A ROUNDUP OF MP3 PLAYERS
The digital audiobook listener is looking for a player that can navigate and manage a library of books with ease. Other important factors are storage capacity, weight, size, and aesthetics. For this feature, we considered more than 25 models before choosing six products--three hard drive players and three smaller-capacity flash-based players--from Apple, Rio, and Creative Labs, all leaders in the field. Each can be used to play audiobooks ripped from CDs as well as downloaded from Audible and, with the exception of the iPods, netLibrary and OverDrive.
Apple's iPod has dominated the market since it arrived on the scene in 2001, and its name has become almost synonymous with "MP3 player." The fourth-generation iPod (20GB $300), with iPod's signature touch-sensitive scroll-wheel, boasts a battery life of 12 hours. Its support of Audible audiobooks is excellent, and it has a new speed control that allows you to listen to Audible programs faster or slower without changing the reader's pitch. However, the iPod doesn't fully support some popular file formats such as Windows Media (WMA) and certain types of MP3, and it doesn't allow you to modify playlists on the fly.
For those who want to carry a book or two, but not the whole library, the smaller flash-based iPod Shuffle (512MB $99; 1GB $150) is worth considering. Although conspicuously lacking any kind of display screen, the Shuffle is smaller than a pack of gum, and can be worn around your neck or carried as unobtrusively as a pen in the pocket.
The Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra from Creative Labs has a bright display, easy file management, and convenient navigation controls on the side of the unit. Weighing 7.9 ounces and 1/2-inch larger all around than an iPod, the Zen Xtra is a bargain--dollars to gigabytes--in its various configurations, including 30GB ($240) and 60GB ($300).
For a flash-based player, the MuVo TX FM provides a lot of function in a tiny, lightweight package (shorter and stockier than the iPod Shuffle, it weighs 1.5 oz.). The MuVo has a display screen, can play MP3 and WMA files, and doubles as an FM radio, a voice recorder, and a portable memory drive (512MB $120; 1GB $150).
California-based Rio produced the world's first portable MP3 player (the Rio 300) in 1998, and its players were among the first to be Audible-ready. The Carbon (5GB) has a smaller hard drive than the other drive-based players mentioned here, but makes up for it by retailing at a lower price ($200) and is half the weight (3.2 oz.) of other more powerful players.
The flash-based Forge (512MB $140) was built with athletes in mind: it is sturdy and durable, comes with a case that can be worn as an armband, and has an unusual round design that resembles a stopwatch. Included are a loaded display screen, FM radio, stopwatch, and lap-timer. By installing an optional expansion card, you can upgrade the Forge to 1.5GB.--Steven E. Steinbock
AUG/ SEP 05
© AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine