Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for shopping guide for best music boxes

Dating back to the 18th century, music boxes were once a popular way to listen to music — until the gramophone came along. But music boxes still hold a certain kind of magic. Perhaps you're a collector of music boxes (or want to start a collection) or you have fond childhood memories of music boxes and would like to buy one for a child in your life.

Whatever the reason that you're searching for a music box, there's plenty to consider in order to find the right one. First off, do you want a compact music box that just plays a tune or a musical jewelry box with space for storage? You'll also need to decide what you want your music box to look like and what tune you'd like it to play.

You can find our full guide to music boxes below. We've also selected our top picks for music boxes for you to peruse.

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Music boxes can go out of tune if used heavily, but more costly models tend to be more rugged and stand up better to extensive use.

Key considerations

Music box vs. musical jewelry box

Some people assume that all music boxes are jewelry or trinket boxes that also play music, but this kind of music box is actually referred to as a musical jewelry box. Standard music boxes get their name because they're boxes that contain music-playing mechanisms, not because they function as boxes in the traditional sense.

So, do you want a music box or a musical jewelry box? A classic music box usually lets you see the mechanism inside, whereas it's often hidden in a musical jewelry box. It's also worth considering that the musical element is the main focus of a music box, while it’s more of an afterthought with a musical jewelry box. As such, classic music boxes often have more durable mechanisms that are less likely to go out of tune.


You can find music boxes in all kinds of materials. Here are a few of the more popular options:

  • Wood is perhaps the most common choice — it's sturdy yet inexpensive and can either be stained for a natural look or painted in any design.
  • Metal music boxes aren't especially common, but they have a classic appearance and are extremely sturdy.
  • Porcelain music boxes are often so ornate they're fragile, making them not the best choice for children.
  • Resin music boxes look similar to porcelain but are far more durable.


Check the dimensions of your chosen music box. Some are much smaller than they appear in the photo, unless there's another object for scale. Some music boxes are no more than a few inches long — just large enough to fit the mechanism inside and nothing more. On the other end of the spectrum, you can find large musical jewelry boxes measuring eight or nine inches on the longest side.


From understated to highly ornate, you can find music boxes in a wide range of styles. If you want something simple, you might like a varnished wood or unpainted metal music box. If you're more interested in antique ceramics or highly ornate items, you may prefer a porcelain, resin, or painted metal box. When buying for a child, look for music boxes featuring motifs such as animals, unicorns, characters from animated movies, or ballerinas.



The mechanism of a music box is important — without it, it would just be a box. Wind-up music boxes either have a winding key or a knob that turns to wind a spring. Then, when you open the lid, the spring releases and the tune starts to play. Other models have a lever on the side that you must crank continuously to work the mechanism and play the tune. Battery-powered music boxes are a modern advent. A battery motor powers the cylinder to make the music play. While this is more convenient than winding or cranking, you may feel as though you lose some of the magic of a music box with a battery-powered mechanism.

Tune played

One of the most important features of a music box is the tune it plays. You can find music boxes that play everything from Tchaikovsky's “Swan Lake” to the theme from Harry Potter to the Happy Birthday song. Some music boxes are available in several variations, so you can select the same design with a number of tune options, whereas others don't give you a choice of tune upon purchase.


Some music boxes have an option for personalization. A personalized music box is an excellent gift for a child.

Spinning figure

Musical jewelry boxes usually have a figure inside that spins when you open the box. Ballerinas are a common choice of figure, but you'll find a range of other options, such as mermaids, fairies, and unicorns, if you're not a fan of ballerinas.

"Some music boxes arrive in an attractive gift box, which is a bonus if you're buying a music box as a present. "

Music box prices

Inexpensive: Basic music boxes cost between $10 and $20. These are usually fairly compact with crank mechanisms and little embellishment. The mechanism may not be of the highest quality, so it can sometimes lose tuning easily.

Mid-range: For $20 to $50, you'll find a wide range of music boxes of all kinds of materials, from metal to resin to porcelain.

Expensive: High-end music boxes usually cost $50 to $100, but sometimes even more. These tend to be collector's items and are often quite ornate.


  • Think about who you're buying for when selecting a music box. If you're buying for yourself, you'll already know what you like. But otherwise, consider the interests of the recipient to help choose the perfect music box.
  • Decide whether you'd like the mechanism to show. Part of the joy of music boxes for some people is watching the mechanism work, so if it's hidden away, it could detract from the enjoyment of the piece.
  • Check whether your chosen music box has any small parts. This is only important if you're buying for a young child, as small, removable parts could pose a choking hazard.
  • Consider what you might like to put inside your music box. If it has any space for storage, check that your chosen box has room to accommodate the treasures you want to keep inside.
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It can take some time to find a combination of a box that you like the look of and a tune that you enjoy — keep searching and you're sure to stumble upon the perfect pairing.


Q. What does it mean if a music box is officially licensed?
Music boxes often play traditional classical pieces of music, since they're in the public domain and can be used without paying any royalties. If a music box manufacturer uses songs that aren't in the public domain, they must pay a fee to the person who owns the rights to the song — this is what it means to be officially licensed. Manufacturers who wish to cut costs will often slightly alter a famous song or piece of music so that they don't need to pay royalties, which may leave you disappointed.

Q. How durable are music boxes?
Of course, some music boxes are more durable than others (a metal box is much less likely to be damaged than a porcelain one, for example) but we wouldn't exactly call any of them rugged. The music-playing mechanism is fairly delicate, so a fall could damage it.

Q. How do music boxes work?
Music boxes feature a turning cylinder with raised "pins" on its surface and a stationary "comb" with a number of prongs. As the cylinder turns (either due to a crank, a wind-up mechanism, or a battery), each pin knocks against the corresponding prong of the comb, producing a musical note. The pins are arranged in such a way that the individual notes come together to make a song.

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