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  1. Basic File Manipulation
  2. Building Playlists To Drive MP3 Downloads
  3. Collect, Label, and Download
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Building Playlists To Drive MP3 Downloads

Every MP3 player I know of includes software to enable its owners to ship music from a computer to the player. Most such software recognizes MP3 playlists (usually stored as files with an m3u extension, as in Best-of-Miles-1972-1979.m3u). Here's the simplest statement of how this approach works: Build a playlist with playing time less than or equal to your flash device's capacity, and you've got your collection and download problems solved. All you need to do is tell the software to download all the music on the playlist to the player, and you're done.

That said, this means understanding how to translate playing times into flash capacity. Because these times vary according to how the MP3 files in your collection are compressed, some calculation or translation may be required. The table below summarizes typical playing times for various MP3 compression settings for typical flash device sizes (compression rates are in minutes). While your personal mileage may vary by as much as 5–10%, these are pretty good guidelines to use if you cut your playlists off the next song after you cross the "95% full" threshold on your device (for larger devices, 256MB and bigger, you can get away with a 98% threshold).

Device Size

Compression Rates (Ratios)


160 Kbps (9:1)

128 Kbps (11:1)

96 Kbps (15:1)

64 Kbps (22:1)


42 min

64 min

93.5 min

164 min


84 min

128 min

187 min

328 min


168 min

256 min

374 min

656 min


336 min

512 min

748 min

1312 min


672 min

1024 min

1496 min

2624 min


For best listening, a compression rate of at least 96 Kbps is recommended; most players default to 128 Kbps (higher is better).

Using playlists to drive downloads has numerous advantages:

  • This technique works with the vast majority of MP3 players.

  • You can build playlists with all kinds of great third-party software—from popular jukeboxes like MusicMatch to free playlist-creation software like PlaylistCreator—as well as software bundled with your player.

  • Using playlists lets you see MP3 files as music items, with tags and descriptions (as available), rather than only as ASCII filenames, whether opaque or transparent.

  • Software support will often help you select music that fits your current collection, when you find yourself reaching for a few final tunes to fill up your flash device.

About the only downsides to this approach are the need to convert playing time to memory size, and slower downloads directly to your player than a typical flash reader of filesystem access enables. But either is really no big deal.

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