Rock and Roll

Wherever you're going, today's digital audio players have the memory and muscle to keep the tunes coming

No longer just miniature jukeboxes, the latest portable digital media players bristle with extras: Think FM tuner, voice recorder, stopwatch, waterproof case, plus storage for text, image, and movie files. But common to all is the capacity to gobble anywhere from 30 to 10,000 tunes—or a bevy of larger audiobook files. What features suit you? First decide which type of memory you want, then listen to what these babies can do.—Noah Robischon

Icon Key

  Points out players that employ a hard drive, just like your PC. These heavier, more fragile machines have massive storage capacity for all sorts of data—ideal for long trips where heft and portability aren't the primary concerns.

  Denotes flash-memory devices with a small computer chip for file storage. These have no moving parts, which means they can be smaller, lighter, more efficient, and more durable. Want music with every workout? Plug into these.

iRIVER H320 & Apple iPOD Special Edition U2

iRIVER H320 & Apple iPOD Special Edition U2


  The APPLE iPOD SPECIAL EDITION U2 comes with a $50 coupon for the "Complete U2" digital library, downloadable from Apple's iTunes online music store. That's 446 songs, including 40 previously unreleased tracks. And they'll hardly put a dent in the 5,000-song capacity of this Mac- and PC-compatible player. $349; 800-692-7753, www.apple.com » THE O FACTOR: The biggest advantage to the most popular MP3 player ever made is the number of peripherals and accessories designed for it. There are waterproof housings, studio-quality detachable speakers, specially designed earphones, car stereo systems, and more.

  iRIVER's H320, a 20-gigabyte MP3 player (a gig holds roughly 250 songs), is also an audio multitool. The PC-compatible unit works with almost every music format: MP3, still the most commonly used; WMA, Microsoft's PC standard; plus ASF and OGG audio/video files. The iriver packs a line-in jack for recording straight from a CD player or other audio source—or from its built-in FM tuner. $330; 800-399-1799, www.iriver.com » THE O FACTOR: The scrumptious two-inch color LCD screen lets you check downloaded digital pictures all day, thanks to batteries that stay charged for up to 16 hours.

Sony Network Walkman NW-S23, Creative Zen Micro, & KOSS P-15 Headphones

Sony Network Walkman NW-S23, Creative Zen Micro, & KOSS P-15 Headphones
Sony Network Walkman NW-S23, Creative Zen Micro, & KOSS P-15 Headphones (Tom Schierlitz)

PRO TIP: Stop the chill. When it's below freezing, protect the gizmo. Freeskier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa extends the battery life of his personal electronics by stashing them in interior pockets as close to his warm torso as possible.

  1.) The superlight SONY NETWORK WALKMAN NW-S23 holds 256 megabytes of data and is designed to work with SonicStage, Sony's proprietary PC software. The program converts CD tracks into a Sony-specific format—and takes its time in doing so. Compared with other formats, it takes forever to rip four hours of music. (However, you can get around this jam by dragging and dropping preexisting MP3 files from your computer into the player.) The headphones, however, are smartly designed. They wrap around each ear for comfy listening, even in knockabout conditions. $180; 800-472-7669, www.sonystyle.com » THE O FACTOR: The S23's strongest points are light weight, durability, energy efficiency, and portability. The unit is water-resistant and comes with the sturdiest armband we tested—the palm-size player literally screws onto it, guaranteeing a secure fit. One AAA battery allows for a whopping 70 hours of play time, enough to last through a week's vacation without replacement.

  2.) With five gigabytes of memory, the CREATIVE ZEN MICRO scores a knockout with its fingertip controls, which work like a laptop's touch pad and make navigating through data ticklishly easy. The Micro is only PC-compatible—sorry, Mac users—but comes with a voice recorder, FM tuner, and address book with calendar that syncs with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program. $250; 800-998-1000, www.us.creative.com » THE O FACTOR: The rechargeable battery can easily be replaced when it wears out (after approximately five years) with a fresh Creative battery ($39). That's nice. Usually with units this size, you're forced to ship it to the factory to install a new and pricier power pack.

  3.) Put an end to tangles with KOSS P-15 HEADPHONES. They come with wires that wrap neatly around a carrier, which in turn straps onto your music player. The sound quality is similar to that of Apple's earbuds. $15; 800-872-5677, www.koss.com

Griffin Radio Shark, H20 Audio SV iMINI, & Finis SwimP3

Griffin Radio Shark, H20 Audio SV iMINI, & Finis SwimP3

Griffin Radio Shark, H20 Audio SV iMINI, & Finis SwimP3

  1.) The GRIFFIN RADIOSHARK is like a TiVO television recorder for radio. Use it to record NPR onto a Mac or PC while you shower, then transfer the program to an iPod and listen on the way to work. $70; 615-399-7000, griffintechnology.com

  2.) Add a soundtrack to your snorkeling sessions with the waterproof H20 AUDIO SV iMINI case, designed for the Apple iPod Mini. $150; 858-623-0339, www.h20audio.com

  3.) Designed expressly for pool swimmers, the FINIS SWIMP3 is a PC- and Mac-compatible waterproof player with enough memory (128 megabytes) to hold 30 songs, and it's incorporated into the strap of top-notch Lane 4 swim goggles. $250; 888-333-4647, www.finisinc.com » THE O FACTOR: Instead of earphones, the SwiMP3 transfers sound through two pads that sit snugly on your cheekbones; percussive vibrations rattle the fluid of your inner ear just like sound waves do. The sound quality leaves something to be desired, but a lap swimmer will love getting a chance to listen.

Rio Forge Sport, Belkin Tunecast II Mobile FM Transmitter, & Creative Muvo Micro N200

Rio Forge Sport, Belkin Tunecast II Mobile FM Transmitter, & Creative Muvo Micro N200

Rio Forge Sport, Belkin Tunecast II Mobile FM Transmitter, & Creative Muvo Micro N200

PRO TIP: Make mine a wrap. To keep a player dry on the cheap, follow the lead of expedition snowboarder Stephen Koch. He swaddles his digital music device in a paper towel to absorb ambient moisture and then stuffs it in a zip-lock bag.

  1.) Expand the memory of the 256-megabyte RIO FORGE SPORT from four to eight hours by popping a separate, stamp-size SD card into the memory slot. The system is so intuitive, you can drag and drop music into the PC- and Mac-compatible player and be out the door in minutes. $169; 866-286-3662, www.rioaudio.com » THE O FACTOR: The thumb-operated Rio, edged with a protective rubber bumper, fits snugly and securely in your palm; features include a stopwatch with a lap timer. One AAA battery lasts an ultramarathon-ready 20 hours.

    2.) Twiddle the BELKIN TUNECAST II MOBILE FM TRANSMITTER to any empty channel on the FM dial, then plug it into an MP3 player to hear your own music on the radio. The TuneCast lets you program up to four unused frequencies for this purpose. $60; 800-223-5546, www.belkin.com

  3.) About as light as the AAA battery that powers it for 15 hours a pop, the CREATIVE MUVO MICRO N200 still holds 512 megs—or more than 100 tunes. Connect it to a PC, then just drag and drop the music into place; a convenient line-in jack lets you record directly from any audio source. $130; 800-998-1000, www.us.creative.com » THE O FACTOR: Less than three inches long, the tiny MuVo contains a built-in voice recorder—useful for making entries in your audio journal.

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