A Portable Music Player

When I was thinking about my future options for a home for my digital music library once I’ve breached Google’s 20,000 song limit, I also mentioned in passing the sad death of the iPod Classic – i.e. the iPod. If reports are to be believed, the remaining iPod Classics in the retail system were swiftly snapped up post news of Apple ceasing production. Indeed some devices were said to be changing hands for £600 or more.

But unlike the death of the classic cassette Sony Walkman (when I did nip out to Argos to pick up one of the final cheap models, since I still have some cassettes in my loft that I may at some point digitise), I wasn’t about to try to pick up a model while I could.

Yet it did get me thinking about the what options there are out there for getting a replacement. At CES in Las Vegas, Sony has just announced a new high-end Walkman – the Sinclair-sounding ZX2, with a non-Sinclair-sounding pricetag of £949 in the UK. This is serious high-end kit. It looks gorgeous, and I’ve no doubt it’ll sound pretty decent as well, with support for all the high-end audio codecs including lossless ones like FLAC. It does come with 128GB of memory on-board, and with a microSD slot, I would anticipate that you could double that with the addition of a 128GB card. That would take it into truly “decent” levels of space. But if you’re going to encode all your music in lossless formats, or buy higher-than-CD quality of music, then you’re going to need a lot of space. However good it is, that’s just too expensive.

Then there’s the curious PonoPlayer from Neil Young no less, being promoted at CES and arriving any day now for about $400. This comes with 128GB in the form of 64GB on-board, and a 64GB microSD card. The specs suggest that it’ll support up to 64GB, although I suspect that with firmware improvements, 128GB should be doable. The shape is very odd, being triangular rather than flat, so I’m not sure how well it’ll sit in your pocket. The price of the high-definition audio has been noted by some, and if I was more suspicious, I’d suggest that the music industry is again trying to tap its most loyal consumers – these people are buying music, and probably quite a lot given their investment in high-end hardware. A premium seems fair, but I don’t want to return to the early days of CDs when catalogue albums regularly sold for £15 (those are late eighties pounds too!).

The other serious option seems to be the Fiio X5. Like the others, it supports the major lossless music formats as well as lower quality mp3s. But at £289, you have to budget for microSD cards as well. It seems to currently support 128GB cards. So a pair of those would give you 256GB space. Once 256GB cards are available, the plan is that a firmware update would support them too. Getting 0.5TB of audio into my pocket is beginning to sound very nice. But 128GB cards currently cost about £75-85, so that’s another £150-170 to budget on top.

There’s also the Cowan P1. But that’s £740 for a device with 128GB on-board and space for another 128GB via a microSD card. I’m sure it sounds awesome. But like the Sony, I think I’ll put it to one side.

Truth be told, I’ll be sitting tight for a while. I suspect that in due course 128GB cards – even 256GB cards – will drop significantly in price, and then I might be in the market once more.

Incidentally, the more I think about it, the more essential a microSD card slot on my next phone/tablet will be.