Astell & Kern's music players are not cheap, but if you listen to music in any kind of high-quality format at all, you'll be able to hear what you're paying for – especially with a great pair of wired headphones. That's why A&K's top-tier model tops our list here – but with the SP3000 now in our hands, this list may soon have a new addition…
Most people buying a dedicated music player today are looking for a higher-quality options, since the majority of people are perfectly happy listening from their phones – however, we still have some cheaper models in our list here too.
Matt Bolton, Managing Editor – Entertainment
The best MP3 players might sound like old pieces of tech. But although several of their once trailblazing features can now be handled by your smartphone, this guide features several impressive music players that give you a reliable way to listen to high-res audio on the move – aka in better quality than you'd get from just your phone.
Most people now turn to music streaming services, smartphones or smart speakers if they want to listen to music. There’s nothing wrong with any of those. In fact, you should take a look at our best smart speakers guide and best music streaming services guide if you want to refresh the way you enjoy your favorite tunes.
For many people, streaming music sounds good enough. But not everybody thinks good enough is good enough, especially if you've invested in some of the best headphones: high quality headphones often expose the flaws in streaming music, and in poorly recorded music too.
With a few exceptions, streaming services can't match the quality of high-res audio downloads. And phones aren't made with music in mind: the digital-to-analogue converters in smartphones aren't aimed at audiophiles and Bluetooth doesn't have the bandwidth to match a wired headphone connection. If you want audiophile-grade sound quality while you’re out and about, one of the best MP3 players is the best way to get it.
For many years we'd have included an iPod towards the top of this list. But Apple discontinued its last MP3 player, the iPod touch, in May 2022. But while the Cupertino giant has left the MP3 market it helped create, other big names haven't – and they're making some of the best audio hardware we've ever heard.
Best MP3 players and hi-res audio players for 2023
The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T is the best portable music player you can buy right now. Yes, it's expensive, but if you want a premium digital audio experience while you’re out and about, don’t look (or listen) any further. The SP2000T sounds superb.
Two amplifier stages offer seven distinct options, while no fewer than four DACs are deployed to handle two channels of audio information. The SP2000T is unconcerned by digital audio file size or type, and it will happily power any headphones you care to mention.
The control interface is clean and responsive. The player itself is not so much built as sculpted - though it is too large to slip into your jeans pocket. Even the battery life is half-decent.
Read the full Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T review
You don’t have to listen long, hard, or through especially accomplished headphones to realise the M11S is the real deal. In every meaningful music-making respect, it has skills – and in some areas, it’s a genuine expert.
The M11S is insightful enough to make minor or transient information apparent, and it can describe the most nuanced dynamic variations in a solo instrument with ease. It has more than enough headroom to dispatch the big dynamic shifts with no difficulty, and it can also describe a big, wide and properly defined soundstage. The treble is perhaps a little on the bright side, but not so much that we'd consider it a deal breaker.
There's lots to love here including an Android 10 operating system with a touchscreen that's smooth and responsive, a punchy, controlled and detailed sound and a premium build.
The Fiio M11S does an excellent job of gently undercutting its closest rival, the Astell & Kern a&norma SR25 Mk II. You've got so many great options, such great sound, and such high-spec parts that it's very easy to look at the saving and decide it's worth putting into a nice high-capacity microSD card instead of its higher-priced rival.
Read our full Fiio M11S review
Give this A&K your music, sit back and relax – if it doesn't wow you we don't know what will. The A&norma SR25 MKII is a gifted digital audio player that will reignite your love of music. And unlike many of the A&K's more pricey players (one of which is listed directly above here), this one is small enough to put in a pocket and will keep you streaming, pinging or downloading once-treasured songs to it, just to see what it makes of them.
As well as a new 4.4mm headphone jack, the MKII unit (an update on the A&norma SR25, listed below in this guide) also boasts a new Replay Gain function to uniformly adjust volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz. You're also getting AK File Drop (first introduced in the pricier A&futura SE180 player) for easier wireless file transfers; BT Sink function for simpler connection of the SR25 MKII to an external Bluetooth device and extra internal silver-plated shielding to protect from electromagnetic interference.
Although it hasn't been shouted about, four new and quite different-sounding DAC filters are also onboard, which will work if listening in 24-bit/192kHz or less PCM (although they won't work in MQA and DSD formats) and they certainly add value and scope for customization at the level.
If your budget stretches to this player and not a penny more, you won't be disappointed.
Read the full Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review
The Onkyo DP-X1A isn't the most compact device on this list, but we think it's one of the best MP3 players you can buy, offering lots of customizability, an intuitive interface, and fantastic sound.
The DP-X1A looks a little bit like a phone, but much thicker with two audio ports – one headphone jack and one balanced output for those interested in a cleaner and overall better quality sound. The device has an easy-to-use volume wheel, as well as physical playback buttons and two microSD card slots for those with a sizable collection of music.
The player is built with a full version of Android 5.1, complete with features like Wi-Fi connectivity and the Google Play Store, which results in an MP3 Player that is to Android what the iPod Touch is to iOS. Unlike the iPod, however, the Onkyo DP-X1A is built for super-high-quality audio.
Speaking of the sound quality, it's an absolute dream. It supports a range of music formats, including FLAC, OGG, WAV, MP3, ALAC, and more. In terms of hardware, the device has two chipsets, one to power the overall device, and one to handle the DAC and amplifier – resulting in a noise-free experience.
We tested the player with multiple pairs of headphones across multiple price ranges, and were stunned with the clarity and exceptional quality of the audio. There’s a reason the Onkyo DP-X1A sits atop this list – it’s a beast in the portable audio world.
Read the full Onkyo DP-X1A review
Apple took us all by surprise when it announced the iPod touch 7 in 2019, the first upgrade to its portable music and video player since 2015. And Apple surprised us again when it discontinued it in 2022.
There are still quite a few available on sites such as eBay, and if you can get one for a sensible price it's not a bad buy. This iPod supports the FLAC codec as well as Apple Lossless, giving you more options than ever when it comes to accessing audiophile-quality music provided you use wired headphones: Apple's Bluetooth doesn't support any hi-res audio codecs for wireless audio.
Using a hi-res audio playback app for iOS called Vox, we listened to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. The strings had a warm and natural quality, while soprano vocal duets soared sweetly above the mix without ever sounding harsh.
In our review we also tested out the inbuilt speaker at the bottom of the iPod touch, and it packs quite a punch despite its size. It won’t do for listening to your Hi-Res music, but if just want a little background music for your gaming sessions and can’t be bothered to dig your headphones out, it works just fine.
If you need a new MP3 player, and you don't mind using Apple Music, the iPod Touch will do just fine. It's also optimized for gaming, so check out our guide to the best Apple Arcade games.
Read the full iPod Touch (7th Generation) review
The Astell & Kern AK Jr is the best mid-range MP3 player and a serious contender against the more expensive players on the list.
You get 64GB of onboard storage and there’s a microSD card slot if you want to expand it. It also supports major audio formats, including FLAC, WAV, MP3, AAC, AIFF, and more – and it’s able to play at sample rates of up to 192kHz.
The interface is easy to control. Tap through options using the touchscreen, and select the music you want to listen to. It could be more responsive, but you get used to it. Battery life is around nine hours, which isn't amazing, but not terrible either.
Music is dynamic and crisp, with a nice and powerful sound. The soundstage on these, when paired with a great pair of headphones, is huge – that’s to say the left and right are clearly defined, while instruments placed at the center of a mix are given plenty of room to breathe. We enjoyed the guitar solo on AC/DC’s Back in Black, while Eminem’s rap on Lose Yourself cut straight through the mix – exactly the way it’s supposed to.
The best option for working out, this MP3 player is small and light. It only offers 16GB of storage and although that’s not much in comparison to a phone, it still holds plenty of songs. Despite being built for sport, it supports a pretty wide range of audio formats – including MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and WMA.
During testing, we found the battery life is impressive at 20 hours. You also get Bluetooth, which is important for exercise so cables don’t get in the way.
The interface is dated, not as powerful as your smartphone and it’s not touch-sensitive. But it’s easy to navigate via hardware buttons that serve as playback controls.
As long as you don’t expect full audiophile-level quality here, you'll find the sound very capable. We found it to be slightly muddy with a small dip in clarity, but for most people that won’t matter – especially when you're out on a run or hitting the gym.
The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 is an impressive MP3 player that's designed to make your hi-res audio files really sing, thanks to a new performance mode, support for balanced audio connections, and Bluetooth LDAC wireless compatibility. Because it has recently been superseded by the MKII variant above (which tweaks the build ever-so-slightly and adds a 4.4mm headphone jack plus a Replay Gain function to uniformly adjust volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz), you may see it slightly discounted, but it's a rare sight for A&K players.
With an off-center design and aluminum body, it certainly looks the part, and its touch screen is bright and easy to use.
Inside the SR25 is the same Dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 Master Hi-Fi level DAC as the new MKII model, while native support for DSD256 and 32-bit/384kHz audio is more than enough to satisfy even the most discerning audiophiles.
With Wi-Fi connectivity, you have access to streaming services including Deezer and Tidal, while Bluetooth aptX ensure listening with wireless headphones needn't sound inferior to wired connections.
Other MP3 players to consider
Looking for something else? We haven't tested the MP3 players below ourselves, but we'd still like to recommend them based on their excellent specs and customer reviews.
This is a small, light and stylish MP3 player with a simple matchbox-like design and a big, wide screen. It's an upgrade on Cowon's previous MP3 player model, this time with a volume dial, Bluetooth and more features.
It offers exceptional battery life. You'll get 45 hours of playback time with regular MP3 files and more than 30 hours with high-res files – which still beats most of the competitors on this list.
It supports a huge range of formats, including DSD(DFF, DSF, ISO), FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, APE, MP3, WMA, OGG and DCF. Music sounds brilliant and with Bluetooth, you can listen on a range of different devices. Although there's no Wi-Fi streaming available.
A high-res MP3 player from Sony that's affordable – especially in comparison to some of the higher-end devices from the likes of Astell & Kern.
This MP3 player is short on storage with only 16G internally. But with a MicroSD card you can bump that up significantly. It boasts an impressive 45 hours of battery life and supports a wide range of formats.
Sound is clear and powerful and although it might not be the best out there, it's a huge improvement over listening to music on your phone.
Best MP3 and hi-res players players FAQ
How to choose the best MP3 player for you
Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.
If you pair one of the devices in this buying guide with a set of the best headphones you’ve got the ultimate in premium, portable music: high-quality music that you can take on your travels.
So how do you select one? Well, you're in luck. Because the market is increasingly geared towards the audiophile (the kind of people who won't touch Spotify's lossy streams), firms are constantly innovating. These days, ever improved sound quality, hi-res audio support and seriously impressive built-in DACs (Digital-to-Analogue Converters) are making already impressive players even better.
And there's style to match the substance, with manufacturers also competing on design to deliver players that look as good as they sound. Fan of brutalist architecture? Astell & Kern is the name for you. Something a bit more colorful? See SanDisk or Sony. Want something about the size of a matchbox? Cowon's Plenue D3 is the one – see them all in our guide above.
How we test the best MP3 players
We test dozens of hi-res portable music players every year at TechRadar, and that means we know exactly which features, specs, file support and wireless audio codecs to look out for.
It's important for us to compare the performance of these players against the claims made by their manufacturers, which is why we take the time to make sure the stamina, durability, connectivity and sound quality claims are legit.
We make sure to test each product against its chief competitors too, so you can be sure that if we say so, the product is the best bet for the money. We live with these players for well over a week and run them in religiously so that the components have 'bedded in' before we commence our tests, and we don't finalize our testing until we are certain of the sound quality.
On this, we test the audio performance using a range of musical genres, using both wired and wireless headphones and streaming (or downloading) music from various sources, to ensure that these products can handle everything from thumping dance tracks to softly-spoken podcasts in whatever format we throw at it.
After more years in this game than we'd care to admit, we are truly confident that our star-rated reviews are the best indication of the quality of the hi-res MP3 players in this list. There are no sales teams involved in our verdicts, which means if we don't like it for sound, design, usability and features, we simply won't recommend it here.
What's the difference between an iPod and MP3 player?
An iPod is a type of MP3 player. It's the name for Apple's range of portable music players, but you'll find plenty of other MP3 players from other brands – many of which are listed in our guide below.
Why do people still use MP3 players?
There are lots of very good reasons why people still use dedicated MP3 players and similar devices. One is sound quality: depending on the device, you can listen to much higher quality versions of tracks than anything you'll find on streaming services – especially if your device has a headphone jack, which many phones lack. For serious music fans that's a major consideration: Bluetooth audio quality is getting better, but for full hi-res audio you still need your headphones to be wired. Even Apple's most expensive headphones, the AirPods Max, can't do fully lossless audio wirelessly.
Another reason is that not everything you might want to listen to is available on the various streaming services – and not everything that's there today might be there tomorrow, because songs and even artists come and go. By synchronising an MP3 player with your desktop music collection you can always be sure that you can hear what you want to hear.
A big bonus for many people is that with your own music collection, you don't need to pay a monthly subscription to listen to it, or to listen to it without advertising.
Although it's less of an issue than it used to be, another reason many music fans preferred MP3 players is because they were designed to do one thing and one thing only: play music. Most smartphones weren't, and audio performance of some of them wasn't brilliant; battery life and storage space weren't always great either. And MP3 players don't require you to have a mobile phone connection to get your music, so you can happily wander far from mobile signals and Wi-Fi without losing your soundtrack.
Last but not least, some of them are really, really cool.
Is an MP3 player worth buying?
Whether you should buy an MP3 player or not depends on what you want to use it for. If you're trying to avoid being glued to your phone, checking social media or taking work calls when you want to relax, an MP3 player can be a great option to listen to music while staying cut off from all of the distractions of your phone – and the rest of the world.
Some people enjoy listening to MP3 players when they work out, so they don't have their phone with them. Whether that's also to keep calls and messages at bay or keep their phone safe.
Others might not have a great deal of space on their phone if it's an older model, so want to store music elsewhere, and some people might not want to use up battery or data when they're on the move.
MP3 players won't suit everyone, many prefer the convenience of having all of their music on their phones, but there are plenty of reasons why an MP3 player is a great idea for some people.
Is MP3 quality as good as CD?
The short answer is no. That's because MP3 is a "lossy" format: in order to make MP3 files as small as possible, they remove some of the audio information.
With a CD, music is stored with a resolution of 1,411 kilobits per second. With the best possible quality MP3, the resolution is 320 kilobits per second. So clearly there's a lot less data in even the highest quality MP3 file.
What's clever about MP3 is that it tries to get rid of the audio information you'll miss the least. For example, one of the most obvious signs that you're listening to an MP3 instead of a CD isn't because one of the instruments has gone AWOL. MP3 doesn't do that. But you'll probably notice a lack of really deep bass, and a more "splashy" sound on higher frequencies such as the drummer's cymbals and hi-hats. The lower the quality, the more obvious these things become – and at the very lowest quality, MP3s sound like someone's playing them on a really bad radio.
For many people the convenience of MP3 – you can fit more into your device's storage, streaming uses less mobile data and you don't need a really good internet connection – outweighs the loss of sound, especially if you're listening on the move. But MP3 is a fairly old tech now, and there are better options: Lossless Audio and Hi-Res Audio.
As the name suggests, Lossless Audio doesn't sacrifice any of the musical information: the successors to the WAV format used in CDs, which is also lossless, use more advanced technology to take the audio information and make the file smaller without compromising on quality. There are several versions of Lossless Audio including Apple Lossless, FLAC and WMA Lossless, and as you'll see from our guide above you'll often find that the best MP3 players support at least some of those formats.
Hi-Res Audio is capable of even better quality than CD: 9,216 kbps, which is seven times more information than a CD contains. There's plenty of Hi-Res Audio music to listen to thanks to the likes of Qobuz, TIDAL and other high-end audio services. And there are plenty of really great Hi-Res Audio players, ranging from excellent portable players from the likes of Sony and Astell & Kern to hi-fi separates and network streamers.
It's probably overkill for listening to on the bus, but if you want the ultimate in digital music quality then Hi-Res Audio is where it's at.