The 9 Best Budget MP3 Players of 2019

Access your favorite tunes for less

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Sony NWE395

Sony NWE394
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.1

What We Like

  • Great sound quality

  • Easy to use

  • Good volume range

What We Don't Like

  • Unattractive design

  • Bulky

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. “This MP3 player’s sound quality is really good,” our tester reported. It also has a dynamic normalizer, which balances the volume levels between songs, and our reviewer noted that 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.

Best for Exercise: AGPTEK A01T

AGPTEK A01T
 Courtesy of Walmart
3.2

What We Like

  • Affordable price

  • Solid build quality

  • Premium feel

What We Don't Like

  • 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. "One of the most impressive qualities of this MP3 player is its build quality," our tester said.

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 pretty surprising amount of volume headroom for the size," according to our reviewer.

Best Value: MYMAHDI MP3/MP4 Music Player

3.7

What We Like

  • Compact

  • Simple

  • Incredibly inexpensive

What We Don't Like

  • Poor screen quality

  • Mediocre audio quality

Our tester thought that, overall, the MYMAHDI MP3 player was a good value for the price: “The inclusion of the FM radio and the voice recorder are nice perks,” he noted. 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 give away that this is a budget device.”

Best Audio Quality: Sony Walkman NW-A35

3.7

What We Like

  • Great audio quality

  • Good file type compatibility

  • Decent UX

What We Don't Like

  • High price tag

  • Weak-feeling build

  • No support for internet or video

If you’re in the market for an MP3 player with stellar audio, the Sony NW-A35 delivers. Its S-Master HX digital amp cuts distortion and noise across a wide range of frequencies, while the DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Experience) HX feature upgrades music to high-resolution. Our tester reported "really powerful playback of the lossless AIFF and WAV files." He added, "These bells and whistles were less pronounced with MP3s, which is to be expected, but across the spectrum, this device does have the capability to give you solid, full-range playback."

Other highlights include solid storage and battery life and an intuitive user experience. While our reviewer said it "felt a little flimsy," he said that "for playback quality and file type support, this is a pretty good deal, even if it is an investment."

Best iOS Player: iPod Touch (7th Generation)

4.3

What We Like

  • Lightweight

  • High-quality audio and video

  • Great for kids

What We Don't Like

  • Some will find features to be overkill

  • No Touch ID

The iPod Touch lives on as a very reasonably priced MP3 player (when you consider everything it offers) in a sleek, lightweight design reminiscent of older iPhones. In addition to music, it offers features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a camera, Facetime, and a 4-inch Retina display. If all you want to do is listen to music, reviewers say these extra features are overkill. However, reviewers say it's a great option for kids who aren't ready for a phone.

There's also plenty of storage, and—for the first time ever in an iPod—FLAC support, thanks to iOS 12. Although you’ll still need to use iTunes (or Apple Music) to inject your favorite songs into the default app, access to Apple’s App Store means you can pick from alternative apps like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube Music.

Best Compact: AGPTEK Clip MP3 Player

What We Like

  • Lightweight

  • Good battery life

  • Includes armband

What We Don't Like

  • 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.

Best All-in-One: Sony NWWS413BM 4 GB Bluetooth Sports Wearable

What We Like

  • Waterproof

  • Secure fit

  • Great battery life

What We Don't Like

  • No Bluetooth

  • Volume could be higher

Sony’s 4GB NWWS413BM all-in-one combines an MP3 player and headphones. It features a wrap-around design for a light yet secure fit and is even waterproof, sweat-proof, and dust-proof. With a quick three-minute charge, you’ll get up to 60 minutes of playback, which is the perfect amount of time for a workout. You can easily load music by dragging and dropping your favorite songs, albums, and workout playlists from iTunes for Mac or Windows. Multi-format playback supports WMA, AAC, or L-PCM music files.

Reviewers say this MP3 player is perfect for swimming. They love the wireless setup and how easy it is to load music. There's also an ambient noise feature for when you don't want to completely block out your surroundings. However, some reviewers say the volume is lacking.

Best for Running: SanDisk Clip Sport Plus

What We Like

  • Durable

  • Lightweight with convenient clip

  • Good battery life

What We Don't Like

  • 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.

Want to take a look at some more options? Take a peek at the best workout music players available.

Best for Lossless Audio: Berennis Bluetooth MP3 Player

What We Like

  • Great sound quality

  • Good storage capacity

  • Built-in speaker

What We Don't Like

  • Slightly heavy

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.

FAQs

What’s the difference between lossy, lossless, and uncompressed audio?

Lossy audio refers to a music file that is compressed by discarding some of the information and simplifying the data, which results in lower-quality audio. Lossy audio files include MP3, AAC, and WMA. Lossless audio, which includes FLAC and ALAC formats, doesn’t discard any of the data, meaning it’s identical to the original source. Uncompressed audio means nothing is done to save space, and therefore, it’s the highest quality. WAV and AIFF are uncompressed audio formats.


How do you download music to an MP3 player?

Your MP3 player should come with instructions, but for the most part, music is added to an MP3 player by connecting it to your computer with a USB cord and syncing it with either your iTunes, Windows Media Player, or a special drive on your computer. Some MP3 players come with their own proprietary software. Once you locate your MP3 player within the appropriate program, some will sync all the new music automatically, while others you can choose which songs to drag and drop (most of the time you can change this in settings, too).


Will my MP3 player work with songs from Apple’s iTunes store? 

Apple’s iTunes uses AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) as its default encoding method for audio files. More commonly, you’ll see iTunes AAC files wrapped in the M4A file container, and therefore with the .M4A file extension. Not all MP3 players are compatible with AAC or M4A files, so you’ll want to check. You can also use a free audio converter to convert an AAC file to MP3, WAV, WMA, and other audio formats.

The Ultimate MP3 Player Buying Guide

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.

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.

MP3 player
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Audio Quality

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.

Resolution

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.

MP3 player
Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

File Formats

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.

DAC

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.

MP3 player
 Lifewire / William Harrison

Design

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.

Size

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.

Display

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.

Controls

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.

MP3 player
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Ports

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.

Water Resistance

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.

MP3 player
 Lifewire / William Harrison

Other Features and Considerations

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.

Storage

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

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.

MP3 player
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Wireless Connectivity

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.

Brands

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.

mp3 player
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Conclusions

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.