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Audio

Best MP3 Player

The proliferation of MP3's as the preferred method for enjoying our favorite music has made the compact disc all but obsolete. Much like the way the audio cassette was phased out by that bright and shiny new CD; MP3's are the latest advancement in technology and, therefore, all the major manufacturers are offering their own versions of the MP3 player. These mobile devices come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but they all have a few core commonalities. They're built to be portable, lightweight and easy to carry with you on the go. They have varied storage capacities to hold hours upon hours (and in some cases, days) worth of songs.

Many of these devices can play various file formats beyond just MP3's and some of them can even play movies as well. There are players for every budget, some are available for as low as around $30 while others can get rather pricey; and there are players for every lifestyle, whether you want one to have with you on the way to work in the mornings or you need a player for jogging or swimming laps (that's right, there are waterproof players you can have in the pool). The bottom line is, if you're in the market for a good MP3 player we've found the best ones you can buy at any price. 

Apple iPod Nano 16GB Space Gray (7th Generation)

The iPod Nano is now in its seventh generation; thinner and sleeker than ever. Equipped with 16 GB of storage capacity, it can play MP3's, AAC's, and WMV's among many others. It has a 2.5 inch touch display with buttons that let you control all of your sound files. When you're playing music, you can access songs through the easy-to-navigate menus. Or, just shake the unit and it will randomly shuffle to another track in the library.

Apple's App Store and iTunes let you pick and choose games, songs, podcasts, TV episodes and movies all to enjoy on the Nano. You can also hook up wireless headphones through Bluetooth and even sync up your playlists with any Bluetooth enabled car audio system.

Cowon Z2-32BL 3.7" AMOLED 800 x 480 Capacitive Touchscreen MP3 Player

Weighing in at just about four ounces the Z2 is certainly lightweight enough to take with you and the diminutive 4.5 inch high measurement makes it compact for storage in any pocket. Now that we've got the size requirements down, you may be wondering how it sounds. In an answer, excellent.

Cowon's player has been designed to address some of the audio issues you've come to expect from MP3 files, namely compression and the resulting loss of sound quality from the format. But with the Z2's JetEffect5 audio technology, your files are restored to their original fidelity so you're no longer missing any aspects of your true sound. To further enhance your music, Cowon has equipped the player with nine reverb settings to adjust the acoustic levels of your music. A five-band equalizer lets you tweak the bass and treble precisely the way you prefer.

Storage-wise, the Z2 comes with 16GB but is expandable to 32 and you'll get up to 18 hours of music playback on a single charge of the battery (which takes about three hours to get back to full power). Wi-Fi capability lets you access the Internet to download apps, music, and movies. Best of all, the Z2 plays more than just MP3's, allowing you the ability to view photos, play movies, listen to FM radio and even record files.

Apple iPod Shuffle 2GB MP3 Player

The Shuffle is so small, there's no screen and on previous models there weren't many buttons either. The unit controlled the music for you by shuffling randomly without any rhyme or reason. But now the unit comes equipped with a clickable control pad that lets you play, pause, and skip to your heart's content.

Since there's no display for track or artist information, Apple came up with a voice-over option that tells you the name of the song you're listening to and the name of the band playing. You can access this feature at any time, with a dedicated button along the side of the tiny unit.

Battery life can extend close to an advertised 15 hours but that varies depending upon the length of your songs from track to track. The Shuffle is so small you may fear you could easily lose it but don't worry, it comes with a small clip so you can attach it to your clothing or bag.

SanDisk SDMX22-004G-A57K Sansa Clip Zip 4 GB

This simple little MP3 player fits easily in the palm of your hand while storing 8 GB of audio files that include MP3's, WMA's both protected and otherwise, FLAC's, Ogg's and more. You may be thinking 8 GB isn't all that great compared to the other options on our list and you'd make a good point. However, this unit has a microSD slot to boost this small unit up to 32 GB of files.

A simple user interface lets you navigate through your files easily, and it comes with a whole bunch of unique (and in some cases), strange features such as FM radio, a stopwatch, a voice recorder and file access to an inserted storage card when applicable.

Sound quality is better than expected for a unit of this size and price point with clear, detailed music reproduction, but find a better headphones to listen with here. The ones that come with it could definitely use some improvement.

Speedo Aquabeat 2.0 4GB MP3

You might be questioning the quality of an MP3 player from a company known for swimming caps and too-tiny swimsuits. However, the Aquabeat 2.0 is compact and lightweight enough to bring along on the boat or while you're swimming laps.

With a name like Aquabeat you'd certainly expect the unit to be waterproof, and this one can handle submersion to three meters in depth. The device has been designed to be worn while you're swimming, so you have music during laps around the pool. But it's tiny enough for use anywhere and with 4 GB of storage you'll have plenty of music files to enjoy no matter where you may find yourself.

If you're sick and tired of your playlist, you can listen to FM radio in addition to podcasts and audio books. You don't have Wi-Fi here or apps you can download, but transferring music files is super simple, just hook the player up to any PC through its USB port and you're ready to go. It even supports and recognizes a whole list of file formats including WMA, AAC, and DRM. You can also transfer your music on there from iTunes, but you'll need to convert your files first. For a retail price of around $60, you're getting a great little player even if it doesn't do it all.

SanDisk Sansa Clip Plus 4GB Black MP3 Player

Weighing under one ounce, the SanDisk Sansa Clip+ puts thousands of hours of audio in the palm of your hand. Available in 2, 4 and 8 GB storage sizes, the Clip+ can hold up to 2500 songs depending upon overall track length. But if that's not enough for you, the unit comes with an expandable memory card slot for up to 32 GB of audio files.

It doesn't matter what type of format you favor either, as this one plays MP3, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC files for more versatility and ease of use. The bright Organic LED display makes navigating through your playlists a cinch, using a similar interface to Apple's original iPod. Menus scroll through playlists and songs are simple to access with a directional pad that provides all of the controls you need to get the music flowing.

The Sansa also comes with an FM radio tuner that allows you to pre-set up to 40 stations, in case you're looking to change things up a little from your usual playlist options. Battery life is far less than the advertised 15 hours of continuous play, but respectable nonetheless at a more realistic 10-11 hours.

Philips GoGear Raga 4 GB MP3 Player

The GoGear Raga has Philips' FullSound technology which makes your audio sound bigger, fuller and richer at both the low and high ends with the company's latest Digital Signal Processing chip. They use that to cut down on distortion in order to keep your music crisp and clear no matter what genre you're listening to. Bass bumps without crunchy distortion and the highs are sharp.

The Raga offers four GB of storage to accommodate your audio library's needs, supporting five different file formats: MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, and APE. You also get Songbird installed in the unit, a program that lets you find new music and sync it up to your device from the Internet. A full color 1.8 inch LED screen lets you see photos and navigate menus to locate your songs and playlists in a folder system that looks and responds like the display on your PC computer.

The Raga will play up to 22 hours of music on one single charge or you can turn on the FM tuner for access to every station on the dial. One other cool little feature on the Raga, is a voice recorder that enables your player to act as a dictation machine, able to record anything you need to remember at a moment's notice.

Sony Walkman NWZ-E383BLK 4GB MP3 Player

The Sony Walkman. How many of you remember that old chestnut? Well, Sony has brought their beloved brand into the technological present with this mp3 player that is sleek, compact, and equipped with a 4 GB capacity. You can store up to 30 hours of music or four hours of video on this device, while the digital FM tuner lets you play FM radio and gives you 30 presets to store your favorite stations.

The Walkman supports MP3, WMA, AAC-LC and L-PCM files and video plays back on the unit's 1.77-inch LCD display that provides a full-color, crisp picture at 128 x 160 resolution for photos, video and cover album art while audio is played. Sound quality here is about what you'd expect from a Sony product; rich, full-bodied and crystal clear. The battery charges quickly as well, taking just two hours for a full charge through a USB connection.

Apple iPod Shuffle 2GB MP3 Player

The Shuffle is so small, there's no screen and on previous models there weren't many buttons either. The unit controlled the music for you by shuffling randomly without any rhyme or reason. But now the unit comes equipped with a clickable control pad that lets you play, pause, and skip to your heart's content.

Since there's no display for track or artist information, Apple came up with a voice-over option that tells you the name of the song you're listening to and the name of the band playing. You can access this feature at any time, with a dedicated button along the side of the tiny unit.

Battery life can extend close to an advertised 15 hours but that varies depending upon the length of your songs from track to track. The Shuffle is so small you may fear you could easily lose it but don't worry, it comes with a small clip so you can attach it to your clothing or bag.

Riptunes MP1857 2GB MP3 and Video Player,1.8" Full Color Display

It's not the fastest media player around but it does boast 2 GB of storage capacity, which easily allows you to store over 1000 songs on there. The MP1857 recognizes a nice lineup of file formats, including MP3, WMA, AVI, JPG, GIF, and others, all easily read with more functionality then you might expect in a product at this price point.

It plays your music, displays photos, plays video on a small 1.8 inch color display capable of up to 128 x 160 resolution, and there's also an e-Book reader if you want to bring your favorite literature with you. Again, that display is pretty tiny, so this one might be best used for music above all else. There's also a voice recorder to take down audio notes anywhere you happen to come up with that one of a kind brilliant idea or you remember you need to pick up some items at the grocery store.

Sony NWZW273 4 GB Waterproof Walkman Sports MP3 Player

Sony, a familiar name tops our list of the best MP3 players for running. The Sony Walkman has evolved since those days of a boxy cassette tape unit and foam headphones. Now your mp3 player is the size of your thumb and integrated into a set of earphones that wrap around your neck.

Designed for active lifestyles, this one-piece cordless device lets you listen to hours of your favorite music with a storage capacity of 8 GB. Load up the internal memory from your iTunes or Windows Media player and enjoy your favorite tunes while you run or swim, rated waterproof at depths of up to two meters. It also features a long battery life of up to eight hours and if your battery starts  running low, all you need to do is charge it for three minutes and you'll get an hour of playback time before you need to plug it in again.

Multi-function clickable buttons let you find the song you want and a quick tap of the earpiece lets you pause and play in seconds, keeping all the control at your fingertips. Sony's exclusive audio technologies deliver rich bass and sharp highs, so your music can be heard while you swim or just kick-back and relax.

Kubik Evo 8GB MP3 Player with Radio and Expandable MicroSD/SDHC Slot - Black

Kubik's Evo MP3 player measures 10mm in width and weighs a mere 1.2 ounces, making it the perfect choice to take with you when it's time for a jog or a couple hours at the gym. You get 20 hours of battery life on a single charge, and the 8GB of storage lets you bring a vast library of music, video, photo files, and an FM tuner along to make the time go by quicker.

The Evo's output quality is full-bodied and deep, courtesy of Microsoft PlayFX Sound Enhancement technology, offering clear, vivid acoustic detail with bass, 3D, and auto volume adjustment control. You have a strong selection of file formats to choose from with the Evo, including MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, AVI, JPG, and BMP. There's even an e-Reader feature that lets you enjoy your favorite e-Books when you're running in place on that treadmill. Whichever type of workout you prefer, the Evo has a way to keep you entertained.

Pyle PSWP4BK Waterproof Neckband MP3 Player and Headphones

This neckband MP3 player from Pyle offers 4 GB of storage for taking hundreds of songs with you to the gym, the track, or for that lap around the reservoir. Just plug them into any computer via the included USB cable and you can easily drag and drop MP3 and WMA music files for hours of music.

The headphones come with three sets of waterproof and standard earbuds, so you can use these on a run or in the pool. Rated for submersion in three feet of water, this unit has been ergonomically designed to wrap snugly around the back of the neck so not to interfere with your mobility or sight when wearing swim goggles.

Controlling your music is incredibly basic, with one button for play and pause and two function dials to the left and right of the tiny unit that hangs on your right ear. Sound reproduction is crisp and clear and with a price of around $40, these headphones are a sweet deal for everything that they offer.

Apple iPod Shuffle 2GB MP3 Player

The Shuffle is so small, there's no screen and on previous models there weren't many buttons either. The unit controlled the music for you by shuffling randomly without any rhyme or reason. But now the unit comes equipped with a clickable control pad that lets you play, pause, and skip to your heart's content.

Since there's no display for track or artist information, Apple came up with a voice-over option that tells you the name of the song you're listening to and the name of the band playing. You can access this feature at any time, with a dedicated button along the side of the tiny unit.

Battery life can extend close to an advertised 15 hours but that varies depending upon the length of your songs from track to track. The Shuffle is so small you may fear you could easily lose it but don't worry, it comes with a small clip so you can attach it to your clothing or bag.

iRiver T6 MP3 Player

iRiver T6 MP3 Player

IRiver may not be a widely known brand, but they make a terrific MP3 player. You can find the T6 in 1, 2, 4, and 8 GB size capacities. It play up to 33 hours of music from a rather limited number of compatible file formats, able to read only MP3's and WMA's. There's also an FM digital tuner and a standard user interface with four way buttons that give you full control over each track, although you may need to get used to using them first.

Up and down are what control the skip functions when most of us are accustomed to those being left and right. The T6 comes with a 1.8 inch screen that lets you look at photos but it won't play video, and besides, with the limited resolution you don't want to watch movies on it anyway. However, it does produce good sound quality that seems to favor the high end and mid-range frequencies, while low-end bass came across as slightly misrepresented. Additionally, the T6 has a record feature that lets you capture music from the radio or your own voice.

Apple iPod Touch 64GB (5th Generation)

The iPod Touch takes top honors for a myriad of reasons. This 5th generation of the device offers longer battery life at around 48 hours of continuous music playback, a long list of games and apps available from Apple's App Store and a sleek and thin device that can fit in any pants pocket.

Formats such as MP3, AAC, uncompressed WAV, and ALAC are all compatible with the operating system and there are third party apps available to play other formats that aren't supported such as FLAC. The 4-inch retina display offers a wider screen for watching movies and playing games. At least two versions, the 32 and 64 GB models, have a 5 megapixel camera that can shoot gorgeous 1080p HD video. Sound quality is excellent (there's a reason these devices in particular are so popular) with earbuds upgraded from previous generations.

Sony NWZE385 16 GB Walkman MP3 Video Player

Starting with its size, the Walkman E Series player is only 7mm in width, so you can slip it anyplace and have all your music with you on the go. Available in 4 and 8 GB storage capacities, Sony's MP3 device offers more than just MP3 playback.

It has the ability to play all your files whether you're using a PC or Mac for transferring them over, but you also get a full FM tuner dial for listening to radio programming. You also get full access to Sony's Unlimited Music Service allowing you access to millions of songs for inclusion in your playlists. In fact, you can load up to 36 hours of music and six hours of video on this Walkman.

With a fast recharge on the unit's lithium-ion battery (only an hour and a half for full power), you'll be ready to go. Playback quality is also worth mentioning, as the Walkman uses Sony's exclusive audio enhancement technology to bring out the parts of your music that are lost with compressed files such as MP3. Sharpen your audio even more with a five-band equalizer to tweak your bass and treble.

Philips GoGear Ariaz 16 GB MP3 Player

Similar in aesthetic design to the Philips' Muse device, the Ariaz also costs less than their previous player. With an available 16 GB of storage capacity, this unit plays MP3's, WAV's, and WMA's with excellent sound clarity.

Using the company's exclusive FullSound technology, the player reproduces compressed music to the audio levels it was meant to be heard at by digitally enhancing each sonic detail of the track during playback. Your music sounds richer and fuller, the way it was meant to be heard. The headphones that are included dampen some of this sweetening as they're not great. However, most high-end third party headphones will represent what the Ariaz is really capable of.

Also included is an interesting little feature called SafeSound that alerts you to potentially damaging levels of volume coming from the device and it can regulate the volume for you to keep your hearing safe. The Ariaz has a pretty good battery life of about 22 hours for audio playback and four for video.

Be warned, this device isn't your best bet for a video player. The picture isn't as sharp as some of the others you can find out there and with a 2.4 inch screen. While you're probably not going to want to watch a beautifully photographed film like Lawrence of Arabia, it's good enough for TV shows.

SanDisk Sansa Fuze SDMX20R 4 GB Black Flash Portable Media Player

Plain and simple, the Sansa Fuze+ is built for storage,. You can purchase it in 4, 8, and 16 GB versions with the option of expanding it all the way to 32 GB. Just slip your microSD or microSDHD card into the slot on the device and you've just increased your music library. Speaking of which, you get up to 24 hours of audio and five for video on the 16 GB device, which translates to something like 3,500 songs.

This MP3 player only weighs about two ounces so you can take it anywhere and you can listen to MP3 as well as WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, among others. You even have the choice to listen to FM radio, audio books, and most podcasts.

The Fuze+ has an equalizer to adjust the sound while navigating menus is done via a touch control pad and 2.4 inch LCD screen. Some of the special features like the integrated microphone for recording voice messages and slotRadio cards pre-loaded with music mixes of various genre, are quite unique in the marketplace. These options make the Fuze+ an even more attractive option for our list of picks.

Astell & Kern AK120II High Resolution Single DAC Audio Player

Without getting into dry, mind-numbing tech speak and fancy lingo to explain what's so excellent about the AK120 II, I'll keep it simple and basic. Yes, the player costs an inordinate amount of money but there are plenty of specific reasons it belongs on our list of the best MP3 players overall.

Obviously, it brings all of the bells and whistles that the other guys have, has insane functionality, supports the most file formats, including MP3,WAV, FLAC, WMA, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, and more, but what this all really boils down to is sound quality. Why else do we buy MP3 players? Because we love our music and must have it with us at ALL TIMES. That kind of dedication deserves superior audio quality that even the most casual pair of untrained ears will recognize at first listen.

Astell & Kern uses Dual Digital to Analog converters to carry sound to your ears. What that means is the player sends balanced audio output to each ear separately instead of using just one to split it up between the right and left ear. The result is a lush, vivid, weighty sound that really gives you the truest sound reproduction of your music down to every track, every instrument and every spoken lyric.

This balanced output also reduces external noises and outside interference you might get from unbalanced output that lacks a "ground" line along with the left and right channels. That ground line acts similarly to the ground of an electrical wire or component of any power source. This is high-resolution audio at its very finest.

Marc Gottlieb
I'm a rabid sports-aholic who's been to Super Bowl XXI, the Indy 500 and witnessed Doug Flutie's hail mary pass to Gerard Phelan live in Miami. Sundays are sacred in my household and I'm a two-time back to back champion of my fantasy football league. I played a lot of sports in high school; football, soccer, tennis, lacrosse and I was on the school ski team. I even tried my hand at racquetball in college. I've jumped out of two perfectly good airplanes and bungee jumped off a construction crane. Since then I've worked for one of the top product placement companies in Hollywood, coordinating with most of the major sports apparel labels to get their products featured in films and TV. But it's a life-long obsession with music and film that has given me years of experience with the latest technologies and innovations in electronics. If they've built it, I've tried it and likely bought it. Laserdisc, DVD, Bluray players; I own multiple units that cater to all of these formats and more. A misspent youth immersing myself in pop culture meant I craved the hottest devices through which to enjoy it all, and at the highest possible quality. What I learned over time though, is that the most expensive items aren't always the best.
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