Culture

Ask the Editors: Library-worthy MP3 players and review dates

Get the answers to all of your questions about MP3 players, headphones, and more in this weekly feature.

Audiobooks are great on-the-go entertainment, but they cost about twice as much as a standard hard copy of the material. With that price difference, I'd rather read it myself. Happily, for those whose eyesight isn't what it used to be, or others who just prefer the soothing sound of a narrator, there is a way to enjoy digital books without lightening the wallet: public libraries. Many city libraries are now offering audiobooks as free downloads...but there's a catch. Find out what it is below. Also this week: why it's important to pay attention to review dates.

Q: My needs are simple. I would like to be able to download books on CD (from my public library) to a portable device that I can listen to while walking. It would need a bookmarking feature, about 25 hours of memory, and long battery life. I do not need to surf, text, listen to a radio, or even have a screen. Does such a creature exist?--B., via e-mail

Sansa Fuze likes the library and won't break the bank. SanDisk

A: Several such creatures exist! Of course, a screen comes in handy when using the bookmarking feature on most devices. Also, the player should support protected WMA, as that is the format most libraries use for audiobooks. There are plenty of options out there--I am going to stick with budget recommendations, as you needn't spend a lot to get what you're after. One note: MP3 player memory goes by space rather than time. For audiobooks, you can expect about 70 hours worth of content to fit on a device that offers 1GB of memory.

My first recommendation is the SanDisk Sansa Fuze, which offers a 28.2 hour battery life for audio. The bookmarking feature is automatic (or passive) for audiobooks; that is, it remembers where you left off in each file, but you have no option to set multiple bookmarks in a single file. The Sansa Clip offers the same bookmarking capability, but the 14.1-hour battery life may not be long enough for you.

Zens are good for audiobooks, but only for Windows users. Creative

My other recommendations include the Creative Zen V and Zen V Plus, both of which offer about 20 hours of audio playback. The Zen players have manual (also known as active) bookmarking, so you can set bookmarks wherever you want in each file, but you must remember to set them before exiting the file. There's also the Zen Mozaic, a recently released player with the same bookmarking capability and a rated battery life of 36 hours for audio.

Q: I love your Web site and I have been using it to get my friends gifts for a while now. Anyways, I have been trying to get the right pair of headphones, and I am confused by a few of your site's comments. For one, it says that the UE Super.fi 3 Studios are the best headphones for a hundred bucks, but it says that the Etymotic ER-6s, which are priced the same, are the headphones that your editors use to test MP3 players because they're your favorites, so that is a bit contradictory. It would be awesome to find out why that is.--Gregory, via e-mail

Etymotic ER-6 Isolators: not used for MP3 testing anymore, but still great. Etymotic

A: Regarding the UE Super.fi 3 versus the Etymotic ER-6, it really relates to when the review was written. At the time the Etymotic review was written, those were the best headphones we had come across in that price range, but by the time the Ultimate Ears came out, they were considered the top choice for $100.

Unfortunately, we aren't able to continually update the text of a review as time goes by, so it's very important to take the post date into account when evaluating the content of the review. In fact, we no longer use the Etymotics for MP3 player testing--we use a couple pairs of Shure headphones. It's always a good idea to check out the How We Test page for the most up-to-date info on testing methods and devices. Still, that doesn't mean they're not good headphones--often, you can find some excellent deals on older headphones with great sound quality.

CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature in which I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. 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.)