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 with more iPods sold each year than all other brands of MP3 players 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 Classic (sixth generation, 160GB £199) – has the largest memory of the iPod range
  • iPod Touch (fourth generation, 16GB £169 or 32GB £199) – with lots of features and a battery life of up to 40 hours of music playback, the iPod Touch fourth generation is a popular choice.
  • iPod Touch (fifth generation, 32GB £249 or 64GB £329) – thinner, lighter and more powerful than the previous model, this iPod Touch has a 4-inch Retina display and packs the most features of the iPod range.

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 buy the best MP3 player for you.

What makes a good MP3 player?

  • Great sound quality – Although 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 that come 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 – it's possible to spend almost £400 on headphones, but you can pick up a Best Buy set for less than £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 portable. Some are so tiny and lightweight you can clip them to your belt. 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 have storage up to a respectable 64GB (about 8,000 songs).
  • Easy to use – One of the biggest frustrations is how easy an MP3 player is to use and what controls it offers. 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. Other 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.
  • Additional features – Other useful additions to look for include a FM radio, a voice recorder, an alarm clock and 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 cope less well with being bounced around and can suffer from music skipping. 
    For more information on ultraportable MP3 players.
    MP3 player video
  • Large memory – If you’ve a huge music collection that you need full access to while on the go, 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 also want a high ease of use; to be able to control the file playback easily and navigate the menu structure without it being too confusing. 
    Here are the Which? recommended MP3 players with a high ease of use.
  • 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 and audio.

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