Audio buying guide

Audio Buying Guide

Nowadays, we're spoilt for choice with the vast quantity of digital entertainment at our fingertips whether via DAB radio or the huge digital libraries we can store on tiny portable devices.

To help you get the best from your audio entertainment we have a quick guide to choosing a better audio device. Depending on how you like to listen, where you like to listen and what you like to listen to will all affect what's best for you.

1. Where do you listen to your music?

If lounging on the sofa or settling back into your favourite chair is how you enjoy your music then a micro hi-fi is a great choice. However, for those who want to enjoy music on the move, or in the great outdoors, a portable player is the way to go.

2. What do you listen to?

No matter if you listen to CDs, digital music, the radio or even vinyl and cassettes there's a way to enjoy your music. Micro hi-fis are ideal for providing a solution for more than one of these mediums, but most devices will specialise in just one.

3. What format is your music collection?

It's important to match your new audio player to your music collection. It is possible to convert CDs, vinyl and tape to digital files for portable devices, but if you want to listen to your collection in its original format there's still plenty of choice. If you already own digital files (such as WMA or AAC) then make sure your new device is compatible with them.

4. How much music do you have?

Storage is important if you're purchasing a digital player. Roughly 4GB of space will store around 1,000 typical 128kbps digital tracks, which could be 100 albums. To take more music on the move, or to use better quality tracks, you'll need more storage.

Accessories

Once you have your shiny new iPod or MP3 player make sure get the most out of it by boosting its battery, enhancing its sound and protecting it from damage. There's a vast range of audio accessories out there, so let us point out the best of them.

  • New headphones: whether it's the style-conscious white iPod headphones or basic black set that came with your MP3 player at some point, you may want to replace them. A wide range of replacement headphones are available:
    • High-performance in-ear headphones help you get the best from your music in noisy environments.
    • Overhead headphones produce a richer range of audio thanks to their larger driver units - so you can truly appreciate your music.
    • Sports headphones come in a variety of lightweight designs providing wraparound or securing-loops for jogging and gym work.
  • A number of other essential features are available on many of these designs, including:
    • Noise cancelling technology, which ensures that you only hear your music and not the bustle of the street.
    • Wireless headphones that provide extra freedom in your home, so you can relax without worrying about cables.
    • Inline controls, which mean you can adjust the volume or mute your tunes without fumbling for your player.
  • Charging solutions: most music players offer good battery life, but it's worthwhile investing in an extra charger or lead to make sure the music doesn't stop. Most players are USB based and a host of USB wall-plug adaptors are available for iPod and other players. So you'll be able to charge your player at home, at work, in the car or at school.
  • In-car entertainment: on car trips why not take your player with you? There are a host of accessories to help you get the most from your portable player when you're on the road. Cassette adaptors and radio tuners let you pipe the audio through your car radio, and to keep things powered pick up one of the cigarette lighter adaptors to charge not only your player, but any USB based device. Plus, don't forget to stay safe on the road and secure your player with a car cradle.
  • Cases, docks and bundles: to add that personal touch or just to add a little protection, most people like to get a case, cover or ‘sock’ for their player. These range from minimalist clear ones to outlandish coloured covers and fun ‘socks’ to slip your iPod into. Docking stations provide a functional way to store and charge your player while you're at your computer. To help save you money don't miss one of the many bundles available that combine any number of these accessories into one pack.

Glossary

  • AAC - The Apple digital music format of choice, which is used by iTunes and the iPod range of players plus a number of other compatible devices.
  • Dock - A stand designed to fit portable audio players. Docks will usually play audio tracks, charge the player and provide playback controls.
  • MP3 - An older digital audio format that's suitable for portable devices, and can take original audio CD tracks and compress them to a far smaller size - around 1MB per minute.
  • MP4 - The successor to MP3, this digital format provides enhanced audio quality but can also support video files. If a device plays video it is often called an MP4 player.
  • WMA - A digital audio format developed by Microsoft® and supported by many audio devices, but not by the iPod. iTunes can however convert WMA files to Apple's AAC format.
  • Watts RMS - A measure of speaker output power: the higher the number, the louder the speaker. An RMS measure is a good indication of output power as it's over a sustained period rather than just peak output.
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