Best Apple iPod alternatives Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Apple iPod alternatives you can buy in 2023.
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 Apple's iPhones have taken over music playing duties for many, the Cupertino giant has scaled back its range of music players. In fact, only the iPod Touch survives.
What if you want a dedicated music player that isn't the Touch? What if you're after a better-sounding option 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 that can offer these things and more.
How to choose the best iPod Touch alternative for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
All of the portable music players listed below 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.
In terms of resolution, these 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 below.
We have tested and rounded up the best iPod alternatives across a range of prices from the two leading makers of such devices, Astell & Kern and Cowon. Budget accordingly for a decent pair of headphones, and you'll have a formidable on-the-fly system.
- Find out about hi-res audio: everything you need to know
- Know your lossy from you lossless: MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC: all the audio file formats explained
- See also hi-res music streaming services compared: which should you sign up for?
Now into its third iteration, Cowon has added Bluetooth, a volume wheel and a dual DAC to its 2021-issue bijou matchbox-sized player – and produced a What Hi-Fi? 2021 Award winner. The cracking new volume dial on the top right of the player feels like an homage to Astell & Kern players (several of which are listed below) and makes this little machine feel much more expensive than it is.
The Plenue D3 boasts a seriously impressive battery life of up to 45 hours if you’re playing MP3 files, or a solid 30 hours when listening to hi-res files at 'normal' volume. There is support for 24-bit/192kHz WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and DSD128 file compatibility too – and that support is native, so DSD files aren’t converted to PCM during playback.
This is a talented player that's sonically similar in character to its older siblings, but there are small upgrades here in terms of rhythm, timing, detail and musicality. It’s important to note that wi-fi streaming is still off the menu – so you will have to go without on-the-go streaming of Tidal, Deezer and others – but if you have the files and like the idea of pairing your portable music player either to a wireless speaker or pair of headphones for one of the smallest wireless systems you’ve seen, there’s no better shout currently on the market for the money. We gave it five stars across the board – what more do you need to know?
Read the full review: Cowon Plenue D3
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, with 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. It was so good, in fact, we had to hand it a What Hi-Fi? 2021 Award for the best portable music player priced £500-£1000.
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 Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 review
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 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 Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 review
The demise of the Apple iPod opened up the market for other portable music player brands, including Cowon.
The Cowon Plenue D2 (or PD2) is the 2nd-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 (which may drop even more thanks to the arrival of the D3, above) and sounds great too.
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 Cowon Plenue D2 review
The Kann Alpha is the third player in the Kann series and the first Astell & Kern player to implement Bluetooth 5.0. It boasts a more powerful built-in headphone amplifier than the previous Kann series players it succeeds, too. And thanks to the rearrangement of various components and the use of smaller resistors and capacitors, it promises added power in a smaller and more portable chassis.
It's still bulky, but will fit in a coat pocket, and supports most music file formats, including MQA, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV and native DSD256. It's similarly wide-ranging when it comes to wireless codec support (LDAC, aptX HD, aptX, AAC and, naturally, SBC Bluetooth). The Alpha also supports MQA-CD playback, by way of Astell & Kern’s CD-Ripper.
Sonically, it's suitably impressive. The presentation is expansive, and we're bowled over by its low-end capabilities. It handles difficult and detailed musical passages with a masterful hand, and live recordings are leant a degree of spaciousness and realism rarely heard. The closest we'll get to a gig for some time yet.
Read the full Astell & Kern Kann Alpha review
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 Astell & Kern A&futura SE200 review
The Astell & Kern 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 Astell & Kern Kann review
How we choose the best Apple iPod Touch alternatives
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, 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 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 thoroughly appraise the sound quality. Most importantly, every product we review is compared to the best in its price and class – whether that's one standout player or a few we favour the highest among the many we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. 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.
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These are the best portable music players
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.