If you like to listen to music or audio books on the beach, on the plane or at the gym, it's time to upgrade to an MP3 player. These units are small, quick to load and so simple to use they should no longer intimidate you. They all work in concert with your computer to either record songs from your CD collection or download music off the Internet. They come in three formats: a hard-drive player that holds thousands of songs, a "flash memory" player that holds up to eight hours of music on a computer chip, or a more traditional MiniDisc player. We've picked out the best of each right here. If it's still all too new . . . get one anyway and have a teenager load it up for you.
Sony MZ-N10 MINIDISC PLAYER
$350 (PC only); sonystyle.com
Comments Think of a MiniDisc player as you would your old cassette Walkman—if cassettes were as thin as a book of matches and held about six albums each. Record your music onto blank discs (about $2 each) that never skip or lose their quality. Sony, which invented the MiniDisc, offers less-expensive basic players, but the durable MZ-N10 features all-metal parts and a high-end microphone for recording. Comes with headband-style headphones.
Bottom Line For those who want unlimited capacity and for musicians who want quality recording capabilities.
iRiver iFP-195T FLASH-MEMORY PLAYER
$300 (PC or Mac); iriveramerica.com
Comments The iRiver iFP-195T holds the most music of any flash player its size that we came across—up to eight hours worth. I liked its funky triangular shape and small size, and it is one of the few flash players to feature FM radio. I found it easy to download music as well as record both voice memos and the radio. Comes with great-sounding Sennheiser earbud headphones, a neck strap, armband and carrying case.
Bottom Line Perfect if you don't need to store your whole music collection but want a small MP3 player that does it all.
Apple 40 GB iPod HARD-DRIVE PLAYER
$499 (PC or Mac); apple.com
Comments The iPod comes in four sizes, ranging from the new iPod Mini at four gigabytes (holds 1,000 songs) to the 40 GB version shown here (up to 10,000 songs, or about 800 albums). Apple makes everything easy. Auto-Sync, for example, transfers any new music on your computer to the iPod upon plugging in. Compatibility with Audible.com means the iPod is best for listening to audio books. Comes with distinctive white earbud headphones.
Bottom Line Best Overall It's got size (or lack thereof), memory, style and features to burn. Use it every day.
Rio Karma 20 HARD-DRIVE PLAYER
$400 (PC only); rioaudio.com
Comments An alternative to the iPod, especially if you have an older-model PC. Its 20 GB memory holds plenty, and though it's a bit chunky for the front pocket, I liked its stereo outputs and how quickly it installed itself. This is a solid, intuitive player that lacks a voice recorder but features a rotary control, five-band equalizer and Sennheiser earbud headphones. Will run 15 hours on a charge—almost twice as long as the iPod.
Bottom Line You can find this in stores for under $300. Perfect for connecting to your stereo and taking on vacation.
Creative Nomad MuVo NX FLASH-MEMORY PLAYER
$170 (PC or Mac); nomadworld.com
Comments If size matters, you can't beat the MuVo NX. This flash player has only 256 MB of memory (about four hours of music) but is the size of a cigarette lighter. It plugs directly into the USB port of your computer—no wires needed. I liked its easy-to-use software and its earbud headphones, which have rubber padding so they don't fall out. Comes with a second battery pack, belt clip and armband.
Bottom Line Best Value A great introduction to the format due to its simplicity and miniscule size.