sony walkman NW-A105 on table
Sony

What to Look for in an MP3 Player in 2022

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.

Best MP3 Player Overall: Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII

Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII on blue and green background
Astell&Kern

Pros

  • Fantastic sound quality
  • LDAC and aptX HD for great Bluetooth sound
  • Expandable storage up to 1TB
  • Balanced output for high-end headphones

Cons

  • Angled screen won't be for everyone

Astell&Kern is a manufacturer of high-end digital audio players, and for years the company has often been ahead of the competition. While the Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII may seem expensive compared to MP3 players both old and new, this is among the company’s most affordable models, and you’re getting a lot for the money.

At the core of the A&Norma SR25 MKII is a dual DAC from Cirrus Logic, capable of playing back files up to 32bit/384kHz for lossless files. It also features Native DSD (DSD256) support, in case your collection includes these files. In addition to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, you get a 4.4mm balanced output for connecting to high-end headphones.

Speaking of headphones, you shouldn’t need to be too careful about the ones you use with this model. The Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII can easily drive power-hungry over-ear headphones, though we can’t guarantee it will work with every single pair of headphones out there.

If you’d rather opt for wireless headphones, fear not. Not only does the A&Norma SR25 MKII support Bluetooth, but it supports both the LDAC and aptX HD for high-quality wireless sound.

The player features 64 GB of internal memory and support for microSD cards up to 1TB. If you want to listen to music that isn’t part of your personal collection, this player’s Open APP Service lets you install Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and other music streaming services so you can listen to whatever you want.

The only weird aspect of the Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII is the angled screen, which may take some getting used to. But other than that, this is the best MP3 player out there.

Best MP3 Player Overall

Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII

If you want your portable music to sound every bit as good as your hi-fi setup at home, the Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII and a good set of headphones will get you there.

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: Sony Walkman NW-A105

Sony Walkman NW-A105 on orange background
Sony

Pros

  • Great-sounding playback of multiple hi-res formats
  • LDAC and aptX Bluetooth audio codec support
  • DSEE HX Al can make compressed files sound better
  • Easy support for streaming apps

Cons

  • Battery life isn't as long as claimed
  • Android operating system can be slow

Sony has been making the Walkman since 1979. Of course, these aren’t the same cassette players Sony originally sold, but they carry that same spirit. The Sony Walkman NW-A105 is among the midrange of Sony’s Walkman line-up, and this model offers the perfect blend of sound quality, features, and price.

The NW-A105 features Sony’s S-Master HX digital amplifier for pristine sound over the built-in headphone jack. Looking at files, this Walkman handles lossless files up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD256, so you’ve got options. That said, if you have plenty of MP3s, Sony’s DSEE HX Al can help restore some of the original sound quality of those files.

The Sony Walkman NW-A105 supports Bluetooth for wireless playback. Even better, it supports both LDAC and aptX HD for high-quality sound without the need for wires. This model only features 16GB of onboard storage, which is expandable via the microSD slot.

Sony says on the Amazon page that the NW-A105 can provide up to 26 hours of playback. This assumes you’re listening to MP3s at 128kbps, which doesn’t offer the best sound. If you’re listening to hi-res files at higher volumes, you can expect that time to drop significantly.

The NW-A105 runs Android, which means it’s easy to load up streaming apps to supplement your own music collection. However, it is a bit on the slow side, so don’t expect the same snappiness you’d get on a phone.

Best MP3 Player With Bluetooth

Sony Walkman NW-A105

If you're looking for a great sounding digital audio player with Bluetooth, but don't need Sony's top of the like Walkman models, the NW-A105 is the sweet spot of the lineup.

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.

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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