I have long been a customer of Yahoo Music Unlimited, a subscription music service competing with the likes of the new Napster and Rhapsody. When I first signed up, the service was compatible with the RCA Lyra 1070, a small, flash-based MP3 player with an SD slot to expand the capacity. You could copy any song from their library of millions of songs to the Lyra, so long as you periodically connected the Lyra to a computer to re-authorize the music library. At some point, I begin going to the gym less, and Yahoo & Microsoft made some DRM “enhancements” that rendered this device incompatible with that feature (and they made support of this feature an add-on cost). Now that Yahoo is quitting the music subscription business and handing my account over to Rhapsody, I’m looking at Rhapsody’s higher base monthly rate ($13/month) and thinking the meager $2/month add-on to copy any tracks to a portable MP3 player looks pretty nice. To do this, I’m going to need a new MP3 player.
My main criteria for this new MP3 player are a) supports subscription music services, b) accepts flash memory cards to upgrade capacity, and c) costs less than $100. Presumably a device meeting these criteria will be small enough that size isn’t an explicit criterion. The subscription issue is non-negotiable for me. The whole idea of paying $1/song has never sat well with me. I like listening to the entire discography of an artist I’ve never heard of – I recently became a huge fan of Explosions in the Sky doing this. I enjoy listening to entire albums, even the less popular songs, to discover hidden gems. It’s awesome to be able to queue up a few hours of obscure Australian or Greek music to set the ambiance for a themed dinner party (and not have to buy the music). With some nagging exceptions (Metallica, movie soundtracks), almost all the music I could ever want to listen to is immediately available at no additional cost. Upgradeable capacity is another hot-button issue for me. Upgradeable capacity takes away that temptation to pay $50 more for a $20-30 memory-upgraded-model now, and $200 more when the capacity of the shiny new players on the market are an order of magnitude larger than yours. Buy a 2 GB player right now, and by this time next year, a $30 SD card will probably take you to 10 or 18 GB.
So far, my search is pointing to the Sandisk Sansa e250, which can be had refurbished for $40. It has a color screen and video playback – I honestly don’t care about this since I don’t care to load TV and movies onto it – if I could find an audio only device like my old Lyra, I’d take it, though I’ll probably find a reason to like the video. It comes with 2 GB of internal memory and is upgradeable with a microSD card (I would prefer a full-size SD card for cost/capacity reasons). It has an FM tuner and can record FM radio – not a big draw, but interesting. It has an internal, rechargeable, user-replaceable battery – another nice plus. Anyone have good/bad experiences with this player? Good experiences with another player that seems to hit the criteria? Just want to tell me to suck it up and buy an iPod nano instead? Comment away.