Best MP3 player 2021 top portable music players from Apple, Onkyo, Astell & Kern and more

Asia's Tech News Daily

If you thought MP3 players no longer existed, you’re not alone. But the best MP3 players you can buy in 2021 are now more advanced than you might imagine and a huge upgrade on the MP3 player you might have had in your teens.

Of course, MP3 players aren’t as popular as they used to be. Music streaming services have made listening to music on-the-go easier than ever and our smartphones can now hold huge amounts of tracks, albums and podcasts. But MP3 players are not obsolete and a great choice for some people.

Maybe you don’t want to be tethered to your phone all the time. Or you might want to save your precious mobile data and battery while you’re out and about. Whatever the reason, today’s best MP3 players are capable of storing your music library at a much higher bitrate than your 2009 iPod Shuffle ever could. Pair one of these with great-sounding headphones and you’ve got high-quality music that travels with you wherever you go.

They’ve also had a big design upgrade, which means added durability and sleeker styles to slip in your pocket. Thanks to new innovations in audio engineering, they’re always improving on sound, with features like hi-res audio support and built-in DACs (Digital-to-Analogue Converters) becoming commonplace.

If you want to find one of the best MP3 players that you can buy in 2021, you’re in the right place. There are plenty of devices to choose from – we’re not going to recommend a bunch of old iPods to you (though the latest iPod Touch is on this list). We’ve selected our top choices and we’ve included everything you need to know to find the right MP3 player for you in our guide below.

How to choose the best MP3 player for you

The most important thing you need to think about is the audio codec your music library is in.

Anyone who uses Apple Music will probably have a music library completely filled with Apple’s proprietary AAC codec, and luckily most MP3 players will support that codec. However, if you consider yourself an audiophile, you’ll need support for lossless codecs like FLAC, WAV and ALAC, as these codecs don’t use the compression methods used on lossy codecs like AAC or MP3.

You’ll also need to consider how much music is in your, well, music collection and then how much storage you’ll need. This is especially the case when you’re using codecs like FLAC, which just devour space. The best MP3 players often have an included microSD card slot, which allows you to expand upon the included storage as your library expands – but normally only up to a certain size, normally around 512GB.

Here’s the best part though: unlike smartphones, the best MP3 players are built to last, so there’s no need to go on an endless two-year upgrade-cycle like you might with a smartphone. This means it’s probably in your best interests to take some time and find the one that’s right for you, as you will probably be using it for a few years to come.

What’s the difference between an iPod and MP3 player?

An iPod is a type of MP3 player. It’s the name for Apple’s range of MP3 players, but you’ll find plenty of other MP3 players from other brands – many of which are listed in our guide below.

Is an MP3 player worth buying?

Whether you should buy an MP3 player or not depends on what you want to use it for. If you’re trying to avoid being glued to your phone, checking social media or taking work calls when you want to relax, an MP3 player can be a great option to listen to music while staying cut off from all of the distractions of your phone.

Some people enjoy listening to MP3 players when they work out, so they don’t have their phone with them. Whether that’s also to keep calls and messages at bay or keep their phone safe.

Others might not have a great deal of space on their phone if it’s an older model, so want to store music elsewhere. Some people might not want to use up battery or data when they’re on the move.

MP3 players won’t suit everyone, many prefer the convenience of having all of their music on their phones, but there are plenty of reasons why an MP3 player is a great idea for some people.

Our top picks

(Image credit: Onkyo)

1. Onkyo DP-X1A

The best MP3 player you can buy

Specifications
Storage: 64GB
Formats: AAC
Battery life: 16 hours
Micro SD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Amazing sound quality+Android makes for top ease-of-use+Two microSD card slots!

Reasons to avoid
A little chunky

he Onkyo DP-X1A isn’t the most compact device on this list, but we think it’s the best MP3 player you can buy, offering lots of customizability, an intuitive interface, and fantastic sound.

The DP-X1A looks a little bit like a phone, but much thicker with two audio ports – one headphone jack and one balanced output for those interested in a cleaner and overall better quality sound. The device has an easy-to-use volume wheel, as well as physical playback buttons and two microSD card slots for those with a sizable collection of music.

The player is built with a full version of Android 5.1, complete with features like Wi-Fi connectivity and the Google Play Store, which results in an MP3 Player that is to Android what the iPod Touch is to iOS. Unlike the iPod, however, the Onkyo DP-X1A is built for super-high-quality audio.

Speaking of the sound quality, it’s an absolute dream. It supports a range of music formats, including FLAC, OGG, WAV, MP3, ALAC, and more. In terms of hardware, the device has two chipsets, one to power the overall device, and one to handle the DAC and amplifier – resulting in a noise-free experience.

We tested the player with multiple pairs of headphones across multiple price ranges, and were stunned with the clarity and exceptional quality of the audio. There’s a reason the Onkyo DP-X1A sits atop this list – it’s a beast in the portable audio world.

Read more: Onkyo DP-X1A Digital Audio Player review

(Image credit: cowon plenue d3)

2. Cowon Plenue D3

The best MP3 player for serious style

Specifications
Storage: 64GB
Formats: DSD, DFF, DSF, ISO, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, APE, MP3, WMA, OGG, DCF
Battery life: 45 hours
MicroSD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Great design compared to competitors+Small, light and portable+Impressive 45 hour battery life

Reasons to avoid
Screen low-res and could be betterNo Wi-Fi streaming

This is a small, light and stylish MP3 player with a simple matchbox-like design and a big, wide screen running on Cowon’s proprietary SoC infrastructure that’s easy to use. It’s an upgrade on Cowon’s previous MP3 player model, this time with a volume dial, Bluetooth and more features.

It offers exceptional battery life. You’ll get 45 hours of playback time with regular MP3 files and more than 30 hours with high-res files – which still beats most of the competitors on this list.

It supports a huge range of formats, including DSD(DFF, DSF, ISO), FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, APE, MP3, WMA, OGG and DCF. Music sounds brilliant and with Bluetooth, you can listen on a range of different devices. Although there’s no Wi-Fi streaming available.

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

3. Astell & Kern A&norma SR25

The best MP3 player for Hi-Res Audio

Specifications
Storage: 64GB
Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA
Battery life: 21 hours
Micro SD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Great design+21-hour battery life+Bluetooth LDAC

Reasons to avoid
Pricey

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 is an impressive MP3 player that’s designed to make your Hi-Res Audio files really sing, thanks to a new performance mode, support for balanced audio connections, and Bluetooth LDAC wireless compatibility.

With a unique, off-center design and aluminum body, it certainly looks the part, and its touch screen is bright and easy to use.

Inside the SR25 is the Dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 Master Hi-Fi level DAC, while native support for DSD256 and 32-bit/384kHz audio is more than enough to satisfy even the most discerning audiophiles.

With Wi-Fi connectivity, you have access to streaming services including Deezer and Tidal, while Bluetooth aptX ensure listening with wireless headphones needn’t sound inferior to wired connections.

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iPod Touch (7th Generation)

The best MP3 player for Apple lovers

Specifications
Storage: 32GB / 128GB / 256GB
Formats: AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC‑3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC‑3) and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+)
Battery life: 40 hours
Micro SD?: No

Reasons to buy
+Well-designed+Tons of apps

Reasons to avoid
No Micro SDNo Touch ID

Apple took us all by surprise when it announced the iPod touch 7 in 2019, the first upgrade to its portable music and video player since 2015.

The new iPod supports the Hi-Res Audio codec FLAC, as well as Apple Lossless, giving you more options than ever when it comes to accessing audiophile-quality music.

Using a Hi-Res Audio playback app for iOS called Vox, we listened to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. The strings had a warm and natural quality, while soprano vocal duets soared sweetly above the mix without ever sounding harsh.

In our review we also tested out the inbuilt speaker at the bottom of the iPod touch, and it packs quite a punch despite its size. It won’t do for listening to your Hi-Res music, but if just want a little background music for your gaming sessions and can’t be bothered to dig your headphones out, it works just fine.

If you need a new MP3 player, and you don’t mind using Apple Music, the iPod Touch will do just fine. It’s also optimized for gaming, so check out our guide to the best Apple Arcade games.

Read more: iPod Touch (7th Generation) review

(Image credit: sony)

5. Sony NW 155L

The best MP3 player for high-res audio on a budget

Specifications
Storage: 16GB
Formats: MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, AAC, HE-AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, DSD, APE, MQA
Battery life: 45 hours
MicroSD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Good, solid sound performance+Bluetooth+Great file support

Reasons to avoid
Not much storage without a microSD

A high-res MP3 player from Sony that’s affordable – especially in comparison to some of the higher-end devices from the likes of Astell & Kern.

This MP3 player is short on storage with only 16G internally. But with a MicroSD card you can bump that up significantly. It boasts an impressive 45 hours of battery life and supports a wide range of formats.

Sound is clear and powerful and although it might not be the best out there, it’s a huge improvement over listening to music on your phone.

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

5. Astell & Kern AK Jr

The best middle-of-the-road MP3 player

Specifications
Storage: 64GB
Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE(Normal, High, Fast), AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Battery life: 9 hours
Micro SD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Beautifully designed+Audio sounds great+Offers Bluetooth

Reasons to avoid
Touchscreen isn’t responsive enough

The Astell & Kern AK Jr is the best mid-range MP3 player. In fact, after spending some time using it, we would argue that it’s a pretty serious contender against more expensive players.

The AK Jr comes in at $259 / £250 / AU$399, which is a very reasonable price for a device of this calibre. You’ll get 64GB of onboard storage, though there is a microSD card slot in case you want to expand upon that storage. On top of that, it supports all major audio formats, including FLAC, WAV, MP3, AAC, AIFF, and more – and it’s able to play at sample rates of up to 192kHz.

The interface of the device is relatively easy to control, too. The home screen simply gives you options for songs, albums and artists. Tap through using the touchscreen, and you’ll be able to select the music you want to listen to. It would be nice if that touchscreen was a little more responsive, but you get used to it. Battery life sits in at around nine hours, which isn’t amazing, but not terrible either.

Music is dynamic and crisp, with a nice and powerful sound in every aspect. The soundstage on these, when paired with a great pair of headphones, is huge – that’s to say the left and right are clearly defined, while instruments placed at the center of a mix are given plenty of room to breathe. We particularly enjoyed the guitar solo on AC/DC’s Back in Black, while Eminem’s rap on Lose Yourself cut straight through the mix – exactly the way it was supposed to.

(Image credit: SanDisk)

6. SanDisk Clip Sport Plus

The best MP3 player for sports

Specifications
Storage: 16GB
Formats: MP3, WMA (NO DRM), AAC (DRM free iTunes) WAV, FLAC
Battery life: 20 hours
Micro SD?: Yes

Reasons to buy
+Ultra-portable+Inexpensive+Easy-to-use

Reasons to avoid
Audio quality isn’t as good as others

If you’re looking for the best MP3 player for running, this option is for you. It’s small, light and plays decent quality sound. No, it doesn’t have the largest storage or the best audio performance, but that’s not what it’s designed for.

The device offers 16GB of storage, and while that may not be much for your phone, 16GB can hold a ton of songs. On top of that, despite being built for sport, it actually supports a pretty wide range of audio formats – including MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and WMA.

Perhaps most important for a device like this is the battery life, and it’ll last you a good 20 hours. You’ll even get Bluetooth, which is a huge deal for many who will be using this while running or performing other activities and don’t want cables to get in the way.

The interface is relatively easy to use, too. Sure, it’s a little dated, and isn’t as powerful as what you’ll find on your smartphone, but it’s still capable as a music player. It’s not touch-sensitive, though: instead, you navigate through hardware buttons that also serve as playback controls when music is playing, but we didn’t have any issues.

As for the sound, as long as you don’t expect full audiophile-level quality here, you’ll find the sound very capable. Overall it’s slightly muddy with a small dip in clarity, but for most that won’t matter – especially when you’re out on a run or hitting the weights at the gym.

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