RW Test: MP3 Players

Training to music has come a long way since the days of portable cassette players, and choosing the right digital music player can be a minefield of technical terms. Learn your MP3 from your WMA and your AAC from your GB with our guide to the best portable music players on the market.

What to look for

  •  The lighter and smaller the device the better - but make sure you can read the screen properly on the run
  • Ease of use is key - you don't want to have to stop running to find the right track
  • Make sure you buy one that will fit into a generic carrier if necessary
  • Make sure the file type your player supports is compatible with your computer
  • Anything between two and eight gigabytes of memory is fine for training

Digital files explained

All digital files are compressed to varying degrees. Here are the four most popular types: MP3 files will work on virtually any player, take up less memory and use less battery than others. Developed by Apple, AAC files are similar to MP3. WMA files won't work on Mac computers. They take up less memory than MP3 files but sound quality is lower. WAV are the least compressed, with the best sound quality, but use up more memory and battery.

Gigawhat?

GB, or gigabytes, refers to the memory capacity of your digital music device. How many tracks your player can store depends on the file type used. Using an industry standard gauge of a four-minute track, an 8GB device would store:

  •  4000 tracks in WMA
  •  2000 tracks in MP3
  •  2000 tracks in AAC
  •  200 tracks in WAV

Sony NW2-B142

Price £29.99 Weight 26g Memory 2GB Files MP3, WMA 

Contact advancedmp3players.co.uk

Do good things come in small packages? This super-slim finger-length player packs a technological punch for its size.

Running-friendly features Uploading music to this compact device is a dream. The player has a built-in USB stick, and the drag and drop system takes seconds. The Zappin Playback function plays a four-second snapshot of the most recognisable section of each track to help you find a song without having to look at the screen.

Not so friendly The buttons are fiddly, response is a bit sluggish and the screen size is too small unless you have 20:20 vision.

Perfect for Runners on a budget and those looking for a lightweight, simple, solid performer.

iPod Nano

Price £115  Weight 36g  Memory 8GB Files MP3, AAC 

Contact apple.com/uk

The latest Nano is snazzy, light and loaded with innovations, such as the new Genius feature, which automatically generates a smart mix of songs with a similar sound for listening on the go.

Running-friendly features iPods rule the digital music player roost for a reason. The irresistible combination of idiot-proof click-wheel functionality, large memory and a slim, lightweight
design are what gives the iPod Nano its mass appeal.

Not so friendly It’s only compatible with iTunes so you have no choice about where you can buy your music online.

Perfect for Serious runners and fashion followers alike.

iRiver

Price £200  Weight 94g  Memory 8GB Files MP3, WMA 

Contact themp3company.co.uk

A booming base and a simultaneously sleek and functional design are the standout features of this model.
 
Running-friendly features The large screen and strong backlight make for excellent visibility, and the plastic covering makes it sturdy and scratch- and sweat-resistant. It’s compatible not only with the above file types but with others including OGG, ASF and FLAC – meaning purists can upload files with much better sound quality.

Not so friendly The player is the heaviest on test, reaction to a command is delayed and syncing music from a computer is a slow process.

Perfect for Casual runners who place sound quality high on their list of priorities.

Cowan D2+

Price £84  Weight 91g  Memory 4GB  Files MP3, WMA, WAV 

Contact advancedmp3players.co.uk

A touch-screen MP3 player that offers rich sound with flexible sound-enhancement settings, and long battery life.

Running-friendly features The sound quality of this player was the best on test with a booming bass and crystal-clear treble, meaning you can enjoy your music at a lower volume and still hear the world around you. It also has radio, video camera, movie and photo functions.

Not so friendly The touchscreen functionality is fiddly and also limited – tracks can only be searched alphabetically – and it’s comparatively heavy, requiring a sturdy arm-strap.

Perfect for Occasional runners who want a sophisticated, multi-purpose device.

Philips Go Gear Spark

Price £54.99  Weight 25g  Memory 4GB Files MP3, WMA, WAV

Contact philips.com

This device is a model of common sense: simple design, lightweight, easy functionality and a logical menu layout.

Running-friendly features The lightest player on test, this can be worn on a waistclip or even in a zipped pocket without jumping around. Screen visibility is good and it’s very simple to use with four main buttons. Also comes with Fullsound, Philips’ innovative system that makes compressed files sound less compressed.

Not so friendly The volume button on the side is easily accessible but tricky to hit on the run, and the device is not particularly robust.

Perfect for Runners who want a no-frills device with good sound quality.

Sony NW2-W202

Price £54.99  Weight 35g  Memory 2GB Files MP3, WMA 

Contact advancedmp3players.co.uk

Why strap two devices to your body when one will do? This cordless wearable player is flexible, durable and hassle-free.

Running-friendly features It has an all-in-one earphone/player design and there are only two buttons to get to grips with. A quick-charge function gives you 90 minutes of playback time in three minutes of charging. The earphones are comfortable and sound quality excellent.

Not so friendly The fit around the back of the neck is a bit large, and it’s best not to load too many songs on as there is a shuffle function but no way of jumping to a specific track.

Perfect for Short runs and runners who listen to a limited repertoire.