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If you use a CD walkman for your portable music needs, you’re part of a shrinking majority. The popularity of PCs and the availability of digital music files has made the choice a no-brainer for many music lovers.
Digital music files can be stored on your computer in a number of formats. The most common are MP3 and WMA. The main difference between these formats is the quality of sound in relation to the size of the file. For CD-quality sound 128mb/s is an acceptable standard. The MP3 format, although the most popular, needs the most space to store great sounding music. Many, but not all, players accept both file types.
There are basically two options when considering a MP3 player: hard drive or Flash-based. A hard drive-based player is just what the name implies — a portable hard drive. Data is stored and read from a spinning disk inside the device. These currently range in capacity from 1GB to 30GB. Most double as a secondary storage unit for your PC when connected.
Flash-based players are much smaller and contain no moving parts — using flash memory to store files instead of a hard drive. They hold anywhere from 64MB to 512MB of music. A popular size, 128 MB, holds approximately two hours worth of MP3 files. Flash players come in a variety of tiny packages and most can easily fit in a pocket with room to spare.
Co-Won iAudio CW-300
Pros: Stylish compact design, FM-radio play and record; Advanced sound settings
Cons: Not expandable, plays only MP3s
This well-designed device is an update to the adorable and well-regarded CW-200. It keeps all of the features of its more diminutive sibling, while adding one major improvement — battery life. The addition of a single AA battery (rather than the AAA of the CW-200) increases battery life from about 12 hours to around 30 hours.
Although this device plays only MP3s, which limits you to two hours of music, it handles them deftly. The CW-300 also includes an FM-radio and lets you record from the radio, which is a nice way to add a tune or two to the mix. If you’re looking for a small MP3 player with big sound this could be the player of choice. Available in 256MB capacity (www.jetaudio.com; $239).
Pogo RipFlash DX
Pros: Records directly from CD player; expandable memory
Cons: Mediocre button layout
RipFlash DX has enough features to satisfy and a couple of extras that make it appealing. The ability to record directly from a CD player makes this unit stand out.
Just plug the included cord into the headphone jack of your CD player (or any other digital music source) to record WMA files directly to the device. The tracks will appear by number rather than name, but it’s an easy way to add more music on the go. Add additional storage capacity by purchasing a MultiMedia/SD Media Card (about $50) that slides into a hidden slot. The RipFlash plays both WMA and MP3 files. Sound quality is good, but not great. This little player