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Packaging MP3s for Flash Players

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Those who own flash music players may envy the capacity of their brethren who own multi-gigabyte hard drive based music players. News flash: Your envy's misplaced, and you've got the weight and portability advantage. Plus, disk space on a PC costs a whole lot less than disk space on a music player. That's why Ed Tittel explains how to use your PC to stage music collections designed to pour right onto your flash device, to help you make the most of your advantages, too.
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Though most flash MP3 players ship with some kind of software to download music from your computer to the player, with a little thought and planning you can make the most of your player's flash capacity, from 64MB to 1GB or more. With special pricing on larger-capacity flash devices (CF, SD, MMC, and so forth) bringing prices below $300 per gigabyte (and sometimes below $200), larger music collections are becoming more affordable.

But no matter what kind of player you've got, you can benefit from organizing your music and breaking it up into discrete collections designed to fit whatever amount of memory your player holds. While many techniques are conceivable, there are two tried-and-true methods that anybody can use. (Although results will vary according to your MP3 player's support for standard file formats and filesystem access, either on PCs or Macintoshes.) Let's label these two methods as follows, and briefly explain how they work:

  • Basic file manipulation: For MP3 players that support filesystem access from PCs (some can be mounted on the desktop like any other storage device; others have removable flash devices that you can load into low-cost USB- or FireWire-attached readers), it's easy to create folders or directories sized to fit specific flash device capacities. Those ins and outs, along with pros and cons, are covered in the next section.

  • Playlist control: Most MP3 players work with software that recognizes playlists (a list of MP3 audio tracks set up for playback, something like a stack of platters on an old vinyl record player). By carefully crafting and sizing playlists, it's easy to create collections of music you can download to an MP3 player's flash memory. Those details, plus pros and cons, are covered right after the discussion of basic file manipulation.

Basic File Manipulation

In its most basic form, basic file manipulation works like this: Gather MP3 files into a folder or directory until their aggregate size is slightly less than or equal to the capacity of the flash device you want to fill with music. Once assembled, use some kind of file copy utility—such as Explorer on Windows, or File Finder on the Mac—and copy the files from the hard drive to your flash device.

To some, this method may sound too good to be true; others may suspect hidden gotchas. Both sets of cynics would be right in some circumstances. The "too good to be true" camp will quickly seize on the notion that some MP3 players don't support filesystem access. For such players, that makes this approach more a case of "can't get there from here"—or really, can't get here (MP3 player) from there (PC or Macintosh). Even those whose MP3 players support filesystem access should recognize that there's a world of difference between grabbing and using MP3 files from a filesystem perspective and doing so from inside a jukebox program, music manager, or playlist utility.

But for those hardy souls prepared to dig into opaque filenames and persist in recognizing the music inside individual MP3 files, this approach provides a simple, straightforward way to prepare music collections for flash memory play. All you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Create a folder or directory on a hard disk with sufficient free space.

  2. Name the folder or directory descriptively. Best-of-Miles-1972-1979 works a lot better than New Folder, for example.

  3. Drag-and-drop the folder or directory onto your player or flash reader, whichever maps into your system's file manager.


It's hard to beat a cheapo flash reader—such as the EDGE 6-in-1 Flash Media Reader 2.0 available through Computer Shopper for as little as $10—for ease of access and convenience for those MP3 players with removable memory whose file formats also work with same.

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