You may think that even the best MP3 players can’t hope to compete with everything that modern smartphones have to offer, but portable music players still hold a lot of relevance. Audiophiles will get the most out of an MP3 player that supports high-resolution audio files, while gym-goers will appreciate a music player that isn’t tied to distracting social media apps.
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Though not as common as they once were, there are still plenty of appealing MP3 players out there, with options to suit just about every budget. If you’re unsure of what exactly you’re looking for, you can check in with our buying guide first for a quick rundown of the basics. Otherwise, read on to see the best MP3 players that you can buy right now.
Best MP3 player: At a glance
- Best for swimming: Shokz OpenSwim | Buy now
- Best for workouts: Sony Walkman NW-WS413 | Buy now
- Best for Apple fans: Apple iPod Touch (renewed) | Buy now
- Best budget option: SanDisk Clip Jam | Buy now
- Best for high-res audio: Sony Walkman NW-A306 | Buy now
How to buy the best MP3 player for you
Can’t I just use my smartphone instead?
If you’re a fitness aficionado and don’t want to take your phone into the gym, or just want something super-lightweight that you can chuck in a pocket, or clip onto your clothes while going out for a run, an MP3 player is a better choice. Basic models are often far more robust than a phone – there’s no expensive screen to break – and certain models even add waterproofing, which is perfect for year-round training.
There are other benefits: if you’re out and about without your phone charger, playing music through a portable music player isn’t going to drain your phone’s battery. You’ll also be able to take your entire music collection with you, without filling up smartphone storage that you’d rather use for apps, photos and videos.
And if you’re keen on the idea of hi-res audio, you’ll need to shell out on a dedicated player to get the most out of the latest hi-res albums.
What is the best type of MP3 player?
There are two basic types of MP3 player: hard drive-based players and flash-based players. The latter is much more popular (and practical) as flash storage options are high enough to store thousands of songs, and they’re also much more compact.
Hard drive-based MP3 players have a much larger storage capacity but are generally much heavier than flash-based MP3 players because they need to contain the hard drive components. They aren’t good options for those who would like to use their MP3 players while engaged in intense activities, such as exercise, as a knock could cause the hard drive components to break.
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How many songs can the average music player hold?
If you’re happy sticking with compressed MP3 music, even a modest 8GB of storage will be enough for 60 hours of music at the highest possible audio quality. Start dabbling with hi-res audio, however, and 8GB will only be enough for around one-and-a-half hours of the highest-quality DSD audio. Thankfully, most music players have a microSD slot that allows you to expand their storage – except the iPod family, naturally – and microSD cards are cheap to buy.
How are you planning to use your music player?
If you need a device for your workouts, look for one that’s small, light and ideally water and sweat-proof. The Sony NW-WS415 in this list is a definite winner on that front, and can also be used for swimming if that’s more your thing.
If you’re looking for something to keep you company on long journeys, we’d opt for something with a longer battery life that also has more storage space. The Sony NW-E394 below should last you 35 hours, while three of the devices on this list come with a microSD slot for you to expand the amount of storage to accommodate even the largest of music collections.
Can I use my MP3 player to stream music?
This could be a dealbreaker for some people, but if you only listen to music through streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, these music players aren’t for you. For a few years, we were recommending the Astell&Kern AK70, which did offer Wi-Fi connectivity. Sadly, it’s now out of production.
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The best MP3 players to buy
1. Sony Walkman NW-WS413 Waterproof 4GB: Best MP3 player for workouts
Price when reviewed: £99 | Check price at Amazon
Sony describes its NW-WS413 as the “ultimate training partner” and we’re not about to disagree – we gave it a five-star review when it came out. The unusual design is both music player and earphones in one, and while its head-hugging design holds firmly in place while jogging or cycling, it’s also completely waterproof to a depth of 2m so can be used in the pool.
Given its small size, the 12 hours of battery life is very reasonable, and the Ambient Sound Mode is a stroke of genius: it lets you tweak the amount of external noise that’s piped through the headphones, so you don’t get caught unawares by other runners or traffic. Storage space is limited, but for upbeat workout playlists, the 4GB should be more than enough.
Read our full Sony Walkman NW-WS413 review for more details
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): Not disclosed; Weight: 32g; Battery life: 12hrs; Screen size: N/A; Storage: 4GB; microSD slot: No; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: No
2. SanDisk Clip Jam: Best budget MP3 player
Price when reviewed: £31 | Check price at Amazon
If all you’re looking for is an inexpensive, tiny MP3 player, the SanDisk Clip Jam is the one for you. As the name suggests, its tiny dimensions mean that you can literally clip it onto your clothing and it’ll all but disappear in a pocket. The 8GB of storage will be enough for most people, but the microSD slot allows you to squeeze on even the most epic of music collections.
You’ll also get 18 hours listening out of a single charge. The presence of an FM radio tuner is a bit of a boon too. It doesn’t come with the same bells and whistles as the iPod nano, but for something cheap and easy to use, it’s a fantastic option.
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): 46cm x 16cm x 46mm; Weight: 22.7g; Battery life: 18hrs; Screen size: 0.96in; Storage: 8GB; microSD slot: Yes; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: Yes; Wi-Fi connectivity: No
3. Shokz OpenSwim: The best MP3 player for swimming
Price when reviewed: £170 | Check price at Amazon
For swimmers, and athletes in general, these are the best pair of waterproof MP3 headphones around. Unlike the Sony all-in-one MP3 headphones listed above, the Shokz OpenSwim (formerly Xtrainerz) utilise bone conduction technology to transmit their sound. The term ‘bone conduction’ sounds a little scary at first but it actually comes with a few key benefits. Because sound is transmitted into the inner ear canal using vibrations, these headphones don’t block the ear canal, which reduces the risk of infection within the ear. Secondly, it also frees the ears up to take in environmental sound, which can help to improve awareness and safety when training or commuting.
Fitting the flexible titanium headband is simple and it maintains a secure fit, even when you’re plunging into the pool. There aren’t too many fancy settings – there’s no Bluetooth, for example – but it’s easy enough to navigate the controls while on the move. With 4GB of storage and 8hrs of playback life, it’s unlikely you’ll ever run out of listening material or battery power during a training session.
Read our full Shokz OpenSwim (formerly Xtrainerz) review for more details
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): 135 x 94 x 169mm; Weight: 31.8g; Battery life: 8hrs; Screen size: N/A; Storage: 4GB; microSD slot: ; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: No
4. Sony NW-A306: Best for high-res audio
Price when reviewed: £349 | Check price at Amazon
The Sony Walkman has long been a staple of the MP3 player market, and this latest model keeps the brand firmly in the game. The Sony NW-A306 is a remarkably petite and light device, but still capable of putting out powerful, authoritative audio with a wealth of detail.
You’ll get the best results using decent headphones and playing high-resolution files – lower-quality headphones and compressed files lose a lot of the detail, to the point where you may as well be using a smartphone.
Speaking of phones, you may find the touchscreen to be a little sluggish, compared to what you’re used to, but with some patience, it’s easy enough to navigate for anyone familiar with the Android launcher. If you can overlook these minor flaws, the Sony NW-A306 is more than worthy of the Walkman legacy and a great way to enjoy your favourite music.
Read our full Sony NW-A306 review for more details
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): 57 x 12 x 98mm; Weight: 113g; Battery life: 36hrs; Screen size: 3.6in; Storage: 32GB; microSD slot: Yes; Bluetooth connectivity: Yes; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: Yes
5. Apple iPod touch (renewed): Best MP3 player for Apple fans
Price when reviewed: £150 | Check price at Amazon
Apple may be more well known now for its iPhones and iPads but that’s no reason to discount the devices that made the company’s name in the first place. It may be getting on in years now, but those who aren’t ready to let go of their nostalgia can still pick up this 6th generation iPod Touch. This is a renewed model, meaning that it’s been refurbished in-house by Amazon and covered by a one-year guarantee. Inside the player is an A8 chip, which is more than powerful enough to play and store your music, as well as supporting web browsing and apps.
Where the iPod touch differs from Apple’s other portable tech is in its battery life, with a proposed 40 hours of music playtime, and eight hours of multimedia playback. The only downside here is that the 128GB model isn’t available, and there’s no microSD card slot, so you can only fit 32GB’s worth of music on the player at a time.
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): 59 x 6 x 123mm; Weight: 88g; Battery life: 40hrs; Screen size: 4in; Storage: 32GB; microSD slot: No; Bluetooth connectivity: Yes; FM radio tuner: Yes; Wi-Fi connectivity: Yes