Learn how to get the most from your MP3 player in your home

MP3 music has become popular for one reason: it is compact. Because most MP3 songs use less than one-tenth of the amount of space of their CD version, they are far easier to download from the internet, and you can fit far more of them onto a portable player.

But things have moved on and limited space is no longer a pressing problem on portable players. The bigger issue these days is, since so much of our music collections now resides in these players, how do we get our music out of our MP3 players and into our homes? Fortunately, there are solutions to please everyone.

iPod

Apple’s iPod so thoroughly dominates the portable music scene that we must open with a section specifically on it. This domination means that there is a huge number of devices and adaptors designed to work specifically with the iPod, and no other device.

Like any portable player, you could simply plug its headphone socket into a spare analog input socket on an amplifier or music system. But that’s missing out on both the convenience and cool stuff available for the iPod through the iPod dock.

A cradle and set of connections specifically designed for the iPod make life easy. You simply slip the iPod into the cradle and it stands there, all the connections made, ready for action. And it gets its battery charged at the same time.

Your two options with the iPod are for a standalone player, or an adaptor for existing equipment. There is an extraordinary range of standalone units, from inexpensive portable speakers and clock radios – the latter allow you to wake up in the morning to the contents of your iPod – to near audiophile quality loudspeaker docks that can fill a large room with sound.

Adaptors for existing equipment also come in two forms: proprietary or general. Several brands of home theatre receiver, for example, include iPod ports into which that brand’s iPod dock can be plugged. Others have more general docks that are simply plugged into a spare set of video and audio inputs on a receiver or amplifier. These arrangements usually provide more than just sound: they add an onscreen display of the iPod’s menus and contents, and support the use of the receiver’s own remote control for scrolling through these and selecting items to play back. Some even include the ability to display video contained on an iPod.

These devices all support any and all of the digital sound formats that the iPod itself supports, including MP3, AAC and the high definition Apple Lossless format.

USB

Many of the higher end home theatre receivers include USB sockets, allowing them to play back music from attached USB memory sticks. Alternatively, you can simply add an external USB hard disk drive and fill this from your computer with your entire music collection.

The capacities of these are so large that it is viable to avoid MP3 completely and instead use the better quality uncompressed ‘WAV’ PCM format for high quality sound. A couple of hundred dollars for one of these drives can provide an enormous jukebox for your home theatre receiver.

Since the sound must be read from the memory stick or hard drive in digital format, it must be in a digital audio format the home theatre receiver can decode. In general, home theatre receivers support MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA) and WAV, but some add more formats such as AAC.

In theory you can plug an iPod into the USB socket. In practice, the contents of iPods are organised in such an idiosyncratic way that you will never find the tracks you wish to play.