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Samsung's Yepp YP-90S personal audio player

The little MP3 player that could

Manufacturer Samsung
Model Yepp YP-90S
Price (street) US$99
Availability Now

IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, I've become completely dependent on my MP3 library. No, I didn't stop buying CDs, but I did rip my CD audio library to high-bit rate MP3s. Since then, I haven't touched my jewel case-filled CD shelves, and I continually wonder how I put up with having to physically change discs in my three-disc CD player. There's just something about having almost 4,000 songs just a couple of clicks away that's intoxicating, even addictive.

Now that I have an entire library of CDs available in MP3 format, I want to take some of them out with me when I go for a run or to the gym, when I know I'm going to end up bored in a waiting room somewhere, or even when I want to get away from my computer for a while and go out a walk through the park or along the beach.

With the desire for a portable MP3 player fresh in my mind, I noticed Samsung's Yepp YP-90S, and I was smitten. Maybe it was the MP3 player's smooth curves, LCD display, rocker switch, or the fact it was small enough to almost completely hide in my hand. Whatever it was, it drew me in, and I've been playing with the YP-90S for more than a month now.

Did this pint-sized MP3 player deliver me to portable audio Nirvana, replacing my battered MiniDisc player along the way, or does an annoying personality lurk behind the Yepp's sexy curves? Read on to find out.

The personal audio landscape
Before I get into the specifics of Samsung's YP-90S, I'm going to take a minute to quickly explore the MP3 player landscape. There are a staggering number of options available today if you're looking for a portable audio player; those options can grouped into three main categories, each with its own benefits and caveats.

  • Hard drive-based - Hard drive-based audio players are available from Creative, Archos, and others, but perhaps the most visible player is Apple's sexy iPod. Hard drive-based players are generally expensive, but they offer consumers gigabytes of potential music storage. These players are typically larger and heavier than competing portable devices, but their storage density can't be beat if you want to carry around your entire MP3 collection on one device.

  • CD-based - CD-based MP3 players often look like your average Discman, but they are capable of playing MP3s burned onto CD-R or CD-RW media in addition to traditional audio CDs. CD-based players have no real internal storage of their own, so their capacity is limited only by the number of CDs you can carry around with you. Blank CD-R media is also incredibly cheap, making CD-based MP3 players the cheapest option for large MP3 libraries if you don't mind carting around a CD wallet.

    Unfortunately, because they rely on spinning optical media, skipping can be a problem in extremely rough environments, or if the player has a small or poorly-implemented anti-skip buffer. To retain compatibility with standard CD-R disc dimensions, players need to measure at least 4.5" in diameter, and don't forget the size of the CDs you have to carry around with them to really take advantage of cheap storage density.

  • Solid state - Solid state MP3 players rely on either internal memory chips or external solid state media, like Compact Flash cards, to store MP3 files. These players are typically very small and light, but their overall cost is high considering their potential storage densities. Devices generally feature 32, 64, or 128MB of internal storage, which limits the number and quality of audio files that can be stored on the player at once.

    Some solid state players allow the use of external solid state memory in Compact Flash, Secure Digital, or Smart Media formats. External media cards can greatly expand a solid state player's storage capacity, but the media itself doesn't come cheap, especially not when compared with the price of a CD-R disc. To their credit, solid state MP3 players are free of mechanical parts and spinning media, so skipping is not an issue.

MiniDisc players aren't technically MP3 players because they use a proprietary compression scheme, but they are similar to CD-based MP3 players in some respects. MiniDisc media, however, is much smaller than a standard CD, enabling smaller device sizes. MiniDisc media retails for between $1.50 and $3 for a disc capable of holding 74 minutes of 256k MP3-like quality audio, which puts the cost per megabyte well under that of removable solid state media, but still above conventional CD-R media.