GET YOUR MUSIC TO GO
Today, most people use their smartphones to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks on the go, but dedicated digital music players still exist, and some of them cost hundreds of dollars. Why buy an MP3 player? A small, lightweight device is a lot easier to take on a run or to the gym than a phone is. Most MP3 players are also considerably cheaper to replace than a smartphone if you break or lose them, a particular consideration if you're a parent looking for an MP3 player for your kids. For hard-core music lovers, some MP3 players are capable of playing high-resolution digital files, for high-quality sound on the go.
We scoured the web for the latest expert test results and consulted hundreds of MP3 player reviews posted by consumers to identify the best MP3 players. All our picks have at least 12 hours of battery life and most have at least 4GB of memory, which is more than sufficient to store a day's worth of nonstop listening. Some MP3 players are also equipped with Bluetooth and can be paired with wireless headphones, a laptop, or a stereo, to easily play your favorite tunes over a home speaker system. Other nice-to-have features include water-resistant or waterproof housing and a clip so you can wear your music while you work or exercise.
No MP3 player roundup would be complete without products from Sony, the brand that pioneered portable music players back in 1979, with its classic Walkman. We've got two representatives from the company's recent lineup, including a pair of headphones with a built-in MP3 player that's great for sweaty workouts or swimming laps. Of course, an Apple iPod also makes our list, alongside a fitness tracker with MP3 playback that's giving the Apple Watch a run for its money. Unless otherwise noted, all products have a limited one-year warranty.
Prices and availability are subject to change.
SANDISK CLIP SPORT PLUS | Best Value MP3 Player
Est. Price: $55 | Buy it on Amazon
- 16GB of storage for up to 4,000 songs.
- Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.
- Built-in FM tuner.
- 2-year limited warranty.
- Audiobook playback, especially Audible downloads, can be buggy.
- Not as solidly built or easy to use as previous models, some longtime owners say.
- Some reports of early battery demise; battery is not replaceable.
Takeaway: Sandisk is one of the biggest manufacturers of computer memory cards, disks, and other storage, so it's little wonder the company also makes digital music players. Sandisk MP3 players are reviewer favorites, and they have a good mix of features for the money. The Sandisk Clip Sport Plus offers a lot of onboard storage and good sound quality in a lightweight package that's made with workouts in mind. Designed to easily and securely attach to a waistband or pocket like a pager, this small player stays put during exercise, most users say (although a handful complain that the clip broke after several months of use). Sandisk claims this MP3 player can operate for 20 hours before needing to recharge via the included micro USB 2.0 cable, and users confirm it can easily make it through a full and active day.
AGPTEK A02 8GB | Best Cheap MP3 Player
Est. Price: $26 | Buy it on Amazon
- 8GB memory stores up to 2,000 songs; expandable to 64GB with a micro SD card.
- Doubles as a voice recorder.
- Built-in FM radio.
- Very low price; a good MP3 player for kids.
- Micro SD cards tend to jam in the memory card reader.
- Controls are difficult to use, some owners say.
- Sound quality isn't on par with pricier MP3 players.
- Some say the construction feels flimsy.
Takeaway: If all you (or your kids) want to do is play music and you don't care about extra features like Bluetooth, a cheap MP3 player like the Agptek A02 is all you really need, reviewers say. The micro SD port accommodates more than enough memory to store a library's worth of music. But a number of owners complain that the Agptek organizes music files in a haphazard manner, and it's impossible to play an entire album in sequential order or resume playing a track where you paused it. We also found scattered complaints of poor build quality and players that quit working within a few weeks (a very common complaint about cheap MP3 players in general). Agptek claims up to 70 hours of playback time on a full charge of three to four hours, or up to 12 hours of FM radio time. Although we couldn't find any tests to back this up, reviewers say they get about a day's worth of use on a full charge, which should be sufficient for most users' needs.
APPLE IPOD TOUCH 32GB | Apple MP3 Player
Est. Price: $185 | Buy it from Target
- More onboard memory than most other MP3 players.
- Plays music, videos, and games like an iPhone.
- Built-in camera and Retina display.
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability.
- Works with Apple's Siri digital assistant.
- Relatively expensive.
- Larger than other MP3 players.
Takeaway: Apple officially killed off the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle in 2017, leaving only the iPod Touch to carry on this vaunted product line. Although some say the iPhone makes this digital music player a redundant, it's exactly the features usually reserved for smartphones — app and internet access, the ability to email and text, an 8-megapixel camera, and a fast A8 processor, along with 32GB of memory — that make the Apple iPod Touch stand out compared with other MP3 players. The interface is very intuitive and simple to use. According to reviewers, this iPod never gets hung up playing media (something cheaper MP3 players are prone to do). Apple claims a battery life of 40 hours of music, although a small minority of owners say the battery dies far sooner. For those with larger music libraries, there's a version with 128GB of memory for about $100 more (available on Amazon).
SONY A40 WALKMAN A SERIES NW-A45 | Sony MP3 Player for Audiophiles
Est. Price: $178 | Buy it on Amazon
- 16GB memory plus a micro SD slot.
- Supports 24-bit high-resolution audio for better-than-CD-quality playback.
- Digital noise canceling blocks out ambient sounds.
- Bluetooth and NFC connectivity.
- Expensive for an MP3 player.
- Proprietary charging cable.
- Doesn't play videos.
- No app store.
Takeaway: Experts give this Sony Walkman MP3 player positive marks, but with a caveat: Unless you care about high-resolution music (and have the headphones or speaker system to support it), this is way more MP3 player than most people need. Reviewers say it's a good entry-level player for audiophiles, who would normally have to pay hundreds more for a model that supports uncompressed digital music files. This MP3 player eschews many of the iPod extras that many music lovers feel are unimportant, focusing on straightforward music quality at a price that experts and audiophiles consider relatively low. Adding music is drag-and-drop simple, although several people complain that the interface for organizing albums, songs, and playlists can be counterintuitive or confusing to use (getting the correct album artwork to display appears to be a particular challenge). Another drawback: With only 16GB of onboard memory, you'll definitely need a micro SD card if you're playing uncompressed files (which take up way more memory than CD-quality files and most music downloaded online). Sony promises up to 45 hours of use on a full charge, but some reviewers say they've gotten far less battery life when using Bluetooth or playing larger music files.
SONY NW-WS413 | MP3 Headphones
Est. Price: $80 | Buy them from Best Buy
- Waterproof up to 2 meters; can be used for swimming.
- 3-minute quick-charge option; charges fully in 60 minutes.
- Very lightweight, at just 1.1 ounces.
- Earpieces don't fit some users comfortably or snugly.
- Volume could be higher, some reviewers say.
Takeaway: To be sure, waterproof MP3 players and MP3 headphones are fairly niche products, but for active users who love to have music going while they swim or exercise, reviewers say the Sony NW-WS413 is a good option. There are no wires connected to a music player; these Sony earbuds have a built-in 4GB MP3 player. It's a breeze to transfer music files from your computer with the included USB cable and software, users report, and play, pause, and skip tunes while you exercise. This Sony MP3 player is waterproof against both fresh and salt water, and a number of owners express surprise at how good the headphones sound while swimming — although a few say they had to replace the earbuds in order to get a truly watertight fit. In general, however, consumers seem to have few serious complaints about this wearable MP3 player. Avid fitness enthusiasts appreciate that they don't have to port along a separate music player on their workouts and are quite pleased with the ease and performance of the Sony NW-WS413.
FITBIT VERSA | Fitness Tracker and MP3 Watch
Est. Price: $200 | Buy it on Amazon
- Cheaper than an Apple Watch and other smartwatches with similar features.
- Water resistant to 50 meters.
- Relatively long battery life.
- Compatible with iOS and Android devices.
- Only 2.5GB of memory, less than other MP3 players.
- Bluetooth connectivity can be unreliable.
- No cellular connection or GPS.
Takeaway: If you're a serious health buff who likes to keep track of your workouts and doesn't like to be encumbered by multiple devices, a sports watch that serves as a fitness tracker and an MP3 player might be a better option than a stand-alone digital music player. Fitbit makes some of the most popular activity monitors on the market, and many experts say the brand's latest smartwatch can't be beat for its fitness services, which include on-screen workouts, heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and female health tracking features. On the music playback front, this device does have some notable drawbacks. For one, it has only 2.5GB of memory, meaning it can hold only a fraction of the music that a dedicated MP3 player can. Also, although Fitbit does have an app store, it's far more limited than Apple's or Google's, and you won't find many popular apps, like Spotify. Still, reviewers generally agree the Fitbit Versa is an excellent alternative to an Apple Watch at half the price. Fitbit claims the Versa can go for four days between charges, and although reviewers say that estimate is overly optimistic, it outlasted the "iWatch" in tests by CNET.