The best MP3 players are high-tech devices that are packed with features. They’re not as popular as they were a decade ago, but they’re not outdated technology. There are plenty of devices to choose from. What we’re saying is an old iPod is not your only option, far from it.
Nowadays, the best MP3 players do a much better job at storing your whole music library at a much higher bitrate than your 2009 iPod Shuffle ever could. That means you get higher-quality music that you can take with you wherever you go.
But that’s not all. Thanks to added durability, as well as sound fidelity, you’ve got a great way to listen to music with zero fuss. And new innovations in sound make them better every year with each new model.
An MP3 player is also a solid option if you’re trying to reduce your screentime and your screentime-induced stress. It means you can leave the house without your smartphone, but still have access to your favourite tunes.
So, if you’re on the lookout for the best MP3 player that money can buy in 2020, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve selected the top choices and we’ve included everything you need to know to make a great buying decision.
[Update: Astell & Kern have just announced a new portable music player that's equipped with a multi-DAC setup; the Sabre ESS9068AS "enables users to customize the SE200’s sound to suit their preferences and the type of music being played". Costing $1,799 / £1,799, it's not cheap, but it does come with 14 hours of battery and support for Hi-Res Audio, naturally.]
Our top picks
1. Onkyo DP-X1A
Powerful, spacious and easy-to-use, the Onkyo DP-X1A is at the top of its class
Onkyo has been a well-known and esteemed name in audio for years, and for good reason. The Onkyo DP-X1A may not be the most compact player on this list, but it is the best all-rounder, offering lots of customizability, an intuitive interface, and fantastic sound quality.
Let’s start with the design, which is pretty attractive. In general, the DP-X1A looks a little bit like a phone, but much thicker, and is completely optimized for audio use. How so? Well, for starters, it has two audio ports – one headphone jack and one balanced output for those interested in a cleaner and overall better quality sound. Additionally, 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 our full review: Onkyo DP-X1A Digital Audio Player
2. Apple iPod Touch (7th Generation)
The age of the iPod isn't over yet - this is still one of the best MP3 players
Apple took us all by surprise when it announced the iPod touch 7, the first upgrade to its portable music and video player since 2015.
With “enhancements to power, capability, and communication”, the updated iPod touch is fully geared towards gaming, with the release coming just in time for the launch of Apple's new gaming service, Apple Arcade.
The bigger upgrade, at least for audio enthusiasts, is the support for the Hi-Res Audio codec FLAC, as well as Apple Lossless, giving you more options than ever when it comes to accessing audiophile-quality music.
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 iTunes, the iPod Touch will do just fine.
Read the full review: iPod Touch (7th Generation)
3. HiFiMan SuperMini
Need something a bit more portable? Try the HiFiMan SuperMini
HiFiMan is perhaps best known for its headphones, but it makes some pretty great MP3 players, too. For an example, look no further than the SuperMini.
The SuperMini, as the name suggests, is a little smaller than most of the other players on this list, but that doesn’t seem to come at a huge cost – it’ll still deliver excellent audio quality and it’s pretty easy to use, too.
The device, which has been reduced to $150 (around £120 / AU$220) from it's original $399 price tag, doesn’t have any onboard storage – you’ll have to buy a microSD card separately. It does, however, support a pretty huge range of audio formats, including FLAC, DSD, WAV, MP3, and AIFF, and audio with a sample rate of up to 192kHz.
The user interface may not be as flashy as some others on this list, but it’s still pretty easy to use. It’s a monochrome display, and is controlled via three buttons located under the screen. The tradeoff to using a monochrome display, however, is that the battery life is decent, sitting in at a hefty 22 hours.
In terms of sound, the high-end on this player is nice and crisp, without being too aggressive by any means. On top of that, there are plenty of mids to go around, without the player at all straying into inaccurate territory. We were a little skeptical of the idea of a player from a company that offers players well into the multi-thousands of dollars range, but the SuperMini holds its own, and at a decent price.
Read the full review: HiFiMan SuperMini
4. Astell & Kern AK Jr
Looking for the middle-of-the-road option? Check out the AK Jr
Astell & Kern is known for building top-notch audio devices at reasonable prices, and for that reason we think the Astell & Kern AK Jr is the best mid-range MP3 player out of the ones we've seen (and heard). In fact, after spending some time using it, we would argue that it’s a pretty serious contender against even much more expensive players.
Before diving into the player’s capabilities, you’ll notice how well-designed it is. The sleek, metallic look is very classy, and using it gives you a similar “status symbol” feel as you’ll get with the iPhone.
The AK Jr comes in at $259 / £250 / AU$399, which is a very reasonable price for a device of this calibre. For that price, you’ll get 64GB of onboard storage, though there is a microSD card slot in case you want to expand upon that storage. On top of that, it supports all 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 of the device is relatively easy to control, too. The home screen simply gives you options for songs, albums, artists, and so on.
Tap through using the touchscreen, and you’ll be able to select the music you want to listen to. It would be nice if that touchscreen was a little more responsive, but you get used to it. Battery life sits in at around nine hours, which isn't amazing, but not terrible either.
So how does it sound? In one word: beautiful.
Music is dynamic and crisp, with a nice and powerful sound in every aspect. 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 particularly 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 was supposed to.
5. SanDisk Clip Sport Plus
Heading to practice? Don't forget your SanDisk Clip Sport Plus
Looking for an MP3 player to take running with you? If so, you probably want something small and light – it probably doesn’t need to hold day’s worth of music, and it probably doesn’t need to offer the highest audio quality out there. Most of all, you probably don’t want to fork out a ton of cash for it.
If that’s you, in our view, the SanDisk Clip Sport Plus is the best option.
For starters, the device offers 16GB of storage, and while that may not be much for your phone, 16GB can hold a ton of songs. On top of that, despite being built for sport, it actually supports a pretty wide range of audio formats – including MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and WMA.
Perhaps most important for a device like this is the battery life, and it’ll last you a good 20 hours. You’ll even get Bluetooth, which is a huge deal for many who will be using this while running or performing other activities and don’t want cables to get in the way.
The interface is relatively easy to use too. Sure, it’s a little dated, and isn’t as powerful as what you’ll find on your smartphone, but it’s still capable as a music player. It’s not touch-sensitive, though: instead, you navigate through hardware buttons that also serve as playback controls when music is playing, but we didn’t have any issues.
As for the sound, as long as you don’t expect full audiophile-level quality here (you won’t get it), we think you'll find the sound very capable. Overall it's slightly muddy with a small dip in clarity, but for most that won’t matter – especially when you're out on a run or hitting the weights at the gym.
6. Sony NW-A45 Walkman
This is the best MP3 player for those who don't want to spend a lot
If the idea of using iTunes freaks you out and spending more than $200 on an MP3 player just isn't plausible, then your best MP3 player is probably the Sony NW-A45 Walkman.
Packed with 16GB of built-in storage and a slick touchscreen UI, the NW-A45 starts at around $149 and comes in multiple colors that will suit any taste. For audiophiles, the NW-A45 supports Hi-Res playback, plus DSEE H can help restore lossy files back to a near lossless state. Unlike your phone, Sony's Walkman comes with an S-Master HX digital amp that's powerful enough to drive some relatively high-impedance headphones while still accommodating low-impedance cans, too.
Versatile and easy to use, the Sony NW-A45 gets the nod as our MP3 player pick for the first-time buyer.
Tips and tricks
How to choose the best MP3 player for you
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Confused by the terminology? Brush up on your audio knowledge in our guide to Hi-Res Audio
So, what do you need to look for in an MP3 player? Well, the most important thing you need to think about is the audio codec your music library is in.
Anyone who uses iTunes will probably have a music library completely filled with Apple’s proprietary AAC codec, and luckily most MP3 players will support that codec. However, if you consider yourself an audiophile, you’ll need support for lossless codecs like FLAC, WAV and ALAC, as these codecs don’t use the compression methods used on lossy codecs like AAC or MP3. However, they will take up more space.
You’ll also need to consider how much music is in your, well, music collection and then how much storage you’ll need. This is especially the case when you’re using codecs like FLAC, which just devour space. Often MP3 players also have an included microSD card slot, which allows you to expand upon the included storage as your library expands – but normally only up to a certain size, normally around 512GB.
Here's the best part though: unlike smartphones, MP3 players are built to last, so there’s no need to go on an endless two-year upgrade-cycle like you might with a smartphone. This means it’s probably in your best interests to take some time and find the one that’s right for you, as you will probably be using it for a few years to come.
- Looking for a something to listen to on your new MP3 player? Check out our list of the best podcasts around.