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I need advice on buying an mp3 player for audiobooks

By Beth Blakely ·
Since TR members were so helpful when I was about to purchase a laptop, I thought I'd ask your advice again before pulling the trigger on an mp3 player.

I have an iPod Shuffle that I've been pretty happy with (especially since I won it in a contest at work and didn't have to pay for it). However, I am an audiobook fan and am constantly listening to one during my commute, in line, while working 'round the house, etc.

My Shuffle is compact and easy to use, but it's not compatible with my public library's downloadable (free) audiobook files. I'd really like to take advantage of this great service, plus I'd like an mp3 player that's more suited for audiobooks.

The most important features to me are:

**Stop and start in the same place (bookmarking) (it stinks to be halfway through a chapter and have to ffwd to find where you were)

**Good sound quality. It's important that the player provide good volume as some audiobooks are tough to hear, especially with competing noise.

**Charge via USB (I don't want to be constantly changing out AA or AAA batteries, or plugging in rechargeables. It's important to me that I can charge my mp3 player easily from home or work)

**Ability to see what's playing (my Shuffle does not have this feature and I really miss it)

**Storage of AT LEAST 256 MB

**Compact, easy to use

**Cheap (preferably in the $100 range, but I'll pay up to $200)

Any advice is welcome! I have been zeroing in on the Creative Zen and MuVo varieties but I'm open to anything.

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One of the overlooked parts

by jdclyde In reply to I need advice on buying a ...

Don't use the headphones that come with it, as most are crap.

I would plan to drop about $40 on a decent set of headphones. For background noise, I would stay away from the "earbuds". this is your trade-off for being compact. They do make some midrange that fold up though.

I don't listen to the free audio books, and didn't even know they had them available at the library. So I never looked for the bookmark feature.

Ipod Shuffle, I got mine at a VOIP seminar as a door prize! I like it and use it all the time, but I would never buy one.

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Headphones are an issue...

by Beth Blakely In reply to One of the overlooked par ...

Thanks for bringing that up, jd. I don't find my Shuffle earbuds comfortable but they're better than a big band over my head, especially when I listen while lying in bed.

I kinda figured earbuds were the best I could do when I'm on the go. I'll try to find some that are good quality and that fold up and go in my purse. Then I'll need a case for it all, too. This is getting expensive! ;-)

I use my Shuffle in the car a lot, as well, so headphones aren't a problem in there. I just use an adapter and let it play through the car speakers. I would imagine that my adapter would fit most other mp3 players, since it fits in the standard headphone jack.

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Try Phillips SA178...

by X-MarCap In reply to I need advice on buying a ...

USB powered,radio,MP3 player, voice recorder, and Pen drive for $99.00 at Sam's club.

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Praise for Creative Nomad Zen

by curlergirl In reply to I need advice on buying a ...

I'm an audiobook junkie - I rent so many books from Recorded Books (best quality readers in the land) that I'm on their "most popular customers" list (...really! ;-)

I have for the past several years used a Creative Nomad Zen Xtra 40GB MP3 player (256MB you say? I say "ppfffbzzzzt" to that!). Most of the recordings I get come on CDs, so I have to rip them from the CDs to the Zen Xtra myself. It can be a pain, but once I have them ripped, they are mine for life, stored on my computer HD as well as on the MP3 player. I record each book as "playlist" which makes it very easy to play the entire book from start to finish without losing your place or missing anything. The 40GB drive holds oodles of books (I think I have about 25 on there right now and its only about 70% full).

It's bigger and heavier than the iPod, of course, but I've found the sound quality to be great. I only have to turn it up really high when I'm at the gym because of all the ambient noise (they play music through the loudspeakers sometimes). Headphones are important - I wouldn't try to use the single-ear type headphones that come with most MP3 players - I bought a relatively cheap ($20 or so) pair of Sony stereo headphones (the over-the-head, both ears types) and have been very happy with them. (Edit - I just read your post about the earphones. I don't listen in bed, I read actual printed books when lying down, so it's not an
issue for me.)

Creative provides a relatively easy to use utility for ripping the CDs, too, if you go that way on renting books or taking them out of your local library. Quality of the ripped files is generally good, although I've had a few problems in the past. I think the initial CD quality has a lot to do with that.

The playback is great - it's easy to track where you are on the "Now Playing" display and playback starts at the point where it stopped. The bookmarking capabilities, however, are not good - you can only bookmark something within a track, not within a playlist, so it's not much help. However, moving back and forward within a track or within the playlist (book) is easy. You can rewind (just like a tape) within a track, or move backward or forward track by track. Plus since it starts up at the same point where you stopped, you really don't need the bookmarks.

I've found the controls to be fairly easy to use. The only complaint I have is that the on/off button (which is on the side) is sort of recessed, and you have to press it in for several seconds to activate it, so it's a little hard to turn the thing off and on. But it goes off automatically after a preset idle time (I think about 2-3 minutes), so you don't have to actually turn it off yourself. And you don't run the risk of it being turned off (or worse, on) by being just pressed up against something in your pocket or purse.

It will recharge through a USB connection, but I've found that it recharges MUCH more quickly if you use the actual plug-in recharger. I've found that to be true with other devices, too, such as PDA's, etc., so I think that's just a characteristic of the USB technology. One full charge seems to play for at least 6-8 hours, so I almost never run it down completely. I just plug it in to recharge every 3-4 days or so. There's a battery strength indicator on the screen, so you can easily see when it needs recharging.

Another tip - I use an FM transmitter in the car (plugged into the cigarette lighter outlet) to listen through my car radio speakers, too!

As you can see, I love my Zen Xtra. If he could only cook, I'd marry him ;-)

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Love my Nomad

by GSG In reply to Praise for Creative Nomad ...

My beloved Nomad has a 30gb drive. I currently have 6 rather large books on it, along with a good size chunk of my music collection (the stuff that's worth listening to anyway), and still have 12gb free. It charges quickly, and has a long life on it's charge. I take it to the fitness center, and never have any issues with skipping. I take it to work, and hook it to my speakers, use it at home, and basically, don't know what I did without it.

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This is starting to sound like a contender

by Beth Blakely In reply to Love my Nomad

I'll take a serious look at what Nomads have to offer.

Thanks to you both!

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Zen Sleek

by crabbyabby86 In reply to Praise for Creative Nomad ...

I think they discontinued the Nomad Zen Xtra... but I haven't looked since last Christmas, when I got the Creative Zen Sleek, which was, at the time, about the same little machine as the Xtra anyway..

The Sleek is a beast. Huge, compared to others, but powerful, with an easy interface of five large buttons and a touch scroll. The software is pretty easy to use too. All the features you described and much more. They promised me up to 18 hours of battery life, and I've actually gotten around 15, which is spectacular, as far as I'm concerned. She charges through USB fairly quickly, and that's what I do most of the time, but like curlergirl said, much faster plugged into a real power outlet.

She's a little pricey, last I knew, a bit over the 200 dollar mark you mentioned.

And if you want to take your player running, or working out, I can pretty much say ditch this idea. The Sleek is not designed to take a bumpy ride for long. I mean, I've dropped her down a flight of stairs no problem, but when the manual says more than once she's not designed to take a beating, I'm inclined not to purposely test it.

Otherwise, great player. Mine's 20 GB btw ("ppfffbzzzzt" is about right curlergirl), and the screen is nice and big, easy to read, backlit blue with fully customizable menus and such. Playlists, bookmarking, the Now Playing feature curlergirl described.

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Zen Sleek Photo works for books on CD

by bopparobbie In reply to Zen Sleek

I have had the Zen Sleek Photo 20gb player for about 3 weeks. I primarily use it for hearing books on CD that I get from the library. Works like a charm; I can rip them to both my hard drive and the player in one operation.

Headphones: I got a set of Maxell folding headphones at Walgreens for $9.99. They go around the back of the head and clip over the ears so they stay in place. I listen in bed, and the earpieces are smaller and more comfortable than the over the head type.

There is now a 39gb version and the 20gb players were on sale at Amazon for $185. There may be rebates also. Search for them.

I haven't used an Ipod so can't compare.

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Mine works out with me...

by curlergirl In reply to Zen Sleek

I don't know about the Sleek and other newer models, but my Zen Xtra is a glutton for abuse. I've dropped it numerous times, no problem. I use it when walking and on the cross trainer, treadmills, and weight machines, and have never had a problem there either. I've caught the headphone cable on something so that it got jerked out of my hand and flung onto the floor, with me screaming "Noooooo" and flinching all the way, and it still keeps working. I guess we could call it the "Energizer Nomad" - it just keeps playing and playing.... :-)

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Nomads are great, but discontinued...

by crabbyabby86 In reply to Mine works out with me...

Yeah, my boyfriend has had two mp3 players from the Nomad line, and they were definitely built to take punishment. His Nomad Jukebox lasted forever, until it finally bit the dust after a drop down four flights of cement stairs. Even then, she really wanted to work. Pressing the power button caused a faint whirring, but the menu would not display. It was a sad, sad day.

However, as much as old Creative fans are going to hate it, Creative has discontinued the Nomad line, including the Nomad Zen Xtra. There might still be some retailers than haven't sold the last of their stock, and it looks like there are quite a few Xtras at eBay, but I also know some people whose personal preferences turn them away from buying electronics from a discontinued line.

BTW. I found Amazon's retail price of $179.99 for the Sleek Photo, and then also a $20 rebate. The plain Sleek, amazingly enough, is slightly more expensive, $189.99 at Amazon, but it also has a slightly higher customer review rating, even with 'get a free iPod' spam reviews.

There are also some scary-looking reviews about faulty hardware and terrible customer service. The only person I know personally who has ever had to call Creative customer service was immediately asked to send in his faulty Sleek for a replacement. It was quick, no fees, no problems after that.

One thing I'm kind of surprised I don't see in more of those reviews is this plain and simple fact: The Sleek is SEXY. Shiny Silvery Sleeky Sexy. I'm not sure how much that matters to anyone else, but I'm not entirely sure how long I stared at mine, after first pulling it out of the box and holding it in my hand. I was just thinking how lucky I was that the perfect player for the functions I needed was also dead sexy. You just can't beat functional AND sexy.

Hmm.. That's all I can think would be helpful for now. I'll stop drooling on my electronics and move on, I guess.

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