Skip to main content

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

Best Apple iPod alternatives Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Apple iPod alternatives you can buy in 2020.

There’s no getting away from it: the Apple iPod in all its guises was (and still is) a great portable music player. But as the company's iPhones have taken over music playing duties for many, the tech giant has scaled back its range of music players. In fact, only the iPod Touch survives.

But what if you want a dedicated music player that isn't the Touch? A better-sounding player? Or a portable music player that, unlike the iPod, plays hi-res music out of the box? The good news is that there are plenty of excellent iPod alternatives out there.

The portable music players listed below tend to have decent storage that can be expanded by microSD memory cards to cater for a library of hi-res tunes. They often support hi-res 24-bit/192kHz files and beyond, with some also able to playback DSD and MQA files. Some can even double up as a DAC to enhance the sound from your laptop.

We've tested a wide range and rounded up the best iPod alternatives across a range of prices, from eminent brands such as Sony, Astell & Kern, Cowon and FiiO. Budget accordingly for a decent pair of headphones, and you'll have a formidable on-the-fly system.

Check out our list of the best iPod alternatives below...

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony NW-A55L

An improvement on last year’s Award-winning budget Walkman

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 16GB + mircoSD expandable | Screen size: 3.1-inch | Battery life: 45hr | Dimensions: 9.7 x 5.6 x 1.1 cm | Weight: 99g

Reasons to Buy

Clean, insightful, upfront sound
Bluetooth receiver/transmitter
All-encompassing file support

Reasons to Avoid

MicroSD card required

In the six years since Sony introduced its first high-resolution Walkman, the Japanese giant has offered hi-res audio support across a variety of portable players, from the very affordable to the very high end.

It is most focused on the budget end of the market, though, and last year reaped its reward in the form of a 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award for the NW-A45. Clearly not one to rest on its laurels, Sony has now replaced that budget belter with this NW-A55L, and with it has set a new benchmark for affordable hi-res portable player.

The NW-A55L is fuller and cleaner, fleshing out notes (the bass is notably better defined) and presenting them with a more upfront sound. If you’re looking for a sonic upgrade over your phone, the Sony will offer it across the board. 

Read the full review: Sony NW-A55L

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

2. Astell & Kern A&norma SR25

Astell & Kern has squeezed even more performance out of its entry-level player.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 64GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 3.6-inch | Battery life: 21hrs | Dimensions: 10.8 x 6.3 x 1.6cm | Weight: 178g

Reasons to Buy

Sets benchmark for transparency
Native DSD playback
Improved battery and UI

Reasons to Avoid

Pushes entry-level price higher

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 is the latest in what has been a long line of excellent, What Hi-Fi? Award-winning, ‘entry-level’ portable music players. Each new generation invariably proving more talented than the last. The SR25 doesn’t let us down, propelling its lineage forward from the 2018-introduced A&norma SR15 (below) to set a new performance benchmark.

Notably more expressive and eloquent than any other portable music player we’ve encountered at this price, and far beyond anything that smartphones are capable of, the SR25 demonstrates just how good music on the move can sound, while also remaining reasonably affordable. 

Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&norma SR25

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

3. Astell & Kern A&norma SR15

This iPod alternative is a hugely appealing all-rounder, with excellent sound and features.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 64GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 3.3-inch | Battery life: 9hrs | Dimensions: 9.9 × 5.7 x 1.6 cm | Weight: 154g

Reasons to Buy

Subtle and clear sound
Intuitive interface
DAC and preamp

Reasons to Avoid

Design might not appeal to all

In light of the arrival of its successor (above), the SR15 is a bona fide bargain thanks to a recent price drop. It doesn't have the same level of insight of its new sibling, but it's still a fantastic player, boasting an easy-to-use interface, expandable storage and plenty of hi-res file support – not to mention an entertaining and a dynamic sound that's synonymous with the brand. 

It promises a severe step up from your smartphone and the iPod Touch. This device can also be used as a DAC/preamp, allowing you to use it to enhance the performance of your smartphone and/or laptop.

Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&norma SR15

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

4. Cowon Plenue D2

A class-leading performer with the features and practicality to boot.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 64GB + mircoSD expandable | Screen size: 3.7-inch | Battery life: 45hrs | Dimensions: 5.3 x 7.9 x 1.5 cm | Weight: 97g

Reasons to Buy

Balanced, dynamic and punchy
Pocket-friendly size

Reasons to Avoid

Interface looks dated

The demise of the Apple iPod has opened up the market for other portable music player brands, including Cowon.

The Cowon Plenue D2 (or PD2) is the next-gen version of one of the most impressive budget players we’ve encountered – the Award winning Plenue D. This budget portable music player has vast file support, pocket-size practicality, an accessible price and sounds great too.

It may not be quite such a budget bargain as its predecessor, but it manages to justify the premium. If you want a dedicated music player device, this Cowon should be high on your list – we haven’t heard a better-sounding portable music player at the money.

Read the full review: Cowon Plenue D2

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

5. Fiio M11 Pro

A premium portable music player aimed at the mainstream.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 64GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 5.15in | Battery life: Up to 9.5 hrs | Dimensions: 13 x 7 x 1.7cm | Weight: 232g

Reasons to Buy

Articulate, subtle sound
Slick UI
Extensive functions

Reasons to Avoid

Sound could be broader

Fiio has been a big name in its native China for years now, but in the West it's still a bit of a niche taste - a sort of higher-quality hipster alternative to the mainstream Apple and Sony PMPs. But the M11 Pro succeeds in appealing to the mass market without compromising on quality.

It's a large and weighty device, but build quality is high enough so that it carries it well. Based on Android, it's a dream to use, with a slick UI that glides along smoothly.

All digital file formats are catered for, and Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay and DLNA all come as part of the package. Ii boasts an expansive sound with bags of pace, drive and detail at its disposal. It exposes plenty of nuances without sounding clinical, confirming it's an engaging and energetic listen. Highly recommended.

Read the full review: Fiio M11 Pro

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

6. Astell & Kern A&futura SE200

Offering a choice of DACs and a benchmark-setting performance

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 256GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 5-inch | Battery life: 14hr | Dimensions: 13 x 7.7 x 1.6cm | Weight: 274g

Reasons to Buy

Articulate and subtle performer
Sonically versatile
Lots of features

Reasons to Avoid

One output sufficient

The A&futura SE200 is the first portable music player to give the user a choice of DACs; there’s ESS’s latest chip in a dual configuration, as well as one of AKM's flagship chips as found in Astell & Kern’s flagship SP2000. Why? It’s down to letting the user pick the sonic signature they prefer. Each DAC type feeds 2.5mm balanced and the standard 3.5mm outputs, and has a set of audio filters for further fine-tuning.

Ultimately we don’t see the need for the inferior-sounding ESS performance when the AKM output performs so much better, but that aside the company has still managed to set a new performance benchmark for the price with the SE200. It serves up a sound that trumps every Astell & Kern player before it, bar the flagship SP2000.

Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&futura SE200

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

7. Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M

It might be small and light, but this is still an ultra-premium hi-res music player.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 128GB + SD card | Screen size: 4.1in | Battery life: 10 hrs | Dimensions: 11.7 x 6.8 x 1.7cm | Weight: 203g

Reasons to Buy

Highly portable
Clean, clear audio
Detailed

Reasons to Avoid

Pricey
Fiddly controls

Astell & Kern's devices are some of the most premium PMPs around, but they can be a bit on the bulky side. The company listened to customer feedback and produced the A&ultima SP1000M, a slim and light player that's much more pocketable than most of its stablemates.

And it's still reassuringly well built too, with a solid build quality that screams quality. The controls could be a little more intuitive (we found the layout occasionally a bit fiddly), but that's about all there is to gripe about.

Astell & Kern has definitely not cut any corners when it comes to sound quality. The presentation is clean, clear, punchy and detailed, and music sounds as it should. Its level of transparency can make similarly priced machines sound dull, muffled or lifeless. An effortless performance from a first-rate player.

Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

8. Astell & Kern Kann

Astell & Kern's premium player delivers a fantastic high-end sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 64GB + dualSD expandable | Screen size: 3.3-inch | Battery life: 14 hrs | Dimensions: 11.5 × 7.1 x 2.5 cm | Weight: 278g

Reasons to Buy

Good array of features
Superb detail
Strong, dynamic presentation

Reasons to Avoid

Design might not appeal to everyone

Astell & Kern’s Kann player’s larger-than-life design won’t be to all tastes, but its superb sound quality is unquestionable, making it a great alternative for the iPod Touch.

The Kann might be chunky, but that extra space leaves room for a lot of physical features. And when it comes to performance per pound, there’s no mistaking the Kann’s sonic chops.

It’s dynamic, has a great sense of timing, and gives an insightful performance. Other portable players at the Kann’s price point need to watch their step – it's a formidable machine.

Read the full review: Astell & Kern Kann

MORE:

Best headphones 2020

Best portable music players 2020

10 of the best hi-res albums on Tidal Masters