The 10 Best MP3 Players
This wiki has been updated 35 times since it was first published in May of 2015. Just because your smartphone can play all the tunes you might want, it doesn't mean you should use it for that purpose -- at least not exclusively. Today's portable music players have evolved well past the common MP3 format that's been around for a long time and, in conjunction with a good pair of headphones or a decent stereo, can be ideal for listening without compromising sound quality. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 30, 2020:
For this update we replaced several top picks with their recently released successors, including the Sony NW-A55, Cowon Plenue D2, and Fiio M3 Pro. These models replace the Sony NW-A45, Cowon Plenue D, and Fiio M3K respectively, and provide many of the same features as their predecessors along with technical upgrades such as improved processors and amplifiers. We also widened out the price range of our list by adding the Sony Walkman NW-A105 and the Victure MP3, with the Sony serving as a high-end luxury model and the Victure as a super budget-friendly pick for those who don't care about cutting edge features.
If you're enticed by the latest tech and consider yourself an audiophile you'll want to take a look at the Sony NW-A55, Sony Walkman NW-A105, and Cowon Plenue D2. It's hard to go wrong with any of these devices, but each offers a few distinct features that may help you decide. The Sony NW-A55 is a well-rounded player with an excellently pocketable form factor, and support for the most recent Bluetooth codecs such as aptX HD and LDAC. The Sony NW-A105 is definitely similar, but its Android OS opens up many possibilities since it allows for the use of a multitude of apps from the Google Play store. This means that besides MP3s and hi-res audio files you can use it to stream music and podcasts from popular apps like Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud. Some might prefer the chunky aesthetic of the Cowon Plenue D2, and extreme audiophiles may be especially attracted to its 2.5mm balanced output. However, its lack of Bluetooth is definitely worth noting. All of these options utilize high-quality amplifiers and offer great signal to noise ratios, but even if you don't care about such things these models may be worth considering just because of their sturdy builds and pleasing user interfaces.
In the midrange we have choices like the Fiio M3 Pro, Shanling M0, and iRulu F20. These devices offer many of the same advanced features as the aforementioned high-end picks, but there are definitely a few noticeable compromises. All three are well built and even offer USB DAC functionality for use with your computer, but the amount of playtime they provide on a full charge and the slickness of their user interfaces are less astounding than those of some more expensive choices.
For all the users who will only be listening to basic MP3s, it may seem like overkill to pay the price for a device filled with cutting edge features you'll never take advantage of. The Soulcker Portable and Victure MP3 are two budget friendly options, and while they're certainly not the most luxurious selections, they're more than capable of meeting the needs of someone who just wants to listen to some tunes while they run without their phone jiggling around in their pocket. They're also not totally lacking of any modern capabilities, as both are compatible with Bluetooth headphones and can have their storage expanded with microSD cards.
If you're only interested in high-end options you may want to check out our article on the best DSD players, and those with more particular needs might be interested in our lists concerning specific types of MP3 players, such as those that are waterproof or models with Bluetooth capabilities.
November 13, 2019:
You can spend just about as little or as much as you want on a portable MP3 player. A lot of users will be perfectly satisfied with the Soulcker Portable or Fiio M3K, which are both affordably priced. They don't offer a ton of advanced features, but they're small and lightweight and sound just fine.
For a slight increase in price you gain access to a wide range of other options, though. In the midrange we have the Shanling M0, Cowon Plenue D, and iRulu F20, and depending on whether you prefer to use Bluetooth or a wired connection they all have different things to offer. The iRulu is particularly interesting because it's one of the least expensive to offer DSD playback, although it isn't the easiest to operate. If you're using headphones with LDAC support, the Shanling is one of our favorites.
Speaking of which, the Shanling M2X also provides a high-end experience that most people will love, and the HiFiMan SuperMini is right there with it. The Apple iPod Touch is, of course, a recurring favorite, especially for fans of tech giant Apple. But for sheer value in this category, it's hard to beat the Sony NW-A54, which is filled with hardware often found in far more costly models.
And if you're willing to make a more sizable investment, check out the Sony NWZX300. Compared to the absurdly expensive models in our Special Honors section it's relatively affordable, and it will be hard or impossible for most users to tell the difference between its output and that of a unit that's twice as costly.
Finally, if you're concerned about damage from the elements, we can point you towards some great waterproof models. If you do opt for one of the more costly models, you might want to consider a good pair of audiophile-grade cans, though an everyday pair of Bluetooth or other closed-back headphones should also do the trick nicely.
Cowon Plenue L These guys make quite a few portable players with a variety of features, and the Plenue L is undoubtedly one of the best on the market. Of course, at about $2,000, it's very much a niche product, but if you're one of the few people who can actually tell a difference with such high-end technology, it's definitely worth considering. cowonglobal.com
Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000 Is it a little overkill? How about overpriced? Well, you could argue that a few of this audiophile-focused company's products are a bit out there, but if you have a few grand sitting around and want to experience true portable music bliss, the SP2000 may be right up your alley. The vast majority of users won't need such high-powered hardware, but if you insist on having the best, this may well be it. astellnkern.com
A Lifetime Of Music In Your Pocket
That's because all an MP3 player is, at its most basic, is a storage device with its own power source.
I think it's fair to say that music is the most immediate, immersive art form. Photography comes close for immediacy, but it can't reach the same level of physical and emotional stimulation that a piece of music can. I've been touched by many a photograph, but I can't recall one ever bringing me to tears or pumping me up for an exciting event; it's music that gets inside us like nothing else.
How you choose to get that music inside you depends a lot on your environment. I doubt you would, for example, choose to use an MP3 player while home alone. That's when you get to blast your favorite tunes without relying on headphones.
Of course, if you have the right speaker setup, and a compatible music player, you can use the same MP3 player you usually pair with a nice set of earbuds at the gym to pump glorious rhythms through your home system.
That's because all an MP3 player is, at its most basic, is a storage device with its own power source. Nowadays, disk-based storage is a lot less common than solid state memory, so before you get to the interface it's all just battery and memory.
The amount of memory and the power of that battery will have something to do with how you qualify a certain MP3 player over another, but it's that crucial interface that's going to make all the difference.
You can store thousands of songs on a given MP3 player, and play them back over almost any medium. The way in which you access those songs and albums varies from the incredibly simple interfaces that hearken back to the early days of the iPod to the more elaborate layouts of modern Apple and Android devices.
Not only do these more advanced MP3 players store and play back your music for you, they also host the full suite of apps for either platform, essentially doing anything an iPhone can do without the calling capabilities.
Music, Only Music, But Music
We touched above on the different capabilities of some MP3 players, and a deeper understanding of these differences will arm you with the perspective you need to make the best choice among them. At first glance, Apple seems like the king of the hill, but if I remember anything from playing that game as a child, the king inevitable loses the hill from time to time, so keep your mind open to the other possibilities.
If you're less into the apps, however, you stand to gain a lot of battery life by working with a simpler interface.
At this point, storage space is almost irrelevant. Sure, you'll pay a little more to fit more songs, videos, pictures, etc. on your device, but you've got the option to save a little cash and keep your space limited, as well. If you're an audiophile with a lot of lossless audio content, you're going to need as much space as you can get. If you're more used to streaming audio, smaller bit rates won't phase you, and you can grab something with a little less storage.
Now, you might be attracted to the candy-like colors and flashy apps that Apple offers, and that's totally understandable; they continue to boast the largest app selection of any platform. If you're less into the apps, however, you stand to gain a lot of battery life by working with a simpler interface. It's the iPod's bright, colorful screen with all those fancy animations that drains its battery so fast. Without those variables, you have an MP3 player that will take much better care of you as you travel through terrain with difficult electricity availability.
If all your MP3 player does is play music, it's liable to last longer, have better battery life, and save you a good bit of money, as well. It's music, and it's only music, but, hey, it's still music.
Thanks A Lot, Steve
As we delve more and more deeply into the advanced technologies of the 21st century, it seems as though our collective memory has positioned itself to recall Steve Jobs as the inventor of the MP3 player. This is simply not true.
Before those, of course, there were the Walkman portable cassette players and Discman portable CD players that created more clutter than anything else.
Long before the first iPods hit the market in 2001, companies like AT&T and SaeHan offered digital audio players with internal and external memory, and even the ability to download music from the internet and sync it with smaller flash memory cards for playback. Before those, of course, there were the Walkman portable cassette players and Discman portable CD players that created more clutter than anything else.
We can give Steve credit for changing the game, though. Not long after the first couple of iPod generations passed by, Jobs and his team at Apple realized that they could centralize a number of entertainment platforms on a single device well beyond just music.
In 2007, hot on the heels of the release of the first generation iPhones, Apple released their first generation of iPod touches, which utilized all the technological advantages of the first iPhone, just without the cellular contract or capabilities.
Since then, some companies have attempted to replicate Apple's interface, offering apps and touchscreens along with MP3 playback, while others have stuck with the tried and true method of delivering only music to their customers.