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How MP3 Players Work

Filling Up Your Playlist

iTunes allows users to download music, audio books, television shows, movies, roadio broadcasts and podcasts.
iTunes allows users to download music, audio books, television shows, movies, roadio broadcasts and podcasts.
Photo courtesy Apple

With MP3 players, consumers become their own disc jockey, picking the songs they want to hear when they want to hear them.

Potentially hundreds or thousands of songs are at the listener's fingertips. Songs can be ordered into a playlist by genre, artist or mixed into random order. The first step to creating a playlist is finding songs. That's not a problem -- there are many sources for MP3 files.



If you have a collection of CDs and want to convert those CDs to MP3 files, you can use ripper and encoder software. Some MP3 players come with such software. A ripper copies a song's file from the CD onto your hard disk. The encoder then compresses the song into the MP3 format, allowing it to be downloaded to your MP3 player.

The basic process for ripping is as follows, although steps will vary based on individual software programs:

  1. Place the CD into the CD drive of your computer.
  2. Select the track for the song you want to convert to MP3 format.
  3. Convert the track.
  4. Copy the new MP3 file to your hard disk.
  5. Download the MP3 file to your MP3 player.

For Free and For Fee

There are many online music sites, like iTunes, that offer songs for purchase, with some providing songs free of charge as a way to introduce an unknown artist.

Yet another option is subscription-based plans like Rhapsody. These services provide all the songs you want at one flat fee. However, there are two types of MP3 files that affect the subscription or song purchase: copy-protected and unprotected. The first ensures that the songs cannot be file-shared. If your subscription lapses, you can no longer play the songs. Music is also encoded with digital rights management technology -- anti-copying software -- to enforce the subscription agreement or limit the amount of times the song can be burned. The second, unprotected files -- offered on sites like eMusic -- is unrestricted, and once downloaded, can be used indefinitely.

Other Audio Sources

Many MP3 players have the ability to record songs directly from your CD player. For those who don't want to bother with a computer, this streamlines the conversion process. No longer do users put a CD into the computer, rip the track from it, convert it to MP3 format, save it and then download it to an MP3 player. The song goes directly from the CD to MP3 format in the user's preferred playlist.

Some MP3 players also have a built-in FM radio tuner, providing users with an additional source of entertainment. Radio listeners can record the tunes from their favorite stations in the MP3 format and instantly add it to their playlist. Several MP3 players allow you to playback your MP3 music on your FM radio using unused frequencies.

Some combination cell phone-MP3 players allow the user to browse and purchase songs, which are then delivered to the phone for immediate playback.

An additional audio source is the user's own voice, which can be recorded on an MP3 player and then transferred to a computer for storage or transmission via e-mail.

In the next section, we'll look at the many accessory options for your MP3 player.