Who needs a standalone MP3 player in 2022? In my opinion, the answer is “almost nobody”. Any iPhone or Android phone is an audio player that workssuch as Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music or YouTube Music. You pay $5 to $10 a month and get access to almost every popular song ever recorded. And songs are also downloadable, so you can listen to music even when you’re out of Wi-Fi or cellular coverage. It’s quick, easy and convenient. What you dont like?
“A lot,” I hear some of you say. Maybe you have, so why pay for one more when you already have a music library of thousands of MP3 files on your hard drive? Meanwhile, some of you have carefully created iTunes playlists, such as mixtapes of old tapes that you don’t want to recreate or or rare, one-off live tracks that don’t exist on mainstream services. (Phish fans, I’m looking at you.)
Truth be told, if any of this applies to you, you still you don’t need an MP3 player—your iPhone can still sync music files from iTunes (on Windows) or Apple Music (on Mac), and it probably has more storage space than your old iPod. Also, Android phones can play any music files you can upload them to. But if you really want a dedicated device for your music—or maybe a parenting set to give to a kid who isn’t ready for a phone—there are still MP3 device options. Not all of them are great and generally come with some caveats. But if you’ve made it this far, here’s what I can recommend, more than two decades after the iPod was first released.
The iPod Touch was the last dedicated music player in Apple’s lineup, but it was officially discontinued in May 2022. You’ll still find used models out there, but don’t expect them to be supported much longer.
What to do instead? Get a used iPhone or a new iPhone SE — and use it only on Wi-Fi. The latter will cost you about $429 all-in (for 64GB of storage), but you’ll get a device that can run the latest version of iOS and can download music from iTunes (on Windows) or Apple Music (on Mac). It works seamlessly with Bluetooth headphones and speakers, but you’ll need an annoying Lightning adapter to use old-school headphones. And since it has an App Store, you can also opt for alternative services like Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube and the like (if you have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot) in addition to or instead of the Apple Music app. .
Yes, that’s too much to pay for a “music player” in my book. But it’s the most capable and flexible option out there, especially for those already in the Apple services universe — or refusing to abandon their iTunes-based MP3 library. It’s also a nice backup portable MP3 player option for kids if you don’t want to spend on an iPad that starts at $300 and isn’t pocketable.
Once upon a time, people used to strap iPod Nanos to their wrists and call it a sort of Apple Watch.
These days, the actual Apple Watch can act as an iPod of sorts, at least for Apple Music subscribers. Just sync some playlists to your watch and you can enjoy digital music (not to mention podcasts) on a set of wireless headphones even when your iPhone isn’t anywhere near.
The Mighty Vibe is the closest modern equivalent to the iPod Shuffle, the screenless iPod that runners have come to love because it weighs next to nothing and just plays songs from their favorite playlist. (It’s also a great gadget gap for the sleepy no-screen-rules camps.) The catch is that this model only works with Spotify Premium and (thanks to a recent firmware update) Amazon Music, both of which can be synced wirelessly.
The Vibe can store up to 1,000 songs in its music library and – unlike the old Shuffle – supports both wireless and wired headphones. However, it charges via the headphone jack using a proprietary cable, rather than the ubiquitous micro-USB or USB-C connectors. The five-hour battery life is about right, as is the $100 price (up from $90 recently), which seems more than you want to pay for this MP3 device in an era of $30 wireless headphones and $200 smartphones.
Read our Mighty Vibe Spotify music player review.
Other MP3 players
Yes, the above products are really the only ones I can recommend in this category with any degree of enthusiasm. But they are not the only options. If you’re looking for a bargain basement option (under $50), a serious high-end alternative (from $350 to four figures), or some interesting solutions, read on.
Microplayer for runners: SanDisk Clip
In the (distant) past, the small family of SanDisk Clip players were a useful option for basic music playback (if you were well versed in the old-school method of dragging and dropping files). However, some Amazon reviewers criticized a later iteration of this model – the Clip Sport Plus – claiming that its Bluetooth connectivity wasn’t up to snuff. If you want to go that route, you might want to stick with wired headphones.
Swimming option: Aftershockz Xtrainerz
This 4GB “headphone player” model uses Aftershockz’s patented bone conduction technology. It’s also fully waterproof and retails for around $150. (Note that CNET didn’t test these practical features.)
Budget hack: Any old smartphone
If you have an old phone – or buy a new one without service – you’ll have access to a whole range of app-based music services and any music files you want to upload. Something like the $180 Samsung Galaxy A03S (shown above) lends itself to this because you can insert a MicroSD card that you’ve pre-loaded with tunes.
Top options: Astell & Kern and Sony Walkman
Audiophiles have long looked down on digital music because the sound quality was significantly inferior to listeners with golden ears of different tastes. But the development of lossless file formats (such as FLAC) and cheap, large, multi-gigabyte storage made portable high-fidelity music a reality.
At this point, there are really only two major players in the high-end portable music space: Astell & Kern and Sony (where the Walkman brand still lives). I used older versions of each brand, but not the current models.
they start at $350.
they start at $749.
If you’re the type of person who has hard drives full of uncompressed music audio files—and can hear the difference between that and relatively low-res MP3 and AAC files—then by all means pair one of these players with the wired headphones of your choice.
This means that almost all streaming music services now offer lossless or high-bitrate options – that’s almost all the big players, from Tidal and Qobuz to Amazon and Apple. (strangely remains a no-show.)
If you like what you hear, consider upgrading to a(that’s “digital to analog converter”) like and serious wired headphones. Then you’ll have a solid audiophile option that’s good for the road without the need for a separate music player.
Music Boxes: YouTube Music and iTunes Match
If you have a digital music collection that includes one-offs and live tracks that aren’t available on mainstream services, you can upload them to online services where they can live alongside your subscription tracks and be shared between multiple devices (including smart speakers).
YouTube Music, formerly known as Google Play Music, offers this service for up to 100,000 songs at no additional charge.
Apple users can opt for iTunes Match, which allows you to upload your own digital music and live in tandem with Apple Music tracks. It costs $24 a year, which is more than the price of Apple Music.
If you choose either of these options, make sure you keep a local backup of your files in case these services disappear.
Note that Amazon.