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by Marty Demarest


The Buggles sang that "Video Killed the Radio Star." But like ghastly life-support systems, MP3 players around the world are keeping their tunes alive. After all, nobody listens to CDs anymore... right?


Well, if like a lot of people, you've waited to jump into the MP3 player fray, or are simply trying to find a good back-to-school tech toy, keep a few things in mind when navigating the treacherous world of digital music players.


There are three primary concerns when choosing an MP3 player: the amount of memory it has, its design and its overall functionality as a music player. While a holy grail that combines all three aspects of an ideal player does exist for Macintosh users (the $294 iPod), PC users will have to settle for machines that emphasize one feature while neglecting others.


If you're pursuing something stylish to take to the gym and capable of playing enough music to get you through a workout while helping you look cool, you'll want to check out Samsung's Mini-Yepp. It's shockingly small -- about the size of a flattened egg -- and it weighs only a few ounces. The single AAA battery lasts for only about three hours, and it holds approximately a half-hour of music, but it's easy to learn how to use, and won't break your budget at $60.


On the other end of the price scale is Archos' Jukebox Sudio 20, which retails for $240. However, this clunky device that's the approximate size of a cassette case (remember those?) stores 20 gigabytes worth of music and computer files. That's right -- computer files. Just like the iPod, the Studio 20 can be used as a portable hard drive for your computer -- and still play music. In fact, if music is all that you're interested in, you can expect to fit about 500 CDs' worth of music on it. Good thing the batteries last for eight hours.


Combining an entirely different set of virtues into one package, however, is the one-stop-wonder Rio Volt SP250 ($180), which not only plays music files but also ships with the beautifully intuitive MusicMatch MP3 software, two different headphones, a remote control and rechargeable batteries that last nearly 15 hours. On top of that, it features a CD player and an FM radio tuner. Video may have killed the radio star -- but now it seems that some MP3 players are trying to resurrect them.

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