Portable MP3 players store digital music in their internal memories,Consumer Information on mp3-players Articles on removable storage media, or a combination of both. You don’t buy prerecorded discs or tapes, but instead, create your own digital files on a computer using software often supplied with a player. You can convert music from your favorite audio CDs, tapes, and even records to digital files–a process known as ripping–or download music from the Internet. In either case you can listen to the files on your computer or transfer them to a portable MP3 player so you have music to go.
The term MP3 has become shorthand for digital audio of every stripe, but it’s actually just one of the formats used to encode music. The abbreviation stands for Moving Pictures Expert Group 1 Audio Layer 3, a file format that compresses music to one-tenth to one-twelfth the space it would take in uncompressed form. Other encoding schemes include Windows Media Audio (WMA), the most widely supported; Advanced Audio Codec (AAC), and Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC), a proprietary format used by Sony products. Most MP3 players can handle formats in addition to MP3, typically WMA. Plus the software that comes with them may convert incompatible files into formats the player can handle.
Despite copyright-infringement lawsuits by the music industry, free music-sharing Web sites carry on. Online music stores, led by Apple’s iTunes, allow users to download music legally for a fee. Downloaded songs from contemporary artists typically cost less than $1 per song, or $10 for an entire album. Copy-protection measures prevent these songs from being shared with other people over a network and limits the number of times users can transfer them to MP3 players or burn them onto CDs. That limitation is typically three to 10 times, depending on the service. Other legal online music sources include BuyMusic (WMA), Musicmatch (WMA), and Napster (WMA), retailers such as Wal-Mart (WMA), as well as electronics giant Sony (ATRAC). Some of these sites also offer subscription-based services, typically less than $10 per month, that allow you to listen to music on your computer in real time (streaming). Downloading music that you transfer to an MP3 player or CD costs extra, but fees are generally lower than the ones for non-subscribers.
One caveat of these services is that their copy-protected songs won’t work with all players. Also keep in mind that managing MP3 files and using an MP3 player is still more demanding than using an audio CD player.