1 Protecting your asset
So, you've just splashed your hard-earned cash on a smart, new MP3 player? Now, surely it's sensible to spend a few more bucks on a cover to keep it shiny and new - not least after the horror stories surrounding the nano's 'scratchability'? A great place to start your search is the www.digitalhome.com.au website.
2 Hearing every sound
Much like elsewhere in hi-fi, neglect one key aspect of your system, and all the other components will be underperforming. Even great MP3 players can be humbled by the low-quality 'freebie' headphones they're usually sold with. Upgrading to even a budget pair of phones can transform the sound. The $99.95 Sennheiser PX100s remain as good an investment in better music as we've found.
3 Keep it alive longer
Great-sounding kit is no use if you're caught short with a dead battery, so invest in Gear4's PocketPower, which provides eight hours of extra juice for your player while you're out and about. It uses four rechargeable AAA batteries, charged by your computer using USB. Your trusty iPod will never desert you again!
4 Making the connection
The standard connection from MP3 player to computer is USB (Universal Serial Bus). The latest version, USB 2.0, is a high-speed connection that allows for faster file transfers. Some MP3 players are only USB 2.0 compatible, so first, check your computer is up to it and, if it isn't, consider upgrading to speed things up. Firewire, common on Apple Macs, is another fast transfer socket.
5 Use iTunes as your library
Remember that you needn't have all your music stored on your portable. iTunes can act as your desktop music library, from which you choose specific tracks to load on to your portable. Connect your iPod, open 'Preferences' and click on the iPod icon. Ensure you're in the 'Music' screen, and click on 'Manually manage songs and playlists'. Once this is done, you can simply drag tunes from your library to the highlighted iPod. This also means deleting music files from your iTunes can be done independently of your connected iPod.
6 Trimming your tunes
Bonus tracks on CDs are all well and good, but where's the fun in having to sit through 10 minutes of silence before your next track? Fret no more. You can easily get rid of any uncomfortable silences using iTunes. Select the errant track, click on 'File', then 'Get Info'. Then select 'Options' from the dialogue box. The 'Start Time' and 'Stop Time' options mean you can specify precisely when the tune starts and stops.
7 Keep tunes on the level
At the other end of the scale, if there's one sure-fire way to ruin your iPod-assisted journey to work, then it's having your ears battered by a track that's twice as loud as the rest. The solution? Get iTunes to set all your music to the same volume. Click on 'iTunes', then 'Preferences', and then 'Playback'. Just tick the 'Sound Check' button and iTunes will do its magic. Re-sync your iPod to finish.
8 Freakin' format wars
The generic term for digital music players, MP3 players, is now somewhat confusing. MP3 is merely one of the many file formats that you can choose to rip your music in. In order of sound quality, we would rank the three best-known systems as follows: AAC, WMA and MP3. Then there's the bit-rate (ie, the quality of the file) to consider, too.
9 Upping your bit-rates
The bit-rate of a file refers to the amount of information (in kilobits) in each second of data. The higher the bit-rate, the better the sound, but files are larger, and so take up more hard-disk space. For better sound, we'd stick to 192kbps and above. To adjust this in iTunes, go to 'iTunes', then 'Preferences', then 'Advanced'. Click on the 'Importing' tab, and get tweaking that bit-rate. Note, you can't increase bit-rates retrospectively: musical data left out can't be put back later.
10 CD-quality sound?
Okay, so now you know that the bit-rate affects the sound quality (and also size) of your music files. So what happens if you want the best sound possible? If you've the room on your computer, there are a number of 'lossless' options that deliver the highest quality. Lossless codecs such as FLAC, Shorten and Apple Lossless use a variable bit-rate (VBR) to deliver much higher quality sounds. An Apple Lossless file will be roughly half the size of a CD-Audio music file (so you'd get two full albums on one CD, not one), but up to five times larger than an AAC file.
11 Tagging 'em up
Keep tabs on your tracks by making sure you label them using ID3 tags. This is a means of embedding relevant data such as artist and album details into your MP3 files. Most tracks are identified automatically by iTunes, but adding tags (use 'Get Info' in iTunes) can be handy when burning more obscure CDs, which aren't always recognised.
12 Cut out the duplicates
Should your iTunes become cluttered, try the 'Show Duplicate Songs' selection. This feature allows you to easily delete tunes you have more than one copy of, clearing out space for new music. Go to the 'Edit' menu, then select 'Show Duplicate Songs'. Easy!
13 Pick up a podcast
A podcast is an audio or video clip distributed via the net and aimed at MP3 listeners. There's a wealth of free and paid-for podcasts available on iTunes, but we'd also visit www.podcastdirectory.com. For automatic updates of new content, subscribe to your favourite podcasts, and they'll get downloaded for you.
14 Taking control
To avoid frequent switching between iTunes and whatever you're doing on your computer at the time, try 'iMote'. This allows you to control basic functions, such as skipping or pausing tracks, either by adding a menu item of controls to your toolbar, or by using a series of hotkeys. A floating window will also tell you the track details of the tune you're listening to. For more information, take a look at the www.mkd.cc/imote/ web site.
15 Clutter your desktop
Remember the simple pleasure of rifling through your record collection, and checking out all that glorious album art? Clutter does the same thing for iTunes: fill your desktop with album covers, then simply click on any one to start it playing in iTunes. Clever! Head for www.sprote.com/clutter for the freebie software download (OS X only). Windows Media Player 11 is purported to use a similar feature.
16 Share tunes
MP3 needn't be a solitary experience. Why not ditch those 'phones and listen to your MP3 player through your hi-fi system? The simplest way is to use a 3.5mm-jack-to-phono cable from the headphone connection to an input on your amplifier. The iChord from Chord Company ($200) is excellent, while Apple's Universal Dock ($59) is also worthwhile, making a neat stand.
17 Docking stations
If you'd like to use your iPod as your primary music 'hub', it's worth considering one of the myriad docks available. Sound quality can certainly vary from dock to dock, while features such as remote control, the ability to charge your 'Pod, and a line-in socket are worth looking out for, too.
18 Wireless for sound
So, first, we had all our music stored on our computers. Then we took our tunes out on our MP3 players. Then we took off our 'phones and shared our music collections. So what's next? How about sending your tunes all around your house? There are now several affordable and simple to operate and install options, including Apple's Airport Express ($199), or the Sony PSP ($399) with the iTunes-PSP-Server from www.skattertech.com.
19 Radio your iPod
One thing the iPod lacked compared to many rival MP3 players on the market was an FM radio. Until now, that is. The new iPod Radio Remote weighs just 15g, and acts as a link between any suitable pair of headphones and your USB connection port on your iPod. Make sure your iPod has had the v1.1 software update, and - hey presto! - a radio option will appear on your iPod, then you're in business!
20 MP3 your motor
Heaven forbid you should be without your music collection when you're in your car! How about a cassette or FM adapter to tap into the car's speaker system? Visit www.belkin.com.au for more information. Otherwise, maybe you fancy something a little more permanent? The current crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me are on the www.ipodmycar.com website.