sony walkman NW-A105 on table
Sony
Update, 01/30/2023: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and have updated our best overall pick.

What to Look for in an MP3 Player in 2023

First, let’s answer the obvious question: Why not just listen to music on your phone? There are several reasons, but at the higher end of the scale, MP3 players pack far better audio components than even the best phone.

On the budget end, they can go places that you might be afraid to risk breaking or losing your phone—and plenty of them are smaller than the standard smartphone to boot.

Even if you have one of the increasingly rare phones with a headphone jack, these can’t drive headphones as well as a high-end MP3 player. The headphone amplifier built into a quality MP3 player will have more power to drive more sensitive headphones, plus the sound quality will often be miles better.

While we frequently call them MP3 players, these portable playback machines can handle many more formats than just MP3 files. Many higher-end players and some budget models feature support for hi-res audio formats and lossless audio files like FLAC and ALAC. Some even support more advanced audio formats like DSD.

An important aspect you’ll need to consider when shopping for a player is the headphones you’ll use with them. Any player can drive a standard set of earbuds, but a higher-end digital audio player can drive more power-hungry headphones.

The above doesn’t matter if you intend to listen with wireless earbuds or a portable speaker. On the other hand, this requires Bluetooth. Many players offer Bluetooth support, but not all of them do.

Most of the reasons for buying an MP3 player involve playing your own music files, but occasionally, you’ll want to stream too. Some players—usually higher-end models—work with streaming services. That said, even in pricier players, sometimes an FM radio is all you get in addition to your own digital music collection.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I download music onto an MP3 player?
Plug your MP3 player into your computer via USB, and most players will appear as an external hard drive. Then you can drag and drop music files onto your player like any other files on your computer.
How do I reset my MP3 player?
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This varies from player to player, but it usually involves either removing the battery for a while or pressing a button or series of buttons on the player. Check your manual or the manufacturer’s website for instructions for your player.
Can I listen to services like Spotify on an MP3 player?
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Some MP3 players feature Wi-Fi and support for streaming services like Spotify. This varies from player to player, so keep this in mind while shopping if this is an important feature.
Why would I use an MP3 player instead of my phone?
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Most modern MP3 players aren’t limited to MP3s. They play files with much higher quality than you’d typically get on your phone. You also don’t have to worry about notifications when trying to relax and enjoy your music.

Best MP3 Player Overall: Astell&Kern KANN Alpha

Astell&Kern Kann Alpha on orange background
Astell&Kern

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Both standard and balanced headphone outs
  • LDAC and aptX support for better-sounding Bluetooth
  • Expandable storage

Cons

  • Expensive

While the term MP3 player has stuck around, most players offer support for much higher-quality formats. The Astell&Kern KANN Alpha combines hi-res format support with superb hardware to make a portable player audiophiles will love.

The KANN Alpha is packed with a pair of ESS ES9068AS DACs and a quad-core CPU, letting it play back music at a resolution of up to 32bit/384kHz. It also plays back Native DSD files, up to DSD256, and MQA files.

You get three different headphone outputs on the KANN Alpha. There is a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack and 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs for use with higher-end headphones. With up to 12 volts of power, it should drive most headphones easily.

Wired headphones are key for optimal sound quality but are not always convenient. The Astell&Kern KANN Alpha features Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless listening. While they’re not as good as listening wired, the KANN Alpha uses LDAC and aptX HD codecs for higher-quality Bluetooth sound.

The battery will give you up to 14.5 hours of continuous listening, which is a lot of music. You get 64GB of built-in storage, but hi-res files will use that up quickly. Fortunately, you can expand the storage with a microSD card.

In addition to listening to your own files, the KANN Alpha features support for streaming services like Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, and Amazon Music. You won’t find every music service, but many are supported.

Finally, while Astell&Kern players have a history of odd angles and a generally strange look, the KANN Alpha looks relatively normal, while retaining the basic style the company is known for.

Best MP3 Player Overall

Astell&Kern KANN Alpha

The Astell&Kern KANN Alpha is more than an MP3 player, it's a hi-res audio player with excellent sound quality and support for almost any hi-res format you can think of. Yes, it's expensive, but it's a must-have for audiophiles.

Best Budget MP3 Player: RUIZU A55 64GB HiFi Lossless MP3 Player

RUIZU MP3 Player on purple background
RUIZU

Pros

  • Supports multiple hi-res formats including DSD256
  • Built-in 10-band equalizer
  • Expandable storage up to 512 GB
  • Super affordable for the feature set

Cons

  • Not as nice looking as more expensive players
  • Small screen

You may not have ever heard of RUIZU, but it’s time to start paying attention. The A55 64GB HiFi Lossless MP3 Player packs many features you’d expect to find in more expensive MP3 players into a dramatically more affordable package.

The A55 supports a few different sample rates depending on the file format, but for most lossless files like FLAC, it tops out at 24bit/192kHz. It supports WAV files up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256.

The RUIZU A55 features a headphone jack that should be fine for in-ears, but we’re not certain it would power heavy-duty headphones. That said, it also supports Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless playback, though the company doesn’t specify which Bluetooth audio codecs it uses.

If you like to shape your sound signature, the RUIZU A55 features a built-in 10-band EQ. While some purists prefer not to use EQ, this is handy if, for example, you’re using wireless headphones with an EQ feature built into a smartphone app that you can’t access while listening to the A55.

This player comes with 64 GB of onboard storage. Hi-res files can use up space fairly quickly, so it’s good to know the microSD card slot lets you add up to 512GB of additional storage.

Best Budget MP3 Player

RUIZU A55 64GB HiFi Lossless MP3 Player

The RUIZU A55 64GB HiFi Lossless MP3 Player offers features you used to only see on much more expensive players. It cuts a few corners, but for the price this is a fantastic player.

Best MP3 Player with Bluetooth: FiiO M11Plus

Fiio m11plus on green and blue background
FiiO

Pros

  • aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth support
  • Supports FLAC up to 32-bit/384kHz
  • MQA and DSD256 support
  • 2.5mm TRRS and 4.4mm TRRRS balanced connections
  • Up to 2TB microSD support

Cons

  • Only 64GB onboard storage

If you’re spending a few hundred dollars on an MP3 player, chances are good you’re listening to hi-res or lossless files via wired headphones. That said, sometimes you want to listen to music wirelessly. If you’re looking for a high-quality player with Bluetooth, the FiiO M11Plus is a fantastic choice.

While it can play MP3s, the M11Plus is focused much more on hi-res files. With PCM files like FLAC, it supports up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution. That’s not all, as it also features support for MQA and DSD256. Onboard storage is 64GB, but you can upgrade it with support for microSD cards up to 2TB.

Looking at the Bluetooth connectivity, the M11Plus features support for aptX HD and LDAC, two higher-quality Bluetooth codecs. While these codecs aren’t lossless and definitely will degrade the sound compared to a wired connection, they sound better than the standard SBC and AAC codecs.

If you’re listening via wired headphones, you’ve got plenty of options. You get a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a pair of balanced jacks. These come in 2.5mm TRRS and 4.4mm TRRRS varieties, meaning no matter how you connect your headphones, you can likely connect them here.

The FiiO M11Plus feels relatively heavy, but when it comes to electronics this can be a good thing. Here it’s especially nice because the weight comes from the aluminum body, which gives the player a much more solid feel than players built with plastic.

Best MP3 Player with Bluetooth

FiiO M11Plus

The FiiO M11Plus is an MP3 and hi-res player with all the connectivity you need, with support for aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth, plus two balanced headphone connections in addition to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

Best MP3 Player for Kids: TIMMKOO MP3 Player with Bluetooth

TIMMKOO MP3 Player on grey background
TIMMKOO

Pros

  • Built-in speaker so no worries about lost headphones
  • Plays back video too
  • Surprisingly long battery life
  • Some lossless formats supported

Cons

  • Only 8GB internal storage

If your kids want a smartphone, but you don’t think they’re ready, an MP3 player can be a good alternative. The TIMMKOO MP3 Player with Bluetooth features a built-in speaker and a touch screen, but no social media or web access.

This player features 8GB of internal space, 6GB of which is useable. That’s not much room for a big music library, but fortunately, the storage is expandable via microSD, up to 512GB.

The TIMMKOO MP3 player features a 1,800mAh lithium-ion battery that can provide up to eight hours of video playback. On the other hand, if you stick to music, you can get up to 50 hours of playback time. When it comes time to recharge, the TIMMKOO can be charged through a USB-C port.

In addition to the built-in speaker and headphone jack, the TIMMKOO also features Bluetooth 4.2 for connecting to headphones or a portable speaker.

If you’re looking for something for younger kids, this probably won’t cut it. Instead, you should opt for the AGPTEK MP3 Player for Kids. It’s colorful, tough, and much simpler to use than any other players we’re looking at. It can even work as a sleep aid with soothing sounds built-in.

Best MP3 Player for Kids

TIMMKOO MP3 Player with Bluetooth

The TIMMKOO MP3 Player with Bluetooth is close enough to an iPod touch to keep your kids entertained, but restricted enough that you don't need to constantly supervise them using it.

Best MP3 Player for Workouts: SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus

SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus on blue background
SanDisk

Pros

  • Light and easy to carry
  • Clips on to clothing
  • IPX5 water-resistant
  • Built-in FM radio

Cons

  • Only 16GB storage
  • Storage isn't expandable

While some of the more premium players on this list are great, you don’t exactly want to bring them on a run or to the gym. If you’re looking for an MP3 player that is rugged enough to handle a workout but won’t cost too much to replace if something goes wrong, the SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus is your best bet.

The SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus is smaller and lighter than other MP3 players we’re looking at, which makes it easier to move with. As the name implies, it has a built-in clip that lets you attach it to your clothing, meaning you don’t have to risk slipping out of your pocket. This model is also IPX5 water-resistant, go you don’t need to worry about a little sweat.

The 16GB Clip Sport Plus supports Bluetooth, which is nice as wired headphones can get in the way with certain workouts. On the other hand, if you do decide to opt for wired headphones, these act as an antenna to let you use the built-in FM radio.

When it comes to storage, you’re stuck with the onboard 16GB, as there is no expandable storage. 16GB can hold quite a few MP3s, however, so you can expect to hold anywhere from 1,000-4,000 songs depending on how long they are and the bitrate of the MP3.

The built-in battery gets you up to 20 hours of playback time on a single charge, though this will vary based on volume.

Best MP3 Player for Workouts

SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus

Want to head out on a run without risking your phone or more advanced MP3 player? The SanDisk 16GB Clip Sport Plus is tough enough to hold up to your workout and light enough not to hold you back.

The Best Headphones of 2023

Sony WH-1000XM5
Best Headphones Overall
Sony WH-1000XM5
Philips SHP9600
Best Budget Headphones
Philips SHP9600
Sony WH-1000XM4
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
Sony WH-1000XM4
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Best Wireless Headphones
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Sennheiser HD 650
Best Wired Headphones
Sennheiser HD 650
Adidas RPT-01
Best Workout Headphones
Adidas RPT-01
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Headphones
Best Studio Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Headphones
Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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