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You may be asking yourself: why would someone want an MP3 player today when you can just play music from the smartphone in your pocket? Well, there are many benefits to having a dedicated portable music player over a smartphone. For one, depending on your smartphone, the sound quality of your favorite music can be improved by an MP3 player. This is because most high-quality MP3 players can produce lossless, uncompressed sound, resulting in superior sound quality. Playing music on a standalone MP3 will also keep your smartphone from having its battery drained when you're out listening to music and free up space on your phone by storing your music elsewhere.
When shopping for an MP3 player, there are a few key things to look out for. One is the device's max sampling frequency, measured in Hertz. If the device has a high enough sampling frequency, it can match the frequency of high-quality source material, helping to preserve the original audio. Battery life, storage, size, and user interface are also important aspects to consider. If you like streaming your music, you will also need a device with internet capabilities, which not all of them have.
HiFi Walker H2
The HiFi Walker H2 is a mid-range MP3 player that retails for $129.99. This device is designed for those who miss the look and feel of an old-school music player. On top of its boxy cassette player design, the HiFi Walker H2 forgoes the touchscreen in favor of physical control buttons and a scroll wheel to provide a classic experience. But it also has a few design features that bring it into the modern age, such as a two-inch HD display and 256 GB of storage capacity.
This MP3 player supports native Direct Stream Digital (DSD) lossless audio up to 128-bit/5.6 MHz and all major file types, including FLAC, MP3, WAV, and M4A. It also notably has a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 103dB@1Kz. With two-way Bluetooth 4.2, the HiFi Walker H2 can stream music from a source such as your smartphone while simultaneously casting to other devices like speakers or headphones. It also has an AUX output for cabled listening and a battery life of up to 10 hours.
The device includes a 64GB SD card, a USB type-C cable, and a flannel Storage Bag. If you have additional cables, the HiFi Walker H2 supports other functions, such as connecting to an amplifier via line-out and functioning as a computer decoding amp via its USB-DAC mode.
The $500 FiiO M11S MP3 player is a fully functioning Android device with support for Android 10. Powering the device is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, the same processor found in smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy A9. That said, it is slightly smaller than standard smartphones at 4.92 inches in length, 2.91 inches in width, and 0.73 inches in height. However, it has a sizable 5-inch bezel-less display that produces an output resolution of 720p. In addition to playing locally stored music, the FiiO M11S can utilize music streaming apps such as Apple Music and Tidal via Wi-Fi.
Like many of the devices on this list, the FiiO M11s has two-way Bluetooth. But it also has three headphone outputs and two-way USB-C. It can support up to two terabytes with its single-slot microSD. Additionally, it bypasses Android's sample rate conversion (SRC) for improved audio quality, has digital-to-analog converter (DAC) support up to 384kHz/DSD256, and a noise floor of 1.9μV. Charging this device takes 3.5 hours, and it holds a charge for up to 14 hours.
The Mighty Vibe can be called the $120 spiritual successor to the small-form iPod Nano that left us some time ago. Coming in at 1.5 inches in length, 1.5 inches in width, and a height of 0.8 inches, this MP3 player is designed with portability in mind. Using the clip on its backside, the device can be attached to clothing, making it a solid choice for taking to the gym. It's also water and drop-resistant for those outdoor adventures.
This device features both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality. Because the Mighty Vibe does not have a screen, you need to transfer music onto the device's 8GB of internal storage from Spotify or Amazon Music, assuming you have the required subscription service. It also automatically syncs your playlists and favorite songs from your streaming apps via the Mighty app on your smartphone. Once the content is loaded onto the device, you don't need your smartphone nearby to play your music.
Astell & Kern A&norma SR35
The $799 Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 is a portable digital audio player that has a tilted 3.6-inch screen, a memory storage capacity of 64 GB, and dual-band Wi-Fi at 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi. It's relatively lightweight at 0.4 pounds and has a battery life of up to 20 hours. On top of its unique tilted screen, this device has a noticeable "A" pattern on the rear glass that gives it a distinct look.
One of the standout features of this device is its native support for the Roon music app. Roon supports up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM in all major formats. With the A&norma SR35, you can listen to music on Roon up to a frequency of 32-bit/384kHz. Its amplification can reach up to 130dB and features Quad DAC for improved noise performance.
Additionally, this MP3 player features Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) 8X playback with up to 6Vrms from the balanced connections. Included with the package is a USB Type-C cable, two MicroSD card slot covers, and protective film for the front and back of the device.
The Walkman is back with the Sony NW-A306. This $348 MP3 player brings the Walkman to the modern age with support for DSD audio formats up to 11.2MHz and DSEE Ultimate for upscaling compressed music files. Although it looks more like a smartphone with its 3.6-inch touchscreen, it has side buttons for music control that old-school Walkman users will find familiar. Running on Android, it is compatible with various music apps so that you can stream tracks over Wi-Fi. When connected to a computer, it can also transfer music using a USB-C port.
Like a smartphone, this device can fit in your pocket with dimensions of 3.56 in. in length, 1.81 in. width, and 6.5 in. height. The Sony NW-A306 is crafted with an aluminum framework and a rippled wave design on the back to make the product feel premium. It has the longest playtime among those on this list, offering 36 hours of 44.1KHz FLAC playback or up to 32 hours of 96kHz FLAC High-Resolution Audio playback. It also has a respectable amount of internal memory at 32GB and a MicroSD card slot for storage expansion.