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Advice on Audio Player for Old Folks, Digital Playback - How much do devices vary?
carpman
post Nov 19 2012, 19:47
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Hi all,

I'm looking for a budget device to play audio mainly from USB memory stick (or possibly USB External Drive)

Was looking for an all in one solution and that led to looking at Portable DVD players (thus could play MP3s burnt to DVD, CDs, and MP3s from USB), but the problem having tried a couple is the interface is simply not designed to deal with a large number of audio files and one ends up navigating a clunky tree / directory system with buttons not designed to be pressed that often.

So, since my folks have a decent CD player already, I'm starting to think more along the lines of a straight MP3 player or e-Reader but it must have a decent sized screen and navigable interface.

Here's what I'm considering:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B006LZW...me=&seller=

But this leads me to my second question:
How much do digital playback devices vary in regards quality. I'm assuming nowadays a DAC is a DAC, but is this true?
Afterall, it's just pumping ones and zeros out to an amp; can it vary that much?

The Mebook can play AAC, MP3, FLAC and WAV so its appealing. Plus it's very simple to navigate.

Anyone have any alternatives (I looked at Sansa players but none has a large enough screen for old folks - at least not these ones).

Any help greatly appreciated.

Cheers,

C.


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saratoga
post Nov 19 2012, 20:07
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QUOTE (carpman @ Nov 19 2012, 14:47) *
But this leads me to my second question:
How much do digital playback devices vary in regards quality. I'm assuming nowadays a DAC is a DAC, but is this true?
Afterall, it's just pumping ones and zeros out to an amp; can it vary that much?


For line out, yes. For headphone out, you'll tend to have fairly high output impedance on cheap devices. This is particularly true for readers and tablets. How much it matters to casual users is debatable.
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JJZolx
post Nov 19 2012, 20:16
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How old are they?

Where are they going be getting content? Will they be ripping and/or downloading music themselves, or are you planning on giving them a loaded USB stick? If it's the latter, I would just keep buying them CDs.
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carpman
post Nov 19 2012, 20:34
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Old. But to be honest none of that stuff is an issue. They've got a CD player - but they want to be able to enjoy the benefits of just switching on a device that will just play from a decent collection of music (they don't want to even really decide what to put on - they just want to switch their music on like it's the radio and for it to play). Most of their music is already ripped and in lossless form (guess who did that? wink.gif ).

C.

This post has been edited by carpman: Nov 19 2012, 20:34


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DVDdoug
post Nov 19 2012, 22:43
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Maybe a (cheap) laptop?

For the last couple of years around Christmas, I've set-up my laptop at my girlfriend's house (plugged into her stereo) to play Christmas music with Winamp. (She has a computer, but it's not in her living room, and she doesn't normally use a computer for audio/video. ) She can just leave it running all the time and turn on/off the stereo (and use the volume control on the stereo).

And after I remind her how to do it, I think she can click the Winamp icon, click "Christmas", and then 'Play", in case she has to re-start it. But, I'm not sure I'd do this if I wasn't nearby enough to "fix it" if something got messed-up.



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DonP
post Nov 20 2012, 02:09
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How portable does it have to be? I've seen low end 7" android tablets (not proprietary E-readers) for under a hundred bucks at the local odd-lot store. Could either load up the flash, or use a cloud service if they have wi-fi at home.
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Dynamic
post Nov 20 2012, 02:30
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Nov 19 2012, 21:43) *
Maybe a (cheap) laptop?


And the Boom audio player from fb2k developer Peter is designed for the demographic with masses of format support, gapless playback etc. Worth a look if you use a Windows machine.

Also players like tablets aren't a bad option, and the reviews of the Mebook you mentioned sound good especially if it remains plugged in to a charger. With options of Vorbis and AAC-LC, you could squeeze quite a lot of good sounding audio on the supplied 4GB card at around 90-120 kbps sort of bitrate (40-55 MB per hour ->70-100 hours of music in 4GB), and have FM radio too. Not bad for 40, by the sound of it, unless you want an ebook reader.

Items like cheapish Android tablets (from about 55 to 100) might offer more flexibility and (if they have WiFi) apps like Spotify or various podcatchers, but are a bit pricier. Many with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) also support apps like BBC iPlayer, which as you used Amazon UK and used the word 'Cheers' is presumably a potential selling point assuming they're on a UK IP address and allowed to view iPlayer content. (I'd guess this also means live BBC radio and TV over WiFi is an option) and any number of music player apps to suit them best. Some of them also have 3G data, GPS and the like, if any of those features could be useful. However, this might get in the way of a keep-it-simple approach.

Also the iPad1 has good battery life, very good audio (via headphone) and fairly intuitive & responsive interface and I think 8GB of storage. AAC support gives options to cram a lot of 96-128 kbps good quality stereo audio in.

Possibly worth considering accessibility support (e.g. large fonts / high contrast in the music player apps) for use with fading eyesight? My guess is Android might be a good option here.

This post has been edited by Dynamic: Nov 20 2012, 02:33
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carpman
post Nov 20 2012, 03:12
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A fast loading laptop with a line out and nothing but Boom on it would probably be ideal. But then you hit the really, really cheap end of laptops. My budget is <100. I'd rather get a decent simple device than a super cheap complex device. But it looks like since I want a screen interface that's going to be tricky.

I'd come across those Android tablets. I'll take a closer look.
Anyone had any experience with these things; the problem with this kind of technology, versus what I want it for, is that there's a perpetual upgrade cycle implicit in purchasing these things, but I want something that (in the same way an amp or speakers do) just does a simple task and can last a while doing it.

I suppose really what I want is a (almost non-portable) MP3 player with an over-sized screen (and a line out).

I'll investigate further based on all your advice so far.

Thanks (or if you're Dynamic - Cheers and toodle-pip! smile.gif )

C.


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Dynamic
post Nov 20 2012, 03:37
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On Android, you can probably choose an app (or the stock player) and turn off automatic upgrades in Google Play (the Android Market or App Store as it once was). The only things you get forced to upgrade relate to streaming media, where codecs get changed (e.g. Skype, SIP, GoogleTalk, WebRTC, Youtube, Flash Player, BBC iPlayer, possibly Spotify) or to web browsing (where sites begin to insist on new HTML tags or plugins).

That's the beauty of a single use such as playing music and listening to FM radio (if the headphone / line-out lead is a sufficiently good antenna). Android has its own Music player (supports Vorbis, AAC, MP3 out of the box) which has album art support and a range of modes (Album mode, shuffle, genre, etc), though I'm not familiar with Android 4.0 myself.

In my experience headphone sockets are fine to act as line-out, given that aux inputs tend to have high enough impedance to measure the intended voltage. It's using microphone inputs as line-in that's the real problem.

TTFN, old chap,

Dynamic.
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carpman
post Nov 20 2012, 06:50
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Thanks, that's useful info. I had a look over a number of Android tablets. I find the reviews interesting - always some are glowing and then a good number of horror stories all around the same theme of cheapness and unreliability. I guess you get what you pay for.

I know it sounds a bit dumb but has anyone actually come across a "(almost non-portable) MP3 player with an over-sized screen"?

ps. Dynamic, I was referring to hardware upgrades rather than software updates: i.e. what I meant by upgrade cycle is that because the tech moves on so quickly in this area, the assumption is that the hardware will soon be replaced and thus it doesn't have to be built to last.

Thanks again,

C.


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Dynamic
post Nov 20 2012, 11:46
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I get your point about build quality assumptions now. The low end is not going to be brilliant, I guess.

If it plays stuff fine, there's no need to replace unless something breaks, the battery loses capacity dramatically (like my laptop) or a vital connector breaks (like my HTC Wildfire phone's headphone socket after I dropped it once too many with the headphone plug inserted) or a component breaks. My HTC phone screen needed replacement but the spare was under 10 and I was able to fit it with the aid of online teardown videos and jeweller's screwdrivers. It might even be worth considering the cost of full replacement against the cost of a more expensive but better built tablet and the time to set it up with the same music collection and learn how to use it.

At least you can pre-configure a lot to make it simple to use with the easiest application - e.g. convert from tagged lossless using fb2k and apply Album Gain to all albums in the Convert... dialogue to prevent volume annoyances and not need ReplayGain support in the device. The only other considerations are then usability and gapless support.

iPads are built very well but even second hand, even smashed to pieces, it seems, they're at least a little over 100 on ebay. I have the impression that the Google Nexus 7 (159 for 16GB) is pretty well built also (Dave Jones on EEVblog did a partial teardown, where he gives his opinion of the build quality, and also a review) and much cheaper from new than current iPads, but this is toward the high end of a low budget.

I use an iPad 1 with a group for their on-stage backing tracks and it has great build quality and audio quality and is easy enough to use. It's a minor pain to use iTunes and to have to work around song-at-a-time playback using playlists. Also a temporary pain was when it got 'upgraded' to iOS 5 with no downgrade option. Suddenly the bold font of the 'iPod' app's playlists was gone and in the new Music app playlists showed as an icon of a stack of album art inside the playlist with tiny text (not good for the performers without their glasses!) so I knocked up Album Art of large numbers and text song titles to work around that. The graphics to do that make fast scrolling of the hundred playlists a bit jerky, but it's perfectly usable and sounds great. That said, it may be possible to enable accessibility options, but we have a better workaround for our needs anyway now.

Gapless support has been on iPads from the word go. Certain players on Android are gapless so you should easily find one in the market that's easy to use and gapless, but I don't think the stock Music app is gapless even in latest versions (I stand to be corrected though).
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Nov 20 2012, 17:02
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QUOTE (carpman @ Nov 19 2012, 13:47) *
Hi all,

I'm looking for a budget device to play audio mainly from USB memory stick (or possibly USB External Drive)

Was looking for an all in one solution and that led to looking at Portable DVD players (thus could play MP3s burnt to DVD, CDs, and MP3s from USB), but the problem having tried a couple is the interface is simply not designed to deal with a large number of audio files and one ends up navigating a clunky tree / directory system with buttons not designed to be pressed that often.

So, since my folks have a decent CD player already, I'm starting to think more along the lines of a straight MP3 player or e-Reader but it must have a decent sized screen and navigable interface.

Here's what I'm considering:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B006LZW...me=&seller=


First point - looks to me like the USB port on this device is not a socket for USB flash drives but a port that looks like a USB flash drive to the host computer. Ordinarily USB ports aren't bi-directional in this sense, they either expose a mass storage interface, or they accept one. The only flash storage port appears to be micro-USB.


QUOTE
But this leads me to my second question:
How much do digital playback devices vary in regards quality. I'm assuming nowadays a DAC is a DAC, but is this true?
Afterall, it's just pumping ones and zeros out to an amp; can it vary that much?


DACs on portable devices can be all over the map, but these days they are way good enough for the type of application you seem to be describing.

QUOTE
The Mebook can play AAC, MP3, FLAC and WAV so its appealing. Plus it's very simple to navigate.


I see the prospect of a large clear display for navigating music folders to be a big plus, if it exists. The screen to do it is there.

QUOTE
Anyone have any alternatives (I looked at Sansa players but none has a large enough screen for old folks - at least not these ones).


Good point. The Sansa UI is also a little opaque for people who aren't used to portable device UIs. On balance a friend in her 70s did well with a Flash I lent her, but her daily dialer is a high-function phone.

What I learned from your post is that you don't have to pay Kindle prices to get a potentially decent looking reader.
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Canar
post Nov 21 2012, 07:39
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I don't get why people are recommending Boom. Yes, fast load times, but I can make foobar2000 load as fast. The point of foobar2000 is you can remove absolutely everything you don't use.

Everything.


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cyberdux
post Nov 21 2012, 07:53
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What about iPad mini with "Accessability - Large Text" invoked? (A little expensive perhaps.)
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RonaldDumsfeld
post Nov 21 2012, 11:27
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This what you want mate.

RaspBerry Pi

Just think how proud they will be. Not only are you willing to spend $50 dollars on them you would also have put in a bit of effort.
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DonP
post Nov 21 2012, 14:06
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QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Nov 21 2012, 06:27) *
This what you want mate.

RaspBerry Pi

Just think how proud they will be. Not only are you willing to spend $50 dollars on them you would also have put in a bit of effort.


By the time you get the accessories necessary to do anything with it, you could have a complete tablet with a faster dual core processor.

Maybe you've already got a power supply, sd card, USB hub, keyboard, mouse, screen (HD TV works), wifi dongle. Many of these (except the screen) are $10 or less each, but they add up.

It could be interesting to configure it to boot straight into a music program controlled from a web interface (smart phone etc), then you could skip the hard wired input devices and maybe the screen.
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carpman
post Nov 22 2012, 17:42
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Nov 20 2012, 16:02) *
First point - looks to me like the USB port on this device is not a socket for USB flash drives but a port that looks like a USB flash drive to the host computer. Ordinarily USB ports aren't bi-directional in this sense, they either expose a mass storage interface, or they accept one. The only flash storage port appears to be micro-USB.

Good call - the storage is MicroSD, and the mini-USB is for PC connectivity. Well spotted.

QUOTE (cyberdux @ Nov 21 2012, 06:53) *
What about iPad mini with "Accessability - Large Text" invoked? (A little expensive perhaps.)

Yes, would be good, but outside budget.

QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Nov 21 2012, 10:27) *
This what you want mate.
RaspBerry Pi

Just think how proud they will be ....

laugh.gif

Yes, when that's all I give them, and tell them they can take it from there ... so happy.

--------

Thanks to all for the input. I've learnt quite a bit.

It strikes me that .... well I'm going to blame the "Home Entertainment Centre" for this ... being based around the TV as the central shrine of one's entertainment, the assumption is that there is a ready screen on hand, thus the pure audio "solution" finds itself without an adequate interface. I'm surprised (but not that surprised) that there is no pure audio player with a large (non-touchscreen) screen and an app that can deal with multiple storage devices(incl External USB HDD) and simply play all one's audio files. I realise a laptop does this and a tablet can too, but that seems like overkill when one really only requires a Sansa Clip with a large screen. Since nowadays all one needs is an amp, speakers and a digital audio device with line out (one would think an interface might be useful -- and this seems to be the problem). Pretty much all the best solutions offered up all end up using an all singing all dancing (portable) device to do one job in a static location.

Thanks once again,

C.

This post has been edited by carpman: Nov 22 2012, 17:45


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Dynamic
post Nov 22 2012, 19:25
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Did you see the Sandisk or Sansa Clip Zip? It has a better screen, but still probably too small for your needs and without touchscreen.

I guess the iPod Touch isn't going to be quite there either, and possibly too pricey
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southisup
post Dec 2 2012, 05:28
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QUOTE (Dynamic @ Nov 20 2012, 21:46) *
Certain players on Android are gapless so you should easily find one in the market that's easy to use and gapless, but I don't think the stock Music app is gapless even in latest versions (I stand to be corrected though).

Stock player "Play Music" on Android 4.2 plays gapless for me.
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Stephan37
post Dec 2 2012, 15:41
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I bought an iPad for my stereo system and I just LOVE it. It has everything you want and more.

What abour other uses for your folks? I found that I'm at my computer much less since the IPad is readily available and instant on. I would'nt hesitate and buy one for my parents. And: there is a third party (cheap) remote control that you can use, which works fine but runs out of batteries quickly if you don't turn it off (it's a bluetooth remote from TRUST I think)

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kritip
post Dec 2 2012, 17:41
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http://www.jayceooi.com/2012/08/20/how-to-...ive-on-nexus-7/

as per above if you root the nexus 7 you can use mass storage with the USB smile.gif

This is on pre-order, fits your budget and has micro sd and usb (unsure about using it as a storage device, but you have the micro sd)

http://www.ebuyer.com/407319-sumvision-cyc...blet-pc-cycvoy7
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carpman
post Dec 2 2012, 20:47
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QUOTE (kritip @ Dec 2 2012, 16:41) *
This is on pre-order, fits your budget and has micro sd and usb (unsure about using it as a storage device, but you have the micro sd)

http://www.ebuyer.com/407319-sumvision-cyc...blet-pc-cycvoy7

Thanks for that. Noted.

C.


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mzil
post Dec 3 2012, 04:21
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I've owned various DVD and even Bluray machines which, on paper, say that they'll read music libraries stored on SDHC cards, etc,. but when I go to actually try the feature I discover they are painfully slow to read the data, to even just display the table of contents for anything other than a very small library of tunes. I find them to be of no use. I'd avoid that (including microSDHC) as a storage medium for large libraries.
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carpman
post Dec 27 2012, 20:19
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QUOTE (kritip @ Dec 2 2012, 16:41) *

Just a quick thanks to kritip (and everyone else who chimed in).
I ended up getting the Sumvision Cyclone Voyager (though not from ebuyer as it remained on perpetual pre-order status) and it was perfect. So a big thanks for that suggestion.

Cheers,

C.


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