Help hippie choose an mp3 player

I feel kinda ashamed to post something this mundane here, but then again I feel I’ll get the most useful answers anywhere here. The title says what I’m after.

I’m a technophobe who was shocked to find out some years ago that his big CD collection was “worthless” “overnight”. To this day I’ve soldiered on with my new-fangled Compact Discs but now my oldest, most played CD’s are starting to deteriorate. I need an mp3 player and the tools to convert my music collection to megabytes.

Some pointers: I don’t like cheap(est) stuff. I have about 300 CDfuls of music I want to listen to. I hate superfluous fancy stuff I don’t need, like color screens on mobile phones, or the smallest / thinnest / lightest / chrome-plated whathaveyou. In a music player, I just want to have my music available to me (mostly at home), be able to navigate through the collection and play the song I want with the least possible browsing and button play. I typically listen to songs from like ten different CDs in a row, not knowing what I will listen when I start. From Abba to Zappa, literally.

I don’t even know if I need to buy separate software to make the conversion or if they come with an mp3 player? Does a computer-noob stand a chance at ripping CDs and cramming the music into an mp3 player?

So: what mp3 players do you Dopers find most user-friendly, solid and functional? Will 100 euros / $ buy a quality machine (I’m under the impression prices drop fast on these)?

Are you using a PC or a Mac?

For PC, here is an app that is widely regarded as the best way to ‘rip’ cd’s to MP3. It emphasizes quality.

Get the ÜberStandard Extraction Package at the top.
http://www.uberstandard.org/tools.html

How to set up EAC for the best rips.

http://www.uberstandard.org/

If you end up getting an iPod, you’ll probably use iTunes to rip and organize your MP3’s. A lot of people do.

I use CDex for my ripping needs. Simple, but very powerful.
http://sourceforge.net/projects/cdexos/

For a player? WinAmp.
http://www.winamp.com/

For a MP3 player? Well, I have a 30 gig iPod I keep in the car. I use WinAmp to control it. But for a personal music player, my 8 gig Sansa does just fine. Has a FM radio, a MicroSD chip reader so I can put things in, and even a voice recorder. (Heck, it’ll even record FM radio)

Plays videos, too. No copy protection issues, no lockdown. It just works.

Oh, and rule of thumb? 4 megs per song, 12 albums a CD, 300 CDs… 15 gigs of music.

I have a Sansa and I like it a lot, but the weakest point it has is navigation. If the OP is going to have 15gb of music and wants to be able to quickly listen to songs from different artists with the least browsing and button pressing, it probably isn’t the best choice. 4-8 gb with songs encoded at high quality would be fine.

CDex is one I used before EAC. It’s simpler to use, as I recall, and while not as accurate as EAX, it’s very good as well. My experience with CDex is several years old, though.

I’ve been using WinAMP since the 90’s. Love it. Tons of ‘skins’, so you can alter how it looks, and it has a bunch of plugins.

If you have a PC with a hard drive that has space to spare, rip your CDs to a lossless codec like FLAC. A lossless codec implies no signal loss relative to the original CD, unlike MP3 or other lossy codecs. You can then convert from FLAC to any other format, lossless or lossy, as the need arises.

That latest version of EAC, recommended above, outputs to FLAC.

Thanks for the help, all!

I have a PC. Not sure how much space to spare on it’s hard drive. How much would 3000 songs need to not affect other use of the computer - slow it down etc.?

I really hate the idea of losing any sound quality over the conversion. Am I dreaming? Is the signal loss II Gyan II talks about just this? Can I rip my CDs onto my computer and enjoy them through my good-quality speakers like before?

How much more space does a premium-quality “rip” need compared to a lower sound quality?

I just learned there are hard-drive and imbedded memory-mp3 players. Can I fit my 300 CDs in good quality into a imbedded memory player? What are the cons of a hard-drive player (size is not an issue, as long as the machine fits into my jacket pocket)?

There IS data loss in making an MP3, but the conversion process tries not to lose data that the listener would notice. The success is reliant on how good the CODEC is (LAME is very good, and comes in the package I recommended above), how good the ears of the listener is, and how good the speakers/headphones are that you use. High quality equipment is great to have, but be aware it may reveal the defects in the MP3.

When making an MP3, the higher the bitrate, the better the quality. A high-quality variable bitrate (VBR) MP3 provides the best compromise between size and sound. With a VBR mp3, it uses less room to store less complex passages, and more room for higher complexity parts.

MP3s won’t deliver audiophile quality sound, but they are **much **smaller than FLAC, and are good enough for most ppl. If you can listen to a strong, interference-free FM radio station signal and not freak out about the quality of the sound, a good MP3 will do you fine. Plus, you still have the original CD, so you aren’t committed to the MP3 for the rest of your life. Try it and judge for yourself. You know your ears and equipment better than we do.

I can fit around 800-900 songs on a data dvd, which is about 4.5 gigs, so I guess around 15-17 gigs would hold your 3,000 songs. If you’re looking to put them** all** on a portable player, you’ll probably want to get one that has 20 gigs or more to be safe, and to allow for more songs in the future. One of this size would definably be hard-drive based. These are a bit slower to start up(has to spin up the drive), and a bit more delicate than a solid-state mp3 player. I have one and it’s OK. I’d rather have a solid-state drive, and with the prices dropping, maybe I’ll get one.
One last thing: WinAMP was bought out a year or 3 ago, and may have gone the way of many apps - bloated and full of features you don’t want or need. I’m using an older version. v5.05. I can’t speak for current WinAMP quality. If need be, you can get older versions of Winamp here:

http://www.oldapps.com/winamp.htm

I should have been more clear and detailed.

I wasn’t recommending FLAC as your listening format of choice, but rather as the format of choice for archival of the original CD data. You basically rip the CD to FLAC. Then for your regular playlist tracks, convert those to MP3 for listening, and then burn the FLAC files to a data CD/DVD for storage. Sure, you can use FLAC as your playback format as well, and many newer digital audio players (DAP) do support it, but MP3s are fine most of the time.

Transparency is the attribute being looked at when considering the audio fidelity of the compressed music file. A compressed file is said to be ‘transparent’ when the listener can’t tell apart the difference from the playback of the original CD. This depends on equipment, type of music, as well as the listener. Typically, any MP3 encoded at 192 kbps or above, is for daily purposes, transparent.

MP3 is the acronym for the most popular lossy audio codec, and like the word ‘Xerox’ has become a common noun, whereas in reality, is just one of many formats available. MP3 is actually a pretty old codec now, and HE-AAC gives better output at low bitrates (128 and below). Now, if you decide to rip your CDs to FLAC, then you can convert those files to MP3 for now, while many players are yet to support AAC. And when they do, you can convert the FLAC to HE-AAC or whatever. If you directly rip to MP3, each further transcoding will also involve further signal loss.

My bad. I got caught up in the “new to mp3” aspect, and forgot that the OP states he is worried about protecting his CD’s, which are starting to deteriorate. As a lossless CODEC, FLAC would be excellent for the purpose of backing up his old CD’s.

If want to guarantee that there is no quality loss:

Download iTunes from Apple - it’s free. Convert all your CD’s into Apple Lossless format - there is no quality loss. This will take approximately 100 GB if you have 300 CD’s of music.

Then, buy an iPod Classic. The 120 GB hard drive will hold all your music.

If you don’t mind a basically imperceptible loss in quality, you can convert all your CDs to 256-kbps or 128-kbps AAC format, which will take up much less space - around 30 GB / 15 GB, respectively.

If you don’t mind not having all your music on the iPod at once, you can get a Nano or the iPod Touch, with less capacity.

If cost is not a priority, there is no reason not to buy an iPod. They’re the best players on the market - no contest.

iTunes is growing increasingly… ill-mannered.

I think we’ve come to the same conclusion, we’re estimating 15ish gigs of music off 300 CDs. This should all stay on your computer. If you have 20 gigs of free space right now, you have no worries. Filling up your hard drive, provided there’s two or three gigs left, will not slow down your computer at all.

You can wire your computer through your stereo system, or buy very nice speakers for it. You may want to upgrade the sound card… I like my Razr Barracuda, myself.

Then, you have the option of the portable player. If you want all 300 CDs on it at once, you will need to buy a hard drive based player. If you can live with, say, only half of them, you can get a flash-based player.

Flash based players are more durable, less prone to part failure, and have longer battery life.

An 8 Gig Sansa, which will hold, say, 150 CDs, is approximately $100.

There are 16 gig flash based players, both Sansa and iPod, but they’re signficiantly more expensive. Enough so I wouldn’t be comfortable with something I might drop in the water.

Now, you may break the MP3 player. That’s fine. You see, what happens is, when you plug the player into your computer, it copies the music from your computer to the player. Or from the player to the computer, if you so choose.

This means you don’t have to worry about the computer exploding, if the player survives, and vice versa.

I’m not saying ‘Oh god the iPod is horrid’, I am saying that it’s a bit… simplified, and you may want something with different characteristics than it.

Also, once you go iPod, it tends to lock you in to staying with them. For example, ‘Apple Lossless’. Great name, isn’t it? Guess what else plays it? No other portable players. VLC does, though, as far as computer programs.
At least, until Apple sues.

In what sense? If you’re a control freak who wants to manually spray MP3 files all over your hard drive, it’s true that iTunes is a pain to use. But if you just want a program to manage your music for you, it works fine. It certainly is simplified - that’s the point. Most people don’t want or need to spend hours administering their music collection.

True enough - but since it’s a lossless format, you can convert it to whatever format you want if you decide the iPod isn’t for you five years down the road.

Here’s my advice:

First, decide if you expect your music to grow substantially, so you can decide how much memory you need.

I have 3759 songs, which takes up 18.1 gigs. Most of my music is stored as 192 kbps MP3s, which is a highest quality that my equipment can manage. So, figure 5 megabytes per song.

If your CDs average 12 songs each, then we have a very similar sized library. So, I agree with others, you need at least 20 gigs for your while library, and if you are still buyinging, you should at least double that.

Plus you’re going to find yourself buying LOTS of online music. Since you can buy individual songs you like for 99 cents a pop without buying the whole album, it’s almost irresistable. Every single artist you have, the odds are they have a couple three songs you like that you don’t have now.

I have an 80 gig iPod I’m very happy with. Others hate iPods or iTunes or both for reasons that are beyond me. The hardware costs are probably a little higher, but I think the convenience and elegance of the whole package more than makes up for it.

There is one caveat – I don’t like how it handles pics and videos (particularly things that you don’t buy from the iTunes Store). You may not care about that now, but it might be a factor later.

Lest this thread devolve into something more heated, I’ll disagree. In terms of aesthetics, the iPods are probably better. Same for UI. But when it comes to sound quality, they are not even close. After doing some legwork, I got an iAudio U2 and its output is way better than either of the 2 iPods I compared it against, in 2006: the Nano and a regular one (with a screen). An external review here.

I’m really fond of iTunes and my iPod. When I first got it I had over 200 CDs and it took me a few days to rip them all, but it wasn’t a big deal - just stick one in, then go web surfing til you hear the ‘ding’, stick in another one, repeat as needed. iPods come with a lot of space, depending on which one you get (the HD ones have more space than the iphone or itouch which use flash memory, but the flash ones have bigger screens). I started out with about 50 GB of music and now have about 120, although that includes space hogs like podcasts and videos. The smart playlist function in iTunes is really really useful. As far as quality goes, I just rip them as mp3s - an album will take up maybe 30MB as opposed to as raw files which would take 650mb. I used to just rip them as high quality mp3 but now apple has an option for lossless mp3s which are full quality but take up less space than raw files. They also have an option to rip them as raw files but with the lossless compression option I don’t see a need for that anymore. Even with a collection of 500 CDs, you could easily fit that on an external hard drive which are pretty cheap now a days. The only issue I have with ipods is that they won’t play odd formats - so if you have windows proprietary audio files, or pretty much any video other than mp4 they won’t play. But it’s easy enough to convert those. And also that you can burn audio from the itunes store but not videos, so you couldnt make a dvd if you bought a movie on itunes.

Lots of excellent stuff here, folks - just as I expected! It’ll take me a while to digest it. I’m away from home so can’t even check my PC’s hard drive space.

Keep 'em coming, if you feel like it. Now that we’ve covered the “CD’s to computer” part, choosing the right mp3 player can commence. Let me remind that looks, dimensions etc. aren’t a priority. Suffifient storage space, sound quality and idiot-proofness are. Don’t really know how much differences in the user-friendly/ uncluttered dept. there is between makes and models.

For ease of use, I don’t think iTunes can be beat. Just stick it in, hit the button, wait for the ding. You even get all the songs labelled correctly, and album art downloaded.
As for the player, well, get yourself down to a store and try them out for yourself. There’s really no substitute, honestly. Sound quality-wise, I believe that it’s generally accepted that iPods are servicable, but not top of the line. I can’t hear the difference, myself.
I used to think iPods were overhyped pieces of consumer crap… until I used one. Really, not having to finnagle each mp3 from your various subdirectories (organised by artist/album, except for madonna, which are all in one directory and are sorted by the song title, and the Beatles, which are in subdirectories according to year…) really de-stressed the whole “listening to music” thing. Same with tagging.

I only wish I’d started with iTunes from the beginning, as half my collection is normalised using mp3gain and half using Apple’s soundcheck. And the weird file names like 01-audiotrack 01.mp3.

If the OP wants a lossless copy of the music from the CDs, there’s always the old-school approach:

a) Rip the tracks straight to AIFF files which are the uncompressed files as they exist on the CD to begin with

b) Burn identical CD in Toast or equivalent

c) Keep it in a safe place; when the orig gets scratched up, redo steps, using archived copy as the original and tossing scratched version.
CDs already are “megabytes” and hence do not deteriorate in quality as you make copies of copies of copies, etc; it’s all digital.

I bought a Sony Walkman. The main draw for me was it allows me to simply drag and drop my MP3 folders from my laptop right into the Walkman - I don’t really like iTunes that much, I’ll just leave it at that. For playback I go to folder view and hit play. I guess it allows playlists too, but that’s too much work for me.

It’s a lot smaller than the iPod and I think the max memory you can get is only 16 Gig, but the 8 Gig I have is plenty for my portable music needs.

A big plus I hadn’t really counted on was the noise-cancelling earbuds. I tried them on a recent flight and it cut the cabin noise by at least 75%, even with no music playing.

If you get this, I recommend getting the belt clip as there is no other way to carry it besides putting it in your pocket. I ordered it off the Sony website and got the Walkman and clip with no problems.

The videos player is pretty good, but I had to purchase an online program to “rip” my WMA and other files into MP4 files for the Walkman. I think the same program works for the iPod too. The program was about $35. There’s dozens of programs out there that do this.

Finally, the button layout makes it easy to change songs and volume and pause the player without having to look at the player. Useful at the gym when I have it clipped on my waistband.

Sony site for the 8 Gig player:

http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&productId=8198552921665524094

Oh yeah, it also has an FM tuner for when I get bored with my MP3s.

For ripping CDs to MP3, I am very happy with this freeware program I got through a recommendation in this forum: Exact Audio Copy. It’s a little detailed, but once I used it a few times I know what to do and have had no problems.

http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/

Oh yeah, for my laptop, WinAmp is the best IMO. I’m using a version that is about seven years old, but it does what I want and I understand it backwards and forwards.

Good luck with whatever you decide to get.