Believe it or not, the MP3 player is not dead. Well, that actually depends on what you think of when you think of an MP3 player. Sure, the classic iPods of yesteryear might be out of the picture, as our smartphones can do everything they could and a whole lot more. But, there is still room for a dedicated device for audio, whether it be for a much higher quality of audio or simply to have a compact, affordable device that doesn’t get weighed down with all the additional functions of a phone.You can find MP3 players (though playing lossy MP3 files may be the least of what they can do) that feature powerful DACs and amplifiers, giving you the premium sound and power that you’ll need if you use high-end, over-ear headphones or earbuds. You’ll also find substantial support for a wide variety of audio formats, various connectivity options, and more storage flexibility in many of these devices. So, if you’re looking for a portable home for your music library, you’ll find it here.TL;DR These are the Best MP3 Players:
1. Onkyo DP-X1A
Best MP3 Player
Capacity: 64GB (expandable to 576GB) Expandable Storage: 2 x 256GB microSD cards Battery life: 16 hours Wireless: Wi-Fi and aptX Bluetooth Audio Formats: OGG, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, AAC, WAV, MP3 Dimensions: 0.5 x 2.99 x 5.08″ Weight: 7.2 ounces
Believe it or not, there are some MP3 players that cost upwards of $1,000, though anyone using them likely isn’t playing actual MP3 files. If you know you want a quality option but don’t want to dive that far into the deep end, the Onkyo DP-X1A comes in at a more reasonable price while offering some serious audio chops. The Onkyo DP-X1A is compact, like an iPad Video of yesteryear, and weighs less than half of a pound.What you’re getting in that package is an Android-powered audio player with 64GB of storage built in and dual microSD card slots to dramatically increase the storage for your music library. As it’s running Android, you could also download streaming apps from the Google Play Store. Where it will differ from your typical Android phone or basic MP3 player is in its inclusion of dual Sabre amplifiers and DACs, which it uses to drive the left and right audio channels individually when using the 4-pole balanced audio output. With support for a wide variety of audio formats, you’ll definitely get to take advantage of that performance. And, if you sometimes find yourself wanting to ditch the cables and go wireless, you’ll still get support for quality audio with the aptX codec over Bluetooth.
2. Sony NW-A55
Best Budget MP3 Player
Capacity: 16GB (Expandable with microSD) External Storage: 512GB microSD Card Battery life: 45 hours Wireless: aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth Audio Formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, HE-AAC, AIFF, MP4, FLAC, WAV, WMA, DSD, APE, MQA Dimensions: 2.2 X 3.84 X 0.43 inches Weight: 3.5 ounces
OK, so you know there are benefits to getting a dedicated audio device but maybe you don’t want to spend as much as you’d spend on a new phone just to get one. The Sony NW-A55 is a Walkman for the modern day and brings a lot of the high-end audio you’re after at just a little over $200. With it, you get a slick design and a touchscreen display, so it’s ready to go head to head with an iPod Touch, though you also get physical playback controls on the side of the device.When it comes to audio, though, the Sony NW-A55 goes much further than an iPod Touch. You can plug a pair of wired headphones into the unit and enjoy your favorite lossless audio files pumped out by an S-Master HX amplifier, or you can even use DSEE HX to upscale compressed audio files. You’re not limited to wired headphones, either. The Sony NW-A55 includes NFC for easy pairing with Bluetooth headphones, and it offers up support for both aptX HD and LDAC codecs to let you enjoy excellent audio quality over Bluetooth. And, when you’re at home and don’t need a portable music player, you can plug the NW-A55 into your computer and use it as a USB DAC.
3. Astell & Kern Kann
Best MP3 Player Under $1000
Capacity: 64GB (expandable to 2,112GB) External Storage: 1TB SD Card, 1TB microSD Card Battery life: 14 hours Wireless: Wi-Fi and aptX Bluetooth Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, AAC, ALAXC, AIFF, DSF Dimensions: 2.8 X 4.6 X 1 inches Weight: 9.8 ounces
If you think that your MP3 player should have an imposing physical presence some heft, both literally and figuratively then Astell & Kerns Kann has your name written all over it. Looking more like a 20,000mAh battery that happens to have a color screen, the Kann is oversized, but uses that real estate for four outputs two headphone ports and two line-out ports, both standard and balanced. You can easily plug this into your home audio rig and get the benefit of its high quality AK4490 DAC.In addition to 64GB of onboard storage, you get a microSD slot as well as a full-size SD card slot, for a total possible storage of 2,112GB. It also includes a pair of amps to separate drive left and right headphone audio. The player supports file formats like WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, AAC, ALAXC, AIFF, and DSF and has Tidal integrated, but no Spotify.
4. Astell & Kern AK Jr
Best MP3 Player Under $500
Capacity: 64GB (Expandable to 320GB) External Storage: 256GB microSD Card Battery life: 8 hours Wireless: A2DP Bluetooth Audio Formats: MP3, FLAC, WAV, AAC, AIFF, DSD Dimensions: 2.1 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches Weight: 3.3 ounces
This is the second to last time that Astell & Kern is showing up in this list. The reality is that Astell & Kern happens to make some outstanding portable audio players, and its hard to find a better one for under $500 even though this model is several years old.Unlike the Kann, the Jr is thin and light, making it easy to take on the go. It has a 3.1-inch touchscreen and 64GB of on-board storage. You can expand it with as much as another 256GB via microSD. The Jr also supports all the major file formats, Including MP3, FLAC, WAV, AAC, AIFF, and even supports high-res DSD like some much more expensive models.
5. Apple iPod Touch
Most Versatile MP3 Player
Capacity: up to 256GB Battery life: 40 hours Wireless: Wi-Fi and A2DP Bluetooth Audio Formats: MP3, AAC, WAV, AIFF Dimensions: 4.86 X 2.31 X 0.24 inches Weight: 3.1 ounces
Yes, Apple still sells an iPad Touch. The presence of iOS 13 makes it a versatile portable device that you can use for books, video, gaming, and pretty much anything else youd do with an iPhone (except make calls). You even get access to Apple Arcade.Of course, the iPod Touch is a little different than other MP3 players. Like any iOS device, you dont get an expansion slot, but you can buy the Touch with 32GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. And despite being like a miniture iPad, its not really a music-first sort of device. It supports the most common file formats, like MP3, AAC, WAV, and AIFF, but thats it.
6. Astell & Kern A&futura SE100
Best MP3 Player When Price is No Object
Capacity: 128GB (expandable to 1TB) Expandable Storage: Up to 1TB microSD Card Battery life: 11 hours Wireless: Wi-Fi and aptX Bluetooth Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, AAC, AIFF, MQA, DSD Dimensions: 2.98 x 5.22 x 0.6 inches Weight: 8.5 ounces
Theres a way of thinking about portable music players that goes something like this: In an age of smartphones, if you feel the need to have an MP3 player, you might as well go all in. Like with the A&futura SE100, which looks stunning, with a gorgeously textured carbon webbing back and five-inch display on front, plus an artistically knurled volume control.The A&futura SE100 relies on a 32-bit, eight-channel ESS Sabre ES9038Pro DAC and a pair of matching amplifiers all of which adds up to an impressive signal to noise ratio. Pretty much all file formats are supported including WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, AAC, AIFF, MQA, with native DSD playback as well.
It also comes with a generous 128GB on board, which can be expanded to a terabyte via the microSD slot. The SE100 has a USB Type-C port for fast charging (plugging in for two hours gives you 112 hours of playback) and higher transfer speeds. You get both a standard headphone jack and a balanced port.
7. SanDisk Clip Jam
Best Impulse Buy MP3 Player
Capacity: 8GB (Expandable to 40GB) External Storage: 32GB microSD Card Battery life: 18 hours Wireless: None Audio Formats: MP3, WMA, AASC, OGG, WAV, FLAC Dimensions: 0.63 X 1.6 X 2.6 inches Weight: 0.8 ounces
As long as you set your expectations appropriately, you might be surprised what you can get for $30. The SanDisk Clip Jam might be a good portable player for a kid, or for situations in which you dont want to carry an expensive portable device. You dont get wireless connectivity, nor does it support apps or streaming. But you can add a microSD card to augment the 8GB of onboard memory for a total of 40GB.It comes in a handful of bright colors, and as its name implies, it has a built-in clip you can use to attach it to your clothes. Since it also plays MP3, WMA, AASC, OGG, WAV, and FLAC tracks, this might be all you need.
What to Look for in a Portable Music Player
We tend to call portable music players MP3 players, a tacit acknowledgement of the overwhelming popularity of that lossy, highly compromised audio format. But the most important consideration when shopping for a player is to make sure it supports the format your music happens to be stored in. That might include Apple iTunes tracks in AAC format, or high quality audiophile tracks in FLAC, OGG, or lossless DSD files. Keep an eye on storage capacity as well: A modestly sized music collection of high bitrate music can easily climb into the hundreds of gigabytes.Most audiophiles already know the value of a high quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC). An MP3 player with a high-quality DAC can easily sound better than your PCs on-board sound card. And while the advantages of putting a pair of DACs in an MP3 player are debatable, driving the left and right stereo channels with discrete amplifiers can certainly ensure accurate sound reproduction.
Should you care about getting an MP3 with a balanced audio port? It depends upon how good your headphones and your hearing is. A balanced port can reduce line hum and increase the signal to noise ratio, letting you hear more of your music. But you need to be able to swap a standard 3.5mm headphone cable for a 2.5mm balanced cable and your headphones ideally need to be designed for balanced connections, or theres no point.
And if you want to connect your player wirelessly, look for Bluetooth support ideally, with aptX wireless codec support for higher quality audio. Otherwise, shop for your audio player by asking the same questions youd ask for any portable device do you like the interface, for example, how long does the battery last, and do you want it to do anything besides play music, like run apps or play games.
Dave Johnson has been writing about gaming and tech since the days of the Palm Pilot. See him shout into the Twitter void @davejoh.