I got broadband installed in my house in 2005 after I'd bought my first PC. I'd owned a lot of PCs before that, but they had all been cast-offs from the university I was working at, and I accessed the Internet via dial-up to my work.
This was around the time I got sick of listening to the radio and first discovered podcasts, and so I decided I wanted a portable audio player (or MP3 Player as they tended to be called back then).
Since then I have been listening to podcasts pretty much all of the time and have worked my way through a number of players. I thought it might be interesting if I chronicled the devices I have owned in the past 9-10 years.
My first player was the iRiver iFP-899. This was a neat little device with a small monochrome screen and a joystick. It could record through an in-built microphone and played MP3 and WMA. It took a single AA battery and looked like a simple USB storage device when connected to a PC. It had a dedicated lock switch to disable the buttons, and came with a protective cover.
It was quite expensive at £120 but came highly recommended. I remember it being discussed on TLLTS which I had started listening to at that time, as well as being Adam (Podfather) Curry's device of choice.
Sadly it didn't last more than about a year and a half. The joystick accumulated dust and pocket lint and stopped working. I didn't have the skills to strip it apart and clean it out, so it went into storage (a.k.a. the junk box).
Pictures : iRiver iFP-899 front and back
The replacement for the iRiver was the Samsung YP-Z5A. This has a much larger capacity, is a neater shape for the pocket and plays OGG. The lack of a radio and microphone is a disadvantage but the capacity was huge in comparison to the iRiver.
I liked the controls on this device, and particularly the existence of a goo solid locking switch.
This device has developed a few problems but is still working and is still used occasionally. There has been talk of a Rockbox version but nothing seems to have come of it.
Pictures: Samsung YP-Z5A front and back
Although this device got some good reviews it proved to be a bad buy. Firstly the controls are extremely sensitive and very difficult to use. Secondly, many of the features are only available if you connect it to the Windows EmoDio software, and third, the only way of accessing it through USB is via MTP.
The radio is good and the sound quality is great, and the device can handle MP3, OGG and FLAC. However, all in all this is not a player I would recommend.
Interestingly, Amazon lost my purchase details from their database for this period, so I don't have exact details. This bothers me more than it should!
Picture: Samsung YP-Q1
This is a fantastic player. I bought a hard case for it which has protected it very well. It has a great colour display and the controls are excellent. The only down-side for me is the awkwardness of the locking function - sliding the rather tiny and inaccessible power switch in reverse.
I was not too pleased with the native software so this was the first player on which I installed Rockbox. This of course turns it into an even better device capable of playing an amazingly wide range of formats.
The 4GB size can be extended with an SDHC card making this a large capacity player. The playlist capabilities of Rockbox make the Fuze even better.
The later version of the Fuze (the Fuze+) is apparently not as usable as this one, though I don't have experience of it. The Fuze model can sell for almost the same price as the original on eBay.
Picture: Sandisk Sansa Fuze
This is another excellent device which I originally bought to use at the gym. The screen is small and without colour but I don't see that as a problem. The controls are great, easy to use and robust. The only issue I have had with it is the fragility of the clip at the back, which broke off after only a few months.
The 8GB size can be extended with an SDHC card, similarly to the Fuze.
Rockbox can be installed on this device also, and I did this quite soon after buying it. I wish it had a dedicated locking switch, but the device can be locked under Rockbox by pressing Home and Select.
I have used this player for recording part of one show for HPR, and I know that Ken Fallon always uses the Clip+ as a backup recording device.
Picture: SanDisk Sansa Clip+
I noticed that the audio players were becoming less popular and more scarce as people used their smartphones for this job, so I wanted to have several players in reserve. I looked at the Rockbox site for compatible players and started hunting for examples of them on eBay.
This iRiver was my first find. It is an interesting machine. Quite heavy and fairly large, with a hard disk. It has a removable battery, a colour screen and a locking switch.
The one I have emits a faint high-pitched noise when running, so I tend not to use it.
Picture: iRiver H10 5GB
Having had good experiences with the Clip+ before, and noticing their availability on eBay, I bought another one. This has been a great device, well worth the price, even though it is not new.
I wanted to see what this model iPod was like, but having acquired it I find I really dislike this device for reasons I'm not entirely sure about. Rockbox improves it to some degree, but the hardware seems poor in comparison to the Sansa Fuze for example. I would not recommend this player given the availability of the alternatives.
Picture: Apple iPod mini 2nd Generation
This device seems identical to the 5GB model. However, on trying to install Rockbox I could not get it to run.
Researching this model (rather too late) I found that other people had also had issues with it and Rockbox, so I suspect there may be an issue with this particular configuration.
Having had such great experiences with the Sansa Fuze and Clip+ I decided to collect a few more as backup devices should the others fail. I bought three Sansa Fuze players and one Sansa Clip+.
This turned out to be a bit of a mixed experience. The Clip+ was purchased from Play.com as a manufacturer refurbished player, and has been absolutely superb. However, two of the three Fuze players gave problems. They were all bought from eBay, but I think that two were version 1 hardware and were running firmware versions which begin with '01'. These players seem unreliable and randomly dismount themselves when plugged in to a PC downloading media. The third Fuze seems good, and seems to be a version 2 device with '02' version firmware.
I am very glad to have these players. I have an Android smartphone, a fairly recent purchase, but it's too big and heavy for a shirt pocket, and is a lot less convenient than a Sansa Fuze or Clip+. Your mileage may vary of course!