I don’t want an iPod, but unfortunately most other portable music players don’t offer the right features to properly compete with it. I am currently still using a 4th generation iPod brick, but it runs the RockBox firmware, which makes it hard to replace because RockBox makes it a much better device.
So here’s my checklist of features a portable music player requires to satisfy me.
- More screen than controls
- The iPod Touch is a clear winner here where it’s all screen for viewing videos, but I would also accept the Creative Zen X-Fi. The iPod Classic is an example of too much controls and too little screen.
- Support for Open formats
- The device should support both OGG and FLAC. There is no licensing fees for these formats, OGG is superior to MP3, and OGG is now a much more relevant format with Mozilla and Opera supporting it in their web browsers.
- Minimum 32GB storage
- My entire CD collection takes up over 20GB of space. To adopt a device that also plays videos will require much more space if I don’t want to swap and change videos on daily basis. Preferably, it would include an SDHC slot so I could load videos separately.
- No lock-in to proprietary software.
- This is an epic fail for the iPod. I don’t want to have to use iTunes to manage my portable music player. Other software can do it better, if it wasn’t for Apple making it intentionally problematic to do so. Apple wants you locked into iTunes because they want your money—they’re not doing you a favour.
- Digital Radio
- This is probably a little too hopeful since I don’t think there’s a single player that supports this. The Zune HD (not available in Australia) support HD Radio, which is better than normal radio.
- Support for advanced tagging
- Tagging offers a really powerful database of information for your music and ID3v2 has had support everything you could think of. And yet most players stop at support for album/artist/track.
- It should understand the difference between album artists and track artists
- It should understand that two albums with the same name are not the same album if the album artist differs.
- It should store track ratings in the track rating tag so ratings are available to other software and devices.
- It should support multiple artist tags per track so Cypress Hill & Pearl Jam’s “Real Thing” appears for each artist.
- It should understand disc numbers so we don’t need to change the album name to include which disc it is.
- It should support multiple genres per track. Most tracks or albums do not fit just one genre. Organising your collection with just one genre makes it very fragmented and unlikely to be useful.
- Add tracks to playlists as listening
- Something I like about RockBox is that I can put my entire iPod on random and as I listen to a song, I can add it to various playlists. It would be nice if you could correct track genres as I’m listening also.
- Crossfeed audio
- Crossfeed is the process of blending the left and right channels of stereo audio to simulate a more natural listening experience. For example sound coming from the left will only be heard by the left ear with headphones, but when listening in an open room with speakers you hear it with both ears. Crossfeed simulates open room listening and is a feature of RockBox I really like.
So are there any contenders? Yes.
Creative Zen X-Fi come very close. Their X-Fi technology sounds like the crossfeeding I desire. They come with 32GB of storage and include an SD expansion slot. The Zen X-Fi has support for FLAC, but not OGG, and whilst I like FLAC, I really do need to use lossy compression.
The Samsung P3 sounds very good. It’s 32GB but doesn’t include a memory expansion slot, so I may be constantly connecting the device to swap videos. But it does support OGG and it’s DNSe 3.0 feature may be a form of crossfeeding. It can also connect to your mobile phone via bluetooth.
And then there’s the Cowon S9, which could be the one. It’s reputation for audio quality is above all others. It’s BBE sound feature is superior to the Samsungs DNSe 3.0 and Creatives X-Fi. It doesn’t include memory expansion, so again I may need to swap videos often. It’s supports OGG and FLAC and even APE audio formats. And it has a 3.3 inch sexy OLED screen.
The S9 and P3 prices are comparable to the iPod Touch, whilst the Zen X-Fi is almost half the price since it has a smaller, non-touch screen. But screen size isn’t such a concern for me, so long as it’s still practical. And I’m not yet informed on how well they all handle tagging. I’ll be heading to the forums at Anything But iPod to get that information.