You might think that the days of a dedicated MP3 player are long gone. After all, phones offer all of the music options you could ask for, right? Well, we have two words for you — sound quality. Phones simply have to do too much to truly focus on peak quality, but that’s the number one goal of today’s list. Here are the best MP3 players you can buy in 2021.
Of course, a great MP3 player isn’t complete without a trusty headset. You might want to check out the best earbuds and best cheap headphones posts to complete your audio setup. You can also head over to our sibling site, Sound Guys, for even more audio content.
The best MP3 players:
Editor’s note: We will update our list of the best MP3 players as new devices launch.
iPod Touch (7th-generation)
Whether you know a lot about MP3 players or this is your first foray, you’re probably familiar with the iPod Touch. Now in its 7th generation, the Touch is the only way to go if you prefer iOS.
See also: The best AirPods deals
It offers a pocket-friendly experience with a 4-inch Retina display and an A10 Fusion chip like the one found in the iPhone 7. You could think of the iPod Touch as a first phone without actually giving your little ones a truly mobile device. The iPod Touch is limited to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, though you can still use it for FaceTime and iMessage to stay in touch.
It’s the least audio-focused device on the list, but it’s also the most flexible. Thanks to the App Store, you can stream and download music from services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music. Keep sound quality in mind since it differs across services. For example, Apple Music uses a 256kbps AAC bitrate. Because Spotify’s max bitrate is 320kbps Ogg Vorbis, Apple Music’s sound quality is usually better than Spotify’s.
Apple’s iPod offerings may not be what they once were — gone are all but the Touch. However, the Mighty Vibe might make you feel like a classic iPod Shuffle is back on the menu.
If you remember the old shuffle, you’ll know that there’s no touch screen, just a simple button setup. That’s how the Mighty Vibe gets the job done too, and it packs storage space for over 1,000 songs. It’s designed for the fitness-focused music lover, weighing in at just 22 grams. You can simply clip it to your shirt or pants and hit the gym.
Unfortunately, the small form-factor does mean that the Vibe can only manage about five hours of battery life on a single charge. Even still, that should be more than enough time for your workout or a decent chunk of your workday. Just head into the Mighty app, choose from Spotify or Amazon Music, and you should be off and running. You can either rely on your favorite wired headphones or connect a convenient pair of Bluetooth buds.
SanDisk Clip Sport Plus
Small, light, and highly affordable, the Clip Sport Plus from SanDisk is exactly what you think of with classic MP3 players. It comes in various shades, both with and without Bluetooth, and all versions are well below $100.
The Clip Sport Plus is another excellent fitness-friendly option with up to 20 hours of playback and a comparatively large 16GB of storage. It should hold somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 songs, though the Clip Sport Plus isn’t exactly built for audiophiles. There are no advanced audio features, but the MP3 player does support MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, and FLAC playback.
It’s a water-resistant option, and the back of the Clip Sport Plus itself serves as a handy clip, so you can attach it and forget it. You can use your favorite Bluetooth headphones, too, so you won’t get stuck on any equipment while you hit the gym. If you still prefer the radio, the Clip Sport Plus is one of the best MP3 players with FM functionality.
The list so far has been reasonably budget-friendly and fairly flexible, but now it’s time to take an audiophile plunge. Onkyo’s DP-X1A might be the best MP3 player on the list, and you can expect to pay dearly for the high-end quality.
It’s a bit larger than the other offerings on the list as well, though the form factor houses a large 4.7-inch display, twin Sabre amplifiers, and twin Sabre DACs for crisp audio playback. The DP-X1A also runs on Android 5.1, which — while old — allows for apps to stream from your favorite platforms. You can test DSD 11.2MHz/5.6 MHz/2.8 MHz, DSD-IFF, FLAC, ALAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, AAC, and MP3 for playback, and 64GB of expandable storage should be more than enough.
Onkyo comes with two headphone jacks — one at 2.5mm and another at 3.5mm — and a convenient adjustment knob to give you even more control. If there’s a drawback, the device’s edges can be a bit sharp, but that’s the price you pay for the best music quality around.
Sony NW-A55 Walkman
For some listeners, the Walkman is the very definition of an MP3 player. The classic Sony line is still around, and it’s still churning out high-end audio players. The NW-A55 Walkman shows how far the line has come, and it’s not your dad’s Walkman.
See also: The best Sony headphones you can buy
With 16GB of expandable storage, you should have more than enough space to store your favorite songs. Up to 45 hours of playback ensures that you can rock out all week long. Sony’s clever S-Master HX audio amplifier and DSEE engine help to restore your music to its original quality and offer a boost in some songs. A 3.1-inch display also grants you complete interactive control over your playback, right down to the music enhancement settings.
At just about the size of an iPod Touch, you should have no problem toting the NW-A55 Walkman through your daily life, and the playback options are simply astounding. It can handle everything from MP3 and AAC to AIFF and MQA. Sony makes no mention of water resistance, so be careful to protect your new MP3 player.
Astell and Kern A&Norma SR25
The Astell and Kern A&Norma SR25 is likely the most unique looking device on this list — right down to the diagonal display. Overall, the MP3 player looks a bit like the Rosetta Stone, though you’ll have a much easier time fitting this one in your pocket.
Astell and Kern’s mission is to achieve the artist’s original sound quality, and the SR25 is one of the best attempts yet, thanks to dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 Master DACs. They’re backed by a quad-core CPU and up to 32-bit Native DSD playback. You can control your 64GB of expandable storage on the 3.6-inch display, though the angle may be an adjustment for some. The A&Norma SR25 supports WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, and MQA for playback, so you have plenty of options.
It manages 21 hours of continuous playback, and the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LDAC, and aptX HD support help make streaming a breeze. You can also use the Open App access to play from your favorite streaming apps like Tidal, Apple Music, and Spotify.
FiiO’s M11 is another high-tech angular option that might put a slight strain on your wallet. It’s a true audiophile’s friend, and the giant 5.15-inch HD display feels like you’re working with a second phone.
Beneath that beautiful display, you’ll find an Android-powered Samsung Exynos 7872 chipset along with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage. It’s a breeze to charge thanks to the USB-C port, which is handy because you may only manage around 13 hours of playback per charge. FiiO selected two AKM AK4493 DACs as the heart and soul of its audio playback, and the 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm headphone jacks allow for superior flexibility.
See also: The best USB-C cables you can buy
The M11 also adds all-new dynamic EQ to the mix, giving you the freedom to adjust your sound by 12dB in either direction. FiiO’s M11 already looks and acts like a phone, but you can actually connect the device right to your phone and control the playback remotely. It might be a tricky feature to figure out but think of the audio quality.
Sony NW-WS623 Wearable Walkman
The last of today’s best MP3 players is somewhat of a robot in disguise. At first glance, Sony’s NW-WS623 simply looks like a pair of workout-ready wireless headphones, but it does far more than that. Everything you need is packed into the handy little in-ear design.
See also: Best workout earbuds of 2021
You’ll need the included fob to manage your playback controls, but the headset itself packs 4GB of storage and up to 12 hours of playback. Once your headset does reach 0%, just three minutes is all it takes to earn back an hour of music. Of course, the actual battery life will depend on what playback format you prefer, and the NW-WS623 supports MP3, WMA (Non-DRM), AAC (Non-DRM), FLAC, and Linear PCM. MP3 manages the best battery life on the list, while Bluetooth will slash your battery life by over half.
If you’re gearing up for an adventure or taking a quick dive, the Wearable Walkman is salt waterproof at up to two meters for as much as 30 minutes at a time. The Wearable Walkman is better for a beach run, though, as it better holds off sweat and sand particles.