How to buy the best MP3 player

MP3 players

How to buy the best MP3 player

by Ben Stockton

Whether you're going for a run, travelling or relaxing at home, you should never be without your music. Our expert guide will help you pick the perfect MP3 player for you.

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The best MP3 players combine portability, impressive battery life, are easy to use and, of course, provide great sound quality. Apple is a big player; its range of iPods - from the mini but mighty Shuffle to the powerful Touch – dominate the market. Even so, companies such as Sony (with its popular Walkman range) and other brands continue to compete, releasing MP3 players geared for fitness or for top-quality listening.

Take a look at our MP3 player Best Buys page to see which models we recommend.

How much should I spend on an MP3 player?

MP3 players can cost as little as £30 and as much as 10 times that amount, but how much you should spend depends on exactly what you’re looking for. True audiophiles will be after a flawless listening experience on a device that can hold thousands of tunes.

Cheaper MP3 players tend to be small and simple to use, often arriving without a display. Apple's iPod Shuffle, for example, doesn't have a screen, which means users have tracks randomly selected for them to enjoy. Devices capable of playing video with Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity on board are generally much pricier, with more power and larger memories for these extra functions.

What makes a good MP3 player?

Depending on what you’re looking for, a good MP3 player may be one that's perfectly suited to use while running, or one that has lots of memory for playing music and video. Certain MP3 players feature handy clips that let you attach them to your clothing, so you can work out without the device falling out of your pocket.

Regardless of what you want from your MP3 player, the ideal device must always balance portability, ease of use and sound quality. That being said, it's possible to vastly improve the sound quality of the device simply by replacing the supplied headphones with a Best Buy set. Enjoying rock classics or jazz tracks with a top-rated set of headphones will take the listening experience up a gear.

Head over to our Best Buy headphones page to see our test lab's top performers.

Battery life

Battery life varies widely between MP3 players. Some can play nearly 65 hours of music on a single charge, while others run out after just five hours. The worst offenders are hard-drive-based players, especially those that play video, while flash-memory MP3 players are relatively energy-efficient as they have no moving parts.

We rigorously test each MP3 player that passes through our test lab, charging and discharging a device's battery to see how long you can listen for. Our MP3 player reviews page has the verdict on popular models from Apple and Sony.

Size and capacity

MP3 players are designed to be portable. Some are so tiny and lightweight that you can clip them to your clothing, while others are slim enough to slip easily into your pocket. Hard-drive MP3 players are larger and heavier than flash-memory players and can store more music. They can hold up to 320GB, which is roughly equivalent to around 80,000 songs. However, cheaper flash-memory MP3 players can store up to a respectable 64GB, equal to about 8,000 songs.

When picking out a new MP3 player, consider how much storage your music library is likely to use up. After all, there's not much point in paying for an MP3 player with lots of internal memory when you're unlikely to need it all.

Easy to use

Being stuck with an MP3 player that's hard to use and has limited controls is frustrating. If you want to see what’s playing and be able to move through your music collection to select a song, you’ll need a player with a screen and a good interface. Some MP3 players, such as the iPod Shuffle, have few physical controls and no screen.

Find the perfect MP3 player for you by heading over to our MP3 player reviews page.