Now, you will learn all about MP3 players. The map below leads you to all of the available information!

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You may want to start with "How It Works," to learn about how technology has improved MP3 players. If you've never used an MP3 player, take a look at "What It Can Do" to learn about what MP3 players can do for you. "Features" tells you about all of the various features you can find on MP3 player models, so you'll know what you're talking about if you're looking to buy one. Just click on the different areas to learn all about these amazing devices!

How It Works
The
MP3 format has completely rewritten the rules of music distribution. It has had a huge impact on how people collect and listen to music. And with the growing popularity of MP3 players, it is moving beyond the computer.

If you have ever wondered how MP3 players work, or if you have heard about MP3 files and wondered how to use them yourself, then this edition of Stuff.dewsoftoverseas.com will be fascinating. In this article, you will learn about the MP3 file format, and also about how you can start downloading, saving and listening to MP3 files no matter where you are!

The MP3 Format
MPEG is the acronym for Moving Picture Experts Group. This group has developed compression systems used for video data. For example, DVD movies, HDTV broadcasts and DSS satellite systems use MPEG compression to fit video and movie data into smaller spaces. The MPEG compression system includes a subsystem to compress sound, called MPEG Audio Layer-3. We know it by its abbreviation, MP3.

The MP3 format is a compression system for music. This format helps to reduce the number of bytes in a song, without hurting the quality of the song's sound. The goal of the MP3 format is to compress a CD-quality song by a factor of 10 to 14, without losing the CD sound quality. A 32 megabyte (MB) song on a CD compresses down to about 3 MB on MP3. This lets you download a song in minutes rather than hours, and you can store 10 to 20 songs on an MP3 player using a relatively small amount of memory.

For more information on MP3 files and file sizes, see:

Taking Your MP3 Files with You
Many people who start collecting MP3 files find that they want to listen to them in all kinds of places. Small, portable MP3 players answer this demand. These players are like portable cassette or CD players, except that they are smaller and they use solid state memory instead of a physical medium like a tape or a CD. All of the players currently on the market include a software application that lets you transfer your MP3 files into the player. Most of them also include utilities for copying music from CDs or Web sites, and the ability to create custom playlists.


Downloading MP3 files

The MP3 player is a wonderful example of a new use of existing technologies. None of the components in a typical MP3 player is radical, or even new, technology. By simply combining these components in a new way, and writing some code to control it all, manufacturers have created an entirely new line of consumer products!

The job of the MP3 player is pretty straightforward. When you play a song, the player must:

  1. Pull the song from memory byte by byte
  2. Decompress the MP3 encoding
  3. Run the decompressed bytes through a digital-to-analog converter
  4. Amplify the analog signal so you can hear it.
The main difference between a portable CD player and an MP3 player is that the CD contains the bytes instead of memory, and on a CD the bytes are already decompressed so no decompression is needed.

For more information see:

Parts of a Player
Let's take a look at the components that make up a typical MP3 player:

  • Data Port
  • Memory
  • Microprocessor
  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
  • Display
  • Playback Controls
  • Audio Port
  • Amplifier
  • Power Supply
The player plugs into your computer's USB port or parallel port to transfer data. USB-based players transfer data many times faster than those that use the parallel port. The MP3 files are saved in the player's memory.

Memory types include:

With the exception of the last two, these are all types of solid state memory. The advantage to solid state memory is that there are no moving parts; and no moving parts means better reliability and no skips in the music.


The inside of a Rio MP3 player. You can see the LCD panel, several large chips (the microprocessor, DSP chip and I/O controller), the amplifier and the buttons.

The microprocessor is the brains of the player. It monitors user input through the playback controls, displays information about the current song on the LCD panel and sends directions to the DSP chip that tells it exactly how to process the audio.

The DSP pulls the song data from memory, applies any special effects, or EQ, and streams it to the amplifier. The DSP runs a decompression algorithm that undoes the compression of the MP3 file and then a Digital-to-analog converter turns the bytes back into waves (see How Analog and Digital Recording Works for details).

The amplifier boosts the strength of the signal and sends it to the audio port, where a pair of headphones or ear buds are connected.


Playing MP3 files

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All of the portable MP3 players are battery-powered. Most use one or two AA batteries and last for approximately 10 to 12 hours on a single charge. Many of the players also have AC adapters so they can be plugged into a normal electrical outlet, and some even offer DC adapters for use in a car.

The latest innovation is MP3 players that contain tiny hard disk drives. These drives can store 10 to 100 times more than flash memory devices can!

For more information on MP3 players, choose from the options below:

What It Can Do
Have you ever wanted to listen to your own mix of music made from more than one
CD, or listen to CD quality music while jogging, without having to carry a heavy CD player? These are just some of the things that you can do with an MP3 player. In this edition of Stuff.dewsoftoverseas.com, we will discuss the many things that an MP3 player can do for you!

Overview
The MP3 format is a compression system for digital music that helps reduce the size of a digitized song without hurting the sound quality. Digital music is converted to MP3 format and made available for individual use, usually on the Web. You can download MP3 files from the Internet using your computer and special software, either commercial or freeware. You can also convert digital music from a CD into MP3 format using your computer and commercial or free software.

You can play MP3 files in three different ways:

  • You can play them directly on a personal computer
  • You can decompress an MP3 file and record it onto a CD
  • You can play MP3 files on a portable MP3 player (note: here we are referring to "MP3 player" as the device, rather than the software used to play the MP3 file on a desktop computer).
The advantage of MP3 players is that they are small, lightweight and rugged. They are a great way to carry your MP3 files with you!

What Can You Do with an MP3 Player?
With a portable MP3 player, a personal computer, and the appropriate software, you can do the following:

  • obtain free or low-cost music from the Web
  • create your own mix of music (download MP3 files from Web, convert tracks from CDs)
  • listen to near-CD quality music wherever you go (e.g., jogging or shopping)
  • listen to music longer (up to 10 hours)
The easiest way to obtain songs in MP3 format is to find them on the Web. See How Mp3 Files Work for details on downloading and listening to MP3 files.

Converting Your CD Songs into MP3 Files
If you have a CD collection, and would like to convert songs from your CDs into MP3 files, you can use ripper and encoder software. A ripper copies a song's file from the CD onto your hard disk. The encoder compresses the song into the MP3 format. By encoding songs, you can play them on your computer or take them with you on your MP3 player. The ripper and encoder software may come with your MP3 player.

The specific instructions will vary with the individual software programs, but the following steps will definitely take place:

  • Place the CD from which you want to convert songs into your drive.
  • Select the track(s) that you want to convert to MP3 format.
  • Convert the selected track(s).
  • Copy the new MP3 files on to your computer's hard disk.
See How Mp3 Files Work for details.

Now you are ready to download these MP3 files into your portable MP3 player.

Downloading MP3 Files to an MP3 Player
Once you have MP3 files on your computer, you can use the software that came with your MP3 player to download the files into your MP3 player. Again, the specific instructions will vary depending upon your software program and player, but you will:

  • Create a playlist from your MP3 files (Web- and/or CD-derived).
  • Plug the player into your computer's parallel or USB port (depending on the features of your player).
  • Transfer the MP3 files according to the instructions.
The process only takes a few minutes and gives you something like an hour of music in your MP3 player!

Using an MP3 Player
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Once you have downloaded the MP3 files into your portable MP3 player, you are ready to take your music anywhere. Most MP3 players are small (3 in x 5 in / 7.5 cm x 11.5 cm, or less), lightweight, and solid-state. Because most players are solid-state, there are no moving parts to break down or skip, so the sound quality is uninterrupted regardless of your physical activity. MP3 players are equipped with various types of headphones or earpieces.

Portable MP3 players can play music longer than a portable CD player. The length of play for a CD player is about 74 minutes, the length of one CD. However, the length of play for an MP3 player depends upon its memory capacity, which can be upgraded on some models. A standard MP3 player can play for about half an hour (32 MB) to an hour (64 MB). Some models can be upgraded with additional memory devices for as long as 10 hours of extended play.


Features
Portable
MP3 players are becoming increasingly popular for playing music anywhere. Also, more music in MP3 format is becoming available on the Web. In this edition of Stuff.dewsoftoverseas.com, we will examine the features that you should consider when purchasing a portable MP3 player.

The folowing features should be considered:

  • type of connection (parallel or USB)
  • memory amount
  • memory type
  • controls
  • head phones or ear phones
  • LCD display size
  • power supply
  • size (typically less than 3 in x 5 in, 7.5 cm x 11.5 cm)
  • operating system support
  • software
  • unusual features
  • options
  • price ($100 - $500)

Memory
The MP3 files are saved in the player's memory. Most models are equipped with 32 megabyte (MB) or 64 MB standard. Memory can be upgraded in some models. The type of memory in MP3 players is either totally internal, totally removable, or some combination of the two (optional on some models). Memory types include:

With the exception of the last two, these are all types of solid state memory. The advantage to solid state memory is that there are no moving parts, and no moving parts means no skips in the music and better reliability.

The advantage of the new MP3 players equipped with hard disks is a huge song capacity. A hard disk can have anywhere from 300 megabytes to 2 gigabytes of space -- enough to hold days of music!

USB vs. Parallel Ports
If your computer is equipped with USB ports, then you definitely want to buy a USB player. USB connections can be 10 times faster than a parallel port connection, and they are a lot more reliable as well.

Controls
MP3 players usually have button controls, but some are equipped with joy pad interfaces. They have buttons for playback (i.e. skip, stop, pause, previous, next), volume, and controls for on-screen menus (arrows, enter). It might be useful to test the MP3 player to see how the controls feel. Make sure that they are easy to operate, especially with one hand. If you plan to use your player in cold weather, you might want to test its feel with gloves on.

Power Supply
All of the portable MP3 players are battery-powered. Most use one or two AA batteries and last for approximately 10-12 hours on a single charge. Many of the players also have AC adapters to plug into a normal electrical outlet, and some even offer DC adapters for use in a car.

Operating System
Because a portable MP3 player interacts with a personal computer to get its music, its software must be compatible with your computer's operating system. All MP3 players currently available support Windows 95/98, and most are compatible with Windows 2000 and the Apple Mac. If you are not using Windows 95/98, be sure to make sure the player's software is compatible with your machine.

Software
All portable MP3 players come with software to load MP3 files from your computer into the player. In addition, some models have software that will enable you to record songs from CDs (i.e. ripper, encoder). Some models have software that enables you to customize and edit your playlist. Finally, some models can handle data formats other than MP3, such as Windows Media (WMA).

Unusual Features
Manufacturers offer distinctive styling, shape and added conveniences to make their players stand out from the pack. For example, one model has removable face plates of different colors, which can be interchanged. While most MP3 players look like small silver boxes that can be placed in a pocket or attached to a belt, there is a model shaped like a set of headphones that can be worn around the back of the head.

Options
Some optional features on portable MP3 players include belt clips or straps, auxiliary speaker output, a cassette adapter for playing through a car audiocassette player and an FM tuner.


When You Shop
We've created an MP3 Player Feature Comparison chart for you to use as you research various models. Take it to the store with you and fill in the blanks for each model you are interested in. You may also want to keep an additional copy near your desk as you research MP3 player models on the Internet.

The feature comparison chart is available to you as a PDF. You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.

To give you an example of some typical MP3 players, here are several of the most popular MP3 players:


Rio Volt Portable CD MP3 Player

Memorex Portable MP3 CD Player with 45-Second Anti-Skip

Panasonic DVD Player with MP3

Samsung 32MB Mini-Yepp MP3 Player

Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox

Creative Labs Nomad II Digital Audio Player
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Diamond Rio 500 64 MB USB MP3 Player (Gray)
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Creative Labs N64-0001 NOMAD II Digital Audio Player
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click here to view it.
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click here to view it.

Diamond Rio 600 32MB Digital Audio Player
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click here to view it.
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Sensory Science RaveMP 2100 MP3 Player


Look Out!
When buying a portable MP3 player, there are certain details you should be aware of:

Operating system support
Drivers and support for Windows NT, Linux and other alternatives to Windows 95/98/2000 or Mac are very rare.

Memory amount
Some of the less expensive players provide a small amount of memory, maybe only 8 MB. This can limit the playing time drastically. Make sure that the memory is upgradeable, and that you don't end up paying more in the long run by having to buy additional memory for a "cheaper" model.

CD-based players
A new type of MP3 player that uses specially-recorded CDs to hold several hours of music is available. These players are, as you would expect, as big as normal portable CD players and look almost exactly the same. The difference is that they play CDs recorded with MP3 data files rather than music CDs. You typically create the CD using your computer's CD-ROM burner, and the disc you create can contain 100 to 200 MP3 songs. The advantage of this type of device is the large song capacity in an inexpensive medium. The disadvantage is the size of the player and the mechanical parts.

Copyright
Although you can find just about any song you want on the Internet, please remember that copyright laws still apply.

Copyright protection
Several manufacturers are working in conjunction with the music industry to embed copy protection in the digital music file. These encryption techniques require special code in the file and a means for the player to authenticate it.

Ease of use
Often it's the little things that count, such as one-handed operation and a means to carry the player without having to hold it in your hand.


Where to Buy
Here are some of the great sites that sell MP3 players online:


Manufacturers
You can visit the Web sites of some of the most popular manufacturers using the links below:


FAQ


Cool Facts


Books


Lots More Information!

MP3 Player Manufacturers

Popular MP3 sites

MP3 Software

MP3 Format Details