Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday 25 November 2007

My latest great MP3 gadget

Soon after getting my first MP3 player a couple of years ago (as a Christmas gift - thanks again!) I realised that apart from being a great gadget capable of carrying around quite large music or speech files in a tiny volume, allowing me to dispense with the notion of carrying around CDs, it had some limitations. It meant that I could only listen to music through headphones and not through speakers. I solved that problem last year when I got a set of dedicated MP3 speakers, when I was buying my second (or was it my third? - *) MP3 player - this was great last winter when I was in Spain as I could carry almost 100 CDs worth of music with me and play them through a speaker system, albeit not a very powerful one, in the house I was renting out there.

Then a couple of months ago I heard about the idea of an MP3 player with a built-in FM tranmitter, allowing music played on the gadget to be listened to either via the standard ear-phones or through any suitable FM receiver. However, when I began seriously to look for sources (mainly Amazon or my local Argos stores) they always seem to be out of stock of these particular items. In any case last week I finally asked at the counter of one of the Inverness Argos stores (there are two) if these items had been withdrawn or if they were just popular and in short supply. The assistant said probably the latter and looked up in the computer to see if one was available anywhere else in the north of Scotland; there was one in Elgin (45 minutes from Inverness, 30 minutes from Nairn) and a second in Oban - over two hours drive away, so I reserved the one in Elgin and went there the next day to buy it.

I was somewhat sceptical that the FM signal would be strong enough to make the reproduction of music on a radio or hi-fi system sufficently good to make it comfortable to listen to, but as this gadget cost less than GBP40- I thought why not give it a whirl. I have been pleasantly surprised; it works well in the car and the MP3 unit can be tucked away in one of the glove boxes and gives excellent results on the car stereo. It's also good on various Hi-fi units and radios around my apartment. Sometimes one has to juggle a bit with the ear-phone cables (which must be plugged into the MP3 player when the FM transmitter is on) to get a good signal, but it's not difficult to achieve a perfectly good result. All in all it's a great gadget.

The big advantage of using a proper hi-fi system, rather than my MP3 external speakers, is that the quality of amplification of the signal is so much better and you can get a decent volume without distortion. It's also very flexible in that all I need to carry is the MP3 player itself, not a set of speakers, too. Once I have a proper stereo system in my Spanish house, the problem to taking music back and forth will be easy for my stays there.

* - all my MP3 players are flash-drive models, rather than hard disc units - much more reliable I think. I have several on the basis that if one does ever break down, then I have several 'spares' to take up the slack - I can also keep a unit in various jacket pockets for when I go out walking. All four of the MP3 players are the ITronics brand - inexpensive, but totally reliable so far - the earphone cables need replacing occasionally when the joints get frayed, and the menu system is tricky to get used to (they're all different, for goodness sake, even though of the same brand!) on one or two of them, but overall they are pretty good I think and very good value.

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