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Best Overall: Sony NW-A45 Walkman at bhphotovideo.com
"The touchscreen design and clean Sony interface make it feel fully up-to-date."
Runner Up, Best Overall: Sony NWE395 at Amazon
"An exceptional option for commuters and travelers with 35 hours of audio playback battery life.”"
Best for Exercise: AGPTEK A01T at Walmart
"Sleek and slim, designed with six touch buttons and a 1.8-inch color TFT display."
Best Value: MYMAHDI MP3/MP4 Music Player at Amazon
"The inclusion of the FM radio and the voice recorder are nice perks."
Best Compact: AGPTEK Clip MP3 Player at Amazon
"All the features of a solid MP3 player in a tiny package."
Best for Running: SanDisk Clip Sport Plus at Amazon
"The clip on the back of the player is a convenient way to make sure it doesn’t fall off your body while exercising."
Best for Lossless Audio: Berennis Bluetooth MP3 Player at Amazon
"A reasonably-priced way to hear your music at its full quality."
Best for Hi-Res Audio: FiiO M6 at Amazon
"This MP3 player has a 3.2 inch IPS HD touchscreen that resembles a smartphone."
Runner-Up, Best for Hi-Res Audio: Astell & Kern AK Jr at Amazon
"If you’re looking for great sound quality but still want to save some money, consider the AK Jr MP3 player from Astell & Kern."
There are plenty of reasons to buy a dedicated music player, like an MP3 player. For starters, there’s the fact that not everyone has a music streaming subscription, and not everyone wants to use up their phone’s storage space for music. Not only that, but while smartphones are considered pretty portable, there are much smaller digital audio players, or DAPs, that are perfect for things like taking on a run or going to the gym.
If you’ve decided that you want to buy a dedicated digital audio player for yourself, there are a number of factors to consider. Audio quality aside, you might also want to consider an MP3 player's overall design—elements like the display, the size of the device, and the ports being used might all come into play. Last but not least, you’ll want to consider things like software, the amount of storage, and types of storage.
Courtesy of B&H
Great audio quality
Expandable storage capacity
No internet connection for streaming
If you’re looking for a solid, mid-range MP3 player with great audio quality, then the latest generation of Sony Walkman is hard to beat. As the name suggests, this is a pretty classic device: it holds your offline music collection (the lack of Wi-Fi connection means you can’t stream with it) and it delivers 24-bit hi-res sound with lots of expandable storage via microSD card, making it a great option for people with hi-res music files that want to get the best audio possible. If you like to buy your music, or if you have lots of files from an older media-based collection, then this is a great way to hold all your digital files in one place.
The Walkman is truly designed to hold music only, so it certainly won’t replace a smartphone. But the touchscreen design and clean Sony interface make it feel fully up-to-date. It also has a Bluetooth connection — something that several devices on this list lack — so you can use whichever headphones are your best to really appreciate the audio quality.
Great sound quality
Easy to use
Good volume range
With an impressive 35 hours of audio playback (four hours for video) battery life, Sony’s NWE395 MP3 player is an exceptional option for commuters and travelers. The 16GB of onboard memory offers plenty of space for music and video. Our reviewer loved the MP3 player's sound quality. It also has a dynamic normalizer, which balances the volume levels between songs, and our reviewer noted the volume capacity is also very wide-ranging.
Sony offers support for all lossless music formats and easy content transfer with drag and drop through a file explorer on Windows. Creating playlists from your PC through Sony’s dedicated software is also simple. Our tester didn't love the design, however, and thought the screen resolution could use improvement.
"If you feel like disconnecting from the world of apps, emails and text and just enjoy your music, the Sony NWE395 Walkman is worthy of consideration. " — Jeffery Daniel Chadwick, Product Tester
Solid build quality
Awkward UX and controls
Lackluster battery life
Limited file compatibility
Our tester called the AGPTEK A01T a great lossless MP3 for the gym. There's a built-in pedometer, Bluetooth 4.0 functionality, and even an included armband. The sleek design features six touch buttons and a 1.8-inch color TFT display. Our reviewer particularly liked the overall build quality.
It offers 8GB of storage, with support for up to 128GB with a microSD card, and can reportedly deliver up to 45 hours of music-playing or 16 hours of video-playing on a 1.5-hour charge. However, our tester found he only got a somewhat-disappointing 30 hours even with average use. In terms of compatibility, it doesn't support Apple-centric file types like M4A and AIFF. However, the sound quality was perfectly adequate for supported files and it has a surprising amount of volume headroom for the size, according to our reviewer.
"If you’re looking for something you can load up with your MP3s and take it to the gym, leaving your smartphone at home, the build quality and convenience of this device fit that use case perfectly." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester
Poor screen quality
Mediocre audio quality
Our tester thought the MYMAHDI MP3 player was a good value for the price, noting the inclusion of the FM radio and the voice recorder as nice perks. Its cheap price makes it perfect for the person who wants a simple, compact device but isn't looking for a long-term investment. It has 8GB of internal storage, which can be expanded up to 128GB via a microSD card.
Music is easy to add via drag and drop when connected to your computer, and it supports a variety of formats, including MP3, WMA, FLAC, APE, AAC, and more. However, our tester warned, the low-resolution screen, mediocre audio quality, and poorly written instruction manual make it clear that this is a budget device.
"When we filled up our MP3 player to capacity, we got about 1,000 songs and three audiobooks into it." — Jeffrey Daniel Chadwick, Product Tester
Good battery life
Clunky user interface
Measuring 2.1 x 1.3 x 0.5 inches and weighing only 4 ounces, the AGPTEK Clip is a compact MP3 player at a budget price. It has all the features of a solid MP3 player—including Bluetooth, FM radio, and about 30 hours of battery life—in an ultra-portable package. As the name suggests, you can clip the player onto the armband or a piece of clothing for a workout. The Clip provides 8GB of internal memory and up to 64GB with an external SD card. You’ll also get support for lossless files in addition to MP3, WMA, APE, WAV, FLAC, and AAC formats.
Reviewers complain that navigation is not user-friendly and there's a bit of a learning curve. But most agree that for the price and size, it gets the job done well.
Lightweight with convenient clip
Interface is difficult to navigate
Glitchy Bluetooth connectivity
At only 1.28 ounces and 0.7 x 1.7 x 2.6 inches, the SanDisk Sport Plus is easy to clip on and go. It’s also IPX5 water-resistant, meaning that it should still work even during a rainy day or a sweaty workout. With 20 hours of battery life from a single charge, long runs shouldn’t be a problem, either.
Other perks for runners include a built-in FM radio and Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to use wireless headphones—however, some reviewers caution that the Bluetooth doesn't always work. With 16GB of storage, SanDisk says you’ll be able to store up to 4,000 songs in a variety of file formats like MP3, AAC, WAV, and FLAC. Some reviewers complain that the user interface needs work, but most agree that the sound quality is more than adequate for an MP3 player in this price range.
Good storage capacity
If you have lossless files and want to take your music-listening experience to a new level, then the Berennis MP3 player offers a reasonably-priced way to hear your music at its full quality. This device has an output sampling rate of 44.1kHZ and a signal-to-noise ratio of 110dB. It supports all major audio formats, including MP3, WAV, FLAC, WMA, and APE. The device holds 16GB storage, but supports up to 128GB with a TF card and delivers 30 hours of playback on a single charge.
It has Bluetooth 4.2, and transmits a strong wireless signal to your wireless earbuds or speakers, without draining your battery. Just note that you can't play your iTunes music via Bluetooth unless you convert the files to MP3s. Reviewers love the built-in speaker and overall sound quality.
Hi-res audio quality
Small and sleek
Internet connection and streaming app support
Tonality lags slightly behind the M9
If you’re an audiophile who’s already invested in high-end headphones and speakers, then you don’t want to pair that with a device that plays compressed, low-quality music files—if your audio isn’t hi-res to start with, then your music won’t sound its best even with good equipment. Though it’s pricier than some of the devices on this list, the FiiO M6 delivers next-level audio quality for those who want to play lossless music files.
This MP3 player has a 3.2 inch IPS HD touchscreen design that resembles a smartphone. With its design, feature set, streaming app support, and that excellent touchscreen, it's extremely well priced, and is actually one of the best value propositions on our list, especially if you're primarily concerned with audio quality. It delivers excellent performance, offers expandable storage, and can even be connected to another DAC.
Very compact design
OS interface can be confusing
If you’re looking for great sound quality but still want to save some money, consider the AK Jr MP3 player from Astell & Kern. The design looks a little bit like the old iPod Nano but with some updated features (Bluetooth connectivity being one of the most important). This MP3 player comes in a rose gold color and is made from a super lightweight aluminum alloy, making it a compact option for athletes who want to take music on their workouts, or as a player to connect to your nice speaker system and tuck into the entertainment center somewhere.
The AK Jr has 64GB of storage built in, expandable up to 256 GB with a microSD card. This space is especially important if you want to take advantage of the audio quality by listening to lossless music files. The 3.1-inch touchscreen design has intuitive controls, but the interface itself can be more confusing to navigate as it is not a standard Apple or Android operating system.
When it comes to finding a great digital audio player, there are a ton of options, and given the number of things to keep in mind, it might be a little daunting. If you want a player for ultra-high-quality audio the Sony NW-A45 Walkman will the purpose. It's expensive, but it has 24-bit hi-res sound. If you’ve decided on sports use or casual listening, then the Sony NWE395 is a great option, balancing price and sound quality well. On the very affordable end, both the AGPTEK A01T and MYMAHDI M350 are decent MP3 players with low prices.
Jeffery Daniel Chadwick has been writing about tech since 2008. He's reviewed hundreds of products for Top Ten Reviews, including media players, home improvement, and audio gadgets. He was a big fan of the Sony NWE395 for its snappy interface and compact size, and the affordable MYMAHDI M350.
Jason Schneider has ten years of experience writing for tech and media companies. He's reviewed almost every audio product Lifewire has to offer, from headphones and earbuds, to MP3 players and sound systems. He liked the AGOTEK A01T, praising the amount of value the compact budget MP3 player offered.
We live in an era of amazing technology. If you have a smartphone and internet connection, you have access to the world’s music, movies, TV shows, and more—all from the palm of your hand. But not everyone wants an all-in-one device. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to buy a dedicated music player, like an MP3 player.
For starters, there’s the fact that not everyone has a music streaming subscription, and not everyone wants to use up their phone’s storage space for music. Not only that, but while smartphones are considered pretty portable, there are much smaller digital audio players, or DAPs, that are perfect for things like taking on a run or going to the gym.
Then there’s music quality. While most people won’t notice a difference between the audio quality on offer from a smartphone and that played by an MP3 player, audiophiles will be the first to tell you that there can be a difference in things like clarity and detail, especially when the audio being played is a high enough resolution.
These days, perhaps the most common reason to buy an MP3 player is because of the fact that some of them offer heightened audio quality over devices like a smartphone. There are a number of elements that go into providing great audio quality, and sometimes, even when all the specs are right, a device can still sound bland. While it’s important to educate yourself when it comes to audio player specs, we still recommend looking at reviews of a device before you buy it.
It's pretty common to see the phrase “hi-res audio,” and that’s thanks largely to the release of services like Tidal and devices that support high-resolution audio. Fully understanding audio resolution takes a degree or two, so we’re not going to go into a complete analysis of how digital audio works. However, the gist of things is that digital audio is made up of a “sample rate” and a “bit depth.”
The sample rate is basically how often information about audio frequency is taken, while bit depth determines the dynamic range of digital audio. That’s to say, the higher the sample rate, the “smoother” audio will sound, while the higher the bit depth, the more dynamic it will sound.
There’s also the bitrate, which basically determines how much information related to digital audio can be captured. The higher the bitrate, the more information that’s captured—resulting in full-sounding audio. When a bitrate is lowered, less information is captured, but the file size is ultimately smaller. Thankfully, bitrate doesn’t really play into buying a music player, as devices will be able to play all bitrates, provided they have enough storage.
Head spinning? You’re not alone. If you just want to know what to look for from a music player, look for a device that can play at least audio with a 44.1kHz sample rate and a 16-bit bit depth. That’s CD-quality audio, which is pretty good for most people. For those looking for higher-quality, hi-res audio, you’ll want to find a player that can handle audio of at least 96kHz and 24-bit. There’s not the true definition of “hi-res audio,” but 96kHz/24-bit support is a good start—and any more than that is even better. And if what you're really looking for is a budget MP3 player, then just know that the audio quality will most likely be lacking.
Most MP3 players can play a set of core audio formats, but it’s those extra formats that may dictate the audio player that you buy. Audio formats fall under three categories: lossless, lossy, and uncompressed. Lossless audio is compressed in a way that cuts down on the file size but still allows music players to recreate the full, uncompressed version. Lossless audio formats include FLAC and ALAC.
Lossy audio, on the other hand, cuts down on file size even more by sacrificing some of the audio information and simplifying the data in the file. The result is a lower-quality audio file, which can be noticeable, depending on how compressed the file is. Common lossy audio files include the famous MP3, AAC, and WMA.
Last but not least is uncompressed audio, which doesn’t do anything to the audio file in order to save on space. When you’re buying a high-quality audio player, these audio formats are the ones you’ll probably use most. Uncompressed audio files include the likes of WAV and AIFF.
You’ll want an audio player that can play at least most of these formats. You may also want the player to support DSD files, which is a format of high-resolution audio.
The DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, is basically the device that turns a digital signal into something that the human ear can hear. Not all DACs, however, are created equal—some are better than others, and some are much better than others. Most people use a DAC all the time without knowing it. They’re built into phones, computers, and, of course, dedicated music players.
So how do you know if a DAC is good or not? Well, you don’t. Really what finding a good DAC comes down to is sound, and some simply sound better than others. One differentiating factor, however, is that an audio player has a dedicated DAC at all. Some simply use the DACs built-in by chip manufacturers. Some take things a step further still, and feature dual DACs, or even quad DACs—and these are likely even more focused on high-quality audio.
There are, thankfully, a few tried-and-true brands. ESS, for example, has been building DACs for some time now, and they’re known for their high quality. ESS Sabre DACs are featured in portable music players from the likes of Onkyo, while many other manufacturers, like Astell & Kern, and HiFiMan, build their own DACs. If you’re looking for a music player with high audio quality, one from a company that builds their own DACs is probably a good way to go.
Audio quality is important, but depending on what you’re doing, the design might be equally as important. The design doesn’t just refer to how a device looks—it also relates to functional choices that the manufacturer has made.
Here are some of the most important design elements to keep in mind when buying an MP3 player.
The size of an audio player could have a big impact on how and when you use it. After all, if you’re looking for a music player to take to the gym or to take running, you probably won’t want an overly large device. If all you care about is a high level of audio quality, then size may not be as much of an issue.
On the smaller end of the spectrum, you’ll get devices like the SanDisk Clip Sport, which is a few inches tall and about a 1.5-inches wide. On the larger end, however, you’ll get the Onkyo DP-X1, which is around 5-inches tall, 3-inches wide, and .5-inch thick. The trade-off? The SanDisk device, while fine for sports use, isn’t really built for audio quality. The Onkyo DP-X1 features Dual Sabre DACs, a full version of the Android operating system, and so on.
The display on an audio player probably isn’t as important as the display on a smartphone, but if you want to watch videos on your device or simply prefer looking at a high-quality display, then the display might be a consideration for you.
There are a few display aspects to consider. For starters, you’ll want to think about the display’s size. While most audio players probably have smaller displays that measure less than 2-inches diagonally, some players have displays of more than 4 or 5 inches.
You’ll also want to think about whether or not the display is even a color display. Some displays are simply there for functional purposes—like on the HiFiMan SuperMini. Others, however, are really built to heighten the user experience, like the display on the Onkyo DP-X1, which is as good as the display on many smartphones.
Last but not least is display resolution, which basically dictates how clear an image is on the screen. The higher the resolution, the better the picture. This is probably not a big deal for those looking for a budget device, but it's worth noting.
Of course, it’s important to remember that some MP3 players don’t even have displays—like the old Apple iPod Shuffle. That may not be that big of a deal for you, but you’ll probably be a little limited in how much control you have over your music.
If you own and use a smartphone, then you may find it easier to control an audio device that has touch controls. Not all of them do, but there are a few, like the aforementioned Onkyo DP-X1.
Other devices may not have touch controls, but they’re still built to be relatively easy to use. Some probably have playback buttons to quickly and easily control music when it’s playing, while others will have buttons to scroll through menus. No matter what the setup is, it’ll probably be relatively easy to figure out how to use the device. However, if you want maximum ease of use, then a touch-control device is probably the way to go.
While you probably don’t need a ton of ports on your device, you will need a few. For starters, you’ll need a charging port. Most audio players use the MicroUSB port, which has been the standard for some time now. Despite this, manufacturers will likely start adopting the USB-C standard at some point in the near future. USB-C is more convenient, because it’s reversible, plus it’s faster when it comes to data transfer. It’s not worth buying or avoiding a device just because it has USB-C, but it’s still a nice bonus to have one.
Of course, when it comes to an audio player you’ll also want a headphone jack. This isn’t really a feature you’ll have to look for—if you’re buying a portable music player it will have a headphone jack. But you might also have other audio ports, too. Some offer a 2.5mm balanced output, which may offer a slightly better audio quality and a little more power. Ports like this are really only built-in for audiophiles, and they’re different sizes so that you don’t accidentally put in a pair of standard headphones, which could do serious damage to the headphones. To make use of the port, you’ll need to buy specially balanced headphones with a 2.5mm jack.
While most DAPs probably don’t have any kind of water resistance, if you’re buying a device for the purpose of doing things like going running or going to the gym, you may want some kind of water resistance. After all, who says a little rain has to prevent you from exercising?
Most devices that have water resistance at all will have a rating of IPX7, which allows it to be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for as long as 30 minutes, or IPX8, which allows for immersion in up to 3 meters of water for as long as 30 minutes. Safe to say, you won’t want to take these devices swimming, but they should be perfectly fine in the rain.
Some DAPs, on the other hand, are specifically built for swimming. Some manufacturers sell modified versions of the iPod Shuffle for swimming, while others, like SYRYN, build their own waterproof players. If you plan on using your DAP a lot around water, perhaps these are a better option for you.
There are a few other features to keep in mind when buying a digital audio player, and they could play a big role in how useful your digital audio player is to you.
The amount of storage you have on your digital audio player is important, especially if you have a lot of music and want to store high-resolution audio files that generally take up a lot of space. Most audio players these days use solid-state storage, which is good news for those who intend to take their audio player with them. Spinning disk hard drives can break with too much movement.
More important than the type of storage, however, might be how much there is. If you plan on really only storing MP3 files and have less than 1,000 songs you want stored, then 8GB to 16GB may be plenty for you. If, however, you want to store WAV files and have a large library of music, then you’ll want much more than that. In that case, we recommend going for at least 64GB, which should be able to store around 2,000 CD-quality WAV files, and higher quality audio will take up more than that.
Software can have a significant impact on the overall user experience, though for more basic devices with only smaller, monochromatic displays, that may not matter.
Some DAPs feature fully-fledged operating systems that can do much more than just play music. The Onkyo DP-X1, for example, features a full version of Android 5.1, meaning it can do pretty much anything an Android tablet can do. Not only is that good for the overall user experience, but it also makes it easier to stream music through music streaming apps and download high-resolution music files without the need for a computer.
In general, most devices will have proprietary software developed by the manufacturers of the devices. That software will probably work fine for navigating through music and displaying album art, but probably not for much else. If you want a more fully-featured device, you’ll need to specifically search for an Android-powered device, or find a second-hand iPod Touch.
Wireless connectivity will often go hand-in-hand with software. Some DAPs feature Wi-Fi radios, meaning that you can connect to the internet as well as download and stream music. Wi-Fi connectivity could also be helpful for things like software updates. Devices like the iPod Touch and Android-powered devices will most-likely have Wi-Fi connectivity built right in.
Best known for premium iPhones and Macs, Apple isn't usually a name associated with "budget" products. However, if you're looking for an affordable entry into the iOS ecosystem, the latest generation iPod Touch is a great option that gets you all the apps you've come to expect from Apple—along with a very capable MP3 player.
AGPTEK offers an impressive lineup of affordable MP3 players known for their durable build and solid sound quality. You can find ones in a variety of storage capacities and physical sizes, as well as models that offer features tailored for exercise.
Best known for flash memory products, SanDisk also makes great budget MP3 players all with a convenient clip to make running easier. With several storage options and compatibility with a variety of file types (not iTunes, though), people love this brand for its prices and simple functionality.
The Sony Walkman brand is perhaps the most well-known when it comes to music players. You can find ones with some incredible features and pay into the thousands of dollars, but there are also some affordable options that offer the same great quality that Sony is known for.
When it comes to finding a great digital audio player, there are a ton of options, and given the number of things to keep in mind, it might be a little daunting.
If you’ve read through this and still aren’t quite sure what to get, then we have some recommendations on narrowing down the choices. First, decide whether you want a player for things like casual listening and sports, or for ultra-high-quality audio. If you’ve decided on sports use or casual listening, then find a budget device with the most storage and right size within your price range. If, however, you prefer to go for a high-quality audio solution, then figure out a budget, and find a device with the features you want—like dual or quad DACs and tons of storage.
Of course, there’s one thing to make sure not to forget, and that’s a great pair of headphones. If you’re going to be using your device for sports, you’ll want a pair of sports headphones, and if you’re using the device for high-quality audio, then you’ll want a pair of audiophile headphones, which can cost hundreds of dollars.
No matter what you’re looking for from a digital audio player, there’s sure to be something out there for you, and you can certainly find a great device at a budget-friendly price.