The cost of staying modern

Sarah Steimer

MP3 players are convenient, but you’ll need more than just the device

MP3s make it possible to take an entire library of music and stuff it into a convenient little machine. The songs have the same lyrics, the same guitar riffs and the same drum beat as the original copy. The difference doesn’t seem noticeable for most, until it’s played in the original format.

When an MP3 player is purchased, it grants a consumer entertainment, convenience and status. The costs, however, continue to pile on, as a means of keeping the player useful, running and truly convenient for a student’s lifestyle.

Music is compressed when turned into an MP3 file and during this compression it loses some of its sound quality. Once this quality is lost it can’t be retrieved, which is why more and more people are turning back the clock and returning to the old days of analog music.

Brando Andexler, manager of Spin More Records in downtown Kent, said he sees more people beginning to have interest in records, an interest he said never really died in the first place. He owns both records and MP3s and said which he prefers depends on the time and place. He said if he’s skateboarding, it’s great to be able to grab his MP3 player.

“But if you’re just sitting in your apartment, the quality is so much better with vinyls,” Andexler said.

Additional technology has been invented in an attempt to bring the warm quality back into songs that have been compressed. Creative Labs developed a software called Xtreme Fidelity which, the Web site explains, “restores the details and vibrance your music and movies lost during compression.” This product costs $70.

The Fatman iTube is an amplifier for iPods which puts the vibrant sound back into songs using a series of old-school analog tubes. Analog tube equipment adds a sound to an MP3 that is usually only found in vinyl format. This product is sold at for $500; its list price is regularly $1,000.

Tyler Rounds, assistant professor of music, said MP3 players are great for those willing to sacrifice quality for convenience. Not that there’s anything wrong with convenience, she said.

“Being a musician,” said Rounds, “I don’t always listen for sound quality but rather for tones.”

Both she and Andexler said an MP3 player is only as good as the function it serves.

Andexler said the appeal for records is very simple for most. Records are tangible, MP3s are not. People like vinyl, Andexler explained, because “you have to take care of it.”

Brand new record players can cost about the same as an MP3 player, but used players can be found at next-to-nothing in thrift stores and yard sales. Classic albums at Spin More range from $8 to $16. Warner Brother/Reprise Records have started selling both old artists and new on vinyl at for $14 to $35.

Necessities and what they cost

The purchase of an MP3 player is an investment. A student will save up and spend an average of $250 on the machine and the costs don’t stop at the player’s initial purchase. Buying songs and keeping the player protected must also be factored in. Students can expect to watch their wallets thin out rapidly. reports that the Apple iPod accounts for about three-fourths of all players sold. Currently, an 80 gigabyte iPod Classic costs $250 and holds 20,000 songs, while the same model with 160 gigabytes is $350 and holds 40,000 songs.

Apple often updates its MP3 players, and with each update, the price from the last iPod doesn’t change very much. This has caused some customers, such as former Kent State student Leah Wilms, some annoyance.

“I bought my four gigabyte iPod for either $200 or $250,” Wilms said. Now, for about the same price, an iPod can be purchased with 20 times as many gigabytes.

“Any type of technology I spend money on, the next day something cooler comes out for the same price,” Wilms added.

The amount spent on a player starts to really add up when it’s time to purchase songs. On average, each individual song costs between 88 and 99 cents.

An alternative to paying for songs individually is getting a month-by-month subscription to a downloading service. The Zune Marketplace, for example, has a $15 per month subsciption service for unlimited downloads. offers 30 downloads per month for $10, all free of digital-rights management, which means the files can be played on a limited number of computers and burned only five to seven times.

Despite the convenience, downloading songs has its limitations. Some MP3s from iTunes and other sites are not DRM-free, and certain sites only allow their music to transfer to one specific player.

Another downside is that storing any information digitally runs the risk of being lost if the hard drive holding the files crashes.

Wilms hit trouble while attending Kent State last year when her iTunes application asked her to update the program. When she did, “some weird message appeared” and every song on her player was deleted. Most of the music was still on her computer, but she lost everything she had synched to her iPod from friends’ computers.

She did, however, manage to avoid paying for the iPod to be fixed — an employee for Apple explained she just had to remember to update iTunes regularly.

Sometimes an easy fix isn’t possible and fixing the MP3 player can cost almost as much as the original price. IResQ, a popular send-away iPod repair service, charges $114 for a replacement LCD screen on an iPod Classic. Fixing a hard drive costs about the same, and a new battery can cost about $25.

To avoid these costs, there are steps consumers can take as soon as they purchase an MP3 player. Protective cases are available at stores and online for any MP3 player and vary in style, color and material. Best Buy carries cases ranging anywhere from a simple $10 case to a designer Liz Claiborne case for $40.

Warranties are also suggested by retailers. IPods come with free 90-day single-incident support and one year of hardware service coverage. This is a service most MP3 player companies offer upon purchase. Extended coverage is available and ranges in price.

Not everyone has run into problems with their MP3 players or have spent too much money on the player. Bill Harris, a sophomore computer science major, said his father bought him his iPod in 2003 and it has been working fine ever since. He said he hasn’t had to deal with the extra costs other MP3 owners experience.

“I’ve definitely spent less than $150 on music for my iPod,” Harris said. He explained that most of the music on his iPod is from his preexisting library, from friends’ computers or downloaded for free.

For the tech savvy…

The accessories for players can make life a little easier for different lifestyles, assuming spending yet another few dollars isn’t a problem.

Car adapters can be purchased for just about any vehicle. A car with a cassette tape deck has the cheapest option, at about $20. Another option is the wireless FM adapter, which connects the player to a radio channel and costs about $60. Both can be found at Best Buy for these prices.

For runners, there are armbands that take an MP3 player out of the pocket for easier movement. Target sells these for about $30.

Docking stations can serve two purposes, to play the music stereo-style and charge the player at the same time. Price determines quality and stores such as Circuit City carry this item, starting at $90.

MP3s and a rising tide of theft

The most commonly stolen items at Kent State are “anything small, portable and popular,” said crime prevention officer Alice Ickes.

Ickes was describing an MP3 player perfectly. These players are the major theft item on campus Ickes said.

“Thieves know there will be a market for it,” explained Ickes. Not only are MP3 players easy to steal, but they’re very popular and could be sold online quickly and anonymously she added.

Since January 2007, there have been 17 reported MP3 player thefts at Kent State. Some, like Mackenzie Messer, a junior interpersonal communications major, don’t report a missing MP3 player.

“I didn’t want to report it because my mom had bought it for me as a gift,” Messer said, “It had my middle name engraved on it. I didn’t want my mom to find out!”

Messer had both her iPod and car adapter stolen from her car in July 2007. She said there is a way to track a missing iPod on Apple’s Web site, but by the time she said she had a chance to do so it was too late. The thief had already taken the iPod apart or sold it she said.

Messer’s mother hadn’t insured the player, partly because Messer had promised not to lose it and because lifetime insurance would have added another $100 to the total price.

“The iPod was already so expensive,” Messer said.

Losing an MP3 player often means more than losing a couple hundred dollars. Some people may lose songs for good, songs which are difficult to track down.

Contact student finance reporter Sarah Steimer at [email protected].