I remember the mid-2000’s. Going outside without an MP3 player was like going outside naked. There was something about this device that made it so fantastic.

While yesterday’s phones might have had an abundance of features, none were as well defined as today.

If you wanted to listen to music, play a game, or view a video – you better be prepared for a very short battery life.

That is where MP3 players came into the game. They could play music virtually forever without requiring a recharge.

Best MP3 Players For 2023

Phones nowadays have replaced what we typically view as MP3 players, most people don’t even bother playing downloaded music files and instead stream their music from streaming services such as Spotify.

However, there is still a niche market for a dedicated device. They have matured away from being a generic MP3 player to being more focused on the quality of the audio that many audiophiles obsess about.

The world, or should I say file name, MP3, is, for the most part, out of date. MP3 files compress the data and reduce the overall quality, which was ideal in the day of dial-up and torrents, but is not much of an issue nowadays.

Nowadays, most people would prefer the file format to be in FLAC, MQA or Apple-made formats such as ALAC.

What Is an MP3 Player (or, more accurately, a Digital Audio Player)

Traditionally a MP3 player was a small device that played music. It had a headphone jack for your headphones, and some even had Bluetooth.

Nowadays, a Digital Audio Player isn’t that much different to an Android smartphone in many respects. Many of these audio players use a mobile SoC from the likes of Qualcomm or MediaTek and they nearly always run Android as the underlying OS.

The big difference in the hardware is the Digital Audio Converter (DAC) they use and the fact they still have a headphone jack. Phones typically have quite a low-quality DAC because companies are producing phones for the masses, not audiophiles. LG used to be well-regarded for using a quad DAC in their smartphones. I loved the LG V20 H990 when I reviewed it back in 2017.

Most audio players nowadays have a dual or quad DAC, and this will always be a high-quality chip for the best possible sound quality. They will also include a good-quality headphone amplifier that allows the audio player to drive demanding headphones.

They will then often have a lot of onboard storage and typically microSD support, which will allow you to store a large library of uncompressed music. Quite often, they will have the ability to double up as a USB DAC for PC audio.

Some audio players will have support for all the latest streaming applications and support for the Apple Music application.

File Formats – MP3 vs FLAC vs MQA vs WAV

While digital audio players can work as MP3 players, it is unlikely that you will use that format. Let’s have quick look at the available formats out there:

  • AAC (not hi-res): Apple’s alternative to MP3 is known as Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). It is a lossy and compressed format, but generally offers better sound quality. AAC is commonly used for streaming on Apple Music.
  • ALAC (hi-res): Apple has also developed its own lossless audio compression technology called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). In addition to AAC, the entire Apple Music catalogue is encoded using ALAC, offering resolutions ranging from CD quality (16-bit/44.1 kHz) to high-resolution (24-bit/192 kHz).
  • AIFF (hi-res): Apple’s alternative to WAV is Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF), which provides better metadata support. It is a lossless and uncompressed format, resulting in larger file sizes, but it is not widely popular.
  • DSD (hi-res): DSD refers to the single-bit format used for Super Audio CDs. It comes in varieties of 2.8MHz, 5.6MHz, and 11.2MHz. However, due to its high quality and uncompressed nature, DSD is mostly impractical for streaming purposes.
  • FLAC (hi-res): FLAC is a lossless compression format that supports high-resolution sample rates. It occupies about half the space of WAV files and allows for metadata storage. FLAC is royalty-free and considered the preferred format for downloading and storing high-resolution albums. However, it is not supported by Apple and therefore not compatible with Apple Music.
  • MP3 (not hi-res): MP3 is a popular lossy compressed format that sacrifices some sound quality for smaller file sizes. It is convenient for storing music on phones and iPods, but it does not offer the best audio fidelity.
  • MQA (hi-res): MQA is a lossless compression format designed to package high-resolution files for more efficient streaming. It is used for Tidal Masters high-resolution streaming and is also compatible with the CD format.
  • OGG (not hi-res): OGG, also known as Ogg Vorbis, is a lossy and open-source alternative to MP3 and AAC. It is unrestricted by patents and commonly used in Spotify streaming at a bitrate of 320kbps.
  • WAV (hi-res): WAV is the standard format used to encode all CDs. It offers excellent sound quality but is uncompressed, resulting in large file sizes, particularly for high-resolution files. WAV files have limited metadata support, such as album artwork, artist information, and song titles.
  • WMA Lossless (hi-res): WMA Lossless is a lossless version of Windows Media Audio, but it is no longer well-supported by smartphones or tablets.

Best MP3 Player 2023 Review Guide

Reviewing these products was a true dose of fun, wholesome nostalgia. I had a very tough time picking just five out of the large selection, but I’ve made my choices. Below, you’ll find my top picks for the best MP3 players currently on the market – jam-packed with nostalgia, affordability, and fun features.

1) FiiO M11 Plus Digital Audio Player

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Best Digital Audio Player 2023 Overall

The FiiO M11 Plus uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 and runs Android OS. Google Play is installed, so it supports third party apps as well as the built in music functions.

For storage, it has 64GB with 46GB usable, it can then be expanded with microSD.

It is then equipped with 2 high-performance ES9068AS DAC chips. The carefully-tuned performance and sound performance achieve a distortion lower to 0.0001%. In addition, it supports MQA Renderer in USB DAC mode, allowing for complete and rich sounds. For the amp, you have two THX AAA-78.

For wired audio gear you have an excellent choice of 2.5/3.5/4.4mm headphone outs, plus a new 4.4mm balanced line-out. There is then 3 gain levels for different types of headphones.

The M11 Plus contains a huge 6000 mAh battery with support for QC2.0/3.0/4.0 and USB PD fast charging. After a full charge, the M11 Plus can be continuously listened to for 11.5 hours and can remain in deep standby for up to 1000 hours.

There is support for AirPlay and DLNA streaming plus support for the AAC codec for Bluetooth transmission and reception so that iPhone owners can also enjoy truly high-fidelity wireless sound.

For Bluetooth transmission, this supports SBC/AAC/aptX/aptX/HD/LDAC.

Pros:

  • Stunning design
  • Long battery life
  • Large storage (both internal and external)
  • Fantastic features
  • Bluetooth capability
  • Amazing HiFi sound

Cons:

  • Expensive


2) iBasso DX170 Hi-Res Digital Audio Player 

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The iBasso DX170 Hi-Res Digital Audio Player is a premium portable music player that delivers exceptional audio performance at a lower price than the FiiO listed above.

The standout feature of the iBasso DX170 is its impressive audio quality. The device supports a wide range of high-resolution audio formats, including DSD, FLAC, WAV, and ALAC, allowing users to enjoy their music in its purest form with remarkable clarity and detail. The DX170 incorporates a high-quality DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) and amplifier, ensuring accurate and faithful sound reproduction, and enabling users to experience the full potential of their music collection.

The DX170 boasts a sleek and ergonomic design, making it comfortable to hold and operate. It features a 5-inch high-resolution touchscreen display that provides a vibrant and intuitive interface for easy navigation and access to various features and settings. The user-friendly interface allows for effortless browsing of music libraries, creation of playlists, and adjustment of settings.

Connectivity options are plentiful on the DX170. It includes a balanced 2.5mm headphone output and a single-ended 3.5mm headphone output, offering compatibility with a wide range of headphones or earphones. The device also incorporates Bluetooth 5.0 technology, allowing users to connect wireless headphones or speakers for a cable-free listening experience.

Storage capacity is generous on the DX170. It features 64GB of internal storage, providing ample space to store a significant number of high-resolution music files. Additionally, it supports expandable storage via microSD card slots, allowing users to add even more storage space to accommodate larger music libraries.

The iBasso DX170 is designed for convenience and portability. It features a long-lasting battery that offers extended playback time, ensuring that users can enjoy their music for extended periods without worrying about running out of power. The device also supports quick charging, minimizing downtime and allowing for more music enjoyment on the go.

The DX170 offers additional features to enhance the listening experience. It includes a customizable sound equalizer (EQ), enabling users to fine-tune the audio output to their personal preferences. The device also supports a variety of digital filters and sound settings, allowing users to tailor the sound signature to match their preferred audio characteristics.

Pros:

  • Well priced
  • Android 11

Cons:

  • Low end SoC

3) Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 Digital Audio Player

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Best High-End MP3 Player 2023

The Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 Digital Audio Player is a compact and feature-rich portable music player designed to deliver high-quality audio performance in a user-friendly package. As part of Astell&Kern’s A&norma series, the SR35 combines impressive audio capabilities with a sleek design, making it an excellent choice for music enthusiasts seeking a premium listening experience on the go.

The standout feature of the A&norma SR35 is its exceptional audio quality. It supports a wide range of audio formats, including high-resolution formats like FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and DSD. The device incorporates a high-performance digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and an amplifier, ensuring accurate and detailed sound reproduction. This allows users to enjoy their favorite music with remarkable clarity, depth, and dynamic range, capturing every nuance and subtlety of the original recording.

The SR35 boasts a sleek and ergonomic design, making it comfortable to hold and operate. It features a vibrant and intuitive 3.2-inch touchscreen display that provides an effortless interface for navigation and access to various features and settings. The device’s user-friendly interface allows for easy browsing of music libraries, creation of playlists, and adjustment of settings.

In terms of connectivity, the A&norma SR35 offers versatile options to accommodate different audio setups. It includes a 3.5mm single-ended headphone output, allowing users to connect a wide range of headphones or earphones. The device also incorporates Bluetooth 4.2, enabling wireless streaming to compatible Bluetooth headphones or speakers, providing a cable-free listening experience.

Storage capacity is another notable feature of the SR35. It comes with 64GB of internal storage, allowing users to store a significant number of music files directly on the device. Additionally, it supports expandable storage through a microSD card slot, providing the ability to add more storage space for a larger music library.

The SR35 is designed with convenience and portability in mind. It features a long-lasting battery that provides extended playback time, allowing users to enjoy their music for hours on end without the need for frequent charging. The device is lightweight and compact, making it easy to carry in a pocket or bag, ensuring that your music is always within reach.

The A&norma SR35 also includes additional features to enhance the listening experience. It offers a customizable sound EQ, allowing users to fine-tune the audio output to their personal preferences. The device supports various digital filters and sound settings, enabling users to tailor the sound signature to match their preferred audio characteristics.

Pros:

  • SR35 delivers a perfectly scaled-down version of the £3800 SP3000 sound

Cons:

  •  no option to shuffle all songs

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4) Apple iPod Touch (7th Gen)

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I have left the Apple iPod Touch on this recommendation list even though it has been discontinued. You can still pick them up second hand and I think there is still a place for devices like this on the market.

The iPod has revolutionized the MP3 world more than once, and the seventh generation with iOS 12 packs a punch. There’s nothing to say about this little device that you don’t already know, but I will anyway.

Design-wise, you really can’t compete with the likes of apple. That’s by far the most affordable device on this list but is lightyears away feature-wise.

It comes with everything that a person could think, from WiFi, Bluetooth, data, HiFi Sound, to enormous storage capacity.

That’s the only driver on this list that comes with a camera – in fact, it comes with two.

The front camera is a 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera, while the back is capped at a cool 8MP, which is more than good for such a device.

It comes in three different storage options, from 32GB, over 128GB, to 256GB. I’m not going to lie – I’m not Apple’s biggest fan.

I think their products are a bit pricey, but you simply can’t knock the hustle that went into creating the seventh generation of the Apple iPod Touch.

Its touchscreen capabilities are slick. Apple has always been a pioneer, and they’ve outdone themselves with this device.

It’s durable, lightweight, and overly capable. Every device comes with a charger and headphones, both of which are fantastic, functional, and high in quality.

The sound is impeccable. Apple is equipped with the best that the industry has to offer and even offers different color capabilities.

Furthermore, Apple will engrave your iPod touch if you would like to personalize it. The amount of additional merch you can purchase for this device, such as cases, headphones, and holders, is huge.

The iPod Touch 7th gen also has Bluetooth capabilities, which allows you to connect them with your AirPods, for an even better sound. It even has games!

Pros:

  • Slick design
  • Jaw-dropping sound quality
  • Two cameras
  • iOS 12
  • Fast, functional, and full of features

Cons:

  • Discontinued

5) FiiO M17 Flagship Portable High-Resolution Digital Audio Player

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The FiiO M17 is a flagship product and priced as such, and by that, I mean it is insanely expensive at £1500, but if you are an affluent audiophile, you will love it.

This exceptional device is designed to provide audiophiles and music enthusiasts with a premium listening experience on the go. With its advanced technology, superior audio performance, and versatile features, the M17 sets a new benchmark for portable audio players.

The standout feature of the FiiO M17 is its exceptional audio quality. It supports a wide range of high-resolution audio formats, including DSD, FLAC, WAV, and ALAC, ensuring that users can enjoy their music in its purest form with remarkable clarity and detail. The device is equipped with dual flagship AK4499EQ DACs and a dedicated FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) chip, which work together to deliver an incredibly accurate and precise audio reproduction, capturing the subtleties and nuances of the original recording.

The M17 boasts an impressive design and build quality. It features a sturdy and sleek aluminum alloy chassis that not only enhances the device’s aesthetics but also provides durability and protection. The device is equipped with a large 5.15-inch touchscreen display that offers an intuitive and user-friendly interface for easy navigation and access to various settings and features.

In terms of connectivity, the FiiO M17 offers a range of options to cater to different audio setups. It supports both 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended headphone outputs, allowing users to connect a wide range of headphones or earphones for a personalized listening experience. Additionally, it includes Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, enabling seamless wireless streaming to compatible headphones or speakers.

The M17 also offers expandable storage via dual microSD card slots, providing ample space to store a vast music library. It supports high-capacity cards, allowing users to carry an extensive collection of high-resolution audio files wherever they go.

The device is designed with convenience and portability in mind. It features a large capacity battery that provides extended playback time, allowing users to enjoy their music for extended periods without worrying about running out of power. Additionally, it includes fast charging capabilities, ensuring that you can quickly recharge and get back to your music.

The FiiO M17 offers a range of customization options to suit individual preferences. It includes a powerful parametric equalizer (EQ) function, allowing users to fine-tune the audio output to match their personal taste. It also supports various digital filters and sound settings, enabling users to tailor the sound signature to their liking.

Pros:

  • Dual ES9038Pro flagship-grade DACs
  • THX-AAA 788 Pro Amplifier 

Cons:

  • It costs £1500

6) Surfans F20 HiFi MP3 Player

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I wanted to include this on the list as it is the most affordable well-reviewed option I could find and it is one of the only DAPs left with physical controls instead of touch.

Unlike the more expensive DAPs I have listed, this does not run Android OS.

The DAC inside is a TI PCM510xA DAC chip, which offers support for hi-res up to 192kHz / 32 Bit files.

It then supports all major lossless music formats: FLAC, WAV, WMA, M4A, MP3, MP2, AAC, APE, ALAC, OGG, AIFF, DFF, Native DSD64 (2.8MHz) DSD 128(5.6 MHz), etc

It has Bluetooth V4.0 and supports aptX for improved quality. It can either work as a signal transmitter to connect with Bluetooth headphones, speakers or work as a receiver amp to wirelessly connect with a smartphone.

While this is well reviewed on Amazon and has plenty of recommendations around the web, some people have criticised it for the poor quality screen, sub-standard battery and buggy firmware. It also uses microSD, which should not be used on any modern device.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Physical controls

Cons:

  • Poor battery
  • Reported to have buggy firmware

7) Sony Walkman NW-A306

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The Sony Walkman NW-A306 was announced at the start of 2023, and I felt I needed to have a Walkman on this list just for the historic name. The Walkman A series has been around since 2005, back when MP3 players were incredibly popular.

The Sony Walkman NW-A306/NW-A307 replaced the popular NW-A106/NW-A107 with the 6 and 7 numbers representing 32GB or 64GB of storage.

The NW-A106 was the first A Series player running Android OS software, and the NW-A306 upgraded the OS to Android 12.

Ensuring high-quality audio, this has Sony’s S-Master HX digital amp and native DSD (Direct Stream Digital codec) support.

This has a 3.6″ TFT LCD running at 1280 x 720.

File support includes MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, and DSD. It can also be used as a USB DAC, and it has DSEE Ultimate.

As you’d expect, there is a  3.5mm input for wired headphones. but it also has Bluetooth with support for LDAC, aptX, aptX HD and AAC.

As a nod to the classic Walkman, the NW-A300 series features a special cassette tape user interface and screensaver.

Pricing is reasonable, especially when you compare it to the flagship NW-ZX707.

Pros:

  • Compact & portable
  • Hi-Res Audio

Cons:

  • Some people have reported this as struggling to drive some wired headphones

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