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Managing playlists and noise-canceling capabilities--Ask the Editors

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

There is no such thing as the perfect MP3 player. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it means that there is always room for innovation and exciting new developments in the space. Plus, there's something to be said for having devices specifically tailored to certain tastes and activities. On the other hand, I'm never 100-percent satisfied with a single player. Apparently, I am not alone in this sentiment, as more than a few users own more than one MP3 player to suit their various needs. But what to do when those players won't work with one common piece of software and you're stuck updating playlists separately? An answer to that below. Also this week: just how useful is the Sony S-Series Walkman's noise-canceling capability?

Zune 80 Microsoft

Q: I own a Sansa SanDisk and a Zune 80. They are both terrific for the way I use them. The only downside I have found is they use different software for playlists and syncing. When I update my playlists in Windows Media Player (WMP) for the Sansa, I also have to go into the Zune Software and make the same changes. My question: is there any way to sync the playlists so I only have to make the updates in one of the programs? --Dan, via e-mail

A: Definitely. It's fairly easy, once you know a few tricks. Give this a try:

  1. Choose one folder in which to save all of your playlists. My Playlists is probably best, as Microsoft's software (which includes WMP and the Zune Software) already recognizes it as a playlist folder.
  2. Make sure both programs are set to automatically update your library by monitoring folders, specifically My Playlists. In WMP, go to Tools > Options > Library. In the Zune Software, go to Settings > Collection.
  3. Open WMP and select a playlist to edit by dragging it into the edit pane on the right side.
  4. Make any edits you want, then click the drop-down at the top of the song list and select Save Playlist As.
  5. From the Save As Type drop-down, select M3U Playlist.

Although the Zune Software apparently does not natively support M3U files, if it is set to monitor, it will recognize the file type and then convert it to its own format--ZPL--and import it into the jukebox automatically. In fact, most music management programs, including iTunes, should recognize M3U playlists, so it's always a good format to use if you are syncing different MP3 players with different apps.

Sony S-Series Walkman Sony

Q: Thanks for reviewing the Sony NWZ-S738F Walkman. It may be just what I am looking for, but I'm wondering how effective the noise canceling was. I travel frequently and living in a small town, the first leg of the flight is always on a turbo prop plane--noisy! I would be interested to know how welll this device performed compared with other dedicated noise-canceling headphones.--Jeff, via e-mail

A: I don't get to try out a lot of noise-canceling earbuds, mainly because there isn't a huge selection of them on the market (most are over-the-ear models). But I would say the experience with the Sony, which relies on both the technology in the player and in the earphones, is about on a par with the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3. That is, the feature works well when stacked up against the competition.

Actually, earbuds could even be a bit better than full-size noise-canceling sets for your purposes, because you get some passive noise isolation with the in-ear tips. Active noise-canceling technology is designed to cancel out only low-frequency noise, so it may not be as effective on a turbo prop due to the uneven sound and presence of mid-to-high frequency noise (as opposed to on larger jets, which are mostly low-end rumble and hum). However, the noise-isolation feature blocks out all frequencies, as opposed to just the low-end, so the Sony could be just the ticket for you.

Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

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.)