MP3 Mailbox Monday has had quite the hiatus, so I've selected a healthy mishmash of questions that should satisfy the span of curiosity about recent (and not-so-recent) goings on in the digital audio domain. For example, do you have to replace your headphones to get integrated iPod controls? Plus, what's the deal with the iPod and subscription music? And of course, what is sure to be an age-old question: which is better, the Zune or the iPod? Oh, and yes...one other thing, too. Read on.
Q: I would appreciate advice on the proper and easiest MP3 to purchase for my needs. The primary use will NOT be for music. What I need the MP3 player for is Church-related podcasts, as I enjoy listening to bible teachings from different sources. I also want to download a study bible to have available for bible study discussions.
I use a Sansa C250 and find the screen too small and difficult to find various podcasts. I have seen the iPod Touch and now I'm wondering about the Zune HD. What would be the easiest to use and yet … Read more
Q: I received the Sony Walkman X-Series last month as a birthday gift and absolutely love it. I did, however, see you on CNET Live with Donald Bell featuring the Microsoft Zune HD, which I was very impressed with. I also saw the price on Amazon, which I was also very impressed with. My question is does the new Zune work with Windows Media Player 11? Someone told me it doesn't and that all your downloads are through Zune Pass, which I believe is a music store like iTunes.--Ben, via e-mail
A: The Zune operates in a closed environment, much like the iPod. So yes, it is only meant to be used with the Zune Software, and it will not operate correctly with WMP11 (though I have heard rumors of people getting previous Zunes to work outside of the "environment"). The one major difference between the Zune and the iPod, however, is the Zune Pass, which is a subscription music service that lets you download and transfer all the music you want for $14.99 per month. (This plan also includes 10 songs per month in MP3 format, which you get to download and own outright.) You may also choose to pay per song through the Zune Marketplace, which operates like iTunes.
So with the Zune, you have three levels of music management and ownership to consider. At a minimum, you must use the Zune Software to transfer any media to the device, though this can be limited to content you already own. Next, there's the Zune Marketplace, which lives inside the Software and provides content (music and video) for purchase, as well as access to things like podcasts, which are generally free. For the most comprehensive experience, you might choose the Zune Pass, which provides fairly unlimited access for a monthly fee.… Read more
Q: I have been digging through the CNET Web site for a perfect set of on-ear or over-the-ear headphones for listening to music on the subway--but I just can't find a pair that fits all my needs. I'm not an audiophile, but I do need the headphones to be comfortable for extending listening, durable (head band that won't snap easily), and portable (not too bulky). Since I am using them on the subway, it'd be great if they offer some kind of noise cancellation (passive or active, whichever). And I'm a student, so I'm … Read more
Q: I am finally ready to cross that bridge and get me a touch-screen player. I wanted to know your expert opinion on the Samsung P3 and the Sony Walkman X-Series. I purchase all my music from Napster, Amazon and some from Rhapsody. I use Window Media Player 11, so I need a player that is compatible with that. Please let me know what you think. -- bensworld411, via e-mail
A: Although I've only used a preproduction sample of the X-Series Walkman, I can tell you that I favor it over the Samsung P3. Granted, the X-Series is quite a bit pricier, but I personally prefer the onscreen interface and touch-screen implementation (though the P3's is certainly flashy). I also straight-up love the fact that the Walkman has tactile buttons on the top for controlling playback (say, while you have the player in your pocket). Both devices will work equally well with the system you use for music, and both offer excellent sound quality.
Really, I would narrow it down to two things: price and whether you prefer Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you want a cheaper device that includes the ability to sync up Bluetooth headphones, go with the P3. If you want something with a slicker interface that has Wi-Fi and built-in Slacker capability (free music!), go with the Walkman. Better yet, if you can hold off a few more days, I'm expecting a retail unit of the X-Series to be delivered to my desk tomorrow, which means we'll have a full review up for you very soon.… Read more
Q: Recently I have been considering a new pair of headphones because I am getting quite tired of the standard Apple earphones that the iPods come with. I have three products in mind, and I am having trouble deciding which one is the best choice. They include the Bose QuietComfort 3, the Beats by Dr. Dre, and the Shure SE530. As you can tell, they aren't the cheapest ones out there, but price at this point really isn't an issue. Which one out of the three is the most comfortable, has the best audio quality, and is the … Read more
Q: I have yet to really build a music file online. I have dabbled with Napster and iTunes, but really don't have much of a collection. I would like to begin ripping music CDs to my computer. It is confusing, but from what I have read it appears I should rip my music up in MP3 format, which would make it very versatile for different uses. I have several music players (an iPod Touch, a Nano and a Creative Zen V Plus for the gym). I do like iTunes and probably would download less than 75 songs a year. … Read more
Q: I am writing about the new iTunes price change. I remember reading that it would happen, after Apple announced it a couple of weeks ago. I was ecstatic about having iTunes Plus with all of the songs, and the opportunity at having cheaper prices. However, at the time, it seemed that some songs were going to go to a new price of $0.79, with most staying at $0.99, and a small portion going to the higher price of $1.29.
The time has come where the price change is in full effect and I have to say … Read more
Q: I have a question about the new Walkman or really any MP3 player. How do I know the Walkman or the Creative Zen will work with iTunes? The rest of my family already have iPods, and I want something different but my concern is all the music I have tied up in iTunes, how do I know what MP3 players will work with that music?--Marty, via e-mail
A: The short answer is: it depends. First off, if we're taking about working with iTunes the software, the answer is no...unless you want to use a "hack" such as iTunes agent. Now, when it comes to iTunes, the music store, things get a bit more complicated. If the music was purchased in iTunes at 99 cents a pop before the DRM restrictions lifted (which happened on April 7 of this year), then it will only be compatible with the iPod, since that is the only MP3 player that supports protected AAC. However, if the files are unprotected AAC--purchased after the date above or as AAC+ tracks at $1.29 per--they will play on the most recent Walkmans and the most recent Zens (as well as other players, such as the Sansa Clip).
What can I say: I'm a sucker for constructive feedback. Recently, I posted a piece about why I'm so infatuated with Rhapsody's subscription service, and I was pleased as punch to hear that the unconventional music model has some supporters aside from myself. The article also generated a fair amount of questions about the service and how exactly it works--understandable, what with the fact that the subscription music model is not exactly transparent. This week's MP3 Mailbox Monday addresses two aspects the model that I think will be particularly helpful for subscription music newcomers.
Q: I was told by a friend that once he declined the yearly service offered by Rhapsody, he was no longer able to play his MP3 songs already downloaded to his personal MP3 player. I do not know the maker of the personal player, but I know he had downloaded the files to his computer, and transferred them to the player, free MP3's, which were part of a trial offer from Rhapsody. What I would like to know: how can the player not function and play those MP3's once he no longer had an active account at the Rhapsody site? Thanks for your help. -- Richard, via e-mail.
A: I doubt that they were "free MP3s." If he signed up for a free trial of Rhapsody, he would have been able to download and stream any music from the Rhapsody catalog during that free trial, but after the trial was up, he would no longer be able to play the files (unless he continued the subscription by paying for it). The tracks themselves were not free--the subscription was during that time. Once the subscription is up, you no longer get access to the music.
Also, the files were likely not MP3s at all, but DRM-protected WMAs, which is what Rhapsody uses for its subscription catalog. The reason it uses this type of file is that WMA DRM10 tracks are capable of having a timer built in, which allows them to lock after a certain time period if a person does not continue paying for the subscription. (Likewise, in order for a device to support subscription music, it has to have a hardware clock built in that is compatible with this timer.)… Read more