Although streaming music is increasingly accessible, music files remain a debatably superior format. There’s no need for an internet or data connection. Whereas streaming music is a bit of a black box, quality is clear when using FLAC files for instance. After all, streaming comes with its pros and cons.
While standalone MP3 players are less prevalent than in their heyday, these gadgets do exist. Learn about the best standalone MP3 players in 2017 and why you should buy one.
Why Buy an MP3 Player?
You’re probably wondering why you should even buy an MP3 player. Didn’t the inventors of that once-groundbreaking file format recently declare it dead? Note that while the license has been terminated and there are better file formats for quality and efficiency, the MP3 is not “dead.”
Moreover, can’t you simply use your phone? Sure, but mp3 players are usually compatible with a variety of file formats. This includes my favorite, FLAC. I prefer my vinyl rips formatted as FLAC files. Yes, you can use your phone. But there are loads of scenarios when a standalone MP3 player possesses advantages.
If you work out with music, an MP3 player is an excellent means of ensuring you don’t damage your smartphone. On top of that, many phones (I’m looking at you Apple) lack expandable memory. If you’re like me, your hefty collection of FLAC vinyl rips won’t fit on your phone. File compatibility is another major selling point of standalone MP3 players. iOS devices don’t support native FLAC playback. For those wondering whether to buy an MP3 player, consider their advantages like ruggedness, lightweight design, and conservation of your smartphone battery.
Best Low Budget MP3 Players
For a tiny device, the Sansa Clip Sport packs a punch. With a full-color screen, 4 GB or 8 GB of internal memory, and a microSD card slot, it’s a versatile player. Adding to its robust feature set, the SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip plays any file format you throw at it: MP3, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC. There’s AAC support for DRM-free music, and you can even play secure WMA files. On top of that, the Clip Sport includes a smattering of extras, such as FM radio and a stopwatch.
Unfortunately, compared to the discontinued Sansa Clip Zip, SanDisk’s follow up products didn’t impress as much. For example, both the Clip Sport and the Clip Jam (UK) lack seemingly basic features. Notably, you’ll find a lower file limit on the Clip Sport and Jam. They’re capped at 2,000 songs from both internal and external storage. This is a hardware limitation, not a software limitation.
There is a workaround of using the file browser rather than the database for navigation. Further, unlike on previous models, the Jam and Sport don’t combine the contents of internal and external storage. I sometimes use my Samsung Galaxy S4 for running, paired with my PowerBeats 2 Bluetooth headphones. But my SanDisk Clip Zip is excellent for working out. If I drop a dumbbell on it, the Clip Zip is less expensive to replace than buying an off-contract Android. I like the small size, Rockbox compatibility, and FLAC support for my numerous vinyl rips.
- Wide file type support
- Small form factor
- Full-color screen
- 4-8 GB internal memory
- Expandable memory
- Rockbox support
- FM radio
- Plasticky build
AGPtEK M20S ($30/£24.99)
The AGPtEK M20S is a solid MP3 player with great build quality and file support. Its metal body is sturdy and sports a premium feel. In addition to its 8 GB of built-in memory, there’s a microSD expansion slot. Supported file formats include MP3, WMA, APE, OGG, FLAC, WAV, and AAC. Navigation is intuitive with a combination of excellent software and hardware, the AGPtEK M20S is a spectacular standalone MP3 player.
Boasting long battery life of up to 14 hours, the M20S stays functional through lots of continuous use. Additionally, you’ll find an FM radio onboard. While most reviewers praised the AGPtEK M20S, a few users found the M20S touchscreen too small. Furthermore, documentation is pretty barebones according to Amazon reviews. But for $30, you get an MP3 player with metal accents, a touchscreen, FM radio, and microSD card slot. That’s a pretty phenomenal value, and the AGPtEK M20S, therefore, makes an awesome gym-worthy standalone MP3 player.
- Great build quality
- 8 GB internal memory
- microSD expansion
- Lots of file compatibility
- FM radio
- Small screen
- Poor documentation
MP3 Players for a Medium Budget
At a mere $100, the Fiio X1 is a phenomenal value. This standalone MP3 player includes Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. There’s a smart in-vehicle mode with power sensing that bridges the X1 with your vehicle’s audio system.
The X1’s exceptional sound quality sets it apart from competitors. You’ll find support for lossless music formats such as APE, WAV, FLAC, WMA, and ALAC. Plus, the X1 gets graced with a higher SNR than the previous X1 iteration. There are a full differential line output and microSD card slot. But as opposed to most standalone MP3 players, the FiiO X1 lacks built-in storage, so you’ll absolutely need external storage.
CNET noted in its review that the X1 is a high-performing and great looking standalone MP3 player. Emulating the form factor of the Apple iPod Classic, it’s a more open device with better file compatibility. Further, the X1 comes packaged with a smattering of accessories. You’ll find a silicone case and charging cable standard. The FiiO X3-II (UK) costs a bit more but appeals more toward dedicated audiophiles with its dual crystal oscillators and Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC.
- Great file compatibility
- microSD expansion
- Excellent form factor
- Includes case
- Limited connectivity
- No internal storage
Cowon M2 32GB ($140/£139)
Cowon is a name synonymous with excellent audio quality. The M2 delivers a premium experience. You’ll find 32 GB of built-in storage as well as a microSD card slot for additional storage. Plus, there’s a 2.8-inch touchscreen and a whopping 90 hours of battery life. However, for video battery life drops to 13 hours.
On the downside, users note that the Cowon M2 show its age. The resistive screen and clunky user interface detract slightly from the experience. It’s obvious you aren’t using a premium Android or iOS device. You might consider the Cowon Z2. This 32 GB player features an outdated operating system. But the typical Cowon superb sound quality with either the M2 or Z2 compensates for the lackluster screen and UI. Moreover, the M2 sports a better user experience than players like the Clip Zip.
- 32 GB internal memory
- microSD expansion
- 90-hour battery life
- Plays video
- Outdated UI
- Resistive touchscreen
MP3 Players for a High Budget
The PonoPlayer is not only a superb sounding device, it’s one of the most unique looking standalone MP3 players. With its triangular shape and minimal controls, the PonoPlayer is a fantastic, gorgeous device. Plus, there’s wide codec compatibility. This ensures it’s suited for audiophiles. For those with headphones that use a balanced mode, sound quality is vastly improved.
But CNET found the PonoPlayer battery life less than average. Moreover, while the triangle form factor is unique, it’s cumbersome to hold and store. There’s 64 GB of onboard storage plus a microSD card slot. The price seems high considering its lack of Wi-Fi ad Bluetooth. However, its exceptional sound quality and ability to work in balanced mode with amps and headphones make the PhonPlayer the best bet for true audiophiles.
- Great file compatibility
- Unique shape
- Works in balanced mode
- Fantastic sound quality
- Poor battery life
- Awkward to hold and store
- No Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
Sony once ruled the portable music landscape with its Walkman CD players. Although digital music since eclipsed CDs, Sony continues to manufacture spectacular portable music players. Its Walkman A series NW-A35 is a solid player with a great sound profile. Included is a full amplifier for high-resolution sound. The headphone output is capable of pumping out 3.5 times more than conventional headphone jacks.
The NW-A35 features an LDAC for wireless playback and upconversion of compressed audio files. If you want the best Sony Walkman standalone MP3 player available, there’s always the NWZX2BLK 128 GB music player. Unfortunately, while it’s a well-endowed portable music player, it’s tough to justify the cost: $1,198.
- Great sound quality
- Excellent file compatibility
- Full amplifier
- Large screen
- Poor real-world battery life
- Lacking instruction manual
Hear Me Out: Best MP3 Players
Whether as a backup, gym-worthy device, or audiophile-quality music player, a standalone MP3 player is far from outdated. It’s common, if not universal, for current dedicated MP3 players to sport lossless file playback. Though a standalone music player may seem redundant, it’s actually a fantastic complement to your phone.
If you are using your phone, consider the surprisingly competent Google Play Music app. But Samsung owners will benefit from a better Google Play Music experience. While I often use my phone, it’s great having my Sansa Clip Zip for the gym, or just when I’m on the go and want to conserve battery power.
Which standalone MP3 players do you recommend?
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