Best MP3 Players, Portable Media Players and Digital Audio Players (2023)

we’ve got nothing against your smartphone, not really. After all, it’s a handy GPS, a very acceptable camera, a brilliant internet portal, and probably quite a decent telephone. But you know as well as we do that it’s not much of a music player.

How could it be? After all, the digital-to-analog converter, the headphone amplification, and all the other hardware that goes into delivering a great music player are nothing more than afterthoughts when a company is specifying a smartphone. It’s the same as the sound of your laptop in this respect—the design prioritizes loads of other things, and there’s an incredible amount of electrical activity and noise going on inside that basically scuppers the chances of it sounding in any way good. Even if you toss out those dreadful headphones that came with it, your smartphone sounds dull or hazy or weedy—or all three all at once. It’s sad but it’s true.

So if you’re serious about portable listening, leave your smartphone to do what it’s good for and get yourself a dedicated music player. Because no matter if it’s called a digital audio player, a portable music player, or (for those who enjoy the old skool) an MP3 player, it has been designed to take care of one very specific piece of business. Apple knew the truth of this, but it couldn’t prevent the iPod in all its forms from being cannibalized by the iPhone.

But there are more dedicated, more intrepid brands than Apple that understand the benefit of keeping the music player alive. Here we’ve selected your five most compelling options, from sub-£100 entry-level charmers to entire “pocket-size high-end audio system-cum-lavish accessory” devices that cost almost £4K. It’s a wide-ranging and disparate bunch, but they all have one thing in common. To a lesser or greater extent, they’ll all make you wonder what you ever heard in that smartphone in the first place.

For more WIRED audio guides, check out our Best Gifts for Audiophiles, Best Bluetooth Speakers, Best Soundbars and Best Wired Headphones lists.

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