having owned ipod, creative zen, rio and, currently, sandisk, i've come to the conclusion that (a) compressed mp3 files generally sound bad, (b) there's very little difference in sound quality (perhaps the ipod sounded the best by a small margin) between players--they all sound more-or-less the same, (c) i've read good things about the sound quality of cowon players, but can't personally opine thereon, and (d) headphones make a much more significant difference--my current faves are the open-air koss portapros and sennheiser px100.
In you situation the earphones are probably more important than the player. You will needs some good earphones/buds that will block out the ambient noise (muzak). As Loomis indicates, there's probably very little difference in mp3 sound quality among the various players.
Thanks, I'll have a look for some good in ear earphones.
Perhaps to deal with the mp3 compression business, I'll narrow things down to something that may handle wav and/or aiff's.
May have to hold off on the Creative Zen Stone (no aiff or wav playback)
I love my iPod. I use apples lossless encoding and iGrado headphones, by Grado. (I realize that " by Grado" may have been obvious.) They stay on your head when you're active, sound pretty good to. They do not block out the ambient noise, but you can hear people talk to you while you listen to music if you want, or turn them up a bit. They are only $50 too!
Or if you want to get more serious click the link below-HeadRoom
I think that compression is a huge issue. They all sounded like crap to me until I decided to waste space and go lossless. $50 headphones make a huge difference too. I just got a Sansa Clip for my daughter and it sounds great with lossless.
Srwooten - thanks great link.
Loomis- The Cowon players have a remarkable SNR andplay wav files, so may be the ticket, nice one. Also, have to say, loving the price tag on your headphone suggestions.
Some great headphones to be had, at a reasonable price.
Reminds me of my all time fav pair, what i thought were just cheapo $50 sonys, but brought every piece of music I owned to life. They turned out to be like the candy you had as a kid, but now being an adult all the new stuff just doesn't taste the same.
In terms of mp3 brands - I would check out iRiver. I think their players sound better than the usual crap. I have recently migrated to a Slacker G2 which sounds as bad as the rest of them. However, I agree that the quality of the headphones you use makes a HUGE difference. I recently purchased a pair of Audio Technica ATH-ESW9a headphones. Their musicality makes me almost forget that I am missing a huge chunk of what I would normally be able to hear through my regular system.
#1: don't put compressed music onto your portable player. No matter how good of a player you can find, the music will sound like junk.
#2: buy good headphones, for portable, I like canal phones. Recently got a pair of Westone's that I really like, but they are fairly expensive ($350-400 or something). I get them at cost (about 50% off) as my wife is an audiologist.
#3: look into a decent headphone amplifier (portable), there are many very good ones (I personally use headroom), but there are others just as good. Check out the headfi.org site for a lot more info. on this and the best matching headphones based on your music and sound preferences.
#4: Go out and buy 2 500+ gig portable hard drives. Rip all of your CD's in full resolution. Borrow your friends CDs and rip those too. Now make some friends (on this site or others) and send out your second hard drive with all the ripped high res music. They copy your files and add all their own high res music back onto the drive. Your music collection multiplies quickly and since you are probably like most of us bying 50+ CDs per year anyway, you really shouldn't feel all that bad. Plus, you will find great new music and likely want to go out and buy those discs as well.
Purchased the Cowon iAUDIO 7 and Sony in ear MDR-EX51LP Not sure what I was expecting, to be fair I think I set my hopes too high.
I 'ripped' flac and wav files of David Byrne, Miles Davis, Dead Can Dance and Massive Attack to the device put the ear buds in to be greated with a lot of sound some of which I had never heard in these tracks before, like an otherwise quiet chime, bird chirps, and performers breathing, I love headphones...
Though may be one of the better or possibly bet units available and features are abundant, most of the sound enhancements created too much bad distortion for my taste. The units EQ had to be brought to even levels to be able to play at relatively high volume without sounding crunchy.
I was overall let down at high volume with the amount of distortion in the low end and the overall digital sound in spite of creating the wavs and flacs.
It will do the job, though, is what it is, a very small lightweight portable digital device though capable of gigabytes of music. I would guess, there is no such thing as truly audiophile grades of such devices, but if I had to guess if you were of discerning tastes, as far as 'mp3 players' go this one would be on the top ten list.
The SONY Walkman line is the best sounding to these (and my wife's ears). She auditioned everything player she could get hold of and the SONY won hands down. She bought the 8gb S version walkman and is very happy with it.
I had a 20 GB Creative Zen for many years and recently upgraded to the Zune 120gb. I think the Zune sounds pretty good - certainly better than the iPod.
In head a to head comparison the SONY beats the Zune, but not by much. If SONY had a high capacity model, I would have bought a SONY for myself.
Also, one other nice thing about the SONY - you do not need to install ANY software to manage the player.
WOW Ckoffend, that's extream... way too extream.
Having apple lossless format available, you benefit to have twice as much music you can fit on regular CD format simply because not every song needs the full 1141 bpm resolution.
My choice is straight on Creative Zen Xfi loaded with most of FLAC files that do not compromise to CD formats.