Got a new MP3 player – iRiver X20

Lately my 3rd generation 20Gb iPod battery started to die very early. It barely lasted for 2 hours. Changing a battery3rd Generation iPod through Apple’s israeli representatives is not a very nice thing or easy to do and I didn’t want to wait for a replacement do-it-yourself battery from eBay so I’ve decided it was time for a new player.

In addition to that a 3rd gen iPod has only 32Mb of RAM (it optimizes the battery life by loading ~32Mb from the drive every time, thus reducing the need to go back to the hard drive every time) and Apple recommended to have files of 9mb or less for best battery performance. Being the semi audiophile that I am, my newer MP3s are ripped at 320Kbps and I was in the process of re-ripping my older ones for higher quality after setting up my home storage server.

It was getting harder and harder for my poor little iPod to handle these files.

There were a couple of factors I considered while evaluating players (not necessarily in that order):

  • Battery Life – I want a good player with GOOD battery life at least bigger than 12 hours
  • Battery replacement should be easy – this prolongs the player’s shelf life considerably (if the battery is reasonable priced)
  • No stupid proprietary or any other software to load music and/or files to my player – I really hate iTunes and the other programs are simply annoying. Let me just copy god damn it!
  • Linux support with a minimum to just copy music and files.
  • Storage size – The bigger the better
  • Physical size – The smaller the better :-)

Taking all these parameters into account I had to choose if I want to go the hard drive way or the flash way.

I had to make a paradigm shift in my head and stop thinking I can take all of my MP3s with me all the time since they are getting bigger in size and quality and it will affect various parameters of the player itself (physical size, price, fragileness – hard drive based players seems a bit more fragile due to moving parts).

Seeing how my iPod degraded over a period of about 3 years (which is quite good for a hardware device) I’ve decide I want to go with a small, flash based player that has really good sound quality (the iPod is relatively good in that area, but has quite a few contestant in the sound quality department) and is relatively small.

I eventually settled on two devices:

The iAudio i7 is a very small and very good looking. It has 8Gb (there is a new version with 16Gb but it wasn’t available in Israel when I was looking) and its specs say it has 60 hours of play time which is VERY impressive. Even half of that is very impressive.

Both the iRiver X20 and the iAudio i7 has support for MP3, WMA and OGG as well as video support for most format (though some videos might need pre-processing using the player’s PC software or other software before showing correctly on the tiny screen). They have a microphone and the ability to record directly to MP3.They both support the ability to just copy files to them and work without a problem on ALL operating systems including Linux out of the box. I have tested it on Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X (10.4.9), Linux – Gentoo and Ubuntu 7.10).

Having said that, there are 2 distinct and major advantages to the iRiver X20. The first is that it has a MicroSD slot so I can expand it with a couple of Gb. 1Gb and 2Gb MicroSD cards are relatively cheap and larger sizes keeps on popping in relatively low prices. The second is the fact that the battery is EASILY replaceable. You just pop out the back cover and take it out, the same as you would in your cell phone.

The sound quality is relatively the same in both player. If you have good earphones (and you should have good earphones, otherwise, why invest in a good player… ;-) ), they difference is really small.

I really don’t need a color display (it’s nice to see the cover album but not really necessary) and I’m really not going to watch movies on this tiny screen, but if I’m getting it and it doesn’t hurt overall I say “Why not?” :-)

I eventually went with the iRiver X20 because of the MicroSD expansion and the easily replaceable battery.

Up until now (had it for about a week now) I’m quite pleased with it. The sound quality is good and the battery is holding out great. It even supports Hebrew characters, though its displaying it from left to right, but its still better than the stupid hack you need to do to make an iPod display Hebrew characters in ID3 tags and filenames.

I recommend it for anyone with semi (or full) audiophile tendencies that knows to recognize a good player when they hear one, likes to get enough features and quality per buck and good support on all operating system.