We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Nothing improves a boring commute or a long walk home quite like an MP3 player.
While many people now use smartphones as portable, music-playing devices, you'll still find a range of benefits to using a dedicated MP3 player – but more on that later.
If you've decided to make your purchase, what comes next?
With so many MP3 players on the market, deciding which one to buy can be tough.
At BestReviews, we can help you discover what you want from an MP3 player and how to sort the good from the bad, so you can find the perfect model for your needs.
To bring you the most thorough reviews, we test products in our labs, talk with existing customers, sort through mountains of data, and consult experts – in this case, Matt Ham, founder and CEO of Computer Repair Doctor, and an expert on all kinds of electronic devices.
Read on for our full MP3 player buying guide, which will tell you all you need to know to make an informed purchase.
If you have a smartphone, it's perfectly capable of taking on the role of an MP3 player, too, so why should you buy a dedicated device for playing music?
With all the apps, photos, and videos stored on your phone, you may have little space for music, let alone your entire MP3 collection.
Playing MP3s can run down a phone's battery quickly, so if you plan on listening to a lot of music – perhaps on a long journey or if you're allowed to listen to it at work – you might find your smartphone dying before the day is through.
If you listen to music while exercising, you might prefer to use a cheap, lightweight MP3 player rather than risk dropping and breaking your expensive smartphone.
Many MP3 players are more durable than smartphones and some are even waterproof.
MP3 players tend to have physical buttons, so it's easier to skip through tracks and control volume, especially while on the go.
Matt graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, then went on to become the founder and CEO of Computer Repair Doctor, a phone repair, computer repair, and laptop repair company with locations throughout the United States. Matt and his team of tech doctors are experts in consumer electronics of all types – there is no device they can’t fix!
It's important to think about what you want from an MP3 player before you make your purchase. In fact, our expert Matt Ham says one of the worst mistakes consumers often make is "buying something based on the brand rather than doing some research on the products."
So, here are some factors to consider before you decide which MP3 player to buy.
Battery life is where MP3 players really shine. Some models give you 60 plus hours of battery life. Even those on the lower end of the spectrum tend to last about 20 hours between charges. It varies between makes and models, however, so check the specs of your chosen MP3 player to find out the exact battery life.
If you intend to use your MP3 player on long journeys, or you'll be in a situation where you'll only be able to charge it occasionally, make sure the battery life is up to scratch.
For some owners, size matters when it comes to MP3 players.
You'll find users who want a tiny MP3 player that can easily slip in a pocket, even if that means reduced functionality. On the other hand, you'll find users who'd rather have a large MP3 player with a full-color touchscreen that’s easier to navigate, and can also be used to store photos or watch videos.
There's no right or wrong choice here; your decision depends on what you want from your new MP3 player.
A handful of MP3 players are even WiFi enabled, and can browse the web and download apps, a bit like a small tablet.
Some MP3 players have their own hard drive, and are basically like miniature computers, whereas others are solid state.
Solid state drives have no moving parts, instead storing songs on a memory chip, similar to an SD card. The main difference is that MP3 players with hard drives tend to have a larger storage capacity than their solid state counterparts.
However, solid state MP3 players are smaller, more lightweight, and less fragile than those with hard drives.
If you want a durable, lightweight MP3 player perfect for use while exercising, look out for a solid state model.
Storage capacity is important because it dictates how many songs you'll be able to fit on your MP3 player.
Those with the largest storage capacity have 128 gigabytes (GB) of space on their hard drive or solid state memory.
However, even extremely compact models can have 8 or 16GB of storage capacity, which equals 1,000 to 4,000 songs.
The smallest MP3 players often only have a very tiny display screen that flashes up the name of the song playing and lets you skip between songs. These don’t allow you to navigate the player to select which track you want to play.
This is fine if you just want to listen to any music, but not ideal if you're in the mood for something specific. As such, these types of digital music players are usually geared toward use while exercising, when you simply want a distraction.
On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find MP3 players with full touch screens, letting you easily navigate between different artists and albums to find the songs you want to listen to.
A decent display screen and a good interface is essential when selecting an MP3 player that's simple to use and allows you to easily navigate to the songs you want to hear.
Durability is important. Our expert, Matt, states that one of the most important things to consider is "will the MP3 player work for long periods of time and how durable or long-lasting will the product be in general?"
If you want an MP3 player to use while exercising, we recommend a model with a built-in clip to easily attach to your waistband or collar.
Some MP3 players can also receive FM radio stations.
Look for MP3 players that allow you to increase the storage capacity by using an SD card.
Check what format your music files are in, and make sure your chosen MP3 player supports them. For instance, if you download music from iTunes, your songs will likely be AAC files, rather than MP3s.
If you can hook up your MP3 player to your car stereo, you'll never have to carry CDs in your car again.
You can find MP3 players so completely waterproof they're suitable for use while swimming.
You truly find an extreme range of prices in the MP3 player world.
A basic, 8GB model with not much of a screen (designed for listening to songs while exercising and not much else) can cost as little as $15 or $20, whereas a touchscreen model from a well-known brand can cost $200 to $300. And, on the highest end of the spectrum, a digital audio player designed with the best audio quality in mind can cost in excess of $600.
If you're only looking for a basic MP3 player and aren't concerned with high-end audio, touchscreens, Wi-Fi capability, and other extra features, you shouldn't have to pay more than $50.
Q. Can I hook up my MP3 player to my car stereo?
A. Yes, you can hook up your MP3 player to your car stereo to play music from your device through your car speakers. How you do this depends on both your MP3 player and your car stereo. If both your stereo and MP3 player are Bluetooth-capable, you can connect the two via Bluetooth and play music that way. If you have an old car stereo with a cassette player, you can get a special adaptor that plugs into the headphone jack input of your MP3 player and slots into the stereo's tape player. Or, if you have a newer stereo, it may have a 3.5mm jack input, in which case you can get a wire which connects that to the headphone jack on your MP3 player.
Q. How should I keep my MP3 player safe from damage?
A. Modern MP3 players are fairly durable, but it's still wise to look after them so they don't get damaged. Matt Ham gives some simple advice: "don’t let these devices get wet." Unless, of course, you have a waterproof model. Other than that, try not to drop them – most models will survive a moderate fall, but if it's constantly hitting the ground or drops from somewhere high, it could break. To protect your MP3 player from scratches while in your bag or pocket when not in use, consider getting a storage case or pouch.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.