2014: The Year the Music (Player) Died?

Two weeks ago, I had two friends ask me to recommend an MP3 player for them. “No problem, “ I replied. I was heading to CES, showcase for all that is bright and good in the world of electronics. “I’ll make a list of all the MP3 players I’m bound to see.”

Hold that thought. It’s now a few days after the show, and I have to call my friends and break the news to them. Music players died. They’re not just on the threatened list - they’re downright endangered. A few new dedicated players showed up, most notably Neil Young’s Pono high-resolution player. But given its size, lack of Bluetooth connectivity, and considerable price, it’s not exactly what many people are looking for when trying to find a down-and-dirty portable music player. Don’t get me wrong - I would love a world where MP3s were eradicated and only CD-quality or higher existed, but I realize that ain’t gonna happen in a while. Apple is still holding on to the iPods, but a) Apple doesn’t exhibit at CES, and b) not everyone wants to be tied to Apple’s iTunes.

It seems that other companies have just given up, assuming that everyone and their mother wants to use their phones as their music players. The problem is that they’re wrong. My mother doesn’t even own a smartphone. Not everyone wants to be constantly tied to their phones. Oddly enough, phones have been getting big again - not something I want to try to take with me on a run. Plus, there are many times when people just want to be unconnected - our phones are constant reminders of what needs to be done, who needs to talk to us, what’s on the news feeds, etc. A music player is just that - it only plays music. And that’s just fine with me.

One of my inquiring friends works on an off-shore oil rig someplace off the coast of Singapore - he has no need to keep his smartphone tethered to his side at all times. The other friend wants something to connect to her outdoor speaker system while she’s working around her yard with her phone - she wants to move further than Bluetooth’s 30-foot range.

They’re not alone. Friends sailing in the Caribbean were looking for a music player to connect to their boat’s built-in speakers - turning on their phones risks incurring nasty international roaming fees. A concerned parent who wants to get a music playback system for their teenager’s car so the kids won’t be tempted to text while searching for another music track. And let’s not forget the millions of people who (oh, the horror…) don’t have smartphones. They want a phone for phoning and a music player for playing music. Is Apple the only one catering to these humble masses?

It makes me more than a little sad to report back to these folks that I’ve got nothing for them. Nada, zip, bupkis. Suck it up and keep your phone by your side at all times, drink the Apple Kool-Aid, or just start singing to yourself. May you rest in peace, little MP3 player, rest in quiet peace.

pamplona62's picture

Here are some music players to consider:

* Fiio X1 ($99), X3 ($200), or X5 ($350)
* Sony Walkman NWZ-A17 ($299) and a newly announced at CES audiophile model the ZX2 ($1,200)
* Calyx M ($1,000) just mentioned by Michael Lavorgna on AudioStream today
* Hi-Fi Man 700 (250), 802 ($700)
* Astell & Kern: various audiophile models from $600 to $2,400

John Sully's picture

I was disappointed when Apple killed off the Classic as it is the only player I've found that could hold my entire library (@256kb/s). Now I'm running out of space on my 160 which has its plusses and minuses. I could buy an expensive replacement with 256Mb or more capacity (FiiO X5) or I could create a Frankenpod using an SSD.

I know one thing. I live in a part of the country where if you get more than about 5 miles from the interstate 3G/4G coverage goes all to hell, so the headlong rush to streaming doesn't play here.

zvmobile's picture

If your are in the US and are looking for a small and inexpensive MP3 player that's compatible with all the popular formats, then the best choice out there is the SanDisk Clip Sport. The Clip Sport has a 1.4" screen and comes with either 4GB or 8GB of internal memory along with a MicroSDHC slot. As for pricing, it depends on the seller. For example, the regular BestBuy price for the 4GB version is $39.99 and $49.99 for the 8GB. You will probably pay little less at a warehouse store or online. SanDisk sells the Clip Sport world-wide, so go to their website to find the nearest retailer or you could just buy it from them directly.

The only negative thing I have to say about the Clip Sport is that I wish it had Bluetooth. If there is a better name-brand MP3 player out there for the money, then I would like to hear about it.


Electric Ears's picture

After reading this earlier, I dug up and started using my 7 year old SanDisk Sansa Fuze MP3 player again and I forgot that it included a AWESOME sounding FM tuner! The recent relaunch/reformat of the local college FM music station sounds incredible with this player, much better than the compressed and soul sucking MP3 files can ever hope to sound. A review here (http://www.cnet.com/products/sandisk-sansa-fuze/#!) claims it has FLAC compatibility but I highly doubt it would play anything over 44.1kHz/16bit, still impressive that it would play FLAC files at all, IMHO!