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The best MP3 players: A buyer's guide

Welcome to Crowdstorm's guide to MP3 players. If you've waded through MP3 player reviews but are none the wiser, read on: we're going to walk through the basics and make your decision an easier one.

Ever since the days of the Sony Walkman, people have enjoyed the solitude offered by a personal music player on the move.

Formats have come and gone – we’ve so far seen the rise and fall of the personal tape player, the CD player and the mini-disc – but regardless of technological changes, music lovers are still plugging in and zoning out. And today it might be a Sony MP3 player you'll be buying; a gadget that stores thousands of digital music files, rather than a single cassette.

Although it was by no means the first, the market for MP3 players was essentially created in 2001 by the bods at Apple when the company released its world-conquering iPod. Since then MP3 players have evolved to cover a whole swathe of options. Whether you’re after the latest all-singing, all-dancing touchscreen device, or are just a cheap players, the perfect device for you is out there.

MP3 player or digital media player?

While the term ‘MP3 player’ has taken its place in common parlance, many devices are better described as digital media players because they also play apps, video, games and more.

A ‘pure’ MP3 player is a device that solely plays digital audio files. These tend to be the cheaper devices, with a basic button layout and small form factor, ideal for people requiring a light, compact device. Apple’s iPod Shuffle range is probably the best known example.

These MP3 players tend to feature very basic navigation and options, with the emphasis on simplicity rather than an extended feature list. That said, some premium devices (for instance, Apple’s ‘Nano’ range) come with extras such as a small touchscreen for easier navigation of your tunes.

At the other end of the scale, digital media players are usually more complex devices. They not only offer the user the opportunity to play music files, but also watch video, take photos and in some case even browse the web and use applications (such as games). 

Is the MP3 player dead technology?

Personally, we don't think so. On one hand the truth is that most of us now own a smartphone that will work perfectly well as both an MP3 player and an all-round media device. But on the flip side, having a dedicated device for your music has its advantages.

One big issue is battery life: every minute you're listening to your music or watching a video on your phone, you're draining precious life minutes away. Secondly, many smartphones don't have a huge memory capacity; and what they do have gets filled with apps pretty quickly. Taking all that memory usage off of your phone can see a real lift in your phone's performance. 

Apple iPod - or the rest?

Apple's varied range of iPods has dominated the MP3 player market for well over a decade and its popularity shows no sign of abating. But despite what Apple fans will tell you, there is still some great competition out there!

As mentioned above, Apple's touch, Nano and Shuffle ranges have covered all the MP3 player bases - but not everyone is a fan of Apple's infrastructure - namely iTunes. Also, Apple will now only be producing new version of the iPod Touch, leaving the Nano and Shuffle out in the cold.

Luckily the rise of Google's Android platform for smartphones (and its Google Play store) has seen manufacturers such as Samsung, Motorola and Sony stake a much stronger claim in the digital music market.

Through its Walkman range, Sony MP3 players are still a solid option; while SanDisk also make a popular and well regarded range of devices. And there are loads of budget models out there too if you're on a tight budget.

MP3 player memory size

When looking for an MP3 player it’s easy to get lost in a hail of jargon such as MBs and GBs. So what is a GB and how should it affect your buying decision? GB stands for gigabyte - and the important thing is that a 1GB MP3 player will be able to hold roughly 1,000 minutes of music (just under 17 hours).

Video files are much larger than audio files, although their size can vary widely depending on quality. A video considered ‘high definition’ will often be several times larger than the equivalent standard video, although a basic rule of thumb is that 90 minutes of video will take approximately 1GB.

The majority of MP3 players come with 2-128GB of data - a huge range. If you plan on using your device solely for music something as small as 2GB could well be enough, depending on the size of your music collection (or how happy you are to swap your tunes in and out on occasion). But if you plan on using it for video and games as well, then a 32GB device is recommended as a minimum.

MP3 player connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Most top-end MP3 and digital media players come with a built-in Wi-Fi, letting you access the internet via a Wi-Fi network.

This opens up the device to a range of new features such as browsing the web, using social media and playing online games. And it means syncing your music collection via a PC is easier than ever. 

Another big advantage is being able to play your music directly from your MP3 player through other connected devices - the most common being external speakers. 

The iPod dock has become a popular addition to many a kitchen and bedroom, but it's even more convenient to use Bluetooth to stream your music from your MP3 player to your stereo without the need to plug it in.

Other MP3 player features to consider

Here are some of the other key factors you may want to consider when comparing MP3 players:

  • FM tuner: While the whole world is going digital, there's still a lot to be said for a good old FM radio connection!
  • Touchscreen: A touchscreen will give you better control of your music collection.
  • Playtime: Some smaller devices will have as little as 10 hours playback, so think carefully about how long you'll be wanting to listen between charges.
  • Voice recording: Some MP3 players double up as dictaphones, allowing you to record anything from interviews and meetings to memos and notes.
  • Display: While you may not need a touchscreen, super-small devices such as the Nano do away with a display completely - you simply have basic commands such as shuffle, play etc.
  • Line-in: This connection will allow you to attach an external audio device to your MP3 player. 

What do I do next?

Once you've chosen the MP3 player that fits your needs, the next step really couldn't be easier. Simply click on the deal of your choice to go straight to the retailer's official website.

Remember, you're not buying anything from Crowdstorm - we're just here to help you compare the best deals and offers from the UK's leading online and high street retailers. We make our money from advertising, so don't pass on any cost to you.