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...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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