Hardware or software that plays audio files encoded in MP3 and other audio formats. On the software side, applications that reside in the user's computer, such as iTunes, Windows Media Player and RealPlayer, are used to organize a music collection, play audio files and rip music from a CD. Software players may also provide access to Internet radio stations and other streaming audio sites (see media player).|
On the hardware side, numerous brands of handheld players use flash memory or a hard disk to hold songs downloaded from the user's computer via a USB or FireWire connection, with Apple's iPod being the industry leader (see iPod). Flash-based players hold from as few as 30 songs to a thousand or more, and hard disk models can hold more than 10,000 tunes. Some units include an FM radio.
There's More than MP3
MP3 is the universal audio format that all digital music players support, and many early players could only play MP3. Today, portable players support MP3 along with formats such as AAC and Windows Media Audio (WMA). For better quality, they may play uncompressed AIFF and WAV files. For example, the iPod supports MP3, AIFF, WAV, unprotected AAC and protected AAC, the latter for songs purchased from Apple's online music store (see iPod). See MP3 and AAC.
Built into Other Devices
Although generally more limited in capacity and features, a digital music player can be built into cellphones, PDAs, satellite radio receivers and in-dash navigation systems. One exception is Apple's iPhone, which includes a full-featured iPod (see iPhone).
Diamond Multimedia pioneered the player market in the U.S. with the Rio. In 1998, its 32MB of flash memory was enough for about eight songs. Although it came out a few months after the MPMan F10 from South Korean SaeHan Information Systems, the Rio was a major success. (Image courtesy of SONICblue.)
Shortly after its 2001 introduction, Apple's iPod became the most popular digital music player on the market. Two years later, this rural Vermont family was delighted to show us all their "iPoddery." On the right is the first iPod table top docking station and speaker system, from Bose. The smaller Altec Lansing unit is portable and lets our young hero carry his own iPod boom box.
The Digital Music Generation
The iPod, along with all the other digital music players, created an industry of accessories that let you carry, adapt and operate your player in all venues and under all conditions. Options in all styles from hard rock to Madison Avenue are available.
Skullcandy LINK Packs (www.skullcandy.com) hold battery-powered waterproof speakers in the upper straps for listening to your music player. A control panel in the strap adjusts volume. It also includes a microphone for hands-free cellphone operation.
Using an iPod's click wheel is difficult with ordinary gloves on, but you can with Tavo gloves (www.tavoproducts.com). The thumb and index finger tips are coated with silver so you can operate your iPod and keep your hands toasty warm. (Image courtesy of 4sight Products Inc.)