MP3 players: How to buy the best MP3 player

MP3 players are a convenient way to play your music and video while on the move. The best MP3 players are small and lightweight, yet have tons of storage so you can carry a good portion of your music collection with you.

Apple’s iPod range continues to dominate the MP3 player market - each year, Apple sells more iPods than all other brands of MP3 player put together.

The Apple iPod range

The iPod family

The Apple iPod range - Touch, Nano and Shuffle

A quick look at Apple’s iPod range reveals why they are so popular – there is a wide selection of iPods on offer to suit different needs, and you can pick up a basic player from £40 upwards.

  • iPod shuffle (fourth generation 2GB, £40) – the world’s smallest MP3 player, the iPod shuffle is perfect if you want simple music playback.
  • iPod nano (seventh generation, 16GB, £129) – the world’s most popular music player.
  • iPod touch (fifth generation, 16GB, £159; 32GB, £199; 64GB, £249) – thinner, lighter and more powerful than the previous model, this iPod touch has a 4-inch Retina display and packs more features than the other iPods.

iPods are easy to use, offer excellent sound and Apple’s iTunes store has the largest selection of legal digital content on the web.

But Apple is not the only MP3 player brand worth considering. There are plenty of MP3 players available from companies such as Archos, Creative, Microsoft, Philips, Samsung, Sony and SanDisk. Non-Apple MP3 players are usually cheaper than iPods with comparable capacity, and often have features that iPods lack, such as an FM radio.

Read the Which? MP3 player Best Buy reviews so you can choose the best MP3 player for you.

What makes a good MP3 player?

  • Great sound quality – while a smartphone can do double duty as an MP3 player, a dedicated MP3 player offers far better sound quality and more storage. That said, the headphones supplied with your MP3 player are likely to be of poor quality. Adding a decent pair of headphones will make a real difference when listening to an MP3 player.

Which? has tested over 50 sets of headphones, rating everything from sound quality and comfort to sound leakage and durability. We’ve found that price is no guarantee of audio quality – you can spend almost £400 on headphones, but you can pick up a Best Buy set for under £40. To choose the best headphones for you, read our expert headphone reviews.

content MP3 player lifestyle
  • Long-lasting battery – battery life varies widely between MP3 players. Some MP3 players 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. Which? tests MP3 player battery life so you’re not caught out by poor battery performance.
  • Size and capacity – MP3 players are designed to be portable. Some are so tiny and lightweight you can clip them to your belt, while others are slim enough to slip easily into a pocket. Hard drive MP3 players are larger and heavier than flash memory MP3 players and can store more music. They can hold up to 320GB - around 80,000 songs. However, cheaper flash memory MP3 players can store up to a respectable 64GB (about 8,000 songs).
  • Easy to use – one of the biggest frustrations is being landed with an MP3 player that's hard to use and has limited controls. If you want to see what’s playing and be able to move through your music collection to select a song, then 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.
  • Video – most MP3 players can play video, but small screens make viewing a chore. Opt for an MP3 player with a larger screen and check the viewing angle. Consider how easy it is to navigate and add new videos, and note the video formats the player supports. Video files take up more space than audio, so look for a large capacity player if watching videos is important to you.
  • Additional features – other useful additions to look for include FM radio, a voice recorder, an alarm clock and a calendar, along with the ability to store and view photos and video.

What type of MP3 player should I buy?

  • Ultra-portable – a small, lightweight and cheap MP3 player is perfect for the gym or when you’re out jogging. Typically, this will be flash memory player as hard drive models don't cope as well with being bounced around and can suffer from music skipping.

Use our reviews to compare ultra-portable MP3 players.

MP3 player video
  • Large memory – if you have a huge music collection and need full on-the-go access to it, choose an MP3 player with plenty of storage. Traditionally, this would mean looking for a hard drive-based player, but some flash memory MP3 players can also provide a decent amount of storage.

Take a look at MP3 players with large storage capacity.

  • All-rounder – if you’re looking for an all-rounder for the daily commute, aim for a player that has a minimum storage capacity of 16GB - enough for 7,000 songs - and is very light to carry around. You'll also want it to be easy to use, so you can easily control file playback and navigate the menu structure without confusion.

Here are the Which? recommended MP3 players with a high ease of use rating.

  • Multi-media player – if you want to view photos, surf the internet, play games or watch movies and TV shows, look for a MP3 player with a large, high-resolution screen and plenty of storage capacity.

Discover MP3 players that support video as well as audio.

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