Best Apple iPod Touch alternatives 2024: budget and premium models tested

Best wireless speakers: quick menu

There’s no escaping it: the Apple iPod in all its guises was a great portable music player. But the relentless progression of Apple's miraculously versatile iPhone all but took over music-playing duties for most users, making the iPod Touch essentially redundant as time has worn on. When Apple killed the iPod after 21 years (!), its demise simply felt like an inescapable inevitability. 

So where do you go now if you want to listen to music on the go? There are plenty of options: from dedicated portable music players that fit into your pocket and/or pack in extensive hi-res file support, to smartphone alternatives that are just as portable and offer good sound, along with a huge set of additional skills. The good news is that many of these viable current alternatives can offer these things and more to fill the void left in the wake of the much-missed iPod Touch.

The guide below lists the best portable players (both hi-res digital audio players and smartphone alternatives) that our dedicated review team has tried and tested in recent years across various budgets, with each offering its own set of features, design and performance quality to suit your needs. Find out more about our testing process or scroll on to see the best alternatives around.

The quick list

Written by
Harry McKerrell headshot
Written by
Harry McKerrell

I'm a staff writer who has listened to and reviewed dozens of products during my time at What Hi-Fi?. Like many of our team, much of my listening is done on the go, meaning that I've spent a good deal of time getting to know the best portable music players (with the best headphones) that the market currently offers. I was one of the many fortunate souls who owned an iPod Touch back in the day, and while I still mourn its passing, I know exactly which alternatives are the best candidates for filling the hole it left following its demise. These great alternative players have enough storage to hold near-endless amounts of tracks, as well as solid battery lives and great sound quality across the board.

Best overall iPod Touch alternative

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. A wonderful hi-res player that really gets the most out of your music.

Specifications

Storage: 64GB (expandable by 1TB via microSD)
Max file support: 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, MQA
Headphone outputs : 3.5mm, 4.4mm and 2.5mm
Battery life: 20 hours
Dimensions (hwd): 10.8 x 6.4 x 1.6cm
Weight: 184g

Reasons to buy

+
New benchmark for sound quality 
+
Well-equipped functionality 
+
Smart, compact design  

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life could be better 
-
Price no longer truly 'entry level'

The SR35 stretches the definition of ‘entry level’, sitting a rung or two up the ladder from the affordable Sony NW-A306 and even pricier than the previous 'entry level' SR25 MKII it replaces. But there's no arguing with the astonishing level of performance you get from it.

The excellent SR35 boasts many of the features that made its five-star, What Hi-Fi? Award-winning predecessor so successful – including three headphone outputs (3.5mm, 4.4mm and 2.5mm), native playback of MQA, DSD256 and PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz files, 64GB of built-in storage (expandable by up to 1TB via a microSD card), and the neat ability to use the player as a performance-enhancing DAC device between your wired headphones and, say, laptop.

There's not a chance of the SR35 missing a beat with the music you send its way. The five-star player has the rhythmic drive to keep you tapping along to upbeat, snappy tracks, combined with the insight to draw you into the details of those calmer ones. The overall sonic presentation is hugely likeable, with a tonal balance slightly on the rich side and a combination of power and finesse that feels mature for a source at this level that most headphones will get along with just fine. Happy days all around.

Read our full Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review 

Best budget iPod Touch alternative

An affordable player with excellent hi-res support and a mature, balanced performance.

Specifications

Storage : 32GB (expandable by 2TB via microSDXC)
Max file support : 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, MQA
Headphone outputs : 3.5mm
Battery life: 32 hours approx
Dimensions (hwd): 9.8 x 5.7 x 1.2cm
Weight : 113g

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, detailed, composed sound
+
Pocketable size
+
Excellent hi-res audio support
+
Wi-fi and Bluetooth supported

Reasons to avoid

-
Android OS is cumbersome and space-hogging
-
Interface can be clunky
-
Internal music storage space is only half of what’s available

As an affordable alternative to the iPod Touch, the new NW-A306 fits the brief perfectly. It's compact and fits in palms and pockets alike comfortably, and we love the scalloped textured back that gives us a good grip without sacrificing on style. Even Apple didn't think of that.

The NW-A306's connections are minimal, but that's no bad thing: the USB-C cable lets you charge, transfer files and use the Walkman as a DAC, while the 3.5mm headphone jack can be used with a variety of good-to-great headphones. The given onboard storage is rather small in comparison to other players, but it's possible to expand the player's memory thanks to the microSD slot.

Internally, NW-A306 is packed to the gill with features: the hi-res file support is extensive and excellent at this affordable price, the full Android OS means it effectively operates similarly to a smartphone (for better or worse) and lets you download your favourite music streaming app, and it even supports LDAC and aptX codecs over Bluetooth.

The handsomely made Sony player is adept enough to turn its hand to various genres and can even discern the differences in file qualities, all while sounding comfortable to listen to for long periods. It's a satisfyingly detailed and clean performance, and we're impressed at how mature and balanced it sounds for the price. We'd ideally like a tad more dynamic punch and drive to songs that need it though; the Sony can sound a touch reserved when a song demands outright fun or naked aggression. 

Definitely a neat compact player worthy of your consideration, especially if your budget doesn’t stretch to the more premium Astell & Kern players.

Read our full Sony NW-A306 review

Top tip
Becky Roberts
Top tip
Becky Roberts

You might be wondering whether your potential iPod alternative needs wi-fi access to function properly. Smartphones aside, most modern portable music players do require network access so that firmware or software updates can be performed on a somewhat regular basis. 

Wi-fi, naturally, is also for downloading or streaming music via services such as Tidal or Qobuz. If you don't really stream music and just want to play the music files that you have stored locally on your player, you can save your battery life by turning off the wi-fi entirely. Just ensure you switch it on periodically so that you're not missing out on any of those juicy firmware updates, of course. 

Best high-end iPod Touch alternative

Astell & Kern’s high-end player expertly delivers up excellent portable audio.

Specifications

Storage: 256GB (expandable by 1TB via microSD)
Max file support: 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, MQA
Headphone outputs: 3.5mm, balanced 2.5mm, Pentaconn 4.4mm
Battery life : 10 hours
Dimensions: 13.7 x 7.7 x 2cm
Weight: 493g

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed, authoritative sound 
+
Well-equipped 
+
Terrific build 

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy for a portable 
-
Operation can sometimes feel a little clunky 

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 isn't for anyone who wants the specs and functionalities of an iPod touch but with a different brand name and a slightly tweaked operating system. This is a serious player with a serious price tag, so it's only worth considering if you, too, are serious about portable high-fidelity sound. 

If you do value on-the-go quality, though, the flagship SP3000 has to be on your shortlist. The high-end player is packed with useful features and built to the highest standards, even if it's chunkier than your standard portable device. Bluetooth is on the menu, meaning you can use wireless headphones without a problem, and given the no-compromise nature of this design, it's no surprise to find aptX HD and LDAC codecs also supported.

There's no issue with file compatibility, either, with the SP3000 handling high-resolution files up to 32-bit/768kHz, PCM and DSD512, as well as MQA.  Elsewhere, A&K's engineers have worked to reduce internal noise via separate analogue with the aim of optimising the player's sonic performance.

In the ever-crucial arena of quality sound, then, is where this premium player really shines. Across the board, the SP3000 has so much to recommend it, tying together an almost touchable sense of musical insight as it coveys dynamic contrasts and rhythmic patterns with skill, intuition and flair. Detail is abundant, while the muscular, taut bass anchors everything to provide a cohesive, meaty soundscape. 

If you've got the money, you're passionate about sound quality and you own equally impressive headphones to partner with it, we'd wholeheartedly recommend the A&ultima SP3000. 

Read our full Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review

Best iOS smartphone iPod Touch alternative

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. An excellent all-round iPod alternative that blends performance and presentation for iOS fans.

Specifications

Storage : 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Max file support : 24-bit/48kHz (without external DAC)
Headphone outputs : USB-C output
Battery : 29hrs video, 95hrs audio
Weight : 221g
Dimensions (hwd): 160 x 77 x 8.3mm

Reasons to buy

+
Hi-fi-like sound via headphones
+
Loud, clear speakers
+
iOS platform is slick and smooth

Reasons to avoid

-
DAP rivals offer better hi-res file support
-
No 3.5mm headphone socket
-
A bit expensive

If what you loved about the iPod Touch was that smooth, perfectly laid out iOS platform working in tandem with one of the slickest operating systems around, your natural next step is probably going to be seeking out a decent iPhone and playing your music from there. After all, a smartphone is one of those items we have with us at all times and an iPhone can easily double as a portable music player, provided you're not after a dedicated hi-res player with a headphone socket.

In truth, we find that iPhones tend to deliver the best sound from a smartphone, although we'd caveat that by saying that you can’t store or play FLAC hi-res files natively on an iPhone. Apple Music does offer lossless and hi-res files, but you'll need a third-party app and a DAC with wired headphones plugged into said DAC to take full advantage.

Still, the iPhone is a great device for playing music from streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz or Apple Music, with the device's innate sound quality shining through for all to hear. You can save downloaded songs and listen to them offline, and while any recent model will do the job from around the iPhone 12 range onwards, the 15 Pro Max comes highly recommended as our current Award winner. 

The iPhone is also excellent if you want to take advantage of immersive features such as spatial audio, especially if you have a pair of AirPods Pro 2 and playing music or streaming movies and TV shows from compatible apps. And with the iPhone 15 onwards now featuring a USB-C port (instead of Lightning), it's much easier to plug into a DAC without needing extra adaptors.

Read our full Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review

Best budget smartphone iPod Touch alternative

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Portable budget AV brilliance from Sony with strong hi-res audio support.

Specifications

Storage: 128GB
Max file support : Up to 24bit/192kH
Headphone outputs : 3.5mm
Battery life : 34 hours video playback
Dimensions (hwd): 155 x 68 x 8.3mm
Weight : 159g

Reasons to buy

+
Solid hi-res file support
+
LDAC Bluetooth support 
+
Has a 3.5mm headphone jack

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly underpowered
-
Vibration through handset
-
Dedicated PMPs offer better hi-res file support

The Sony Xperia 10 V is another What Hi-Fi? Award winner, although this is far more at the budget end of the price scale for smartphones. For offering great sound and versatility from a genuinely budget smartphone with proper hi-res file support, the Xperia 10 V is an excellent place to start if you want an iPod alternative that's a smartphone.

Best of all, this is one of the few smartphones that still sport a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can plug in wired headphones to enjoy music with greater fidelity and solidity than wireless alternatives. Sony's built-in DAC supports hi-res files natively up to 24bit/192kHz PCM, while LDAC Bluetooth codec support opens the 10 V up for higher-quality transmission over compatible wireless headphones. That's a great boost if you happen to own a set of the excellent WH-1000XM5 or WF-1000XM5. It also supports the aptX Adaptive codec.

We found the Xperia 10 V to be far more sonically dynamic than many phones at the same or even a higher price, particularly when using the 3.5mm headphone port. Playback over Bluetooth is impressive, and there's even support for Sony’s rather excellent 360 Reality Audio feature for immersive Dolby Atmos music from Tidal, Amazon Music and Deezer. Even the built-in stereo speakers are solid, performing much better than those found on the old Xperia 10 IV by offering up a fuller, meatier sound with a much-improved bass performance. 

The Xperia adds to its budget entertainment credentials by packing in a 21:9 6.1-inch OLED display which, when combined with the unit's excellent sonic capabilities, makes for a captivating, detail-rich experience at this level. If you want a budget iPod Touch alternative for music and movies, you may just have found it.

Read our full Sony Xperia 10 V review

Also consider

Fiio M11S: Looking for a more affordable way of getting full hi-res support for your music? The extensively-featured M11S blends intuitive Android integration with a well-stocked larder of features, and while we would like a smidge more punch and snap to take the audio into the big leagues, the sound on display is smooth, ample and pleasingly open.

iPhone 14 Pro Max: Just because it's a little older, there's no reason why you shouldn't consider the excellent iPhone 14 Pro Max. Naturally, everything you love (or don't) about the Apple way of life is here and working smoothly, but it's sonically where this iPhone 14 model really sets a high bar, serving up sound that feels weighty, rhythmically adept and full of dynamism via supported AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless and FLAC files.

How to choose the best iPod touch alternative

All of the portable music players listed in this guide have decent storage, but note that some can be expanded further using a microSD memory card and thus can accommodate an entire library of hi-res tunes. Of course, if you'll be using a smartphone, note that its internal storage might get quickly used up with its operating system, photos, games, videos and more – so choose your model wisely.

In terms of resolution, many music players often support hi-res 24-bit/192kHz files and beyond, with several supporting DSD and MQA decoding and file playback. Some can even double up as a DAC to enhance the sound from your laptop – we've listed the perks and specifications of each player. Many let you even download your favourite music streaming apps, and deliver sound quality beyond what you'd get from a smartphone. Alternatively, you can download all the music apps you want on a smartphone, but whether they support a 3.5mm headphone jack or not depends on the model.

You'll also need to budget accordingly for a decent pair of headphones or maybe even a DAC, but get everything right and you'll have a formidable on-the-fly system in the palm of your hands.

Also consider if what you're after is just for playing music or if you want, like the iPod Touch did, a whole host of other features such as alarm, calendar, videos, maps and anything else you now get through a modern smartphone. Seeking out a multi-tasking smartphone is sensible value for money, but you will usually get better sound quality from a player whose only job is to play music.

How we test iPod Touch alternatives

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in Reading and London, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our doors.

Of course, testing portable players that are iPod Touch alternatives doesn't always require such facilities – though we do try each player using various audiophile headphones, both in wired and (if the player supports it) wireless varieties to appraise thoroughly the sound quality. Most importantly, every product we review is compared to the best in its price and class to ensure we give our readers the best advice. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we keep our Award winners nearby to enable unbiased comparisons between new products and ones we know to have performed highly in the category.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give each plenty of listening time (and time to run in). It's not just about sound quality, of course. If a product has noteworthy features (enviable battery life, removable DAC modules, full MQA decoding) we'll ensure that a big part of our testing involves testing the claims made by its makers. 

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the entire team, rather than an individual reviewer, to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict. At What Hi-Fi?, we are proud to have consistently delivered honest, unbiased reviews for over 45 years. 

FAQ

Why do people still use MP3 players? Is an MP3/hi-res player worth buying?

Whether you're a true audiophile or a music lover who wants to conserve your smartphone's memory and battery, a dedicated music player is always worth considering. 

Despite the tragic death of the iPod, old-school portable MP3 players that you can take everywhere with you are still alive and kicking, and they're far more advanced than just storing and playing MP3 files. Today's portable players fully support high-resolution audio formats such as WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and DSD files (which smartphones can't handle), and pack in high-quality digital-to-analogue-converters, amplifiers and software whose main job is to ensure your music files are played in the best quality possible.

Many DAPs will let you download Tidal and Qobuz so you can stream your favourite playlists, and with many players now boasting a day's worth of battery, it means you can always carry your music library with you and listen without interruption even in the depths of the London Underground or up in the sky. Most players will have expandable memory storage, so you can carry thousands of albums with you wherever you roam. 

Ultimately, deciding on getting a DAP depends on your listening habits. If you want to keep music listening separate from your phone, are on the move a lot or are interested in getting the best sound from a pocket-friendly device, a portable music player is certainly worth considering.

Is MP3 quality as good as CD?

No. MP3 is one of the lowest resolution files around, while CD quality is far superior if you're looking for proper fidelity.

MP3 is a very lossy and compressed format with a small file size – a lot of information from the original recorded file is lost or discarded in the process of squeezing it all into a small size, so sound quality is the poorest of all the popular audio formats. The bit rate at which an MP3 is recorded affects the sound quality, with MP3s encoded at 128kbps losing more data than those encoded at 320kbps (kilobits per second, where each “bit” is essentially a “piece” of the song). 

WAV is the standard format in which all CDs are encoded. This format is uncompressed and lossless, hence the large file sizes. It crucially doesn't lose any information during the encoding process and thus sounds far superior to MP3. CD quality is 16-bit/44.1kHz – or to compare numbers with MP3, CD quality is encoded at 1411kbps.

If you care about audio quality, ensuring your digital music files and portable player are at CD quality at a minimum is mandatory.

Recent updates

  • May 2024: Added Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP3000, Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max and Sony Xperia 10 V entries, alongside an Also Consider section with more options.
  • March 2024: Updated testing process and added FAQ section to answer frequent questions and give advice on music players.
  • November 2023: What Hi-Fi? Award winners labelled after the 2023 Awards Best Buys and Product of the Year announcements.

MORE:

Now check out the best headphones to listen with 

These are the best portable music players

Get clued up: MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC: all the audio file formats explained

And 10 of the best hi-res albums on Tidal Masters

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

  • Navanski
    Here's a suggestion, why not ditch the list provided in the article and spend your cash on something else.
    Buy a phone with a decent DAC and adequate power output.
    My LG V30 has a quad DAC, it will handle virtually all codecs, including 32 bit @ 384khz and MQA. It drives my 300ohm HD580s with ease. And it cost me, new, about the same as the cheapest device in your list.
    Basically, you don't have to remove all that cash from your pocket to make room for a second device.
    Reply
  • Norvitski
    Do not make accusations of payola - unless you have evidence.
    Reply