With the Christmas tree chopped up and the New Year's resolutions made (and probably broken) the holidays are officially over and the new year has begun. But if you're on the receiving end of a gift from one of the 60% of Americans who purchased a gift card as a present this year, the Christmas season may not be quite over. Now you need to decide what to do with those gift cards and they probably won't be to a place like Newegg where you can geek-out on exotic hardware; instead you're shopping retail.

So what do you do with those gift cards before they begin to self-deduct? If you're thinking of an MP3 player, then you're in the right place. We're re-launching our coverage of MP3 players here at AnandTech, and to start things off we have a roundup of high-end MP3 players from juggernauts Apple and Microsoft, who between the two control the vast majority of the high-end high-margin market for MP3 players in the United States.

Apple of course needs no introduction in the MP3 player market, as while they were originally a couple of years late to the game they have managed to become the unlikely 800lb gorilla in the MP3 player market. iPod has very nearly become synonymous with "MP3 player" in common vernacular, a short-but-succinct summary of Apple's dominance (and a possible trademark nightmare for the company in the future). They're the company to beat, they have no desire to hide this, and they have no intention of letting it happen.

Meanwhile we also have Microsoft, a far newer competitor that has done surprisingly well or surprisingly poor in the market so far, depending on who you ask. Their first Zune was panned by critics for various perceived inadequacies and the Zune did not dislodge Apple from being the king of the hill as Microsoft had hoped. Yet on the other hand, the first Zune was enough to catapult Microsoft to the #2 supplier of hard drive based MP3 players in the United States, shooting past entrenched players like Creative practically overnight. They came nowhere close to beating Apple in the MP3 player market, but they got closer than anyone else in recent years and are willing to throw the money and leverage that is Microsoft to try again and again.

It has been no accident that Microsoft has chosen the past year to break in to the MP3 player market. Issues of company diversification aside, as an established market the MP3 player market has in the past year finally matured. For Apple this is a troubling news, as they must now compete with themselves to sell new iPods since they can no longer bank on market growth to keep their sales high. Meanwhile for Microsoft this is great news, as Microsoft's is often at its best when it's time to compete in a mature market where breakthroughs are slow and the risk of competitors blind sighting them is low.

The MP3 players we will be looking at today represent the shifts in product styles that come with that maturation. From Apple we have the old guard and the new guard; the iPods Classic and Touch respectively. From Microsoft we have the Zune 80, a product that is both the old and new guards at the same time, striving to fix what ailed the first Zune in the process. How do these MP3 players stack up? Let's find out.

iPod Classic
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  • Drazic - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    I have my Zune 80GB for 3 years now. It has never been broken and the screen is still in good shape! The Zune is very easy to use, has wonderful music and the quality is very good. Of Course there are not a lot of European people who have the Zune, lucky me:)So they can't compare at all. Even though the people are saying that more of the population in the VS has the Mac Note Book I most say that all the people that I know, friends, college's,either way don't even want the Mac Note Book. They rather choose for an HP or a Toshiba!:) Simple because you don't have to buy of put pro gramme's on the computer that's only from Mac. Honestly!? The Toshiba & HP's are more beautiful. What's in a name!? (careless, it's only the brand) Reply
  • charlie brown - Wednesday, April 02, 2008 - link

    If anandtech are going to use an audio analyser, shouldn't they understand the values and equipment they are measuring? As a professional audio engineer I find their conclusions disturbing...

    Why haven't you published numbers for THD +noise etc - you just draw your own conclusions from some 0.0... percentage?

    All players frequency response is +/-dB from 0-20kHz. These are all excellent when you understand the freq response of a headphone - even top of the range sennheisers. How can you possibly describe one player response as very good/excellent etc?! You would NOT hear the difference whatsoever.

    What possible difference does -100/-110/-120 signal to noise ratio really make for an mp3 player?? (audibly - absolutely none) these are all excellent.

    "Earbuds generally lack bass due to their size"
    This is only half the story, they perform better with good coupling to the ear (im sure youve pushed some phones into your ear and heared the bass improve?).

    Have you guys ever stopped to think that you are reviewing an MP3 player? The nature of MP3 (being an audio compression developed from the 1980's) is that it is a LOSSY compression. THE ENCODING WILL DEGRADE THE SOUND QUALITY MORE THAN THE PLAYER EVER WILL, EVEN AT HIGH BITRATES.

    Why doesn't anandtech throw them on the ground and record which one breaks the easiest - i mean this is more useful than the conclusions taken in your audio test.

    Reply
  • abpages - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    Feature wise the Zune 80 kills the Ipod.

    Also, the ipod has video out, but can't outpid it's interface.
    The Zune can. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you ever want to hook this up to a tv or in my case a LCD in my Car it is fantastic. No looking down at the device to choose song (and possible crashing j/k), everything is on the screen all the menus.

    I own both and the new Zune has it this time.

    Ron Stark
    http://www.WebSiteDesigners.net.au">http://www.WebSiteDesigners.net.au
    Reply
  • Heatlesssun - Sunday, January 27, 2008 - link

    I bought two Zune 80’s at Christmas, one for the wife and one for me, and they are great devices. I want to address two criticisms in this review. One, the Zune Pass is very cool. At $15 a month one can get one album versus thousands. If you know what you’re doing, subscriptions models like Zune Pass offer better value.

    Secondly, I think this review makes too much out of the lack of TV and movies on Zune Market place. There are so many ways to get content these days that it’s funny. Heck, if you’ve cable TV, there’s a source right there, and you’re not paying for the content again, which is cool.

    Really, a person just needs a good set of transcoding software, that frees a person from being tied to any one content source.
    Reply
  • 9nails - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    Want an external speaker? Perhaps you need an additional USB cradle? Do you need a carry case? Or maybe you would like a car adapter kit? How about a screen protector to save that investment?

    All of these things are easier to find on an iPod Accessory shelf. But the Zune shelf is shockingly bare. Perhaps the case or a new set of (universal) headphones is all that you can find for the Zune. For me, more than anything, the availability of accessories was a major decision maker in the search for an MP3 player. My second major factor was cost. Third was storage capacity. And least significant was battery life.
    Reply
  • NewBozo - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    Be sure to get an Archos 605 Wi-Fi for future media player reviews. It is much less expensive than anything you reviewed here, has drag and drop capabilities and can surf the web and stream video over the built in wi-fi. It is amazing!

    ...newbozo
    Reply
  • rcbm1970 - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    "Did you know that 60 per cent of Americans received gift vouchers for Christmas? We didn’t either, but that’s just fuel for Anand Techie’s latest Ipod vs. Zune dissertation (squeezed into 10 pages). It’s a bit of a one-sided argument with iIpod coming out smelling like roses and Zune always the close-secnd-but-never-first. Get your Apple-certified endorsement here." Reply
  • Nitram49 - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Dude! I own a Iaudio X5, Ipod Shuffle(Garbage) and an Ipod Nano. Every chance I get I use the X5 because there is no comparison in sound to the Ipod's. With the ability to tweak the sound and produce some serious bass it can't be beat. I mean with my JBL reference 220 or AKG k-81 DJ I can walk around with so much bass that it is impressive, and then if needed flatten it right out with a plethora of controls(EQ,BBE,...,). Nothing beats the HDD capabilities of an X5. I heard the D2 and I can't imagine how you let a chance to review that slip through your hands in a comparison. Also my friend just got an Iaudio 7. wow. Give those dudes at Cowon a listen and you tell me if I'm wrong. Reply
  • TedKord - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    IMO, if you're looking for an MP3/video portable player, you shouldn't be looking at either MS or Apple. I had a Cowon A2 which blew my friend's Ipod classic away in every respect (video/sound quality, format compatibility, features) except HD size. It was also better than the Zunes I've tried, though I've not tried the newer generation extensively. Another thing that should be mentioned with the Ipod is iTunes. I hate that program, it made me load QT, and everytime I disable the autoload for QT, it reenables when my daughter uses iTunes for her Nano 3G. Plus, they made me sign up with a crdit card to enable album art. With the A2, I just dragged and dropped my existing mp3, flac and ogg music right to it - no reencode or anything. Same with the divx/xvid movies I already had - drag, drop, watch.

    The iPod Touch is a cool device, but more for it's interface than it's video/audio quality.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Why do you hate your daughter? It sounds like you need to get her a computer of her own if you don't want her to synch her Nano (and thus re-enabling QuickTime, which is used for AAC encoding for iTunes if she's ripping music) to your PC.

    Besides which, why do you want to manually load and unload your MP3 player? The whole point of computers is to do the tedious things for us (such as ripping, tagging, organizing, and synching). Your daughter, with iTunes, only has to plug and go. If she has more music than the Nano can fit, it will auto-select her favorite music, or she can select (checkbox style) her favorite playlists, or manually (if she wishes to be like dad) to drag and drop songs and playlists to her Nano.
    Reply

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