Sure, most of us satisfy our music-listening needs these days using our phones, tablets, and smart speakers, but that doesn't mean a dedicated MP3 player or portable music player is a completely obsolete option. In fact, when it comes to overall performance and capabilities, an MP3 player is actually one of the best ways to enjoy your favorite artists and playlists.
Want a player that's small enough to travel everywhere, maybe with an equally-portable pair of Bluetooth speakers? Or how about one that can effectively decode some of the richest audio codecs on the market? Whatever your auditory needs may be, we've got you covered with this roundup of the best MP3 players you can buy right now.
Sony NW-A55/B Walkman
The best overall MP3 player
- 45-hour battery life
- Support for High-Res Audio playback
- 16GB of internal storage
- Ability to add an SD card for expanded storage
- Requires proprietary wire for uploading/charging
- Can't adjust volume when using Bluetooth devices
Why you should buy this: You want a fantastic MP3 player with powerful audio capabilities at an awesome price.
Who it's for: Those looking for a dedicated audio device that is packed with some of today's best listening tech.
Why we chose the Sony NW-A55/B Walkman:
When it comes to audio reproduction, Sony is one of the strongest names on the market, especially when it comes to the brand's industry-leading MP3 players. And it's no coincidence that the Sony NW-A55/B Walkman MP3 player just so happens to be our favorite portable audio device you can nab right now, but that said, they're getting harder and harder to come by.
Featuring a state-of-the-art design and engineering, gold-plated circuit boards, and premium aluminum are utilized for faithful sound delivery and low impedance, ensuring the bones of the NW-A55/B are just as strong as the audio formats the player supports, which include MP3, WAV, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA, AIFF, and more.
Speaking of the latter: The NW-A55/B supports High-Res Audio playback, meaning you'll be getting sound that is even richer than the type of audio you'd find on a CD (where applicable). That's on top of the player's S-Master HX noise filtering and DSee HX upscaling, which enhances even the most compressed of audio files.
With its up to 45-hour battery life (this is depending on the file type and whether ambient sound mode is on or off), brilliant color touchscreen, and Bluetooth headphone capabilities, the Sony NW-A55/B Walkman is a well-balanced package of performance and value, earning it top honors.
SanDisk Clip Sport
The best fitness MP3 player
- Portable and lightweight
- 25-hour battery life
- Can decode FLAC files
- SD card for expanded storage
- Not as advanced as other MP3 players
Why you should buy this: It's lightweight, durable, and built for exercise, with reasonable storage capacity and excellent battery life.
Who it's for: Anyone looking to listen to music while they work out.
Why we chose the Sandisk Clip Sport:
Using your smartphone to listen to music while exercising is nearly always a hassle. If you're running, the phone is probably bouncing uncomfortably in your pocket, or you're forced to hold it with a vice grip because you wore shorts without pockets (stop forgetting the shorts with pockets!).
Thankfully, MP3 players with clips — like the SanDisk Clip Sport — were built specifically to resolve that issue. What the Clip Sport lacks in audio quality, it more than makes up for with several useful features and rock-solid 25-hour battery life.
Apart from the eponymous clip, SanDisk equipped this workout buddy with an FM radio tuner so you can listen to your favorite morning talk show as you take your brisk pre-breakfast stroll. The player features an LCD screen so you don't need to rely on the "shuffle" function. The Clip Sport also includes 8GB of onboard flash storage, as well as an SD card slot that allows for more storage space to be added in later.
Capable of handling most non-hi-res 16-bit audio file types (including FLAC files), this little guy is perfectly equipped for a marathon or a Tough Mudder. Plus, its low-risk price tag means you won't need to panic if it somehow falls into a puddle.
Apple iPod Touch (7th Gen)
The best iPod option
- 32GB of storage
- Sleek design and interface
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities
- Beautiful retina display
- Somewhat limited when it comes to audio decoding
Why you should buy this: You're an Apple devotee and you prefer the iPod family.
Who it's for: Casual listeners, intentional users of non-smartphones.
Why we chose the iPod Touch (7th Gen):
Despite the iPod's iconic nature, the rise of the iPhone has taken most of the shine off the gadget that reinvented the way we listen to music. And while Apple discontinued the iconic portable music player this year, still, the ever-friendly user interface and the sleek beauty of the experience (and of the iPod itself) earns the seventh-generation iPod Touch a spot on our list — if you can still find one, that is.
With the ability to store up to 32 gigabytes of your favorite tunes, plus smartphone-like functionality including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and access to the Apple App Store, there is no better iPod for casual listeners and those who don't want to carry a smartphone or drain its battery.
The iPod Touch is small and light and comes wrapped in cool metal finishes, with a gorgeous retina display that makes browsing between albums easy.
Astell & Kern SR25
The best for audiophiles
- Efficient realtime processing of audio tracks
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support
- 64GB of internal memory
- SD card slot for expandable storage
- On the expensive side
Why you should buy this: You want the best sound that a portable player can deliver.
Who it's for: Audio enthusiasts that refuse to skimp on sound quality.
Why we chose the Astell & Kern SR25:
One of the biggest drawbacks of the MP3 format is the compression your tunes get hit with that can reduce the sound quality. Especially if you need to compress formats like FLAC and WAV files into the MP3 format. Fortunately, the Astell & Kern SR25 is designed to uphold the integrity of high-quality audio files.
The player's quad-core CPU with a dedicated Performance Mode ensures the best real-time processing of your loaded music tracks, producing a full-bellied and balanced sound that rings true through any pair of headphones. And with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, you can even link up your favorite wireless earbuds to the SR25.
The Astell & Kern SR25's 21 hours of playback guarantees continuous listening for almost the entire day, and 64GB of internal memory means you can store close to 15,000 songs without additional SD storage. If you need the extra space though, there's a microSD card slot for up to 1TB of additional music.
Sony Xperia 1 III
The best smartphone for music lovers
- 256GB of internal storage
- 360 Reality Audio for immersive soundstaging
- Dolby Atmos-capable
- 4K HDR OLED screen
- 120Hz refresh rate
Why you should buy this: You want a smartphone that looks perfect, sounds perfect, and has plenty of excellent features to back up the big price.
Who it's for: Those of us that want the absolute best phone possible for playing music (and everything else).
Why we chose the Sony Xperia 1 III:
Hands down, the Sony Xperia 1 III is one of the most feature-rich Android smartphones out there, and is revolutionary in a few ways, too. For starters, the Xperia 1 III is the very first phone to feature a 120Hz refresh rate. If you're a frequent commuter that enjoys watching action movies or sports content on the train, the Xperia 1 III practically eliminates all motion blur, making every frame sharp and loaded with detail.
Oh, and did we mention the other impressive picture and camera specs? The Xperia 1 III sports a 4K HDR OLED screen. That's almost like having a flagship TV in your pocket. The Xperia 1 III is also a photographer's best friend, with impressive lens features, lightning-fast image processing, and the ability to pair the phone with your Sony Alpha camera.
But what are we getting in terms of audio capabilities? For starters, the Xperia 1 III is capable of decoding Dolby Atmos sound, allowing you to watch your favorite movies and shows in the richest surround format out there. And in terms of music streaming, Sony's 360 Reality Audio takes all of your favorite tracks and makes them sound bigger and better than ever.
If you'd rather ditch your headphones, the Xperia 1 III's Full-Stage stereo speakers are engineered to carry as much of that Dolby Atmos and 360 Reality Audio into an open-air environment as possible, and even the speaker housing itself is designed to produce next to no vibrations.
The Sony Xperia 1 III is a powerhouse of a phone for those that simply want nothing but the best.
Frequently Asked Questions
You may be questioning how we determined the best of the best in-home theater music players. As the portable music player market has diminished over the years, devices have been compelled to fit snugly into a niche. It's either that or lose popularity and eventually die out. There's really only one way you can effectively test these players, especially when it comes to hi-res options like the Activo CT10. And to do this, we experimented with a variety.
We tested out the CT10 with various musical genres across multiple file codecs, using many different types of headphones. Once we got through every last headphone, genre, and codec, we saw that the CT10 was the best choice, as it performed remarkably no matter what variable we threw at it. In addition, we also conducted a thorough headphone review and selected other MP3 players solely based on their user-friendliness and practicality in certain situations.
High-resolution audio uses a higher sampling rate and a higher bit rate than regular audio files. A typical hi-res audio file is sampled at 96kHz/24bit, which means that the audio is "sampled" more frequently each second than a typical MP3 file, which loses around 90% of its information during the compression process.
Hi-res files (like 24/96 FLAC files) process information more than 20 times faster than MP3 files, which means that those little details in the music — such as the attack and decay of a single guitar pluck — can be heard more clearly by the human ear. MP3 files (especially low bitrate files) are often quick and dirty representations of actual songs that have been compressed in order to save storage space. High-resolution audio, on the other hand, is compressed in such a way that those little details are preserved, or not compressed at all.
You may not be able to find hi-res tracks on streaming sites or in many digital music stores. And if they are available, you won't hear about it. There's no need to worry, though, as you can get a hold of these tracks through a variety of other ways. We invite you to look at these quality hi-res music sources, but please be aware that they also force you to collect, save, and manage your music library. If this doesn't appeal to you and sounds like too much work, we suggest Tidal, which is well-known for its modernized music transfer approach.