The 4 Best MP3 Players of 2021

Access your favorite tunes for less

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There are a lot of reasons you might want to pick up one of the best MP3 players of 2021. It's true that every phone out there has MP3 playing capability. There are a lot of free apps you can download to play your music collection. But MP3 players offer a lot of benefits over their smartphone counterparts. 

Let's start with the fact that many smartphones are ditching the headphone jack, meaning your expensive corded headphones are useless. You might be a runner or someone who's really keen on portability. MP3 players are often much smaller than smartphones. You might prefer a more simplistic interface or you might want to conserve your phone's battery or storage space. Whatever the reason, a dedicated audio player (or DAP) might just be right for you, and we've got some of our favorites down below.

The Rundown
This player comes in a compact body with a 3.6-inch touchscreen display.
The Berennius Bluetooth MP3 Player is a full-featured player with a tiny screen and easy user interface.
The Agptek Clip MP3 player is a neat little player that is ready to go out of the box.
A good workout MP3 player can be hard to find, and this offering from Sandisk is a great option.

Best Overall: Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 Portable High Resolution Audio Player

What We Like
  • Lots of storage

  • 32bit/384kHz Playback

  • Compatible with streaming services

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Weird design

Astell&Kern is a well-known music player maker and their A&Norma SR25 is one of the best. This player comes in a compact body with a 3.6-inch touchscreen display. It comes with 64GB of onboard storage which is expandable up to 1TB via microSD card. Plus, this player supports a wide range of streaming services (over Wi-Fi) including Amazon Music, Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, and more.

It also supports multiple codes like LDAC and aptX for higher quality in compressed music over Bluetooth. Unfortunately, all that comes at a very high price. This is one of the better players in the list to be sure, but we're not sure this one strikes the correct balance between price and features. That's especially true when you consider the odd design of this player. The face is tilted which could be weird to get used to. All told, if you like creative interfaces and have a few extra benjamins lying around, this might be for you.

Best Budget: Berennis Bluetooth MP3 Player

Berennis Bluetooth MP3 Player
What We Like
  • Equalizer with presets

  • Earphones in the box

  • Supports a large number of lossless file types

What We Don't Like
  • Some design issues

  • Limited SD card support

The Berennius Bluetooth MP3 Player is a full-featured player with a tiny screen and easy user interface. The player comes with a lot of extras like headphones in the box which sound pretty good. The player also has a built-in speaker and voice recorder if you want to record voice memos.  There are 16 GB of storage, and SD card support for up to 128 GB of extra storage. That's not all that great, especially since this player supports many lossless music formats like WAV, FLAC, and more.

There are also some design issues. There's no clip on the back to clip to your clothes for running. The player isn't water resistant, so don't get caught out in the rain with it. Those are two flaws in a player that is otherwise excellently and solidly built. The player sounds great, and comes with some nice extra touches.

"The Berennis Bluetooth MP3 player is sturdy and functional, and a good choice for those who don’t want to pay too much for extra bells and whistles." Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Best Compact: AGPTEK Clip MP3 Player

What We Like
  • 8GB on-board storage

  • Great price

  • Ready for a run out of the box

What We Don't Like
  • Small display

  • Bad display

  • Included case makes it hard to push buttons

The Agptek Clip MP3 player is a neat little player that is ready to go out of the box. What that means is the MP3 player comes with headphones, a strap, a clip, and a case. Basically you can open the box, load up some music and go. With 8GB of on-board storage, you can load up a lot of music. That's even expandable up to 64GB with MicroSD card and while neither of those are the largest on this list, this player comes in at under $30.  That's not bad considering that price point.

Of course, there are other compromises as well. The screen on this player is tiny, and not all that great. Text on the screen can be hard to read. Getting back to the accessories this device comes with, the case makes it hard to push the buttons at times. But all told, this is a pretty good value for a dedicated MP3 player with 14.5 hours of continuous playback, Bluetooth, and a wide variety of file format support.

"Although it’s not the most advanced music player out there, the Agptek Clip is a serviceable option for athletes, or for those who need a music player they can use during periods of high activity."Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Best for Running: SanDisk Clip Sport Plus MP3 Player

What We Like
  • Easy to read screen

  • IPX5 water resistance

  • Built in EQ

  • Audible Support

What We Don't Like
  • No memory card support

  • MicroUSB plug

A good workout MP3 player can be hard to find, and this offering from Sandisk is a great option. It's small, lightweight, and has an easy to read screen so you can use the device while on the go. The built-in EQ helps with the sound tremendously, and the IPX5 water resistance means that sweat or even light splashes won't break your device.  The player even has support for Audible books, so if music isn't your thing, you can take in some Tolkien while out for your walk.

The player doesn't have an SD card slot, so you're limited to the 16GB of on-board storage. That will hold a lot of music, but for the price, you'd want it to hold all of your music. The player also charges with MicroUSB which is very dated at this point. More devices are moving over to USB Type-C so it's an extra cable you'll have to keep around. But overall, this is a great player for getting out there and keeping your tunes with you.

"The SanDisk Clip Sport Plus MP3 player has some perks, like water resistance, a durable design, and support for several file formats, but the lack of a MicroSD card slot is a major shortcoming." Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Final Verdict

Our best overall pick is definitely the FiiiO M9, which has amazing audio, a ton of expandable storage, and multiple outputs including wireless Bluetooth codecs. You basically get it all, including the less common 2.5 mm headphone jack. But all that comes at a very premium price point, so keep that in mind.


On the lower end, Sandisk Clip Sport Plus MP3 Player gets our recommendation for the runners out there. It's small and easy to use and has built-in water resistance. It's true that lack of microSD support is not our favorite, but for everything else this player offers, it's worth it. Run free!

About Our Trusted Experts

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.

Adam S. Doud has been writing and reviewing technology in this space for almost ten years. He's always looking for the next portable entertainment solution and he's watched more than a few Netflix shows on his ceiling.

FAQs

What is an MP3?
An MP3 is a compressed sound file that devices like your phone, computer, and MP3 player can play. But in this case, “MP3” is a generic term referring to most sound files. Sound files can come in many types including AAC, WAVE, FLAC, M4A, MP3 and more. MP3s are the most common kind of music file, so typically people refer to any kind of sound file as an MP3 in the same way that most people refer to facial tissue as “Kleenex.”

My phone plays MP3s. Do I need a separate device?
Technically, you don’t need a separate device for play MP3s and other sound files. But, it offers several advantages over your phone. An MP3 player is dedicated to just one job, which is playing sound files. One specific advantage that offers is that all your memory can be dedicated to just your music collection instead of dividing it up between apps, photos, music, and more.

Does an MP3 player just play MP3s?
No! MP3 files are the most common music file out there, but they are not the only ones. As we mentioned above, most MP3 players can actually play a variety of sound files. It’s important to know what kinds of sound files your player can play before you pick one up. While most players will play just about anything, there are some exceptions.

What to Look for in an MP3 Player

Storage - Arguably the most important aspect of an MP3 player is how much it can hold. That’s often referred to in gigabytes or GB. Just as often it can be referred to as an estimated number of songs. An average song takes up between three and four megabytes which means you can put about 230 songs in 1GB of memory. When it comes to memory, higher numbers are better, and it’s a good idea to look for memory expansion through the use of microSD cards.

Codec and file support - Here’s where we get into a bit of alphabet soup. As mentioned, music files can come in a wide variety of formats including WAV, MP3, M4A, and more. MP3’s are by far the most common, but they’re not the only game in town. When you add in Bluetooth codecs which is the format Bluetooth headphones received and decompress music, it gets more confusing. Common Bluetooth codecs include aptX, aac, LDAC, and more. This comes into play when you’re shopping for headphones as well, so it’s important to pay attention to this part.

Size - MP3 players come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to know what you’ll use the MP3 player for. If you want it for exercise, then smaller will be better. If it’s more of a general use, then slightly larger will be ok. Keep in mind that smaller might be more prone to loss, or could be harder to manipulate so it’s important to be realistic about what you want the MP3 player for.

What to Look For in a MP3 Player Buying

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

Apple

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

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.

SanDisk

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.

Sony

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.

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