Chinese MP3/MP4 players (S1MP3)
Low cost - high quality
Our family has now owned a variety of these MP3 and MP4 players, which offer remarkable sound quality at often a very low price. They are often overlooked due mainly to snobbery over their country of origin. All MP3 and MP4 players are made in China, whatever their brand name.
There are a number of advantages of these players over some of the higher priced alternatives:
They work as flash drives, leaving you unencumbered by the software which some manufacturers make you use with their players. This makes them very easy to use with any operating system, including the Ubuntu Linux that we use.
128 Mb MP3 player
This player, with 128 Mb of memory, was a free gift from a business stationery supplier in the UK. 128 Mb is a bit limited. It's enough space for two and a half albums at 128 Kb/s - a rate which is a bit low for comfort, but OK for travelling.
Not bad for a freebie.
256 Mb MP3 players
The left most player, is one of two which my children have used for several years - hence the cracked screen cover. Both of these two have been very heavily used in the last three years. So heavily used in fact, that one stopped working and was replaced with the display less player.
The displayless player has a 2.5 mm headphone socket instead of the normal 3.5 mm size. This required an adaptor cable so that it could be used with better quality headphones. It cost just £5 from a shop in the UK a couple of years ago.
2 Gb MP4 player
These players came with 2Gb of memory, and can play video files as well as audio. They also have the undocumented feature of being able to play the higher quality Ogg Vorbis compression format as well as MP3 and WMA files.
They can also display a slideshow of photographs.
I have written a small shell script onto which you can drag and drop video files on the desktop and which will convert them into a format suitable for the MP4 player and copy them directly to the device.
The headphones which come with these players are typically not very good at all and rather let down the overall good quality of sound available. We bought Sennheiser ear-buds for our children to use, giving quite excellent sound quality.
There is adequate output power from the headphone socket to drive my 600 ohm Sennheiser HD580 headphones (the current nearest equivalent is the Sennheiser HD600) to more than a loud enough level, and produce excellent sound quality while doing so. They also work well into the high impedence of the line input of a hifi.
Except for the display-less player, each of those shown will also work as a memo recorder. Sound quality in this mode isn't spectacular, but it can be occasionally useful.
If using MP3, the best sounding encoder at any given bit-rate is LAME (a free download). We do not use Microsoft's inferior WMA format, but do also use Ogg Vorbis. Buying decent headphones makes a huge difference to the overall sound quality.
Why are they better than an iPod ?
The biggest issue to me is that of freedom. With these players one can copy anything onto the flash disk and use it in any way desired. There is no restriction of having to to use Apple's software, which would itself mean we had to run either the Macintosh operating system or Microsoft Windows. We use Ubuntu Linux here.
The sound quality of these players is actually very good. It is virtually indistinguishable from MP3 players from any other manufacturers. This is particularly true when you consider that they will often be used in a noisy environment or to play heavily compressed music. Also, these players work with Ogg Vorbis files for potentially better sound quality than MP3 - another feature lacking from the iPod.
By saving money on the purchase price you have more left over for decent headphones which will make more difference to the sound quality than anything to do with the players themselves.
The players are based around a chipset by Actions Semiconductor.
I am planning in time to expand this page to include as much information as I can on these overlooked products. For now, just the following:An effort to make a replacement public domain version of the firmware
Wikipedia page on the players
LAME - the best quality MP3 encoder and a free download.
Ogg Vorbis - for potentially better quality than MP3. Also a free download.
Sennheiser - manufacturer of high quality headphones.
Sennheiser Headphones for sale
I've more hifi component reviews on my hifi page.
Link back to my home page