PRIMO PORTABLES YOU CAN BUY FOR A SONG
By ELIF SINANOGLU

(MONEY Magazine) – IF YOU'VE HELD OFF BUYING A PORTABLE CD player because its price dwarfed the machine itself, we have music for your ears. For less than $100 you can now pick up a portable that would have cost you twice as much just five years ago. Or, for a little more than that, you can grab a feature-packed model you couldn't have found at any price back then.

Here, according to electronics industry insiders, are some terrific portables in four price categories. Note that these prices are suggested retail, the maximum you should expect to pay.

Under $100. In this category you'll find basic, no-frills models, consisting of little more than a player, an AC adapter for plugging into a wall outlet, and a pair of headphones. Still, these models provide sound that's all but indistinguishable from their higher-priced brand mates, though they may skip a beat or two during vigorous exercise or a bumpy car ride. Sound bets: RCA's RP-7913 ($99) and Panasonic's SL-S140 ($80). For another $30 or so, you can get a jack to plug into your car's cigarette lighter and save on batteries.

$100 to $150. You can skip those annoying skips by paying extra for a portable equipped with a "memory buffer" or ESP (for electronic skip or shock protection). It works by storing the next few seconds of the disk you're listening to. Then if your player is jostled, the buffer patches in the missing sounds. Two worthy models with three-second memory buffers are Panasonic's SL-S240 ($120) and RCA's RP-7923 ($140). In this price category you'll also find players with rechargeable batteries and remote controls--useful if you ever want to attach the portable to your home stereo system and operate it from the sofa.

$150 to $200. When you cross the $150 price point, you can get a longer memory buffer, for really bumpy roads, as well as other fancy features, such as programming buttons that allow you to play songs in whatever order you want. A good choice: Sony's D-345, with a 10-second memory buffer ($200), pictured at left.

$200 and up. That's what you'll need to spend if you want a portable that can plug into your car's cassette player and pump tunes through your vehicle's built-in speakers. Two models to check out: Aiwa's XP-559 ($215) and Kenwood's DPC-951 (about $265). The latter also comes with a wireless remote control and a lighted display that makes it easier to operate while you're driving around at night.

One last note: New models usually come out in the summer. By buying a year-old CD player in, say, August, you may be able to save as much as 35% off current prices. --Elif Sinanoglu