Ask LH: What’s A Good MP3 Player For An Older Person?

Ask LH: What’s A Good MP3 Player For An Older Person?

Hi Lifehacker, I want to purchase a portable MP3 player for my aunt. The problem is that she has a vision impairment and is in her 70s. Are there any models out there that have basic functionality and big buttons? Thanks, Tune Vision

MP3 picture from Shutterstock

Dear TV,

Have you considered buying an MP3 player that’s specifically designed for the vision impaired? These devices have large, tactile buttons and an unobtrusive user interface which makes them ideal for elderly users who can’t see very well.

One popular example is the DAISY range of playback devices from Vision Australia. These products are primarily designed for audio books but can also be used to play music CDs and MP3 files. Some models even boast voice-guidance to make operation is easy as possible.

Unfortunately, these products tend to be expensive; basic models generally start at a few hundred dollars. If you go down this route it might be a good idea to get other family members to chip in too.

Another option worth considering is an Apple iPod nano with Accessibility enabled. This is an inbuilt mode that assists users with poor vision via spoken guidance and better visibility of menus. On the downside, she will need to deal with iTunes regularly, which isn’t particularly inviting to technophobes.

To be honest, even the most user-friendly MP3 player will probably be too complicated for a non-computer user with visual impairments. You don’t want to buy something that’s just going to gather dust in the “too hard” basket. If your aunt has limited experience with the internet and MP3 files, you’re probably better off going for a portable boom box or CD player. Hear us out.

The advantages of a CD player over an MP3 player are numerous: they boast fool-proof operation (just stick the disc in and press play), large physical buttons and a singular purpose unmarred by extra features or confusing menus. Plus, they tend to be more affordable with good models starting at $80 or so.

The only significant downside is that you can’t slip them into your pocket for music on the go. However, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for a woman in her 70s with a vision impairment. We’re going to hedge a guess that she doesn’t get out much.

In terms of specific models, I’m going to throw it open to Lifehacker readers. If you know of any CD players or MP3 players that are especially suitable for older users, let TV know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Another option might be any ol’ MP3 player with bluetooth enabled, then find a generic bluetooth remote that you can use to your liking.

    Either that, or an MP3 player that supports headphone remotes (e.g. the little clicky thing iPod headphones have that let you change songs, pause etc.). You can get headphones with rather big buttons and they’re really easy to use with limited vision (e.g. in a pocket or if you’re blind) because they have a distinct shape and orientation.

    I seriously don’t understand why “for the blind” stuff has to be so damn expensive. Most of the heavy-lifting is software (e.g. reading out song titles, files that can be played). The rest is adding stuff like Braille and other “touchy” things that make it easy to identify what the item is and which way to hold it. It’s almost like a wedding thing — don’t tell ’em you’re blind / getting married and save big time.

    • Most of the ‘for the blind’ stuff is more expensive than it needs to be, but they’re also putting in a fair bit of development for a production run of thousands rather than millions. And when you’re making a device with a completely different interface to all mainstream products you end up with a lot of customised parts.

      And back on topic:
      Out of the low-vision products listed there, I’m a fan of the VictorReader stream. It’s a good size, fairly intuitive interface, decent battery life, and really tough. I’ve seen them get repeatedly dropped and chewed up by dogs but keep on working. They take SD cards so you can easily get new material for her and segregate books from music etc.

      If you’re talking low vision and elderly you want to skip ‘assistive’ touch screens if you can. They tend to work well but I’d describe them as unintuitive. It involves a lot of learned gestures and abstractions which can make them tricky for older users (The headphone remotes Grayda mentioned could make the situation much better)

      If you can, stick to devices without screens – it forced the UI designers to think about how to do everything with buttons. The ipod shuffle was pretty great this way but it depends on how she plans on using it. It’s tough to find individual tracks, but great for shuffling music or listening through a book from start to finish.

      CD players are a good idea and you might even have some luck with some cheapie ebay mp3 players – some are button control only, take SD cards, and only have enough smarts to pick up playing where they left off and skip between tracks.

      In the end you probably want to borrow things and then just try to use them with your eyes closed. In WA we have VisAbility, who have a bunch of vision impairment-specific products on hand they’ll let you test out. You might be able to find similar services in other states?

      (Disclaimer: I’m assuming her vision impairment is pretty bad. If it’s milder you might be able to just grab anything that has a big screen and lets you increase the font size.)

      • Good point. I always forget the added cost of smaller runs.

        Perhaps market them as hipster devices also, and watch as demand explodes because people are wanting to be vintage and anti-screen?

  • Hi TV,
    I’d recommend giving Vision Australia a call. We are a national charity providing specialist advice for people who are blind or have low vision. Our Adaptive Technology consultants can give you advice about all of the different options including mp3 devices and DAISY players. We have a 3G DAISY player that is really simple to use and available to lease from our library service. You can reach Vision Australia on 1300 84 74 66.

  • I ran into this exact same issue and I found a perfect solution!

    I bought a Coolstream bts 201 (Only ~$40 CAD on Amazon) and I bought a 16gb thumb drive. Since my grandpa is blind and wouldn’t be able to read the buttons, I cut out some plastic shapes and glued them on beside the buttons so that he can feel the shapes I made and identify the buttons accordingly.

  • What about the SansaShaker? Looks like one big button that plays and pauses. Under $80. Im going to try that for my father.

  • The big problem I see, is an easy way for older folks to get their CD’s onto the device, like a single button. Being the tech support of most of my extended family(or at least the rather tech illiterate and incapable of figuring out things for themselves) has taught me that sometimes you really need that 5 year old level of directions with some extra, don’t worry you’re not going to make it blow up(“DON’T PANIC” maybe?), encouragement. Seriously, some of them just get so scared they’re going to break it that they refuse to learn or even try.

    Don’t get me wrong, I get it, I’ve tried stuff that’s new to me and been worried that I might goof something up big time, but sometimes you have to just jump in the deep end and get over your fears.

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