We've all heard about iPods and the Zune player - but are they MP3 players? How can you download your music on to them and where can you purchase an MP3 player online that won't break the bank? Read our quick guide for some simple information.
When people talk about MP3 players, all they are is a type of portable music player. It has important advantages over personal CD, cassette and minidisc players. MP3 players are much smaller than CD players and many minidisc players, so they fit more easily in your pocket. They can also hold more tunes.
As well as supporting the "MP3" audio file format, your player is likely to also be able to support Windows Media Audio files (.WMA), Waveform Audio files (.WAV) and Music Instrument Digital Interface files (.MIDI) There are also other types of file including AAC, Ogg Vorbis and more.
MP3 is the name of a file type that your computer can create and support that is music. The computer shrinks the amount of data needed in a recording to a fraction of its original size with a slight, and undetectable, reduction in sound quality. That creates an .mp3 file you can then access using a player (or your computer).
You will need a computer to use an MP3 player, and ideally access to the internet. You copy, or 'rip', CDs you already own on to your computer and transfer them to the player, or you can download music onto the player from online music websites. MP3 players are designed to let you store copies of music you already own (on CD) or to store music files that you download from the internet. So you'll need a computer to convert your CDs to MP3 format, and then to load them to your MP3 player. And you obviously need internet access if you want to download music, which you then transfer to the MP3 player.
Technically speaking, copying your own CDs is illegal, as is downloading music from illegitimate websites. There are plenty of legitimate websites that allow you to pay to download music.
Unlike your old Walkman or Portable CD Player, the battery life of MP3 players is usually quite long. Some of that is technological advances in Lithium rechargeable batteries, some of it the way the mp3 files are used by the player. Typically the minimum amount of time per charge is around ten hours, but this can be up to 30 hours for some models - especially if you turn off any features like Bluetooth or Internet Connectivity. Fortunately, with most models, you can recharge the batteries without removing them.
You connect your MP3 player to a computer via either a USB or a FireWire connection. Many PCs don't have FireWire, but you can buy a FireWire card for about £20 and insert it in the PCI slot. Modern Apple Macs have FireWire as standard but, unfortunately, you can't add it to older Macs that don't have it.
Probably the most widely used mp3 players, Apple have created their business by being the best and the first to really offer a true music experience with their iPods. From the Nano, to Mini through to the original iPod, each one comes in different colours and has different sizes of hard drive for you to store your tracks on.
The Apple iPod Mini, for example, is about the size of a mobile phone and can hold around 1,000 songs in 4GB of memory whereas the iPod Nano is virtually credit card sized.