Welcome to MP3 Mailbox Monday, a reoccurring feature where I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. Each week, my in-box is flooded with questions from around the world, and while a handful of them are very particular to the individual asking, most apply more generally to a certain use or scenario to which many people can relate. Check back often to see if the advice presented here might be of some use to you, or send your questions directly to me. (Note: We never include last names, but if you prefer to remain completely anonymous, please state as much in your e-mail.)
After a gaggle of headphone questions last week, I've managed to slip in one question today about the average life expectancy of an MP3 player. The others, however, get straight back to earphones, some that cancel noise and others in a sport-friendly style. I am beginning to sense a theme here...
Q: I bought a Philips SBC HN060/00 just yesterday because I thought it time to get a new earphone with something new; namely noise reduction. I brought them home, tried them on, turned on the noise reduction device without playing any music, and it doesn't really reduce any noise. I could hear a humming sound but I could still hear outside noise, muffled by the earbud but still clear. I turn on the music with and without the Noise Reduction and only notice change in music volume. So how do I know if noise reduction is working or not? -- Allen, via e-mail
A: Unfortunately, we haven't reviewed the model you mentioned here, so I can't vouch for its noise-reducing ability. Usually, the way to tell if noise reduction works is to get near an item that makes a lot of low-frequency noise (such as an air conditioning unit, a fridge, or a server in an office building), put the headphones on (with no music playing), and then turn on the noise-cancellation feature. The low-frequency noise should be noticeably reduced. Keep in mind that most noise-canceling headphones won't do much for high-frequency sounds (taps, beeps, most peoples' voices, etc.). If you're looking for a good pair, I suggest checking out our editors' top headphones list for noise canceling models.
Q: I currently consider you my greatest resource for portable music guidance. My Zune80 headphones (which are awesome) fall out whenever I go running, despite my trying all three bud sizes. Do you have any recommendations for sub-$50 headphones that are ideal for exercise? Preferably a small, earbud size that can be easily stored in my gym bag. -- Drew, via e-mail
A: You should definitely be looking at sport-style headphones, most of which include the word "sport" somewhere in the product name. Design-wise, these headphones have some sort of clip or band that wraps around the ear or otherwise secures them to your head. For your price range, I suggest something in the Senheiser Sport line. Sony also just announced some sporty headphones that look great, though I don't think they're for sale quite yet. There are three sets that cost $50 or less: the MDR-AS40EX, the MDR-AS20J, and the MDR-AS50G. I like these last ones the best for you since the band coils down for easy storage.
Q: Nice review on the new Sansa Fuze. I'm looking down at my Sansa Express, thinking that IT SHOULD DIE SOON, leaving me free to buy another player without guilt...but it's in nearly perfect condition. A little corner plastic damage where I dropped it once about six months ago. That's it. Dangit! How long should a player last? Will the electronics go before the battery (Li-Ion) dies? Any thoughts? -- Jim, via e-mail
A: Given the affordable cost of Sansa players, I see no reason why you shouldn't own two MP3 players at once--treat yourself! Or, you can always give that Sansa Express away to a deserving individual. But to answer your question more directly: it varies. If you use it frequently, most MP3 players crap out after two or three years. Based on feedback I've gotten, both processor problems (chronic freezing, for example) and battery death are equally common when it comes to snuffing out a device. A typical Li-Ion battery is good for about 500 full charge cycles, so the length of time depends on your use. Typically, that battery type will lose all charge within two to three years. Five years is the longest I've heard of one lasting.