The 5 Best Budget MP3 Players

by Dan Ketchum ; Updated June 16, 2017

Busting out an MP3 player in our post-smartphone world, you're more likely to be dubbed a collector of antiquities than a cutting-edge tech guru. Sure, smartphones offer a fantastic all-in-one solution, but dig just below the surface and it's clear that a solid MP3 player still has a place in today's technological landscape.

As dedicated portable devices for your digital music library, MP3 players not only offer ridiculous battery life, they won't cut into your phone's onboard storage or your pricey data plan. Plus, it's often just plain easier to plug into speakers with a good old auxiliary cable than it is to fiddle with Bluetooth connections every time you want to jam. And, lucky for us, MP3 players have continued to evolve, making them better – and cheaper – than ever. Whether you're a music snob or a casual listener, these five options will rattle your headphones without rattling your wallet.

Entry Level: SanDisk Clip Jam

If you're just looking for the basics, don't have an enormous library, and aren't too concerned with extra features, the SanDisk Clip Jam might just be – wait for it – your jam.

Widely available in a range of colors for just under $30, the Clip Jam features 8GB of onboard storage, which is easily expandable thanks to a microSD slot. The battery plugs on for up to 18 hours, and it plays nicely with formats including MP3, WMA, and AAC. The tiny 0.96-inch screen is barebones and the controls are strictly button-based, but its clippable nature makes it a boon for fitness buffs. No wonder CNET named it among the best budget MP3 players in 2016.

For the Pros: AGPtEK Rocker

As you're browsing MP3 players, you'll notice the term "lossless" pop up from time to time. While some digital files – from images to audio – lose some of their quality when compared to the original source material, lossless files maintain the quality of the original source (usually at the cost of a much larger file size).

If you're a diehard music enthusiast who prioritizes sound quality just as much as you prioritize your budget, AGPtEK's Rocker is worth a look. Touted by the manufacturer as "the smallest audiophile player in the world," the Rocker supports all the lossless formats you can think of, including AIFF, APE, FLAC, OGG, WAV and WMA lossless. It plays regular old lossy formats, too, and features Bluetooth compatibility for wireless connectivity to headphones and speakers. The Rocker sells for about $65, though you'll need to buy a microSD card to enjoy storage up to 256GB.

Rocking in Style: Colorfly C3 HiFi Music Player

Sometimes, it pays to go with the older model. While the Colorfly C4 retails for $400, go just one generation back and you're looking at a premium MP3 player at 1/8th of the cost – Colorfly still makes its C3 HiFi Music Player readily available at $49.99 these days.

Upon its 2014 release (when it retailed for $150), the audio-heads at Audiophile On said of the C3, "the sound is so good you just need to hear it to understand." Despite its budget price and the shadow of its far fancier big brother, the C3 still sports a very premium feel, with a metal zinc-alloy casing and a prominent OLD touchscreen displaying a strikingly minimal user interface. This one only has 8GB of included storage, but anti-interference shielding and digital-analog circuit isolation ensure high-quality sound.

For Apple Aficionados: iPod Shuffle

We get it – you've got your iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Apple TV all on deck; you're waist deep in the Apple ecosystem, and it just makes life easier to stick with the brand and keep all your gadgets in sync. If your music lives and dies on iTunes, Apple's own iPod Shuffle is your ticket. This roughly 1.25-inch square, as its name implies, only shuffles songs and has a capacity of just 2GB, but for simplicity's sake, it gets the job done. It also features Apple's trademark style, available in six shades of aluminum, and the latest model includes the VoiceOver function – with the press of a button, your music player will tell you what's playing or how much battery is left. Apple sells the Shuffle, complete with free custom engraving, for $49.99.

A Balanced Option: AGPtEK M20S

Available for $29.99, AGPtEK's M20S rolls a wide variety of MP3 player features into a balanced package. This slim, sub-credit-card-sized metal gadget supports most common lossy and lossless file formats, combines both touchscreen and button controls, plays tunes for up to 14 hours, and even throws in some perks like FM radio and voice recording. It comes with 8GB of storage built in, but allows for storage upgrades of up to 64GB via microSD support. Not a bad slate of features for a solid-across-the-board choice.

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.