Basic portable audio for newbies.

So you love music and want a good solution for audio on the go, what should you choose?

There are many options in the market these days, from the simple USB sticks to the audiophile niche, there are audio players for all economic status and lifestyles.
I believe it’s hard to choose from all those technical voodoo bullshit on the boxes and stylish plastics and metals, so I wrote this article for the future portable audio enthusiasts, the newbies that just want to hear his/her favorite bands on a good player.
Audio players are a complex matter and ever changing ecosystem so I’ll not write about specific models, that stuff is for the magazines and dedicated review sites.

If you go for the inexpensive you have many white brand mp3 players, usually with basic interfaces. Some models have screens other don’t, this detail is important if you like to change songs or at least choose individual songs, if you like random stuff any mp3 player without screen can shuffle music for you. Quality depends on the brand and your luck but don’t expect much from cheap stuff.
Note: I write “mp3 player” because this inexpensive products usually only read mp3 audio files.

Next you have the budget audio players, these things usually have a FM radio receiver, can record voice and read more formats like aac, wav, wma.
Budget products can be the first introduction for decent quality sound but they lack in build quality and have low life batteries.

Multimedia players can be many things like smartphones, gaming portable consoles, you name it! These products have amazing interface features, good build quality and decent battery life. These products are usually the best choice for the quality inclined newbies is in this area. I don’t recommend smartphones but they can be attractive for the quality/price balance. Gaming consoles can be amazing players but you’ll pay more for functions you might not use at all.

Better than multimedia products, only the dedicated audiophile grade stuff that should have the best quality components and options, but beware of snake oil, read reviews before buying very expensive niche products because some can have older components and bad firmware support on the long term.
I’ll include most apple products in the high-end of portable audio because as of 2013 they are by far better than average multimedia players, if you can live with iTunes these players are for you.

For the more nostalgic there are still CD players that also read audio files, if you can live with bad battery life and enjoy burning CDs I can recommend this kind of portable audio.
Besides audio CDs you have the dead Mini-Disc format, if you can find these players and don’t mind ripping your tunes to ATRAC you’ll have good sound quality and amazing build quality at least if you buy from Sony.

For technical specs I’ll give these advices:

More output power from the amplifier is better to power big over the ear and around the ear headphones.

The less sound distortion you get, better for the sound quality.
Better battery life is very important on portable audio so go big.

Storage
space is very important, but it depends if you like your audio compressed or bit perfect, big audio files need space, the more storage you got the more you pay for the product. Storage cards are an easy way to upgrade if you find a player with a card slot, beware players that use proprietary storage cards like Sony, these are usually more expensive.

Beware of players that need special software to sync music with the computer, most players let you drag and drop files like a USB pen and that’s better in the long run if you change operating system or upgrade it.

The most important parts of a player are…The output jack and the interface! Beware of bad quality construction, read the reviews of other buyers! Robust players last long but can be more expensive, think if you really need a metal enclosure.

Build in Equalization or EQ can be handy with some headphones.
Always try touch interfaces before you buy a product.
Read reviews from many places because sometimes technical specs can be snake oil.

Can a DAC, amplifier or a crossfeed be good updates for my player?

Now that depends if you can actually notice those updates, DACs are usually for audiophile grade players and can improve sound but you need really good headphones to notice the sound details, they usually have a built in amplifier. Standalone amplifiers in the other hand might improve sound on hard to drive headphones. Some changes are amazing if you use a crossfeed circuit, a good sound bleed from this kind of circuit makes the stereo image closer to a normal loudspeaker placement.

The best advice I can give, always buy a player that connects with your lifestyle!
If you do sports buy a rugged player.
If you live in a dangerous area with many burglars you should use inexpensive players, makes you less of a opportunity target.
If you like to look stylish you can’t go wrong with the 2013 lines of Apple and Sony.
If you like a all in one players, cellphones are amazing products to buy.

The important thing is that you enjoy music anywhere!