In 2001, the iPod changed everything. Portable media players began to spring up like weeds in the crack of a fertile driveway, flourishing for a while — until the smartphone arrived. With their limited storage capacities, phones eventually lead to the rise of streaming services like Spotify that quickly antiquated the MP3 model in favor of limitless collections of music hosted from the cloud.
But MP3 players didn’t simply roll over and die when the smartphones showed up. Instead, they pivoted. Most phones, for instance, only ship with around 32GB of native storage space — several gigabytes of which are usually occupied with system files. Those with sizable music collections will find this inadequate, especially since apps and music will end up competing for space. Many dedicated MP3 players offer significantly more storage space, meaning you’ll be able to fit Weird Al’s entire discography on a single device.
The exercise world is another niche that MP3 players have slid comfortably into. While smartphone screens grow larger, smaller media players offer the user a lightweight alternative that won’t make your pocket bounce to and fro during a workout. Audiophiles, too, can find devices built to handle high-quality audio in one of several file formats. Although some of these players find themselves floating up toward (and in excess of) $1,000, there’s one that rises above the tide for a reasonable sum.
To help everyone find the right dedicated music player for them, we’ve picked out our favorite MP3 players below.
Why you should buy this: It’s powerful, versatile, reasonably priced, and produces extremely high resolution audio.
Who it’s for: Music lovers and casual listeners who don’t want to break the bank.
How much will it cost: $300+
Why we chose the Astell & Kern AK Jr.:
Most companies don’t generally charge $300+ for their entry-level MP3 player. Then again, most companies are not Astell & Kern. The AK Jr. — which retails for about 1/7 the cost of the flagship model, the AK380 — produces some of the highest quality sound out there. The beautifully angular Jr., measuring 4.5 x 2 inches and weighing just 3.28 ounces, features Astell & Kern’s signature volume wheel, which offers finer control than the traditional 1-through-10 volume setting on a phone or player.
The player, whose touch screen is framed in an attractive matte aluminum shell and a battery that lasts for 6 – 8 hours. The Jr. features Bluetooth connectivity, but no Wi-Fi.
All the bells and whistles are here to service the sound. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a device that produces the kind of depth, clarity, and balance that the AK Jr. churns out on a song-by-song basis. Its Wolfson WM8740 Digital Audio Converter (DAC) is comfortable processing several different audio formats, from WAV to FLAC to single-rate DSD codecs, and the player features 64GB of native flash storage, with an SD slot so you can add another 64GB if need be.
Never before has there been a device this affordable that produces true hi-res audio. Put simply, the AK Jr is a top-flight portable music player whose reasonable price belies the power within.