The Best MP3 Players for 2023

The Best MP3 Players for 2023

$120 at Amazon

Mighty Vibe (currently unavailable)

Screenless Spotify option

Gone are the days of using a standalone MP3 player. They once dominated pop culture, but now almost no one needs one. Any iPhone or Android phone has an audio player that works with subscription music apps like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music and YouTube Music. You pay your $5 to $10 a month, and you get access to nearly every popular song ever recorded. Most tracks are downloadable, too, so you can listen to your music even when you leave a Wi-Fi or cellular coverage area. It’s quick, easy and convenient.

But maybe you think a subscription service isn’t for you. Maybe you’ve got one too many subscriptions already, so why pay for one more when you already have a music library of thousands of MP3 files sitting on your hard drive? Or maybe you’ve meticulously crafted iTunes playlists, like mixtapes of old, that you don’t want to re-create or transfer to another service. Maybe you have rare, one-off live tracks that don’t exist on mainstream services. (Phish fans, I’m looking at you.)

Now, if any of that applies to you, you still don’t need an MP3 player — your iPhone can still sync music files from iTunes (on Windows) or the Apple Music app (on Mac), and it probably has more storage space than your old iPod ever did. Android phones, too, can play whatever music files you can load them up with. But if you want a dedicated device for your music — or, maybe, a parentally curated set of songs to give to a kid who’s not ready for a phone — there are still MP3 device options out there. They’re not all great, and they generally come with some caveats. But if you’ve gotten this far, here’s what I can recommend, more than two decades after the iPod was first released. 

iPhone SE
Patrick Holland/CNET

The iPod Touch was the last dedicated music player in Apple’s lineup, but it was officially discontinued in May 2022. You can still find used models out there, but don’t expect them to be supported for much longer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip
Sarah Tew/CNET

These days, you can still get very basic music players on Amazon, but they’re nearly all from no-name China brands. (We tried one like this, and it was fine, but nothing special.) In the (distant) past, the tiny SanDisk Clip family of players were a serviceable option for basic music playback (so long as you’re well versed in the old school drag-and-drop method of file transfer). But some Amazon reviewers have criticized the later iteration of that model — the Clip Sport Plus — saying that its Bluetooth connection wasn’t up to snuff. If you want to go this route, you might want to stick with wired headphones, which will also enable FM radio playback. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Mighty Vibe is the closest modern equivalent to the iPod Shuffle, the screenless iPod that was beloved by runners for weighing next to nothing and just spooling off songs from their favorite playlist. (It’s also a great gadget loophole for sleepaway camps with “no screen” rules.) 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.

Other MP3 players

Yes, the products above are really the only ones I can recommend in this category with any degree of enthusiasm. But they aren’t the only options. If you’re looking for a bargain basement option (under $50), a serious high-end alternative (starting at $350 and going to four figures) or some interesting workarounds, read on. 

Swim-friendly option: Aftershockz OpenSwim



This 4GB “player in a headphone” model uses Aftershockz’s patented bone-conduction technology. It’s also fully waterproof, and retails for about $150. (Note that CNET hasn’t tested these hands-on.)

The budget hack: Any old smartphone



If you’ve got an old phone — or you buy a new one without service — you’ll have access to the full realm of app-based music services, and any music files you care to upload. Something like the $160-ish Samsung Galaxy A03S (shown above) fits the bill nicely, since you can drop in a MicroSD card that you’ve preloaded with tunes. 

High-end options: Sony Walkman, Astell & Kern

Sony NW-A306 Walkman

Sony is still making new Walkman models. 

Sony/Screenshot by CNET

Audiophiles have long looked down on digital music because the sound quality was notably inferior for golden-eared listeners with distinguishing tastes. But the development of lossless file formats (such as FLAC) and cheap ample multigigabyte storage have 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 on). We’ve used earlier versions of each brand, but not the current models. 

If you’re the sort of person who has hard drives full of uncompressed music audio files — and can hear the difference between that and comparatively low-resolution MP3 and AAC files — then, by all means, pair up one of those players with your wired headphone of choice. 

That said, nearly all of the streaming music services now offer lossless or high bitrate options — that’s nearly all the big players, from Tidal and Qobuz to Amazon and Apple. (Spotify HiFi, weirdly, remains a no-show.) 

If you like what you hear, consider upgrading to a decent headphone DAC (that’s “digital to analog converter”) like the Audiofly Dragonfly and a serious wired headphone. Then you’ll have a solid audiophile option that’s good for the road, without the need for a standalone music player.

Music lockers: YouTube Music and iTunes Match

If you’ve got a digital music collection that includes one-offs and live tracks that aren’t available on the mainstream services, you can upload them to online services, where they can live alongside subscription tracks and be shared among multiple devices (including smart speakers).

YouTube Music, formerly known as Google Play Music, offers this service at no additional cost for up to 100,000 tracks.

Apple users can opt for iTunes Match, which lets you upload your own digital music to live in tandem with Apple Music tracks. Once available for $24 a year, the service now appears to be bundled in as part of an Apple Music or Apple One subscription.

If you opt for either of these options, make sure you keep a local backup of your files, just in case these services go away.

Note that Amazon shuttered its “MP3 locker” service in 2018.

More audio recommendations


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