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How to Buy an MP3 Player

Carry around an entire library of music titles all in the palm of your hand. MP3 players utilize digital media that shrinks down the size of music files so you can store more in a small amount of space. When it's time to play the music, you can enjoy crisp, clean sound that rivals a CD player. Learn about how MP3 players can do this for you, along with the functional features you should consider before making a purchase.

How MP3 Players Work

MP3 is a digital format designed especially for music. Music files are in nature very large, so in order to store a lot of songs, the music file size has to be reduced. MP3 codec (compression/decompression) programs take a music file, such as a CD track, and compress it into a much smaller MP3 file. When it's time to play it in an MP3 player, the file is decompressed to original CD-quality sound again. The important benefits of this technology include:

  • The ability to store more songs on an MP3 player without sacrificing sound quality.
  • Most MP3 players can accept a number of music files, including WMA and WAV files.
  • Download songs or convert your CD library into MP3 files.
  • Connect your MP3 player to your computer and transfer the songs right to your MP3 player in a matter of minutes.

Important Features


The amount of memory available on an MP3 player, dictates the amount of songs you can keep on it at once. MP3 players have internal memory from 32 megabytes (MB) up to several gigabytes (GB). You can also store more music using memory cards. Check which ones are compatible with the player that you are interested in. Here is a list of several of the more popular types:

  • Compact Flash
  • SmartMedia
  • Memory Stick

Song Storage

An average 3 minute CD song takes up about 32 MB of memory. An MP3 song of equal length takes up about 1.6 MB, which means that approximately 20 MP3 songs can fit in the same space as one CD song. To better understand how much memory is right for your needs, consult this chart that gives you an estimate of how many songs can be stored on a number of internal memory or memory card sizes:

Number of SongsAmount of Memory
20 Songs32 MB
40 Songs64 MB
80 Songs128 MB
160 Songs256 MB

Battery Life

  • Most players allow you to put in AAA batteries that deliver about 10 to 15 hours of continuous music.
  • Some are also compatible with NiMH or lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.


  • In order to download music to your MP3 player you'll need to be able to connect it to your computer.
  • The most common connections are parallel, USB, and FireWire.
  • USB and FireWire are the fastest ways for transferring music.
  • Portable players include connections for earphones, but many also offer outputs that connect to stereo systems, including in your car.


One of the biggest benefits to MP3 technology is that it carries a lot of songs in a very small amount of space. Most MP3 players are only a few inches long and a weight just a few ounces. Joggers and bike riders will enjoy hours of music without carrying much at all. For people on long trips to work or a travel destination, lots of memory space provides plenty of music time.


  • If you are looking for more memory, find a player that you can add memory cards onto.
  • MP3 players accept a number of media formats today, but some offer the ability to upgrade to future formats when they come out.

Extra Features

  • Integrated FM Radio tuner - When you don't want to listen to your MP3 songs, you can listen to FM radio stations.
  • MP3/CD combo - Some CD players are MP3 compatible, meaning that you can play CDs that have MP3 files burned on them.
  • Music management software - Customize and manage your MP3 song playlists on the computer before you download the songs to your MP3 player.
  • Built-in equalizer - Just like a stereo system, choose from a number of preset sound options for enhanced sound quality.
  • Voice recorder - Record short messages and play them back on your MP3 player.
  • Clock and stopwatch - If you're on the go, you can check your lap time while listening to tunes.

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