radio, streaming media, tapes, whatever, makes it a lot easier. WMA is generally considered a higher quality format in that you can achieve higher quality recordings at lower bit rates. In other words, a WMA at 64kbps is supposed to sound about as good as an mp3 at 128 kbps. Using wma would allow for more recordings in the same amount of space at equivalent quality. WMA is widely supported except in Apple products. So unless you are leaning towards the ipod, I wouldn't hestitate to use it. You can import wma's in iTunes but iTunes converts them to aac. An extra layer of conversion is usually not a good thing for sound quality.
  • 05-30-2007, 01:08 PM
    I'd usually put a nice long thing here, but it seems to have mostly been answered already :P

    well, good things said. I'm an iPod guy, but I have experience with loads of other brands (yes, i've tried the zune, i hate it. [the menu's are very sluggish]) so, MP3 right now is pretty much a generic term for digital music right now. If you are thinking about a flash player, i'd have to say it would be a great idea to put the 8gb nano on your list, its a great, solid player, doesn't really need a case, the aluminum is very durable. maybe you could go with a Creative Zen V if the iPod doesn't tickle your fancy. Ether way, for iPod you get iTunes (including the NEW MUSIC STORE, w00t! with 256kpbs DRM-free AAC files!), and for creative you get windows media player.

    so go to your local electronics store, try 'em out and pick something that you like. (i'm going to highly recommend you stay away from the store brand/other lower brand players, most have atrocious menu systems and bas sound quality.

    P.S.: Sandisk is also worth a look, their new 8gig player is actually pretty nice.
  • 05-30-2007, 06:32 PM
    Mr Peabody
    Where do you usually shop? Every where I've been has the DAP's in a bubble pack. I'd think they'd have less returns if people could get their hands on them.
  • 05-30-2007, 06:33 PM
    N. Abstentia
    I'd have to suggest a SanDisk Sansa. Drag & Drop with Windows expolorer. Rip your CD's with media player which you already have. Don't get no simpler. iPod/iTunes is the polar opposite..very closed, very difficult to navigate, very difficult to learn. A Sansa will worth with ANY computer that has a USB port (99.9999999% of the computers out there) and you're not tied down by a propreitary software. Plus they are a flash player so they are very rugged.
  • 05-31-2007, 05:48 AM
    I like the Sansa recommendation. Certainly very flexible and drag-n-droppy. But, I went with iPod nano.

    If you've tried and don't like the iTunes interface, not much I can say. But it is about as simple as a software interface can be. It can convert on the fly to a compressed format as you load your iPod-- nice if you like to keep your files in a space hogging lossless format. It also has the ability to sync with playlists and podcasts, if you would like to go beyond direct drag-n-drop management. For instance, I have a playlist that will load 50 random songs from the Jazz genre everytime I sync. That would be hard to do by drag-n-drop.

    Your choice of filetypes is not encyclopedic, but there is support for file formats that can be played on any platform (MP3, WAV).

    In my mind, with the iPod you decide between interoperability with 1) Microsoft and their proprietary formats and 2) the most widely used and elegant player and interface with a modest restriction on flexibility. iPod is not the best in every area, its just represents the 'sweet spot' of what most people need or want.

    FYI, The option to set what file type and resolution you want to rip to is in the Preferences/Advanced/Importing (tab).
  • 05-31-2007, 04:21 PM
    N. Abstentia

    Originally Posted by noddin0ff

    In my mind, with the iPod you decide between interoperability with 1) Microsoft and their proprietary formats

    But let us not forget about Apples proprietary format that only works on that's 3% of the computers out there. Microsoft's WMA format is not really propreitary to just's more like Apple just can't play them. You can play WMA on most DVD players, car stereos, MP3 players...just not an iPod or a Mac.
  • 05-31-2007, 06:55 PM

    Originally Posted by N. Abstentia
    But let us not forget about Apples proprietary format that only works on that's 3% of the computers out there. Microsoft's WMA format is not really propreitary to just's more like Apple just can't play them. You can play WMA on most DVD players, car stereos, MP3 players...just not an iPod or a Mac.

    Um, you sir, are just plain wrong there. Apples proprietary formats (AAC and ALE) only work on iPods and with iTunes. iPods and iTunes both work on PC's. Therefore, Apple's proprietary format works on PC's. Thus, Apple's proprietary format works on essentially EVERY computer. But, It is important to point out, that you can use iTunes and iPods without using AAC or ALE if that is your desire.

    Conversely, WMA (Microsofts format) does not work on 73% of the portable music players on the market, due to the fact that 73% of the players owned and used are iPods.

    But, as I said, if you want it all in a player, I think the sansa is a good choice. The iPod is also a good choice in many areas, recognizing that it has less format flexibility and the need to use the iTunes software (which is good and simple, IMO, and free).
  • 06-01-2007, 07:37 AM
    N. Abstentia
    Problem is, most people with PC's don't want to be bothered with the cumbersome iTunes software and a Windows machine (which is 98% of the home computers out there) will NOT play propreitary Apple files out of the box. Who wants to install some big software package just to play an Apple file? That's why everybody hates RealPlayer.
  • 06-01-2007, 12:19 PM

    Originally Posted by N. Abstentia
    Problem is, most people with PC's don't want to be bothered with the cumbersome iTunes software and a Windows machine (which is 98% of the home computers out there) will NOT play propreitary Apple files out of the box. Who wants to install some big software package just to play an Apple file? That's why everybody hates RealPlayer.

    The reason I argue with you N.A. is because so many of your opinions are very good and carry a lot of weight in this forum. The problem is, however, in the Apple/Mac/iPod arena you are just so irrationally biased and uninformed that I think your posts really damage educational discourse. I'm sure Mr. Peabody knows your leanings but the noob to the forum might not...

    98% !!! Lets try some less hyperbolic numbers... in 2005 16% of computer users used Macs

    Heh, everything about installing software on a PC is cumbersome. :) Why single out iTunes? If you want something, you install it. Why grumble. It's not that hard. Point, click... No computer on earth plays World of Warcraft out of the box either but nobody grumbles about that. iTunes is free. There's nothing novel about adding functional software to a computer. I go through the hassle of installing WMP capability on my Mac, which I assure you, is much more cumbersome than installing iTunes on a PC...and the reasons to install WMP are much less compelling than those for installing iTunes. And the Mac version that Microsoft puts out is as clunky as hell on a Mac. I expect that it's nicer on a PC. But, I almost never use it because very few people use WMA for audio files! They use MP3 (if they're not buying stuff from the iTunes store), which works on iPods/iTunes just fine.

    The reason people want iTunes is because it's a nice interface and works with their iPods. iTunes also does much more than play 'Apple file's' It manages your library, rips CD, makes a nice interface for streaming media, and accesses podcasts (6% of US adults downloaded podcasts in the last month). The players are sexy and they do the job that most people want them to do. They don't do drag-n-drop on the desktop. But the interface within iTunes is essentially drag-n-drop so it's not really that different.

    Interestingly, for playing Streaming Media (not iPod use), iTunes is used by approximately 25% of unique users. Quite a high number considering you have to click a 'cumbersome' button to install it yourself. WMP use is only about 2x greater. Not a big margin if you consider it's the default player on the vast majority of home computers.
  • 06-01-2007, 03:44 PM
    Mr Peabody
    I am planning to get a Creative Zen Stone to give it a try. I wanted to use WMA because I read somewhere it is slightly better than mp3 sound quality wise.

    I learned how to use WMP and was wanting to get a start on building my library, then a thought struck me, the Stone says it will play WMA but does that mean all WMA such as Lossy. I acted on something Bubba said and ripped a bunch of files in WMA Lossy. So now I'm on hold until I find out the answer and also if the Stone will load from WMP or will I be forced to use their MediaLite program. I suspect even if the Stone works with WMP I still will have to load the MediaLite to get firmware updates and such.

    I didn't have anyone point out the way in iTunes but I couldn't figure out where to start ripping. With the clues gathered here I was able to use WMP. I did have to access their help file a couple times but I'm a ripper now.
  • 06-01-2007, 06:59 PM
    WMA can be lossy or lossless. I don't know how you tell which is which from the file type though. But most WMA files out there are lossy.

    If you're going to do a lot of ripping of CD's and integrating the computer with the main stereo, consider doing it all lossless for your archival digital library and then convert what you want to lossy for the portable player.

    in iTunes a little button shows up on the bottom right when a CD is inserted. the option doesn't show unless there's something to rip. It had me confused for a while.
  • 06-04-2007, 01:41 PM
    Mr. Peabody:

    the stone is a nice little player, completely ripped off of the iPod shuffle, but its cheaper (but bigger, and made of cheap plastic)

    I don't exactly like the "shuffle" breed of players, but they're small, convenient, and I wouldn't mind one as a second player or something.
  • 06-12-2007, 03:36 PM
    Zune is the best MP3 player in the market!
    Gotta love the wide screen. I had the black one for 4 months now and we got the pink one a couple of day a go for my wife
    So sleek, best gift for your lady.
  • 06-12-2007, 04:38 PM
    Mr Peabody
    I got my Stone up and running. It's just what I needed, simple operation, few controls. It is plastic but in my opinion I didn't think it looked nor felt cheap and if it was any smaller...... I feel like I need to attach something to the Stone just to keep up with it.

    It may be a rip off but at half the price I think I will still sleep at night:) I had pretty good luck using WMP to load it.