MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS & ELECTRONICS
Understanding Tech
Digital Music Player Guide


Finding the right digital music player can be an overwhelming task with hundreds of digital audio devices to chose from. Knowing some of the basic features can make it easier to pinpoint which audio player best fits your needs. Here are a few guidelines to help:

Compatibility
Since your digital music collection will be archived and managed on your personal computer, you will need to select a digital music player that is compatible with your computer's operating system. Some computers provide music management software, or most digital audio player manufacturers provide programs that to work with their devices. These programs help organize your music library and can digitized or "rip" your music CDs into digital format.

Another consideration is that there are several different music formats available and specific audio players are only compatible with one type. The term "MP3" is only one of several audio encoding formats and is commonly used for music or voice recordings. Some companies have developed their own digital music format compatible with only their software and hardware. For example, Apple iPods operate with AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format which runs on iTunes software. Microsoft created the WMA (Windows Media Audio) format used with Windows Media Player. Generally, most digital music players and internet music services work with the WMA format, but some programs such as Apple's iTunes use AAC format only.

Features
Many digital audio players do more than just play music. Some devices have calendars, notepads, photo libraries, AM/FM radio and more. The first step in deciding which one is right for you is to evaluate what will be the primary use of your device. Will it be used to store personal data or just play music? Whether you are looking for an all-in-one device or just a music player for exercising, the device features should support your lifestyle.

Digital audio players come in two different varieties: flash memory based and hard drive based. The flash memory players are usually smaller, lightweight and operate faster, but lack a large storage capacity. On the other hand, hard-drive based audio players can hold several gigabytes of personal information as well as music playlists. How much information you plan to store on your device will influence the type of device you need.

Cost
Digital audio players have a wide range of features and prices. Flash memory players are usually less expensive, but have less space. Hard drive devices offer more storage space, but rise in price as the storage capacity increases.

In addition, you may have to invest in additional hardware or software. If you want to use your audio player in your vehicle, you may need to purchase a FM transmitter to listen to your playlists through your car stereo. Or, if you plan to digitize your vinyl records or cassettes, you may need a sound card and audio editing software to change your recordings to compatible files. The cost of accessories can exceed your budget quickly when you add up all of the specialty hardware and software.

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