Sounds Good!

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - May - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - May - 2006
Sounds Good!
MP3 players mark a revolutionary stage in the evolution of personal entertainment devices. From the heavenly Apple iPod to their earthly cousins, there is a problem of plenty. It seems as if every manufacturer on earth is making an MP3 player, leaving even informed consumers confused and uncertain. Mediation is at hand though-through these pages we take to task 49 portable music players, and help you pick the best for your needs. Interestingly, all these players can act as regular USB thumb drives to carry your data around. Business with pleasure? You bet!

Our Classification
After some deliberation, we decided to broadly classify the players based on the storage medium-Flash memory and hard drive. Flash-based personal storage media are relatively less expensive, and can easily hold 1GB of data today-the iPod nano packs in 4 GB of Flash storage! Hard disk-based players have higher storage capacities, and are more expensive.

Flash-Based Players
Let's start off with Flash-based players. We received a total of 43 products in this category. Clearly, small is in.

A Look At Features
Barring the Sony Network Walkman (NW) series, all the players we tested are capable of playing MP3 and WMA files. These music files can be just copied onto the player from a PC, without the need for any software. Nearly all the players support a bitrate of up to 340 kbps- more than sufficient for near-CD-quality MP3s ripped from audio CDs. In fact, it's more than likely that you would choose a lower bitrate in order to fit more songs into the available space.

Some players offer support for the Ogg Vorbis (.ogg) and ASF formats as well. Ogg Vorbis is an open source audio encoding technique that offers the same quality as MP3 compression, at lower file sizes.

Playing WMAs eats through the battery life faster than when you play MP3s, because of the more complex computations needed to decode WMA. The difference can be as much as 25 per cent!

Sony's NW series need bundled software called SonicStage to synchronise the player with a PC. The software converts the music files on the computer to a proprietary format before transferring them to the player. The conversion and transfer is a slow process, and takes up CPU resources as well.

FM reception and recording is now more of a norm than an exception. But when we tested them, not all the players were able to pick up weak radio signals. If you're taking a morning walk, FM reception on your player shouldn't be a problem, but some of these players might act up if you try to tune in to your favourite station indoors or in a bus.

Most-but not all-players allow you to record FM broadcasts. Some might produce a noticeable hiss during recording, but the recorded files will be free of noise.

Recording is mostly done in the .WAV format, which is less demanding on the encoding logic circuitry and easy on power consumption. But WAV occupies more space. Mid-range and high-end players usually offer MP3 recording at a bitrate of 64 to 360 kbps. Some players also feature direct line-in recording, turning the MP3 player into an all-in-one mobile recording device.

Some players go beyond sound and offer video on the move. Native support for JPEG and video are provided in some mid-range players (videos have to be converted to certain formats before they can be played). The tiny screens do little justice to movies, though.

NU DarkShadow

The YES YMP models-the 920, 921, 922 and 928-can play video, while the SAFA 800 series offer JPEG viewing. The YES 922 takes the feature list beyond music and video capabilities with a TV remote control feature. Now, just what else can you pack into an MP3 player?

Evaluating Sound Quality
If 10 people are each given 10 music players to choose the best from, you'll possibly have five different best players. What sounds good to someone may sound average to others. You might prefer to turn off the equaliser, and your friend finds bliss only when the bass is blasting away. In our tests, though, we kept the equalisers off, so as to reduce this subjective element.

Cutting across brands, we found one common characteristic amongst entry-level and mid-range players-nearly all of them reproduced bass with acceptable quality. The same does not go for the treble, however. This means that while your 160 beats-per-minute trance tracks will sound fine, classical music will not seem quite as rich as you'd like. This is probably a balancing act by the manufacturers-most music today is bass-heavy, at least the kind of songs that the 18-25-year-old target consumer presumably listens to. If fast- paced, bass-heavy music is what you like, the MuVo series from Creative or the XFL series from XFREE fits your bill, with not too much of a trade-off on treble. At high volumes, though-which, by the way, we don't recommend, for the sake of your ears-some jarring does occur.

An exception to this was the Samsung YP C1, which, while doing a neat job with the treble, simply ate away the bass, taking away the kick from dance tracks. Its cousin, the YP F1, balanced the bass and treble a lot better.

To state the obvious about the iPod nano, it's good to have one if you can afford it. As for the best of the rest, while they may not have the flaunt value the iPod has, they offer excellent sound quality and come with the usual works-FM, recording capability, and so on. The Transcend T.sonic 610, the D1, Z5 and F1 from Samsung, YMP 920, Sony NW E307, and the SAFA Q100 find a place in the Best of the Rest list.

We expected more from the Sony Network Walkman (NW) series. The NW E105, especially, could have done better in the bass department. The 1 GB E307 comes for Rs 10,490, while the T.Sonic 610, which sounds just as good, if not better, costs just a little over half that price-Rs 5,500 for the same memory. Sony seems to have banked on their image a little too much!

All the players in the Creative MuVo family are similar, even on the battery life front. The design and look of the XFREE XFL series seems a straight lift from the MuVos-to the extent where we wondered if Creative and the  XFREE were the same! The XFREE players, however, are a notch below the MuVo players when it comes to sound clarity.

In most players, the bottleneck for good sound quality lies with the bundled earphones. This was plainly evident with the XFREE players-merely changing the earphones improved the sound quality by an appreciable amount. The Bravish M 339 was another player that can produce good sound, but the earphones played spoilsport. While not every set of earphones is compatible with every player, sometimes using one from a higher model can actually bridge the gap between mere sound and blissful music!

How We Tested 
We aimed to make our test process as realistic as possible, so real-world tests dominated our test pattern.
All the hard drive-based MP3 players were interfaced to a PC running on an AMD Athlon XP 2400 for the battery charging and data transfer tests. The system was built around the NVIDIA
nForce 2 chipset with the latest nForce drivers, 512 MB of Hynix DDR 333 MHz SDRAM, a Seagate Barracuda 80 GB hard disk,
on-board sound, and a GeForce 5200FX AGP Card. All the Flash- based players were tested on an Intel Pentium 4 HT 3.2 GHZ with
1 GB of DDR533 RAM and a MAXTOR 120 GB SATA I hard drive. Both the machines ran Windows XP with Service Pack 2 to enable full support for USB 2.0 from the OS side.
Both our test categories went through the same test process, except that we used different machines for the data transfer tests. The test process is broadly classified into five main sections: Features, Accessories, Ergonomics and Ease of Use, Performance, and Price Index.
Under Features, we noted supported audio formats, FM, direct Line-in encoding, display type, number of colours in the display, etc. Some players had extra features such as video and photo support, which were given extra points.
Scores were also given to the available accessories. These scores, however, do not affect our overall score in a big way, as the weight given to this section is the lowest amongst the five. This section mainly features as information on the package contents.
Factors such as button placement and portability matter a lot. Do spend time looking at these before buying. We took both the physical (button) interface as well as the software interface of the player into account here.
Features and Performance were given equal consideration, because as a buyer, one would like to buy a good-quality player that is feature-rich at the same time. We carried out an thorough test to check the players' audio output quality. We chose bass-centric tracks (such as Smack my b**ch up by Prodigy) and a few tracks that were reliant on treble (such as music by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai). Trance music has a blend of bass, treble and electronics such as effects of synthesizers and disc scratch, making for a complete sound package. Vocal tracks such as Maan Ki Lagan from Paap and Punjab by Karunesh helped us judge overall playback quality for more mellow tracks. It also helped in judging whether bass and treble were overshadowing each other, and if the result subdued the vocals.
Usable storage capacity was also noted. We've deliberately not awarded points for capacity in the Features segment-the effect of capacity will automatically reflect in the Price Index, which is the ratio of the cost of a player to its actual capacity. This gives us an idea of the amount a buyer will have to pay per MB (Flash-based) or GB (HDD-based). What you pay for the features comes under the Features department.
 Files amounting to 100 MB (Flash-based) and 1 GB (HDD-based) were used to determine data transfer rate. A battery drain test was conducted by keeping a player at 65 per cent volume and looping tracks non-stop, until playback stopped. The start time and end time were noted to give the battery life of the player. Out-of-the-pack Duracell alkaline AA and AAA batteries were used for the players that needed them. Both these tests fall under the Performance segment.
A Look At Looks
Beauty is skin deep. Well, maybe. But we are interested in the skin here!

Just how differently can you design a box? Some have curved edges while some are protruding, some have a graceful single colour while other have jazzy combinations; stickers, too, are generously used to add character to the products.


Samsung's YP F1, on first sight, resembles a small flip-open phone, but looks good nevertheless. Love-it-or-hate-it is what Sony E307's bean shape is all about. Transcend's T.sonic 610 is sleek, light and elegant in its own right, though not bold or colourful in design.

The two mobiBLU models we received left lasting impressions on everyone who chanced to see it, including the been-there-seen-that veterans. The DAH 220 is a cassette-shaped player whose semblance to the cassette tapes of yore does not end with looks. It can be inserted into a cassette player to play the stored MP3s! (There is a magnetic head that converts the digital data to analogue signals, which get processed by the music system.) While the design is intriguing, the overall build quality could have been better.

The other mobiBLU model, the DAH 1500i, is a cube-a perfect 24 mm cube-and claims to be the world's smallest MP3 player. With its unassuming form factor, it is easy to mistake it for a colourful die or a small paperweight, and difficult to fathom the fact that it can hold 1GB of data. Well done, mobiBLU!

Build quality is something many players in the entry segment can improve on. Barring the Megaplayer 515 and 520, the other MSI players leave a lot to be desired-surely not something you would like to gift someone. The same goes for the Genuis DJ 520, UMAX Vega 107, and the Orite Rock DJ. Sony, too, was an unpleasant surprise, with the E105 and E307 simply not feeling good enough in the hands. The saving grace for Sony here was its E503.

Of particular mention are the Samsung YP and the Creative Muvo series, which are above average when it comes to build quality and finish.

Earphone Comfort
There is little point in having long battery life or ample storage room if your earphones cause irritation or even pain. Earphone comfort must be considered an important factor while choosing a player. In this area, the MSI Megaplayer series scored low:  the earphones were actually painful when in the ears. The Megastick (256 MB) was a welcome change with its clip-on earphones-very comfortable. The XFREE, Transcend and SAFA earphones were easy on the ear, and listening to music continuously for an hour or two wasn't uncomfortable.

MobiBLU DAH-220

The earphone comfort/discomfort factor may not be the same for every person. It is therefore wise to personally check out the earphones before buying a player, or consider using earphones other than what's been supplied with the player.

Download Flash-Based MP3 Players PDF File

Data Transfer
Given an average of 15 hours of playback time on a single charge, spending a couple of minutes to transfer songs should not be a dig deal. But, when a player is used as a thumb drive, the transfer rate becomes a parameter to consider. Transferring 100 MB of data to models with USB 2.0 takes about 15 seconds, while the slower ones with a USB 1.1 take a lethargic 190-odd seconds. If you intend to use your player to frequently transfer files between PCs, look at USB 2.0 models.

Battery Type And Life
One of the ways of cutting costs and simplifying circuitry is by making the players run on standard AAA or AA batteries instead of internal rechargeable ones. This is the philosophy we saw followed in the entry-level segment. The XFREE XFL and MSI Megaplayer series lasted eight hours of continuous use, while the Creative Muvo series served twice that much with 16 hours. The Samsung YP C1 ran a full day on a single AA cell. The higher-end models sport rechargeable Lithium-ion polymer batteries, which have a longer life. The downside is that you need a PC's USB port (or an optional AC adaptor) to charge them. Coming close to the 20-hour bracket were the YES 920 and 922, Samsung's YP Z5, and the Sony NW series.

Samsung YP-D1

In Conclusion
This contest was a close one and well fought. Brave attempts by manufacturers-a cube- shaped player, video playback on painfully tiny screens, a PC lock feature, multi-colour backlights, a player embedded in sunglasses (refer page no. 62) and what not! Digit lauds these attempts-this is how products get better and better for us!

Give or take a feature from a player, and the results could have been different. In our contest this time, the winner was from a brand somewhat less-known. Its features, value for money, a GB of storage, and of course, good sound quality helped the SAFA Q100 take the Digit Best Buy Gold honours. We found little to complain about with this player. A job well done, SAFA!

Closely contested for this position was the Samsung YP D1, with the same storage capacity and bundled with features. Samsung have put in an excellent 2MP camera! Be it a vacation or an award ceremony, recording sights and sounds besides listening to great music, all a single device, is something anyone would want. But for its MRP of Rs 21,500, it could have been the Gold winner. As it stands, it has to make do with the Digit Best Buy Silver.

Graphic Equalisers And Music Volume 
Your music system has a 12-band equaliser, the MP3 player you are going to buy has a six-band equalizer, and so on. But does it matter? Why has Digit conduced the audio tests with the equalisers turned off? How many times have you tried playing with those controls, only to realise that your music actually sounds odd or even bad? The reality is that equaliser control is an unduly-hyped feature in audio systems.
An equaliser is meant to fine-tune the audio system to the environment where it is placed, and not to change the music itself-though most home users do precisely that. Let us gain an understanding of what frequencies are. The music you hear is composed of frequencies spread from 20 to 20,000 Hz in theory (practically, though, most people hear sounds from about 50 Hz to about 15,000 Hz). Different instruments and voices give out different frequencies. For example, the drums give low-frequency sounds called the bass, the treble is the high frequencies, such as the higher sounds of a violin, and the "mids"-the frequencies that fall in the middle of the range-are typically dominated by voice. An equaliser allows you to increase or decrease a particular set of frequencies, thereby altering the levels of various instruments and voices.
When it comes to music, it is the job of the music director to play with the levels of various tones and instruments. He is presumed to be competent enough to choose the best settings for his song, knowing well all the instruments that have gone into its making. When you change the settings on your system, you will be throwing away the sensibilities of the music creator, losing out on the intended experience.
Sometimes, the ambience of the room where a system is placed will affect the way certain frequencies come across to us. To offset this variation, equalisers are provided so that after careful observation, the user can negate the effect of the environment (such as furniture and curtain placement).  Another use that equalisers find (though this was not originally intended) is to overcome some shortcomings of a system. For example, take the case of a typical entry-level MP3 player that does not produce treble at the same level as the bass. When connected to a music system, you can neutralise this effect by sliding the bass control down or the treble control up.
In many cases, simply keeping the equaliser off will provide you with the best sound. Even when you need to change the settings, the amount of change should not be more than 20 per cent. If you need to change the levels more than this, there's something seriously wrong with your speakers or with the player itself.
You might want to move the equaliser settings about if, for example, you love bass and want more of a thumping effect-or, for that matter, for highlighting any particular instrument. But remember that what you'll be listening to isn't what the music director intended!

Don't Play With Your Ears
When you play your music loud, it is not just your neighbours who have a problem: your ears are complaining too! Prolonged listening to loud music, whether through headphones or speakers, is harmful to your ears and can lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and even hearing loss. This is a fact acknowledged even by manufacturers. Apple, in fact, recently released a firmware upgrade that allows a user to switch on a "safe" mode, in which the volume cannot be increased beyond a particular safe point. This preference can be turned off if the user wants to.
How do you know if the volume is too high for your ear? The answer is simple-if sustained hearing for more than 10 minutes causes even slight discomfort, it is too high! Do not ignore the discomfort-you will lose your sensitivity for low-volume sounds, and your pain threshold will increase. If you're already listening at high volumes and can't sense any discomfort, you probably have people around you who are complaining (in the case of speakers, at least), and it's time to move the volume knob to the left. Enjoy your music, but watch the volume!

Other players that grace the hall of fame-but just about missed out on being winners-are the Apple iPod nano with its 4 GB of memory,  the Samsung YP C1, Cowon iAudio U2, SAFA M820 and M850, Transcend T.Sonic 610, and the YES YMP 920, 921, 922 and 928.
Hard Drive-Based Players
Thus far, we've looked at plenty of Flash-based players, and there's a good chance you've already settled for one. But don't rush out to buy just yet-there are the hard drive players to look at as well!

Flash-based players are more rugged and less prone to damage than those running on a hard drive. This is because a hard drive has moving parts. Flash-based players are thus to be preferred where chances of the device falling or bumping are high.

Despite this advantage, the primary drawback of Flash-based players is their storage capacities. They generally don't offer over 4 GB. Moreover, as the capacity nears the 4 GB mark, the cost of the product shoots up exponentially. This is where hard drive-based players come in.

Players built around hard drives start from 5 GB and routinely touch the 60 GB mark. Some even go up to 120 GB. Generally, these players are expensive, starting at little over Rs 10K and crossing the 30K line.

Taking advantage of the huge space on offer, manufacturers are looking to develop this category into Portable Media Center players. Such players will play songs, videos, and record video; they'll include PDA tools and many such advanced features.

In order to cram higher capacities into smaller form factors, HDD-based players now employ tiny microdrives. MP3 players belonging to both types-regular hard drive and microdrive-have been tested here.

This category saw six players, three of them HDD-based and three microdrive-based, from three manufacturers-Apple, Sony, and Creative.

Since we conducted such a test only a few months ago-in October 2005-we were afraid there would be a repetition of products in the current test. But to our surprise, we have four new players in this category, along with the Creative Zen Vision, which we've featured separately.

A Look At Features
Apart from greater capacities, let us see what these players offer that their Flash-based counterparts do not.

The Creative Zen Vision 
The 30 GB Portable Media Center
A little after mid-2005, Creative rolled out its Zen Vision, a product aimed at the Portable Media Center segment.
 The Creative Zen Vision sports a 3.7 inch 262K SharpPixTM colour screen with a maximum resolution of 640 x 480. The player makes an immediate impression with its large screen and black magnesium finish. Going beyond looks, it can transfer photos from Compact Flash cards on the fly, and it also supports playback of AVI, MPEG 1 and 2, WMV, and the DivX video formats. It also happens to be TiVoToGo-compatible, for viewing TiVo-recorded videos. Button placement is designed to suit single-handed operation. Most of the buttons for playback and navigation are located on the right; this makes it convenient for right-handed people, but is uncomfortable for left-hand use.
A high Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 97 db meas the Creative Zen Vision delivers dazzling sound quality. Music files can be transferred to the device from a PC through the USB 2.0 interface. The transfer and (if necessary) encoding of media files are executed by Zen Vision Media Explorer, a bundled software that enables synchronisation with the device. FM tuning with a 32- channel preset, as well as FM recording, are included.
Despite the high resolution and great colour screen, we found the viewing angle to be poor-the picture clarity is affected even if you move your wrist a little bit. This is an area where Creative Labs needs to work on. The large screen definitely adds to the pleasure of watching video on the go. Add to this the amazing sound quality and photo support, and what results is a wholesome Portable Media Center player.
What's more? The visionary Zen (pardon the pun) also includes an inbuilt microphone, and the interface displays volume levels for better-quality voice recording. The embedded Organiser provides Calendar, Tasks, and a Contact List, and syncs with Microsoft Outlook. You can choose to wake to your favourite music with the "Wake-to-any-music" alarm featured in the clock settings. Media files on the player can also be viewed on a TV through the A/V interface port.
Now let's talk price. Creative has priced its Zen Vision at Rs 29,900! Compare that to the Apple iPod 30 GB with video playback at 20K. But the iPod has a smaller screen and fewer colours at 64K, while the Zen Vision is more than double in both these features, at the same capacity. Plus, in order to interface the iPod to your TV, you'll need to purchase an AV connection kit, which costs about Rs 5,000. We think the 10K difference is more than justified! 

The Display
For the price tag attached to these players, one would expect colour displays at the least. But to our disappointment, only the Apple iPod and Creative Zen MicroPhoto have colour screens. While the Zen Micro and Sony NW-HD5 have respectable dot matrix LCD screens, the Zen Neeon has a mediocre three-line LCD display. Only the Sony NW-A1000 and Creative Zen MicroPhoto have OLED screens. The latter features a 262K colour screen. It was really sad to see Sony's sexy NW-A1000 miss out on colours.

The Apple iPod maintains the standard 64K LCD colour screen. The screen has a wide viewing angle to complement its video playback capability.

Playback Formats
The Apple iPod rules in this department. It supports AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, AIFF, WAV, and Audible, apart from its proprietary Apple Lossless. Sony supports MP3, and pushed its ATRAC3 format via its player. Any format other than MP3, such as WMA, would be converted to ATRAC by Sony's bundled software, called SonicStage. Creative maintains the standard MP3-WMA-WAV format support.

The iPod, in addition to audio, can play back videos in the M4V, MP4 and MOV formats. The Creative Zen MicroPhoto and Apple iPod support JPEG image viewing.

Flaunt Value
Looks matter, and the gadgets we're looking at here should have flaunt value! Apple did not have anything new to offer in terms of design. The iPod has just tanned from white to black. The design and dimensions, however, remain the same. But why change a good thing?

The Creative Zen MicroPhoto looks better than its sibling, the Zen Micro, thanks to the subtle changes-or rather corrections-in the design of the latter's touchpad and edges, which reflect elegantly on the Zen MicroPhoto. The former, however, has not undergone any changes-perhaps Creative wanted to distinguish the two players in the same series without major restructuring.

The Creative Zen Neeon looks mediocre-the screen has a multicoloured backlight, which just isn't cool anymore! Along similar lines, we didn't like the design of the Sony NW-HD5-poor screen, interface and portability.

The head-turner among the six products was Sony's NW-A1000. It was the sleekest and the most stylish of them all. The menu buttons are highlighted by a subtle backlight, while the unit's brilliance lies in its OLED display, encapsulated within its translucent front casing. You will have no idea about the boundary of the screen until you turn it on. The display is bright and visible even under direct sunlight. We just wish it had a colour display!
A Look At Features
The Apple iPod has a marginal advantage over the Creative Zen Photo as features go. It has support for a variety of audio formats, and adds miscellaneous stuff such as a volume limiter with a parental lock, a calendar and to-do, games, a world clock, and a stopwatch timer. Similarly, the Zen MicroPhoto has voice recording, a calendar, tasks, and themes, and it can also synchronise with Microsoft Outlook to import contacts.

The iPod has 22 inbuilt preset equaliser modes. However, you might not need any of those. (Read Graphic Equalisers And Music Volume to learn why.) Both the Zen Micros and the Sony NW-HD5 have eight preset equalisers, while the rest have five.

It can be annoying to turn on your PC every time you want to charge your MP3 player. A separate power adapter is a wise accessory. Only the Creative Zen Micro, apart from the Sony NW-HD5 and NW-A1000, provide a separate power adapter.

Ergonomics And Ease Of Use
Among the products we received, we preferred Apple's interface, which is simple and responds precisely to the touch. After the iPod are the Creative Zen Micro and Zen MicroPhoto. Both have nearly the same menu structure: the Zen MicoPhoto has the advantage of a colour screen. Sony's NW-A1000 also has a good interface with a well laid-out menu structure; compared to this, the Sony NW-HD5's interface seemed a bit arid. However, the notable feature of its interface is the "Orient Screen" feature, by which you can choose between the landscape and portrait modes. The Creative Zen Neeon's interface is no different from those seen in the Flash-based Creative MuVo series.

Synchronisation Tools
Except for the Creative Zen Neeon, all the players in this category require installation of a driver and a synchronisation tool in order to transfer data to and from a PC. The iPod needs to be managed using iTunes, while each of the Zen Micros require separate software.

Orite RockDJ

Sony's SonicStage helps transfer files to its NW-HD5, while the NW-A1000 requires the Connect software. The most convenient of all these tools is iTunes. On connecting the iPod to a USB port, it shows up under iTunes as a device. Drag and drop your music and you're done-file transfer begins immediately. You can list video files in the iTunes video playlist, and just right-click to convert the file for playing on the iPod. However, the conversion takes quite a long time as compared to the other HDD-based video player-the Creative Zen Vision. The Creative Zen Micro and Zen MicroPhoto's explorer software is also easy to use, and so is Connect for the Sony NW-A1000.

A Look At Performance
Performance is just as important as features. As we have mentioned in How We Tested, we put these six gadgets through the same tests.

Audio Quality
The sound quality of the Sony NW-A1000 is great, with 3D effects, but it was not as detailed as the iPod's. The iPod seemed to have the right mixture of bass and treble levels with the equaliser disabled. Tracks such as Smack my b**ch up by Prodigy sounded wonderful on the iPod. So was Punjab by Karunesh-each note was clear and distinct.

The Creative Zen Micro series, too, delivered quality audio. Sony's NW-A1000 rendered tracks by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai well. The other Sony-the NW-HD5-simply did not belong in the league of Sony! Whether the problem was with the unit or the earphones, the sound just wasn't up to the mark.

Without a doubt, the Apple iPod leads in audio quality, followed by the Creative Zen Micro series and the Sony NW-A1000.

Data Transfer
The result of this test mainly depends on the syncing software bundled with the product. iTunes did well to help the Apple iPod score the fastest transfer, with the Sony NW-A1000 on its tail. The Creative players fell on the slower side.

Apple iPod 30 GB (Video)

Battery Life
The Sony NW-HD5 clocked over 24 hours of battery life! The NW-A1000 could manage a little less than half the time set by its cousin. However, Sony claims higher battery life for both their products, and we think their figures are a bit optimistic.

The Creative Zen Neeon is in second place, recording 18 hours in the battery drain test. For a change, the iPod fell into the last spot with the lowest battery life of seven hours, about an hour and a half less than the Creative Zen MicroPhoto.

The Winner
This test did not see stiff competition, and we can conceivably attribute this to the absence of players from iRiver and Samsung, which were adjudged the winners last time round.

Creative Zen MicroPhoto

The quality of the Apple iPod is never in doubt, but it lacks features such as an FM tuner. Nevertheless, the inclusion of video playback and the drop in the price tag has ensured that the Apple iPod 30 GB Video wins this battle hands down. It is a pleasure to award the Digit Best Buy Gold to a player with such amazing sound quality. The Creative Zen MicroPhoto comes second, and takes the Digit Best Buy Silver.

In Conclusion
We have seen a lot of improvement in MP3 players in a very short period.  When we last tested MP3 players, the Samsung units (YP-T8 and YH-J70) bordered on being "Portable Digital Media Players" rather than being just digital audio players. If the trend continues, we will see more features added. In fact, this time, we saw an upgrade of the Samsung YP-T8 in the form of the YP-D1, with an added 2-megapixel camera and improved sound quality.

Manufacturers are aiming at the "Portable Digital Media Center" segment. We have witnessed the launch of players such as the Creative Zen Vision to fill this category. Others such as the Archos AV400 and the iRiver PMP have already made a name in this category. We're even seeing Flash-based players aiming for the same bouquet of features as their HDD-based cousins.

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