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How to buy the best MP3 player

By Oliver Trebilcock

Apple iPod or Sony Walkman? Our expert MP3 player reviews will help you pick the perfect device for you.

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Looking for a device to store your favourite albums on? 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, Sony's Walkman range serves as an alternative, and other brands continue to compete, releasing MP3 players geared for fitness or top-quality listening.

Head over to our Best Buy MP3 players page to see which top-rated models from big-name brands we recommend.

How much should I spend on an MP3 player?

MP3 players can cost as little as £30 and over 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, and our tests prove you don't need to break the bank for a great device. In fact, our testing shows you'll only need to spend around £100 to land yourself a Best Buy device.

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 you'll have tracks randomly selected for you 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.

For a closer look at the differences between Apple and Sony MP3 players, see our Apple iPod vs Walkman guide.

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 Sony MP3 players incorporate the music player into a headset, which makes them ideal for gym fanatics. Other devices feature handy clips that let you attach them to your clothing, so you can work out without the gadget 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. See our headphone reviews page for top models to pair with your MP3 player.

If you're ready to buy an MP3 player, head over to our guide on the best MP3 players of 2017.

Waterproof MP3 players

If you enjoy the great outdoors and want to listen to your tunes in the rain, you'll be looking for a waterproof MP3 player. Although new MP3 player releases are less frequent than years gone by, there are still a range of durable models to consider. Unfortunately, the Apple iPod range doesn't feature any waterproof models right now, so iOS fans are out of luck.

We've had various MP3 players in our test lab that can survive a splash or two, however, including the Sony NWZ-W273S and Sony SSE-BTR1 waterproof headsets featuring built-in MP3 players. Our MP3 player reviews page has more details.

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, like the Apple iPod Shuffle, 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 heavier than flash-memory players and can store more music, but are usually less portable. They can hold up to 320GB of music, 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.

MP3 players with Bluetooth

If you decide to buy an MP3 player with Bluetooth, you'll be able to wirelessly connect it with other devices. Bluetooth-equipped MP3 players can be paired with external speakers, for example, so you won't need to search the house for cables. With Bluetooth you can also make the most of a pair of wireless headphones, or connect your MP3 player so that it plays songs through your car stereo.

Easy to use

Being stuck with an MP3 player that's hard to use 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 device with a screen and a good interface. Some MP3 players have few physical controls and no screen, while others have impressed enough in our test lab to be awarded Best Buy status.

Our MP3 player reviews page will help you find the perfect MP3 player for you.


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