Welcome to MP3 Mailbox Monday, a recurring 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.)
This week, I have an MP3 player suggestion for a computer-phobic mom. Plus, there's some advice on versatile portable speakers and inexpensive earbuds that don't need to be inserted into the ear canal.
Q: I was looking into getting my mom an MP3 player for her birthday. She has never had one and is a little computer phobic (she has one but isn't on it that often) so I was looking for something very simple. She does work out every day so I was thinking about the SanDisk Sansa Clip because your review said it is very gym-friendly and also, unlike the Shuffle, it has a small screen. Your review was from last October so I was just wondering if you have reviewed anything recently that would be a similar type thing but better, or if you still think that would be a good choice. -- Sarah, via e-mail
A: I'd go with the Clip--it really is great for the gym, what with the built-in belt clip and FM tuner. Plus, it's super easy to use and very inexpensive. Also, I think the fact that you can use drag-and-drop to transfer makes the Clip a good option for someone who isn't too computer savvy, because you can just show her how it works once, and it will be easy for her to do on her own after that. In fact, I'm getting one for my mom, too! The only problem (for my mom, anyway) is the small screen. The font is really small and will be hard to read for anyone with deteriorating eyesight.
Q: I love your MP3 Insider podcast and I download it and listen to it every time a new comes out. I have a question about a portable speaker system. Which would you go with? Which sounds better, is lighter, more versatile? -- Wynne, via e-mail
A: The answer is a little dependent on which MP3 player you use. If it's an iPod, I like the Altec Lansing inMotion iM600 because it's super slim, has a rechargeable battery, offers a built-in FM radio and alarm clock function, and comes with a remote. Thanks to an auxiliary line input, you can also use this speaker with any other audio source, though it won't be a completely streamlined setup. My two favorites for non-iPod MP3 players are the Altec Lansing iM4 and the Logitech mm32. The latter is my personal speaker of choice because of its small size, handy carrying case, and adjustable cradle, which can fit most devices. All of the aforementioned speakers offer good sound quality for portable units. There are also some good options to be found in our Top 10 portable speakers feature (though it is in need of an update).
Q: I do not like earbuds that go into the ear canal. They drive me crazy! Could you recommend some good quality but not super expensive regular earbuds? -- Marsha, via e-mail
A: I very rarely review any earbuds that do not go into the ear at least a little. However, I do have a few suggestions that may work for you. First, there is the V-Moda Remix, which costs around $40 and offers a fit comparable with the stock 'buds that come with most MP3 players (that is, they rest in the outer ear). Or, for a more secure fit, but still without inserting anything into the ear, check out the AirDrives Interactive Earphones, which come in an adult model for $79 or a smaller kids model for $49. Also, be sure to check out the Sennheiser Sport line, which offers sets ranging from $20 to $50. Finally, if you don't mind your ears vibrating to the music, take a look at the Zelco Outi earphones--they're a trip.