I may as well let you know that I am an avid runner, cyclist, and gym rat. Being such, I have tried out many, and I mean many, different mp3 players and headphones that best suit the average-pro athlete.
Firstly, everyone should know by now that you should NOT use a hard-drive or micro hard-drive player for physical activity (i.e. ipod, zen vision, iaudio X5 etc.), simply because they all have moving parts that are extremely sensitive to movement, and you will break or significantly shorten the life of your player if you exercise with it, not to mention the fact that hard-drive based players are already quite large to workout with.
Player Recommendation: So we come to flash players, but which one? There are literally hundreds in the U.S. and Canada right now, and thousands internationally. After rigorous research and extensive testing, I have come to this conclusion: The Creative Muvo N200 (a.k.a. Zen Nano for 2006) is the perfect exercise player.
Let's examine why. Firstly, it has a simple, extremely easy to navigate, blue backlight, LCD screen that easily allows one-handed operation while not even looking at the player, a must for any athlete. Plus, why pay for colour when the screen is so small, and you will rarely be looking down at it while exercising: leave that for a bigger hard-drive player.
Secondly, it is incredibly small, even with the included belt buckle AND arm strap. That's right, out of the box you have everything you need, assuming you are buying the Muvo N200 (don't quote me on the new Zen Nano). The belt clip and silicone case work incredibly well, and stick on one's shorts very securely, for worry-free exercising. The armband is secure as well, a nice option for those who prefer it to the belt clip. With the silicon case on, I seriously doubt that anything short of someone stomping and jumping on this thing will break it, the case is that rugged. That being said, be careful without the case, these things are not that drop-proof, I dropped a test model and the battery door broke off (Darn! Should've had the case on!).
Lastly, This player has incredible features and battery life, including up to 1gig of storage. Add up an FM tuner, FM recorder, Voice Recorder, Custom and Preset EQ, convenient AAA battery that lasts 15hrs, 22g weight, and excellent sound and you got a hard to beat flash player. Not to mention, it comes in an array of colours sure to please everyone.
Headphone Recommendation: No need to say, the included creative ear buds don't produce the greatest sound, and are uncomfortable to smaller ears. In the exercise realm, there’s pretty much only one headphone that does exercise like non-other, and that is the Sony MDR-A35g S2. Ok, so we see Sony, perhaps not the greatest sound, but indeed very, very good for the sub $20 price tag. And let's face it, no one needs audiophile quality sound when running and exercising where other noises, be it form an annoying guy at the gym, get in the way.
These phones have a unique sweat-resistant design, and it does work. No sweat penetrated my ears during testing, and these are now my number one workout phones. Sound is excellent for the price. It folds up with a 3-hinged design very compactly, but a carrying case would've been nice!.
The unique over-the-head style combined with ear-bud like, but secure, driver casing makes for a very comfortable headphone, one that never fell off during all tests. A nice feature is that these phones have a semi-open design, so you will hear loud horns and people screaming at you to get out of the way of an oncoming car if you decide to cycle with these (Not recommended!).
Where to buy: So how much will the ultimate workout rig set you back? Not much at all. You can snag the 512mb Muvo N200 up from Amazon for $111, and better yet, the Zen Nano 1gb for $66.00!. Canadians and worldwide, got to your local Best Buy, the N200 ranges from $39.99 to $115.00 - these players are truly a steal at these prices! Ebay is also a good bet.
Get the MDR-A35g S2 headphones for only $11.00 on amazon.com! Canada and worldwide, get them for around $25.00 at Best Buy, or cheaper at various online shops.
Total: $80 - $130, depending on the capacity of the player you choose.