Q: I’m contemplating switching my extensive classical music collection to an iPod, which I do not now own. What is the best model to buy just for audio use? No video, no camera or other uses.
A: You note that you have an “extensive” collection and storage capacity is therefore likely to be an important factor. Typically the iPod classic is still the device of choice among users primarily interested in storing and listening to large audio collections.
This would especially be the case if you’re concerned about sound quality, as you will likely want to use higher bit-rates to encode your music, thereby producing larger files. To put this in perspective, an AAC or MP3 file encoded at 128kbps—generally considered to be the minimum acceptable quality—will use approximately 1MB of storage for every 1 minute of audio; a 256kbps file, which is the format now sold on the iTunes Store, will take up twice the storage, or about 2MB for every 1 minute of audio. Move up to lossless formats and the storage requirements increase even further—as much as five to ten times more depending on the format and source material.
A 160GB iPod classic has a formatted capacity of just under 149GB, or approximately 149,000 MB. When used to store only 256kbps AAC files, the device could contain around 1,200 hours of music.
That said, the iPod classic is not without its downside, even for audio only use. The most significant limitation is that you’re confined to the storage capacity of its internal hard drive; if your library is larger than this, you will need to pick and choose what content you want to carry around with you and what gets left behind. iTunes features such as Smart Playlists can help you automatically rotate your music collection based on criteria such as rating, how many times you’ve played a track and how recently you’ve played it, but if your collection is larger than the capacity of your iPod you’ll still need to physically plug the device into your computer every so often to refresh your content with different music.
Despite being lower in capacity, this is one area where Apple’s iOS devices may actually be of benefit. While the largest iPod touch still caps out at 64GB, the addition of Wi-Fi and iTunes Match provides the ability to effectively store your entire library on Apple’s iCloud servers and access any track from anywhere that a Wi-Fi Internet connection is available. Further, you can still download tracks manually for offline listening on your device and in fact a copy is automatically downloaded for any track you listen to on your device.
The Internet connectivity of the iPod touch (and other iOS devices) provides other audio-related benefits beyond your own collection as well. A multitude of free streaming music apps are available for listening to everything from actual radio stations (broadcasting over the Internet) to subscription-based online music services that provide a catalog of millions of on-demand tracks for a monthly fee. By contract, the iPod classic is limited to playing only the content that you specifically load onto it, from your computer, via iTunes.