Best MP3 players 2022: Hi-res, pocket-sized music players from Apple, Sony and more

Tom Bruce Ben Johnston
15 Jul 2021

MP3 players aren't dead! Here's our pick of the very best you can buy

Just as video killed the radio star, you might think that the smartphone was responsible for the demise of the MP3 player. But you'd be wrong. There’s still life in the old dog yet. Today’s portable music players are a versatile bunch, with some squeezing hundreds of albums into postage-stamp-sized devices, and others boasting the very latest in audiophile-quality, hi-res audio technology. And then, of course, the iPod family is still going strong.

In this list, you’ll find our pick of the best MP3 players and portable music players you can buy, and we’ll also go through some of the things you need to consider before purchasing. If you’re not sure where to start, read on, and if you just want the best budget and high-end options, you’ll find our favourites below.

Best MP3 player: At a glance

  • Best for swimming: AfterShokz Xtrainerz | Buy now
  • Best for workouts: Sony Walkman NW-WS413 | Buy now
  • Best budget option: Oakcastle MP100 8GB | Buy now
  • Best for Apple fans: Apple iPod Touch (2019) | Buy now
  • Best for ease of use: SanDisk Clip Jam | Buy now
  • Best for high-res audio: Sony Walkman NW-A105 | Buy now

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How to buy the best MP3 player for you

Can’t I just use my smartphone instead?

If you’re a fitness aficionado and don’t want to take your phone into the gym, or just want something super-lightweight that you can chuck in a pocket, or clip onto your clothes while going out for a run, an MP3 player is a better choice. Basic models are often far more robust than a phone – there’s no expensive screen to break – and certain models even add waterproofing, which is perfect for year-round training.

There are other benefits: if you’re out and about without your phone charger, playing music through a portable music player isn’t going to drain your phone’s battery. You’ll also be able to take your entire music collection with you, without filling up smartphone storage that you’d rather use for apps, photos and videos.

And if you’re keen on the idea of hi-res audio, you’ll need to shell out on a dedicated player to get the most out of the latest hi-res albums.

What is the best type of MP3 player?

There are two basic types of MP3 player: hard drive-based players and flash-based players. The latter is much more popular (and practical) as flash storage options are high enough to store thousands of songs, and they’re also much more compact.

Hard drive-based MP3 players have a much larger storage capacity but are generally much heavier than flash-based MP3 players because they need to contain the hard drive components. They aren't good options for those who would like to use their MP3 players while engaged in intense activities, such as exercise, as a knock could cause the hard drive components to break.

How many songs can the average music player hold?

If you’re happy sticking with compressed MP3 music, even a modest 8GB of storage will be enough for 60 hours of music at the highest possible audio quality. Start dabbling with hi-res audio, however, and 8GB will only be enough for around one-and-a-half hours of the highest-quality DSD audio. Thankfully, most music players have a microSD slot that allows you to expand their storage – except the iPod family, naturally – and microSD cards are cheap to buy.

How are you planning to use your music player?

If you need a device for your workouts, look for one that’s small, light and ideally water and sweat-proof. The Sony NW-WS415 in this list is a definite winner on that front, and can also be used for swimming if that’s more your thing.

If you’re looking for something to keep you company on long journeys, we’d opt for something with a longer battery life that also has more storage space. The Sony NW-E394 below should last you 35 hours, while three of the devices on this list come with a microSD slot for you to expand the amount of storage to accommodate even the largest of music collections.

Can I use my MP3 player to stream music?

This could be a dealbreaker for some people, but if you only listen to music through streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, these music players aren’t for you. For a few years, we were recommending the Astell&Kern AK70, which did offer Wi-Fi connectivity. Sadly, it's now out of production.

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The best MP3 players to buy

1. Sony Walkman NW-WS413 Waterproof 4GB: Best MP3 player for workouts

Price: £66 | Buy now from Amazon

Sony describes its NW-WS413 as the “ultimate training partner” and we're not about to disagree - we gave it a five-star review when it came out. The unusual design is both music player and earphones in one, and while its head-hugging design holds firmly in place while jogging or cycling, it’s also completely waterproof to a depth of 2m so can be used in the pool.

Given its small size, the 12 hours of battery life is very reasonable, and the Ambient Sound Mode is a stroke of genius: it lets you tweak the amount of external noise that’s piped through the headphones, so you don’t get caught unawares by other runners or traffic. Storage space is limited, but for upbeat workout playlists, the 4GB should be more than enough.

Read our full Sony Walkman NW-WS413 review for more details

Key specsSize (HWD): Not disclosed; Weight: 32g; Battery life: 12hrs; Screen size: N/A; Storage: 4GB; microSD slot: No; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: No

2. Oakcastle MP100 8GB: Best on a low budget

Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon

Stripped back and simple, Oakcastle’s no-frills MP3 player is the best choice for those of you who want to spend less while still getting enough. With 8GB of internal storage, this device is plenty spacious for most people, but if you find yourself approaching that limit, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a microSD slot that supports cards of up to 128GB in size.

The battery life claims to last for up to 19.5 hours, so should give you basically a full day of playback without losing power, be it from MP3 or radio via the built-in FM tuner. You get a pair of wired headphones included, but if you prefer wireless earbuds, there's Bluetooth connectivity for hooking up your favourite pair - alternatively, you can also use this to cast your music to a Bluetooth speaker. For a budget MP3 player, these additional features really make Oakcastle's device a solid and affordable option.

Key specs – Size (HWD): 5.8cm x 3.6cm x 1.7cm; Weight: 27g; Battery life: 19.5hrs; Screen size: 1.5in; Storage: 8GB; microSD slot: Yes; Bluetooth connectivity: Yes; FM radio tuner: Yes; Wi-Fi connectivity: No

3. AfterShokz Xtrainerz: The best MP3 player for swimming

Price: £140 | Buy now from JD Sports

For swimmers, and athletes in general, these are the best pair of waterproof MP3 headphones around. Unlike the Sony all-in-one MP3 headphones listed above, the AfterShockz Xtrainerz utilise bone conduction technology to transmit their sound. The term 'bone conduction' sounds a little scary at first but it actually comes with a few key benefits. Because sound is transmitted into the inner ear canal using vibrations, these headphones don't block the ear canal, which reduces the risk of infection within the ear. Secondly, it also frees the ears up to take in environmental sound, which can help to improve awareness and safety when training or commuting.

Fitting the flexible titanium headband is simple and it maintains a secure fit, even when you're plunging into the pool. There aren't too many fancy settings – there's no Bluetooth, for example – but it's easy enough to navigate the controls while on the move. With 4GB of storage and 8hrs of playback life, it's unlikely you'll ever run out of listening material or battery power during a training session.

Read our full AfterShokz Xtrainerz review for more details

Key specsSize (HWD): 135 x 94 x 169mm; Weight: 31.8g; Battery life: 8hrs; Screen size: N/A; Storage: 4GB; microSD slot: ; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: No

Buy now from JD Sports

4. Sony Walkman NW-A105 16GB: Best MP3 player for high-resolution audio

Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon

The range of features offered by the Sony Walkman NW-A105 is astounding. Its sleek design – available in a range of colours – is appealing to both sight and touch, while its intuitive 3.6in touchscreen and one-touch Bluetooth connectivity make it incredibly simple to use. And with its Odyssean 26-hour battery life, you’re guaranteed to stay entertained no matter how long your journey. The NW-A55L has 16GB of music storage, which can be upgraded via microSD up to a whopping 128GB.

The best part about this MP3 player, though, is its sound quality. With DSD and S-Master HX playback, you’ll get above CD-quality audio on all music but, even better, its DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) will upscale low-quality audio files to near high-res quality, in much the same way that a 4K TV upscales non-UHD images.

Key specs – Size (HWD): 99 x 56 x 11mm; Weight: 140g; Battery life: 26hrs; Screen size: 3.6in; Storage: 16GB; microSD slot: Yes; Bluetooth connectivity: Yes; FM radio tuner: No; Wi-Fi connectivity: Yes

5. Apple iPod touch (2019): Best MP3 player for Apple fans

Price: £189 (32GB); £289 (128GB) | Buy now from Amazon

Apple may be more well known now for its iPhones and iPads but that’s no reason to discount the devices that made the company’s name in the first place. It may be getting on in years now, but the iPod Touch (2019) features an A10 chip which is more than powerful enough to play and store your music, as well as supporting web browsing and apps.

Where the iPod touch differs from Apple’s other portable tech is in its battery life, with a proposed 40 hours of music playtime, and eight hours of multimedia playback. This model is available in two variants; a 32GB option and a 128GB configuration for larger libraries of music and files. With seven bright finishes to choose from, including pink, blue and gold, there’s an iPod Touch colour for everyone.

Key specs – Size (HWD): 12.3 x 5.9 x 0.6cm; Weight: 88g; Battery life: 40hrs; Screen size: 4in; Storage: 32GB, 128GB; microSD slot: No; Bluetooth connectivity: Yes; FM radio tuner: Yes; Wi-Fi connectivity: Yes

6. SanDisk Clip Jam: Best MP3 player for ease of use

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

If all you’re looking for is an inexpensive, tiny MP3 player, the SanDisk Clip Jam is the one for you. As the name suggests, its tiny dimensions mean that you can literally clip it onto your clothing and it’ll all but disappear in a pocket. The 8GB of storage will be enough for most people, but the microSD slot allows you to squeeze on even the most epic of music collections.

You’ll also get 18 hours listening out of a single charge. The presence of an FM radio tuner is a bit of a boon too. It doesn’t come with the same bells and whistles as the iPod nano, but for something cheap and easy to use, it’s a fantastic option.

Key specs – Size (HWD): 4.6cm x 4.6cm x 1.6cm; Weight: 22.7g; Battery life: 18hrs; Screen size: 0.96in; Storage: 8GB; microSD slot: Yes; Bluetooth connectivity: No; FM radio tuner: Yes; Wi-Fi connectivity: No

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