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Best kids’ audio players to reduce screen time and spark imagination

Little ones can learn, play and get lost in storytelling, music and more

Rebecca Moore
Friday 12 April 2024 12:19 BST
We considered sound quality, size and how intuitive and simple they were to navigate
We considered sound quality, size and how intuitive and simple they were to navigate (The Independent)

For parents, finding new ways to occupy children is an ongoing search. While many opt to give their kids a tablet of some kind – with there being many ways of both educating and entertaining little ones via myriad apps – the best kids’ audio players can provide hours of entertainment, without a screen in sight.

While a certain level of screen time is inescapable, parents are often on the hunt for other ways to keep young minds engaged – whether they’re in the car, trapped inside due to the UK’s unpredictable weather or just having a stay-at-home day.

Rewind three decades, and audio for kids meant taping our favourite songs off the radio and listening back to them on our Walkman but generation alpha kids have a whole host of technology at their fingertips. While portable audio players pare back on the screen time, they are jam-packed with the latest features to impress even the most technically minded kids.

By choosing one of the best audio players, designed in a child-friendly and easy-to-use way, you’ll enable little ones to play independently and creatively, boosting their confidence, while offering bucket loads of entertainment.

Audiobooks have long been many people’s preference – among adults, too – but they are becoming increasingly popular in the children’s segment. While nothing replaces reading the humble bedtime story, audio players can instil a love for reading, broadening kids’ horizons when it comes to the world of books and sparking their imagination.

How we tested the best kids’ audio players

With the help of our four- and six-year-old testers, we put a variety of children’s audio players to the test over a two-week period. Many of the audio players joined us for long car journeys, while also being integral to leisure time – some even provided at-home education.

A huge point-scorer for us was how easy the devices were for kids to use independently, paying kudos to child-friendly, size-appropriate designs that were intuitive and simple to navigate.

We also looked at how straightforward initial setup was, battery life (if applicable) and, naturally, sound quality was under scrutiny. The biggest consideration was how much fun they were to use – this relied heavily on the audio choice available and if it ignited little imaginations.

The best kids’ audio players for 2024 are:

  • Best kids’ audio player overall – Yoto player: £89.99, Yotoplay.com
  • Best budget kids’ audio player – Planet Buddies portable Bluetooth speaker, Olive the owl: £39.99, Hmv.com
  • Best for child-friendly design – Tonies starter set: £79.95, Tonies.com
  • Best for older kids – Echo dot kids (5th generation, 2022): £64.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for portability – Yoto mini: £59.99, Yotoplay.com

Yoto player

Best audio players kids
  • Best: Kids’ audio player overall
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable
  • Battery life: Up to 10 hours
  • Key features: Yoto app with more than 1,000 titles, the Yoto daily podcast, Yoto radio and a day-and-night clock
  • Why we love it
    • Fun and function
    • Looks cool
    • Great for tech-loving kids
    • Versatile
    • Matching app

The cool, almost space-age design of the Yoto player was an instant hit with our testers, and, due to the simple setup, it was ready for action within minutes, too.

Parents will need to download the Yoto app, insert the credit-card-sized welcome card into the top of the player, and follow the prompts to connect with wifi. The app is where you can customise your Yoto player, from the brightness of the screen display, the functions of the buttons (which our testers called the “ear buttons”), the day and night volume, bedtime times and more.

You’ll also be able to access your library of downloads from the Yoto website’s card store, which is home to more than 1,000 titles, made up of storybooks and songs, with prices starting at £5.99. Our testers were delighted to slot in their favourites, from Disney classics to Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig – with something to suit ages three to 12 years old.

The subtle pixel display brings audio to life, and our testers loved seeing the image change from chapter to chapter. The simplicity of moving between chapters by pressing the right button to skip forward or the left button to go back allows kids to use this player independently, and the story stops altogether by simply removing the card.

There are some wonderful additional features that take the Yoto player to the next level, such as the Yoto daily podcast, where you can hear jokes and games, and Yoto radio with child-friendly tunes. There’s also your day-and-night clock, but you will need wifi for all of these features.

A highlight for us has to be the routine assistance that Yoto provides. You can relax with the built-in night light (just turn the player onto its front), and unwind with white noise or sleep radio. When it comes to morning, simply set a time so kids know it’s an appropriate time to wake up (although, it can’t work miracles).

We found the Yoto player great for car journeys, too, as once the cards are downloaded, you can play them without wifi, plus there’s a headphone jack to add some peace to travelling. There’s also a built-in rechargeable battery, giving around 10 hours of playtime once charged.

Parents will be pleased to know the third-generation model, which launched in June 2023, now features some new and improved features, such as a room thermometer, three times longer battery life, better wifi signal and 600+ hours of audio for offline listening.

  1. £89 from Yotoplay.com
Prices may vary
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Planet Buddies portable Bluetooth speaker, Olive the owl

best audio players for kids 2022 review audiobooks portable
  • Best: Budget kids’ audio player
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable (Bluetooth)
  • Battery life: Four hours
  • Key features: Audiobooks and the ability to receive hands-free calls
  • Why we love it
    • Adorable
    • Great size for little ones to carry
    • Bluetooth
    • Can make hands-free calls
    • Helps raise awareness and funds for World Land Trust

Small but mighty, adorable Olive the owl makes a cute addition to a child’s bedroom. During testing, she could often be found in the bathroom, too, as our mini testers loved listening to music during bathtime. It’s also a great size for smaller hands to carry around the house, or take out to the garden.

There is a portable Bluetooth speaker with a 3W output power you can simply connect to your phone, and hey presto. It has a four-hour playtime battery life, and gives a series of beeps when the battery is running low. It even has the technology to answer and make hands-free calls, which is something us adults used.

There’s a sweet story behind the brand, too, as Planet Buddies aim is to help raise awareness of endangered and threatened animals across the world, with a percentage of each sale going to the World Land Trust. We were also delighted to see the packaging is made from 100 per cent recyclable cardboard, using soy-based inks, and with no single-use plastic.

  1. £39 from Hmv.com
Prices may vary
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Tonies starter set

 best audio players for kids 2022 review audiobooks portable
  • Best: For child-friendly design
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable
  • Battery life: Seven hours
  • Key features: Upload 90 minutes of online audiobooks, music and voice recordings
  • Why we love it
    • Fun to use
    • Vast story offerings
    • Kid-approved design
  • Take note
    • Needs wifi initially

After three years in development, Tonies launched in Europe in 2016 and has been on parents’ and kids’ radars ever since. The toniebox device is a child-friendly audio player that is geared towards independent play for pre-school children. After a quick setup, synching the toniebox to your wifi, all you need to do is place a Tonie – a small hand-painted character containing an audio story or music (you’ll get a creative-Tonie included in the set) – on top of the box and it starts to play.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, while you need to connect to wifi initially, once you’ve placed the Tonie, the story is downloaded and ready for story-time action, meaning you can use the toniebox on the move. It’s lightweight, and there’s a headphone jack (headphones are sold separately), and it has a battery life of up to seven hours when fully charged.

Your creative-Tonie has 90 minutes of space for you to upload online audiobooks, music or even recordings of your own stories and messages. Our mini testers enjoyed being in the driving seat, as they adjusted the volume using the rubber ears, tilted the cube to fast-forward and rewind, and swapped stories by placing the Tonie figurines on top of the cube – a testament to how easy it is to use.

We were impressed by the vast offering of stories to choose from, too – you’ll find everything  from Peppa Pig and The Gruffalo to Disney classics and Enid Blyton, so, you’re bound to find something that piques your child’s interest. Our testers loved listening to Chase’s adventures (of Paw Patrol fame) with four different tales to listen to, and singing along to ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ with Woody from Toy Story.

Thanks to the child-friendly design, our testers loved the hand-painted Tonies figures almost as much as the content, plus the cube itself is available in six colours.

  1. £79 from Tonies.com
Prices may vary
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Echo dot kids (5th generation, 2022 release)

best audio players for kids 2022 review audiobooks portable
  • Best: Audio player for older kids
  • Portable or plug-in: Plug-in
  • Battery life: N/A
  • Key features: Ask Alexa questions, one-year complimentary subscription to Amazon Kids+
  • Why we love it
    • Familiar and easy to use
    • Good parental controls
    • One year subscription included
    • Great for curious kids
  • Take note
    • Does have to stay plugged in

While you may be familiar with Amazon’s popular Echo dot, this fifth-generation kids edition is in a different league. Beyond the cute owl face, there’s a whole host of technology in place for seamless and safe listening.

Setup was a doddle, particularly as we already use Amazon devices at home via the Alexa app. Simply plug in and connect via Bluetooth, and you’ll be asked by Alexa to select a primary child profile – it will talk you through granting parental consent for the device. It’ll also prompt you to set up Amazon Kids+ (you’ll receive a one-year complimentary subscription to this, though it’s worth bearing in mind this will renew automatically unless you change the settings).

If you’re not yet familiar with Amazon Kids+, it’s a subscription where children can access hundreds of hours of fun and educational content, including ad-free radio stations, music and hundreds of Audible books such as Paddington, Black Beauty and the popular David Walliams books. Our little testers loved asking Alexa requests, such as “Alexa, please read The Tiger Who Came to Tea” or “Alexa, open Bing Time” to listen to Bing stories and songs and play along with games.

For parents, it’s reassuring to know kids won’t stumble across anything they shouldn’t, and can use this device independently, while the easy-to-use parental controls on the app mean you can set daily time limits, enforce a bedtime and review activity.

We also love that the Echo dot kids has a wealth of knowledge, so curious kids can ask hundreds of educational questions, from geography and history to science truths and gross facts they can share with their friends at school the next day. This audio player also has quite the sense of humour, and our testers loved asking Alexa to tell jokes or sing a song – while the jokes went over their heads, this would be great for slightly older kids, as the device is geared towards ages three to 12 years old.

Unlike others we tested, the Echo dot kids does have to remain plugged in, so it’s a bit of a pain if you want to move it about the house. However, we were pleased to learn there’s a two-year worry-free guarantee included.

  1. £64 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Voxblock starter pack

Voxblock starter pack.jpg
  • Best: Kids’ audio player for ease of use
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable
  • Battery life: Lasts for days
  • Key features: Audiobooks
  • Why we love it
    • Screen-free audiobooks
    • Super straightforward
    • No need for wifi or added extensions such as apps
    • New and classic stories
    • Bumper case helps avoid damage

The brainchild of an Edinburgh-based couple whose “lightbulb moment” was seeing their preschooler listening to her mum’s childhood audiobooks on an old cassette player, Voxblock is a screen-free audiobook player.

With the design and manufacturing of Voxblock taking place entirely in Scotland, this product comes across as a labour of love, resulting in a simple yet effective audio player. The Voxblock is super straightforward – even if you’re not technically minded. In minutes, our four-year-old tester had cracked how to play a block, skip a chapter, adjust the volume and how to switch to a new block (which conveniently returns to the same point from when it was last listened to). There’s also a clever sleep mode you can activate (one for the parents), meaning the Voxblock will go into standby mode after 20 minutes.

What we found incredibly refreshing is there’s no app, no download, no wifi setup, the Voxblock is ready and raring to go, and compact enough to join children on journeys big and small. The cherry on the cake is that there’s a built-in headphone jack. Coming with a USB-C cable, the battery also lasts for days with just a single charge, which makes it great for travel and holidays.

Audiobooks, which mimic real-life books, are made of recycled card, with prices ranging from £5.99 to £13.99. Parents will appreciate classics such as Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, and Old Bear and Friends by Jane Hissey, but you’ll also find modern-day favourite authors such as Konnie Huq and Greg James. You won’t find the likes of Peppa Pig, Bluey or Paw Patrol, but with content deals with UK publishing houses such as Harper Collins, Hachette and Scholastic, the library is growing.

Both our young testers enjoyed listening to a variety of stories, and, thanks to the device’s portability, they loved listening in the back of the car. Plus, with its bumper case, it withstands the odd drop during the school run.

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Yoto mini

best audio players for kids 2022 review audiobooks portable
  • Best: Kids’ audio player for portability
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Key features: Yoto daily podcast and radio station, and sleep sounds and white noise on the Yoto app
  • Why we love it
    • Super portable
    • Cute retro design
    • Huge battery life

The Yoto mini has much of the best bits of its bigger sister, the Yoto player, with easy setup, a pixel display, kid-friendly buttons, huge selection of audio with Yoto cards or via the app and a retro design. The most notable difference is it’s much smaller, with a mega 20 hours battery life, meaning it was born to travel – fear not, there’s a headphone jack for some peace and quiet.

Within minutes, our young testers knew how to flick through chapters and adjust the volume, with the twisty buttons being the perfect size for small hands. Again, there are some handy extras with the Yoto mini, with free access to Yoto daily podcast and Yoto’s child-friendly radio station. Because the Yoto mini also connects with the Yoto app, you can utilise the OK-to-wake clock for sleep training, and wind down with sleep sounds, white noise and more.

We also love the additional adventure jacket accessory, which is a colourful silicone carry-case that protects your Yoto mini for life on the go with hands-on kids.

  1. £59 from Yotoplay.com
Prices may vary
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Timio music player

best audio players for kids 2022 review audiobooks portable
  • Best: Kids’ audio player for toddlers
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable (three AA batteries required but not included)
  • Battery life: Unspecified
  • Key features: 60 audio exercises based around pre-school development, quiz mode and multiple languages
  • Why we love it
    • Lightweight and portable
    • Battery-operated so no pesky charging cables
    • Covers everything from lessons to lullabies
    • Also features quizzes
    • Great for language skills
    • Auto switch-off

Designed for kids aged two to six, Timio is a lightweight, portable battery-operated audio player. Unlike the other audio players we tested, you’ll need three AA batteries, as they’re not included in the box, but everything else is covered: five discs, eight languages and a handy carry case for your discs.

Based around preschool development, there are lots of ways you can use the player. There are 25 discs to collect in total, with 60 different audio exercises grouped into five themes. The subjects vary from cars to cats, and there are even lullabies with relaxing sleep music and nature sounds for younger children.

Our four-year-old was able to switch the magnetic discs independently. Some of the content didn’t hold much interest, such as animal noises and vehicle sounds – although it’s amazing what a flashing LED light can do – but she enjoyed listening and singing along to nursery rhymes and learning about the alphabet.

You can easily activate quiz mode, which will then turn the discs into a quizmaster, prompting little learners with activities such as finding letters. You can hold down the language button for your desired language, with eight built in, including Spanish, French, German, Dutch and Chinese. Our six-year-old enjoyed showing off her newly acquired French skills, but also boosting her vocabulary by pressing the picture and listening to the word.

The Timio player felt safe in the clutches of our young testers, as it’s super durable – they loved carrying it around the house and into the car, using the integrated handle. There’s also a convenient headphone jack, automatic switch-off 10 minutes after no usage, and three volume levels. A smart audio player, we think it’s a fabulous learning companion for toddlers and preschoolers.

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StoryPhones Disney rose pink bundle

best audioplayers for kids
  • Best: Kids’ audio player for concentration
  • Portable or plug-in: Portable
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Key features: Wifi connected content player for listening to Disney and Pixar stories and pink noises
  • Why we love it
    • Combines high-performance headphones with a wifi connected content player
    • Great for little Disney fans
    • Can record your own personalised stories
    • Impressive battery life
    • Perfect for travel adventures
  • Take note
    • Slightly limited library

If you’ve never heard of StoryPhones, don’t feel too bad – tech giant Onanoff only launched the story telling headsets back in 2021, but it’s certainly made an impression. As the first smart, portable wireless audio entertainment device for kids, it combines high-performance headphones with a wifi connected content player. Thanks to its collaboration with Disney, a whole new world of audio fun is ready for exploring.

Our six-year-old tester was immediately besotted with the rose pink pair and we personally like that the headphones came in packaging that mimics a book. Looks aside, the set up was straightforward – you’ll need to download the app and pair through a wifi connection, but it’s easy and quick to do.

More importantly, though, there’s plenty of Disney and Pixar stories to choose from. We opted for the Minnie Mouse bundle but you can also choose tales such as Toy Story, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Frozen and more. You can also record personalised stories through the app, while the inclusion of ZenShield – a relaxing audio profile with a collection of pink noises, from piano to ocean waves and the original and exclusive RoRo sound – is ideal for keeping little ones, well, zen.

Adjusting the volume and skipping through chapters is easy enough, and we found our tester was able to do this independently. Meanwhile, parents can take comfort in the knowledge the StoryPhones are award-winning SafeAudio headphones, so precious ears won’t be harmed in the process. In fact, our mini tester commented on just how comfy the headphones are to wear, with soft anti-allergy cushioning.

Super portable, the battery life is an impressive 20 hours (there’s a USB-C charging cable included) so, they were born to travel, even coming with a handy travel bag. The product is still in its infancy of course, meaning stories are a little limited, but the concept is great and we expect to see the library grow.

  1. £85 from Argos.co.uk
Prices may vary
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The verdict: Kids’ audio players

It was a tough call between Tonies and Yoto, but the Yoto player scooped the win for its wealth of additional features, such as the glowing night light, digital clock and child-friendly radio station. The Yoto player boasts a child-friendly design, is intuitive to use, and can even help with routines, making it an excellent choice for a kids’ audio player. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something super easy to use, with no need for wifi and zero screen time, we highly recommend the Voxblock, too.

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