Audiophiles: What Music Player?

First, my circumstances: I am a PC user with ~20 gigs of music at the moment, but that figure rapidly increases, especially during the summer. I got a 15 gig iPod for my last birthday, and was very happy with it. Unfortunately, it was stolen this May. Since then, I’ve been using an ancient CD player, but it’s finally stopped working. My birthday is nearing again, and I don’t know what to get.

Some of my considerations:

-iPod 40 GB
-The Rio Karma (20 GB)
-iRiver SlimX CD/MP3 Player

Oh, and any of these would probably be used with a (also replaced :() pair of Sennheiser PX100s or 200s.

Any suggestions would be appreciated! :slight_smile:

My roommate has a Karma. It looks pretty sweet, and plays Vorbis and FLAC files.

Alternatively, you may want to look at Neuros. They’re cheaper than most of these guys, but it has an integrated FM transceiver so you can listen to FM and broadcast MP3/WMA/Vorbis over FM. Base 20GB model goes for about USD 250.

For starters. . .audiophiles don’t listen to MP3s.

When you’re playing back music that is that compressed, it doesn’t matter what you’re using for amplification, playback, or speakers. And I don’t mean that snarkily. I mean it seriously.

So, I’d recommend whichever one has the best features for you with respect to ease of use, multiple formats and cost.

As you already had an iPod, I’ll assume you’ve got a fair collection of AAC files. Unless you want to transcode them to MP3 for a non-Apple player to use, I’d just get another iPod.

Apple just announced the 4th generation on Monday. Cheaper, smaller, longer battery life, and using the click wheel from the Mini. If you want a deal on the third gen, act quick - they’ve gone down in price - IIRC, the 40 GB 3G model is $300 now.

As you already had an iPod, I’ll assume you’ve got a fair collection of AAC files. Unless you want to transcode them to MP3 for a non-Apple player to use, I’d just get another iPod.

Apple just announced the 4th generation on Monday. Cheaper, smaller, longer battery life, and using the click wheel from the Mini. If you want a deal on the third gen, act quick - they’ve gone down in price - IIRC, the 40 GB 3G model is $400 now - $100 off last week’s price.

I remember a Slashdot article from a while back that talked about how the iPod was a true audiophile device, with sound quality that was superior to all other devices.

But the 4th-Gen ones are 100 bucks cheaper off the bat, so it works out the same. :wink:

Then the article was wrong. THe iPod is maybe better than average, but there are lots of devices out there that sound better.

For an audiophile, there are two things to consider in a digital player - signal to noise ratio, and amplifier output. The problem with many MP3 players is that they have weak headphone amps, and can’t drive high-quality earphones.

I think the audiophile ‘champion’ right now is the Creative Nomad Zen. It has a 30 mW amplifier (I think the iPod is 15 mW), and a very high signal to noise ratio.

Also, from an audiophile standpoint the first thing you want to do with any MP3 player is throw away the earbuds that came with it and invest in some high-quality headphones. If you need the form factor of earbuds, Shure makes excellent ear-canal phones. If you can use a smaller external headphone, I recommend the Koss PortaPros. I use these at work, and they sound outstanding. The difference between them and standard MP3 ear buds is like night and day.

Just to clarify: I’m a pirate, so I use mp3s. Yes, I am aware of how much quality is lost, but I don’t mind.

As far as headphones, I’m a fan of the collapsible Sennheiser PX line.


I have a Creative Zen which I love to pieces - Best cash I’ve ever spent. It’s a little bulky… not too bad though considering it can hold 30gb

Creative’s new baby - Creative Zen Touch looks kinda nice too…

I don’t regret my not getting an iPod - for the same capacity it did cost quite a lot more - I’m not sure what the price situation is now.

Well, audiophile is kind of a loaded word.

I tend to think it applies to people who are more into great sound than great music. Although many audiophiles are definitely into both.

True “audiophilia” translates into home stereo systems worth thousands of dollars to achieve the higest fidelity playback possible.

Here’s the deal: even over a $50,000 home stereo system, an MP3 won’t sound good. It has a sampling rate a fraction of CD’s and some people don’t even believe the sampling rate on a CD is adequate – hence, the market for SACD (Super Audio CD) and the fact that many high-end home systems still contain a turntable (a purely analog signal).

That’s why I say none of these players are “audiophile”. They can’t be because of the SOURCE – a digital signal compressed from a previoiusly compressed signal.

As to the quality differences within the different players – well, digital playback is an easy thing to do well. We’re not talking about great levels of amplifying, so I have a hard time imagining there are noticeable differences in players.

Of all audio components, the CD player probably has the least variation between the very high end and the very low end.

And though I don’t know this for a fact, it stands to reason that a purely digital playback device is going to have even less variation. At least in a CD player there is room for mechanical improvements.

Well, most of that just isn’t correct. First, MP3’s recorded at high bit rates can achieve pretty good sound quality. Second, there IS a difference in the analog output stages of these devices. Cost is a big factor, as is battery life. Some small MP3 players have amplifiers that only put out 7mW or so. They don’t play very loud, and the bass sounds tinny because they can’t drive the earphones well.

There is also a big difference between different types of earphones. An MP3 player might be able to drive the crappy little ear buds that come with it, but if you want better sound, you have to upgrade the ear bugs to better units that use better materials and stronger magnets. These can be harder to drive as well. If I plug my Sennheiser HD-580 headphones into my portable MP3 player, they sound like an AM radio. This is because the Sennheisers are notoriously hard to drive well. They have a 300 ohm impedence, for one thing.

Look at the published specs on the MP3 players. Signal-to-noise ratios vary from maybe 70dB to almost 100dB. That is a substantial difference. Power output ranges from 5mW per channel to 50mW per channel. That is also a substantial difference.

There are other reasons why some players sound substantially better than others.

At one point I was considering a Karma before buying my 20GB iPod, I was even able to gfet a discount for it at work but then I read a few reviews that claimed that the HDD’s were dying right after the extremely shors 3 month warranty period on quite a few models.

Like here at Amazon
or here

Not to say iPods don’t have their issues either. But I haven’t found that many negative issues with iPods or the service for them.

Okay, I’ve investigated the fourth generation iPods some more. I was very happy with my iPod, and though there are many more options in the mp3 player market now, I’m fairly certain about the player. However, any further advice is still appreciated.

Now, my question is this: What headphones? I myself am nowhere near audiophile status, so I’m unsure. :wink: The only earbuds I’ve ever used were the dinky ones packaged with the iPod, so I’m a little biased against them. Any recommendations?


Based on a recommendation from another Doper, I went ahead and bought a pair of Sennheiser HD-497 headphones, and they have performed admirably. Also, their price is well within the budget of most casual listeners.

I am considering an Iaudio M3L. 35 supposed hours of battery life. 20mW at 16 ohms so it won’t drive hd650s but it should work with px100s.

If you buy Sennheiser, be careful. Some of them are almost impossible to drive from a small MP3 player. The best bet for a portable MP3 player would be the HD-457, or 497, if you want a full-sized headphone. Both sound gorgeous. They are ‘open’ designs which don’t block external sounds, though. The HD-477, which you’d think would be similar to the other two, aren’t, and they aren’t very good. The PX series are also supposed to be pretty good, but I haven’t heard them.

If you need a small headphone, I really recommend the Koss Porta-Pro. Not only do they have fantastic sound, they also fold up into a little pouch for travel or storage. I can even fit my MP3 player into the pouch, giving me a little carrying bag for the whole setup.

Ziff-Davis just did a new comparison of hard-drive based MP3 players, and the winner over the iPod was the iRiver H140. Bear in mind that this review was done just before the 4th generation iPod came out).

Sounds like a pretty cool machine.

I looked into the iRiver H140, but if you look at their message boards there are a lot of pissed off customers waiting for an update that has been very slow in coming and complaining about customer service. Also the H140 does not have true random shuffle. The iaudio M3 does and it also supports various formats such as ogg. It is also slimmer and smaller than the ipod with way better battery life. They answer questions quickly on their board. Don’t mean to sound like a sales rep! If you want to use better headphones you can always get a small amp such as the portable one here: