Lately I’ve been thinking of buying a portable music player. It might seem like a waste, given that now we all have smartphones more powerful than the computers that landed astronauts on the moon for the first time. But single-purpose devices (like PMPs, e-book readers, to some extent dumb phones) usually have better battery life, physical buttons that makes it easy to use one-handedly, and do you remember the old times when phones and other gadgets have different shapes and sizes?
iPods are what usually comes to mind when talking about PMPs, but I don’t want to use Apple products (older models are pretty interesting to collect, though). Nowadays, not many companies still manufacture them, but there’s a surprising amount of Chinese PMPs out there. From what I’ve read, some of them, although less popular than brands like Sony or Cowon, are pretty good; the reason that you don’t hear much about them is they usually attract audiophiles with their support for lossless files and high-quality audio output (and sometimes sky-high prices; I only recently found out that a $3000 MP3 player do exist ).
Here’s what I want from a PMP:
- A screen: It would be nice to know what song is playing and the ability to select the song that you want. It should show cover art if possible.
- A Micro SD card slot/Expandable memory: I have, according to gmusicbrowser, 4.358 songs, which translates to almost a year of music or 31 GB. The only way to fit all of them into a PMP is by buying a Micro SD card. There are players that can accommodate a music library that big, but they’re out of my reach, price-wise.
- A radio: I know that streaming killed radio, but I still listen to a handful of stations. It could also be handy when I’m on a long trip and doesn’t have internet access.
- Artist/Album/Genre category and a folder browser: Many cheap PMPs (including my first one) only have a folder browser, which is not a pleasant way to browse a large collection of music.
Here’s what I don’t want from a PMP:
- Touchscreen: It’s a battery drainer, and it’s not as practical as physical buttons.
- Android OS: I don’t need so many features Android offers; my phone can do that. Android’s battery life is also not that impressive.
- Bluetooth: I don’t have/plan to have Bluetooth earphones, and I think it’s another waste of battery life.
Here are some interesting PMPs I ‘m considering of buying:
Sony NWZ-B183F ($49.99 on Amazon)
I fell in love at the first sight with this PMP’s compact, tubular look. It reminds me of the PMP I used to have when I was 10 (it was shitty, but 10-year-old me loved it). It also doesn’t need a USB cable for charging or adding songs, since it has a removable cap (the part with the Walkman logo) that hides a USB jack.
But it seems like the shape is the only thing from this player that I truly like. It only has non-expandable 4 GB memory, and the screen is a little too small for my liking. There are other PMPs that offers more with the same, or even less, price. At least it has a radio.
Sandisk Clip Sport (4 GB model is $39.99 on Amazon)
This PMP is a jack of all trades. It reads tags and cover arts, has a radio, reads audiobooks from Audible.com, has 4/8/16 GB extendable memory, a stopwatch, voice recorder, is available in many colors, and has a clip on the back so you can use it while jogging or doing other activities. From what I know, Sandisk has made some good PMPs and is an old player (heh) in the business.
The only bad thing about it is its price and availability in my country. Only a few sellers have it, and they sell it for about $66-77, which is too expensive for me. The above Sony PMP is priced pretty much the same but doesn’t have such a large price margin. I found it weird for a device that’s a few years old.
Fiio M3 ($49.99 on Amazon)
Here’s the first Chinese PMP on this list. Fiio has been known for producing high-quality audio stuffs like amplifiers and headphones, but recently they begin to release lossless PMPs. Most of them are priced in the hundreds, and M3 is the only model below $100.
While the previous PMPs are made of plastic, this one has a metal body. I’m ambivalent about that; metal sure looks fancier and feels durable, but it’ll make the player heavier. It has 8 GB of expandable storage.
At first I was hell-bent on buying this player, being influenced by a lot of favorable reviews about it, but I was concerned with the menus and controls. Some say that the menu is illogical, the font is hard to read, and the controls are very tiny and are prone to misclicks. It also doesn’t have a radio.
Benjie K9 ($19.99 on Amazon)
Just like Fiio, Benjie is also a maker of audio tools, and has been releasing lossless PMPs for the past few years.
I found some difficulty in researching this player. Compared to other players, there are not many reviews about it. My main source of information are this Russian review with lots of pictures and details, this unboxing video (in Indonesian), and these two reviews from HeadFi.com. Most reviews/unboxing videos are about this company’s other PMP, the S5, which is a handsome player if not for its text-only display. Sadly, I found no manuals or information for firmware upgrades either, even on Benjie’s official site, which seems to be outdated. From the reviews, it seems to be a pretty good player, though.
(Reading a device’s manual is a good way to find more about it before buying it.)
The price is ridiculously cheap, but it has a metal backing and does a little more than playing music and radio – it can open .txt files (maybe useful for viewing tracklists of DJ mixes?), has a voice recorder, and an external speaker.
(Note: It seems that this PMP is also known as AGPtEK M07. There are more reviews and videos under this name)
ONN W8 ($25.90 on Amazon)
Look at the design of this thing. I think it’s the best-looking PMP on this list. According to what’s written on its back cover, it’s designed in Denmark (if that means anything). It’s also available in many pretty colors.
This PMP’s specifications are similar to Benjie K9 – it has 8 GB of internal memory, radio, sound recorder, e-book reader, external speaker, and SD card slot. There are some extra features, though – Bluetooth, pedometer, and even Tetris – my favourite game.
But this player is even more mysterious than the K9. There are almost no written review about this player, although there are some unboxing videos on YouTube. Watching this player on action doesn’t impress me, either. Maybe it’s because of the cheap-looking menu, the weird description (“Extroverted MP3 Player”) or the weird button placement right below the screen. Why do they put Record, Play/Pause, and On/Off button together? It also looks like this PMP doesn’t support cover art, or even sorting songs by artist and albums-just folders.
Since there are few reviews about it, I also take this player with a grain of salt. Just like Sony NZW-B183F, this PMP looks great, but the other things about it doesn’t satisfy me.
I made a comparison table for these PMPs with more detailed specs:
|Sony NZW-B183F||Sandisk Clip Sport||Fiio M3||BENJIE K9||ONN W7|
|Dimension (mm)||85x 22×13||60x46x16||74x40x9||94x38x9||98x41x7|
|Body||Plastic||Plastic||Aluminum Alloy||Zinc Alloy||Aluminum Alloy|
|Screen||0.9” 128 x 36 px OLED||1.44” 128×128 px LCD||2.0” 240 x 320 px TFT||1.8” OLED||1,8″ 126×120 px TFT|
|Claimed Battery Life (h)||20||25||24||20||70|
|File Formats||MP3, WMA||MP3,AAC,Audible (DRM), FLAC, Ogg, WAV, WMA||APE, FLAC, WAV, MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG||APE, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, WMA, MP3, OGG**, AAC||MP3 , WAV , WMA , APE , FLAC|
|Other Features||N/A||Audiobook, Voice Recorder, Radio, Stopwatch, Timer||Sleep Timer||E-book reader, voice recorder, picture viewer, sleep timer||E-book reader, voice recorder, picture viewer, sleep timer, Bluetooth, pedometer, game|
*No with firmware update
**Written in the specs, but doesn’t work according to some reviews
I think I’ll settle with Benjie K9. It seems to hit the balance between price, build, and features. It’s also easy to get in my country, being available in some audio shops and online stores. If I have a larger budget, I’ll go for Sandisk Clip Sport.
I don’t know much about audio quality, and doubt that I can tell the difference between hardwares or file formats or headphones, but I’m content with my current earphones.