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How we test MP3 players

By Oliver Trebilcock

Discover how we test MP3 players for sound quality, portability and ease of use to find the Best Buy models we recommend.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Watch the video above to find out how we uncover the best MP3 players you can buy and discover which are best avoided.

Whether you're looking for an MP3 player with great audio quality, one that can play videos or simply a device that's easy to use, we test each model under various conditions so you don't have to.

We examine everything that matters, from how long an MP3 player's battery lasts when you're listening on the go, to how easily you can skip between tracks, regardless of brand or price. Our expert, independent reviews will help you pick an MP3 player that delivers top-notch audio, ideal for listening to your favourite podcast, jazz track or rock anthem.

Our MP3 player reviews answer the most crucial questions, including:

  • What’s the sound quality like?
  • How easy is it to use?
  • How portable is it?
  • What’s the battery life like?
  • Should I buy it?

To see in-depth verdicts of all the models we've put through our tough tests, head to our MP3 player reviews.

What's the sound quality like?

During our testing, a panel of audio experts listen to an MP3 player through the supplied headphones and a pair of known high-quality headphones too. They carefully study the sound quality provided across a range of genres and speech, providing fantastic insight into the overall performance of each of the devices. We also check for sound leakage from the supplied headphones to understand how much, if any, noise escapes to bother people around you. This is known as the ‘tube test', and it lets us spot which MP3 players are perfectly suited to your morning commute.

How easy is it to use?

However good an MP3 player sounds, it's not going to be worth buying if it's difficult to use. MP3 players that score poorly in our ease-of-use tests tend to suffer from a common list of problems: poor displays, badly arranged keys and long upload and download times when transferring files from your PC to your device. The best MP3 players to pass through our test lab don't take long to set up, and using them on a daily basis is hassle-free.

Our unique and rigorous tests weed out any hard-to-use MP3 players, so you won’t be left dealing with confusing instructions and counterintuitive menus, or wasting time waiting for files to transfer from one device to another.

How portable is it?

You’ll struggle to find an MP3 player larger than pocket-sized, but it's not just the dimensions that determine how portable a device is. We thoroughly test each MP3 player in our lab to ensure it's as comfortable to use on the train as it is during a morning run through the park. How effectively an MP3 player can be attached to an item of clothing is also considered when picking out a Best Buy.

What’s the battery life like?

After we've charged and discharged an MP3 player's battery several times, we charge it fully, load the device with 20 tracks and set them to play continuously. By doing so, our experts can measure the length of playing time you get from the MP3 player. When it comes to picking out a new MP3 player, you'll want to be sure that the device you walk away with can last several hours at a time, so you won't be looking around for the nearest plug socket too soon.

We also take a close look at how long it takes to recharge every device we review. There's around a 46-hour difference in battery life between the best and worst MP3 players when playing music, and our tests help you stay away from the bad models.

The Which? difference

We test MP3 players of all types, shapes and prices - from budget models to premium releases. Our MP3 player reviews cover popular choices from Sony's Walkman range, along with Apple's iPod Touch, iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle.

Nobody tests MP3 players as thoroughly as we do, and our experts are committed to putting each and every device in the test lab through its paces.

The score an MP3 player needs to earn to be considered a Which? Best Buy

Should I buy it?

The performance of an MP3 player in all aspects of our testing determines the overall score awarded. But as some elements are more important than others, they carry different weights. Below is a breakdown of what makes up our test score:

  • 60% sound
  • 20% ease of use
  • 10% performance
  • 10% features

An MP3 player has to achieve 70% or more to earn our Best Buy recommendation, and anything scoring below 40% is highlighted as a Don't Buy we think you should avoid.


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