Smartphones may have taken over the world but there's still a place for dedicated portable music players.

Despite mobile phones becoming the increasing choice for music on-the-move, a standalone music player delivers a few differences that might make it more useful. 

First things first, there's a fair chance they will deliver better sound quality. Then there's the fact that you don't have to use your phone, saving your smartphone's precious battery.

Many players will now play hi-res audio, which is far from a given in the mobile market, and are likely to have more storage than your smartphone. Again, there's a knock-on effect for your phone in terms of freeing up storage space.

And if you want to get serious, the more high-end portable players can deliver good enough audio quality to double-up as the main music source in your home. So without further ado...


Best portable music players under £200
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Tested at £330

This is the 5th-generation iPod Touch, which is the last model that we've reviewed but has now been replaced by a 6th-generation Touch.

It is still on sale, however, and with prices from £160 for the 16GB model to £229 for the 64GB variant, you can pick up a bargain.

Of course, it's not just a music player. You can also connect to wi-fi and download apps, browse the web and plenty more. And it's still an ideal option if you don’t use a smartphone or want a separate portable device just for music, video and games.

MORE: iPod Touch 5th-gen review

MORE: iPod Touch 5th-gen prices


MORE: 5 of the best iPod alternatives

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Tested at £170

Want to add hi-res audio to your portable music arsenal? This Sony is a fine way to do so on a budget. It's low on features - there's no browser or apps - but the A15 Walkman does the simple business of music on the move in style.

This player has a small screen, and a 16GB memory plus a microSD card slot for adding more storage. There's no DSD file support but AAC, MP3, FLAC, WAV and Apple Lossless are all here.

Music sounds lively and easy to listen to, only giving away a little detail and dynamic range compared to more expensive hi-res music players.

Impressive sound, decent specs and an affordable price make this a good option.

MORE: Sony NWZ-A15 review

MORE: Sony NWZ-A15 prices

Best portable music player under £300
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Tested at £290

The Fiio X5 has a chunky design which is made bearable by the fact it houses two microSD card slots. They are much-needed as there's no onboard storage.

There are headphone, line-level, coaxial and USB outputs, the latter of which can connect to a DAC and send 24/192 hi-res files. So this is a portable device that can happily do a lot more in your home.

The interface isn't a patch on the iPod's, for example, but we have few complaints with the sound quality. There's power and detail, plenty of bass, and a real sense of scale. Only a slight lack of organisation, most noticeable with low bitrate files, lets it down a touch.

Get past the size and shape, and the storage arrangements, and this is a good quality music player.

MORE: Fiio X5 review

MORE: Fiio X5 prices

Best portable music player under £500
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Tested at £400

Astell & Kern tends to deal with products far more expensive than this, and the company does a good job of bringing a touch of the high-end to this relatively affordable portable. It looks stylish, is slim and a good weight, and proves simple to use.

Hi-res music is supported, as are all the usual audio formats, and there's 64GB of internal storage plus a microSD card slot. There's Bluetooth 4.0, too, so you can stream straight from the player to Bluetooth kit.

Music sounds crisp, detailed and nicely balanced. Voices sound natural, there's weight to bass notes and even compressed music files sound surprisingly good.

For comfortably under £500, this is a great portable music player - and will be stiff competition for the newly-announced Sony NW-ZX100HN Walkman...

MORE: Astell & Kern AK Jr review

MORE: Astell & Kern AK Jr prices

Best portable music player under £1000
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Tested at £950

The ZX2 certainly isn't cheap, but if you plan to use it at home as well as out and about, it might make sense.  

The size of this Walkman is just about right and the buttons and controls are easy to use, while the leather back feels nice. A slight bulge hides the headphone jack and the microSD card slot (there's a hefty 128GB of interal storage, too).

The player has Android 4.2 on board, so you have access to Google Play apps including music streaming services. The ZX2 can also play hi-res tunes (and video, though you will have to squint).

Sonically, the ZX2 delivers a clear, detailed and organised sound, and there's good weight to bass, giving a real solidity to tracks. The ZX2 cans sometimes make tracks sound a little too regimented, but we're nit-picking.

If you want to splash some cash on a serious portable music player, Sony's NW-ZX2 might be the one.

MORE: Sony NW-ZX2 review

MORE: Sony NW-ZX2 prices


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