Are you a passionate music-lover or audiophile? Do you enjoy listening to music or audiobooks while traveling, exercising or studying? While many people use their smartphones to listen to music, having an MP3 Player can give you more freedom and flexibility when it comes to listening to music wherever and whenever you want.
Here are a few reasons why you might want to get an MP3 Player (even if you have a smartphone):
- You want the enjoyment of having a device that’s solely dedicated to playing great quality audio
- You don’t want to use your phone because you want to save on battery life and space
- You want to be able to take your music with you anywhere, without the interruption of phone calls or the worry of wearing out your phone
With this guide, we’ll help you find the best MP3 player for your lifestyle, budget and personality.
How to Choose the Best MP3 Player
There are five main questions you should ask yourself in order to choose the best MP3 player for your needs:
- How much do I want to spend?
- How much storage space do I need? (How big is my musical library, am I using large audiobooks?)
- What extra features, if any, do I want in my MP3 player? (Do I want it to play videos, Bluetooth, FM radio, etc.?)
- What size, shape and overall design am I looking for? (Do I want something compact and portable or unique and personalized?)
- What type of audio files do I have and how do I prefer to manage and enjoy my music? (Do I prefer shuffling, creating playlists, gapless playback, etc.?)
There is an overwhelming number of options when it comes to shopping for MP3 players. Ask yourself these questions and follow up with research to make the best choice worth your investment.
MP3 Sound Quality
Sound quality is one of the most important aspects of any MP3 player. Sound quality is commonly influenced by the way the audio files are compressed. There are two notable forms of data compression found in MP3 Players: Lossy and Lossless.
- Lossy: The file size is reduced significantly to help save space, with a sacrifice to quality.
- Lossless: The original data in the file is preserved (it can be compressed or uncompressed) to maintain the original quality.
Which is better? Lossy compression actually removes some of the data from the file to reduce the size, whereas nothing is lost with lossless. What this means for your music is that lossless audio may sound more realistic and better quality. The noticeable difference between lossy and lossless audio may not always be apparent, but this can be an important feature for audiophiles. Choosing a lossless MP3 player may not be necessary unless you’re also using higher-end headphones or speakers.
MP3 players typically store files with internal flash memory or external memory in the form of a card. In other words, you can choose to add additional memory to the MP3 player depending on whether or not it has a memory card slot.
Some MP3 players can only hold a certain size of SD card in them. For example, if the MP3 player can only read SD cards up to 64GB, any cards larger (such as 128 or 256GB) will not work. If you already have an SD card that you’d like to use, it’s important to make sure that it’s compatible with the device that you’re looking at purchasing.
The amount of storage you need will vary depending on how many files you want to keep on your device. To put things in perspective, one gigabyte can hold an average of about 200 songs. However, this also depends on many factors, including the quality of the music files and the length of the songs. If you tend to listen to a large number of audio files, it might be worthwhile to invest a bit of extra money into an MP3 player with a good amount of expandable storage.
MP3 Player Screen Size and Resolution
While screen size and resolution shouldn’t be a deal-breaker when it comes to buying the best MP3 player, you should definitely consider the appearance and quality of the device’s screen before buying.
Screen size and resolution will be much more important if you’re planning to use your player to watch videos. MP3 players that double up as video players can have a resolution of 480p or more. That’s not a lot compared to what most smartphones and tablets can do, but there are a few higher-resolution MP3 players available.
Screen size generally ranges from 2.5 inches to 4 inches, with some screens being even less than 2 inches. A smaller screen can mean more portability, but always remember to consider the overall design of the device, including the button placements and the user interface. The actual size of the screen may not be as important as how easily you can navigate through it.
The types of files in your music library can play an important role in choosing an MP3 player. If you have already downloaded your music in a certain file type, then you will want to make sure that your new MP3 player can read those files.
The most common types of files are WMA, MP3, M4A, FLAC and AAC. If you have mostly FLAC files, then you will want an MP3 player that can play Lossless files. The rest, with the exception of WMA, are lossy file types which most players can handle. WMA can be either lossy or lossless. Nearly all MP3 players will list which file types they are able to read and play.
MP3 Player Portability
The best MP3 player should be portable enough that you can take it with you in your pocket, purse, bag or car without it weighing you down. It should be slim and lightweight enough to be easy to carry, but not so light that it can break in two if you drop it. For MP3 players with the best portability, look for devices with screen sizes of 3 inches or smaller and avoid devices with sharp corners or awkward shapes.
A smooth, compact and sturdy MP3 player is your best bet if you want something you can carry in your pocket throughout the day. Keep in mind that many MP3 players can come with their own cases, which will add bulk as well as protection. If you are especially active, look for MP3 players that include a clothing clip.
MP3 Player Battery Life
When you’re traveling, jogging or commuting to work, you want to be able to listen to your music without worrying about the battery. For many people, carrying around a portable battery pack isn’t a practical solution. A good MP3 player will have a long battery life and the ability to play hours of music on a single charge.
Battery life in MP3 players can vary depending on what features your player has and the way that you use these features. If you’re using Bluetooth on your MP3 player, then your battery usage will be much higher. If you want to save on battery life, opt to listen to your MP3 player with a good pair of wired headphones.
As a side note, it’s important to remember that the level of volume you use has an effect on the drain of battery life. If you listen to music at a higher volume, it will drain battery life quicker. The brightness of your MP3 player and how long the screen is on for can also quickly drain the battery. For this reason, a lot of manufacturers have an auto-sleep or lock time on the device. If you want to preserve the battery life of your MP3 player, make sure to adjust the screen settings and minimize track skipping.
10 Best MP3 Players in 2020
Apple iPod Touch (7th Generation)
The Best All-Around MP3 Player
Before the rise of the iPhone, the iPod Touch was one of the coolest things you could have in your pocket. Well, they are still going strong today as it’s basically an iPhone missing a few features and sans cellular capabilities.
If you’ve used an iPhone, you’ll feel right at home with the 7th generation of the iPod Touch. It runs the same OS and comes with a similar set of features including a FaceTime HD camera and a Retina display. With a resolution of 1,136 x 640, you can game on this one to a degree. It has the speedy 1.6 GHz dual-core A10 Fusion processor and 2GB of RAM (a decent improvement compared to the previous model).
An obvious draw of the iPod is the fact you get access to iTunes and its massive catalog of music. It’s quite capable on the audio front as well with support for a full range of formats including WAV, AC-3, and AAC among others. The 7th gen iPod Touch also has a built-in speaker along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth 4.1, and Wi-Fi.
The touchscreen is a huge perk along with the battery life which can give you around 40 hours of audio or 8 hours of video playback. The 7th gen Touch available with 32GB, 128GB or 256GB of storage and available in several different colors.
- 4-inch Retina display
- iTunes access
- FaceTime HD camera
- Great for media
- Excellent battery life
- No SD slot
- Relatively expensive
Sony NW-A45 Walkman
Solid Player from Sony with Good Battery Life
If you though the Walkman died decades ago, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The Sony NW-A45 Walkman is a next-gen audio player, and while it can’t play your cassettes, it handles Hi-Res audio files with ease.
Sony knows audio, so this is one of the best MP3 players in that regard. It sports an S-Master HX amplifier and USB DAC, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The DSEE HX system can restore high-range sounds lost from compression, and it has support for both MQA and Sony’s LDAC codec for Bluetooth streaming. All the popular formats are supported including FLAC, and there’s an FM radio to boot.
The Sony NW-A45 has a 3.1-inch touchscreen display and comes with 16GB of storage out of the box. Thankfully, you can kick that up through an SDXC slot. You’ll get Bluetooth 4.2 and NFC as well, but not Wi-Fi which is a disappointment. Other features of interest include an Ambient Sound mode which lets the outside world in to a degree and a battery that provides up to 45 hours per charge.
Consumers that want an MP3 player that’s affordable and provides high-quality sound will be thrilled with the NW-A45. The battery life is excellent, and things like the digital amp and Ambient Mode put it over the top. On the downside, there is no external speaker, and you can’t play videos with this one like you can with cheaper players. The Sony NW-A45/B Walkman is available in Moonlit Blue or Grayish Black.
- 45 hours of playtime
- Ambient sound mode
- Format support
- Build quality
- Can’t play videos
- No Wi-Fi
Cowon Plenue D
An Affordable Hi-Res MP3 Player
Cowon may not be a name familiar to the average consumer, but they make some of the better MP3 players around. Our top option from the company is the Cowon Plenue D, a stylish little box with some outstanding features.
This player provides Hi-Fi audio in the form of 24bit 192kHz stereo DAC. It sports JetEffect 5 and BBE+ sound processing as well which gives you total control and opens things up with a 5-band DQ, 3D surround, and plenty of presets. The Plenue D has plenty of bass and will play anything you throw at it including FLAC, ALAC and good old MP3s.
Finding the right tune is simple on this one thanks to a 2.8-inch touchscreen display. It has 32GB of storage out of the box and is expandable up to 128GB through a micro SDXC slot. A standard audio jack is present, but there’s no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or an external speaker on this DAC. It’s built like a tank however with a sturdy, but light aluminum shell that feels great in the hand.
An MP3 player that can give you 100 hours of playback will always get our attention, and when it performs like the Plenue D, it should be on your short list as well. Cowen’s music player is available in Black with your choice of Gold or Silver trim.
- 24-bit 192kHz audio
- Wide-angle touchscreen display
- 100-hour battery life
- Only 3.3 ounces!
- Lack of connectivity options
FiiO X7 Mark II
A High-End Lossless Audio Player
FiiO has dropped some interesting products over the years, and the FiiO X7 Mark II certainly fits that bill. While it’s not cheap, this Android-based music player has more features than the rest of the pack and even supports Dual-Band Wi-Fi.
This music player has a body made from CNC aluminum alloy with a classic volume dial on the side. The 4-inch touchscreen display has a resolution of 480 x 800, and you’ll get 64GB of storage out of the box. It’s expandable up to 512GB courtesy of two memory card slots which is impressive, but so is the 2GB of RAM under the hood.
FiiO installed a version of Android on this player as well which comes with an interesting perk. You get access to the Google Play store which means you can download apps. We’re not going to go through all the tech specs, but the FiiO X7 Mark II has a 10-band EQ with nine presets, a frequency response of 5Hz to 70kHz and a dynamic range of 114dB. It also supports lossless 24-bit and 32-bit lossless up to 384kHz depending on the format.
The obvious drawback to this music player is the price as it’s not cheap and geared towards audiophiles instead of the average consumer. Aside from that, it’s one of the best MP3 players money can buy even if there’s room for improvement in a few areas. The FiiO X7 Mark II comes with a tempered glass screen protector, cables, and 1-year warranty on the player with six months on the 3,800mAh battery.
- Up to 512GB of storage
- Android OS
- Dual-Band Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
- 10-hour battery life
- Swappable amp modules
- The price tag
- Larger than other players
SanDisk Clip Sport Plus
The Best MP3 Player for the Outdoors
When you’re shopping for the best MP3 player, SanDisk usually isn’t the first company to come to mind… unless you’re looking for a memory card for your music. Well, the company surprised us with the SanDisk Sports Plus, an affordable option ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.
A few of our top options would be handy to take on a jog, but smaller is usually better when you’re exercising or at the gym. The Clip Sports Plus can handle the treadmill as easily as a mountain trail considering you can clip it to your clothing and go to town. It can take a light drop better than others as there’s not a huge screen to worry about and it’s water-resistant as well.
We’re not going to hit you with Hi-Def tech specs for obvious reasons, but it can play MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC and AAC audio files along with DRM free iTunes songs. The 16GB variant has enough room for around 4000 songs, and you can use a memory card although that appears to vary by model. Other features include Bluetooth, a micro USB 2.0 port, and an FM tuner.
SanDisk didn’t break any new ground with the design of this one, but it’s a solid little MP3 player that’s perfect for the outdoors with around 20 hours of power. It is tiny at only 1.28 ounces and one of the few that gives you a variety of options out of the gate. There are 4GB, 8GB and 16GB variants of the Sports Plus and around eight colors to choose from.
- Weighs less than 2 ounces!
- 16GB of expandable storage
- 2-year warrant
- The display can be hard to read
- Limited formats
Sony Walkman NWZX300/S
A Premium Player from Sony
If you liked our first Walkman but felt it was lacking in a few areas, the NWZX300/S may be more your speed. This music player has a higher audio resolution, several extra features and a whole lot more output power.
At first glance, the NW-A445 and the NWZX300 look similar. They have the same button layout down one side although the NWXZ300 has a much more refined style and larger buttons. The displays are the same size as well and resolution as well, but the flagship is slightly larger and heavier at 5.53 ounces due to a milled aluminum frame. It also has a balanced 4.4mm headphone jack and USB 2.0 port to go along with the 3.5mm jack and WM-port.
The similarities continue under the glass so you’ll get the S-Master HX digital amp, DSEE HX, MQA, and USB DAC on the NWZX300/S. It has Direct Stream Digital and covers the same formats, but has a range of 384kHz with FLAC and ALAC. Support for 1-bit DSD playback up to 11.2MHz as well. Other improvements include Bluetooth 2.0 A2DP and increased output with 50mW unbalanced and 200mW balanced.
The Sony NWZX300/S is a step up from their mid-ranger, but it’s not a giant leap considering the price. This music player has 64GB of (expandable) storage out of the box along with a rechargeable battery that provides around 30 hours per charge and a 1-year warranty.
- Build quality
- Format support
- Excellent clarity
- Balanced 4.4mm jack
- Streamline interface
- No FM tuner
- The price tag
- Lack of streaming apps
Onkyo Hi-Res Digital Audio Player DP-X1A
The Best MP3 Player for Audiophiles
Onkyo is a fan favorite when it comes to home audio equipment, but they make some excellent mobile gear as well including portable music players. Our top choice from the company is the DP-X1A, a great all-around audio player with a few slick tricks up its sleeves.
While the XP-X1A can play the same formats as our other premium players, the design is definitely different. The company took an angular approach with this one, and it’s large measuring 5”W x 3”H x 0.5”D with a weight of 7.23 ounces. It won’t weigh you down, but it’s not as pocket-friendly as other models. It is extremely easy to use however considering the OS is based on Android.
The Onkyo DP-X1A can deal with the usual standards like WAV and MP3s along with FLAC and AIFF up to 384kHz at 24-bit and DSD 11.2MHz/5.6MHz/2.8MHz. Like all the best MP3 players, it can handle any format in high quality, and that includes MP4 videos. Throw in two SABRE ES9018K2M DACs and dual 9601K amplifiers, and you’ve got yourself a mean music player that can run circles around the rest.
Other features to note for this player include Dual-Band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth HID, 2.0 A2DP, AVRCP, and 2GB of RAM. It has a large 4.7-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 and not one, but two microSDXC slots along with 64GB of built-in storage. This beast has an output power of 150mW at 320Ω or 75mW at 32Ω.
From the slick UI with Play Store access to high-quality audio support, the Onkyo DP-X1A brings a lot to the table. Its price is in-line with other flagship music players, but this one can do video and comes from a company with a reputation for products that last decades. The battery life isn’t great at 16 hours, and there’s no tuner, but that’s the only real weak point with this one in our eyes. The DP-X1A has a 1-year warranty, and it’s of the international variety, so keep that in mind.
- 4.7-inch touchscreen display
- Dual SABRE DACs and Amps
- Play Store access
- Does video
- Dual-Band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & aptX
- Boxy design
- Poor battery life
The Next Generation HiFi Music Player
If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic about the time when your music was away from your phone, the HIDIZS AP80 music player may be just the right product for you. It is small, lightweight, and features a 10-band EQ (±12dB) and 8 presets equalizer. It comes with 3.5mm connectivity, touch controls, and is powerful enough to deliver a hi-res audio experience with most headphones (it supports most high-resolution music formats).
For the moments when you don’t want to get tangled in wires, the AP80 music player also has BT connectivity. Not to mention, there’s a feature that keeps track for your steps and lets you tune in your favorite radio stations. Note, AP80 uses LDAC Bluetooth so it may not work if your headphones don’t support it (Bose QuietComfort 35 II for example).
It can store up to 1TB of information using an expandable Micro SD card and is powered by an 800mAh 3.8V Lithium Polymer battery that provides about 15h runtime. Finally, if you store your music on your smartphone, you can still enjoy this little music player by using the bi-directional DAC interface feature.
- Compact and lightweight design
- Touch controls & buttons
- Large storage capacity
- An impressive set of functions
- Both wired and wireless connectivity
- Good battery life
- Powerful enough to drive most headphones
- There is a bit of a learning curve
- The screen protector is not the best quality
- Some minor software glitches
Another Excellent Option from FiiO
FiiO has a slew of music players, and we’ve already taken a look at the high-powered X7 Mark II. If you dig the company’s audio efficiency but need something more affordable, the FiiO M7 is well worth a look.
While boxy, this MP3 player is easy to use and easy on the eyes with a clean design. You can’t pop the bottom off this one, but the M7 does resemble the rest of the company’s lineup and has a 3.2-inch touchscreen. The resolution clocks in at 480 x 800, and it has 768MB of RAM to go along with 2GB of built-in storage.
A microSD card slot lets you expand your range, and that’s a good thing considering how great this player sounds. It has a 32-bit ES9018Q2C DAC and deals with APTE-FAST, Lossless, AIFF, FLAC, WAV and more with ease. It can also do 24-bit PCM up to 192kHz and 1-bit native DSD at 2.822MHz. We love the fact it has a USB Type-C port, and it’s snappy thanks to a quad-core Exynos 7270 processor as well.
The FiiO M7 is rated at 30 hours per charge, and while you won’t get Wi-Fi or Android on this one, it does have Bluetooth 4.2 and an FM tuner. It comes with a case and screen protector and is available in several colors with Blue, Red, Silver or Black.
- Solid battery life
- 2GB of expandable storage
- Native DSD decoding
- Bluetooth & FM tuner
- Sensitive controls
- No streaming options
Compact & Sleek Design with Lots of Power
Designed on Samsung’s Exynos 7207 SoC (system on chip), the FiiO M6 music player comes with an incredible set of features. First, it supports WiFi, AirPlay, USB DAC, and Bluetooth connectivity, so there’s absolutely no excuse to continue using your smartphone for music!
Second, it is compact and sleek, it has touchscreen controls, and offers about 13h of playtime due to the large capacity battery (1200mAh). To charge it, you’ll need the provided type-C connector that can also be used for data transfer or USB DAC interface with a computer.
The device supports a wide range of audio formats and works with a series of apps for streaming music such as Spotify, MOOV, Tidal, and more.
- An impressive list of functionalities
- Supports a wide range of audio formats
- A lot smaller than a smartphone
- Touchscreen controls
- Supports a wide range of connections
- Good battery life
- It’s not Plug and Play – it needs a driver to connect with your PC
- Battery life is shorter
- The interface is a bit confusing
Music is medicine for the soul. If you’re passionate about your music, you should think about investing in the best MP3 player that you can rely on for several years of audio enjoyment.
In addition to finding the best MP3 player, you should also be on the lookout for the best wireless headphones, earbuds and noise-cancelling headphones to truly enhance your audio listening experience.