Summer may be drawing to a close, but just because you get to start wearing clothes with more coverage soon is no reason to sit on your duff. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: an MP3 player is just the ticket to get you motivated to move your body, and at least one person agrees with me. Check out the players he's considering for gym companionship and you may just get some ideas of your own. Also this week: why a two-plus year old set of headphones is still an excellent option.
Q: I'm currently in the market for a good MP3 player that I can take to the gym with me and after reading up on pretty much every single MP3 player buyer's guide, I've narrowed my selections down to the second-generation iPod Shuffle, the third-generation iPod Nano, and the Creative Zen V Plus. I was just wondering what your personal preference for an exercise MP3 player would be. I was originally drawn to the Sony NW-S203F that you reviewed, but the unfriendly interface of SonicStage scared me away. The Nano seems to be the most highly regarded and most respected of the three, but I'm tempted to get the Zen V Plus. I'm not sure if the armbands that you can get for the Zen V Plus is waterproof either, so do you think it would be a good idea to go with that choice? Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank You!--Alex, via e-mail
A: My favorite player for working out specifically is actually the SanDisk Sansa Clip: it's super compact, has a built-in clip, and offers great sound quality. However, it doesn't have the bells and whistles of the Zen V Plus or the Nano (such as a color screen or photo and video support), which would come in handy for use outside the gym. I don't recommend the iPod Shuffle generally because the audio quality is not great.
Now between the Nano and the Zen V Plus, my personal choice--and what I actually own and use at the gym--is the Zen V Plus. I'm of the opinion that the joystick is easier to operate than the Click Wheel, especially when the player is strapped to your arm. There are several armbands available for the Zen, most of which integrate a sweat-resistant case. Try the Creative Zen V Arm Pack or the yooZoo Silicone Skin with Armband. One thing to note is that the Zen V Plus is an "end of life" product--that is, the newly released Zen Mozaic will be replacing it. The upshot is that means you should be able to find the Zen V Plus super cheap.
As for the Nano, it has a few advantages over other players just because it's an iPod, which means it has the largest variety of accessories available for it. A great one for working out is the Nike + iPod kit. Also, I'd wager to say that the interface is a bit sleeker than that of the Zen V Plus, but I have heard that its intensiveness (with the dual screen view) can make the processor slow at times.
Q: I currently own Sony NWZ-A816 MP3 player, and my bundled ear plugs are kaput. I am looking for a new pair of in-ear headphones in the $100 category. I saw your best earbuds for less than $100 list, but it seems that quite a lot of those reviews are more than two years old. I've narrowed it down some, but could still use some advice. My list includes the Shure SE110, the V-Moda Vibe, the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio, the , and the earphones.
As you can see, I have quite a big list, and hence it's proving troublesome to select. I am not a bass addict and am looking for a more balanced sound. I know sound quality is a very subjective issue, but I would like to know your choice among these, or any other in the same price category. Any help would be welcome. --Amrit, via e-mail
A: One of the great things about headphones nowadays--and also what sets them apart from most other technology--is that they are fairly timeless in terms of design and sound quality. That is, the changes have been incremental over the past several years (except when it comes to wireless headphones, which is another story entirely), which means a set that came out five years ago can offer sound quality that is as good as or even better than a pair that came out yesterday. So getting an older model can be a great way to save money while still getting an excellent product.
Out of the models you listed, my top choices for balanced audio quality are the Shures and the Ultimate Ears. Both the Bose and the V-Moda earbuds tend to offer heavier low-end response. The Sony MDR headphones don't offer the same sound isolation as the others. If you're going for an older set of Shures, I might recommend the E3cs for a step up. Also, I'm loving the Philips headphones right now.
MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature where 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.)