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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 Apple'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 Touch survives. 

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

These portable music players tend to have limited storage but can be used with microSD memory cards, to expand their capacity and fill them with hi-res tunes without worrying about memory space. Some can also 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. We can’t guarantee that these will be cheaper than the current iPod Touch (2019), which remains great value for money, but in terms of quality and all-round ability there should be something in this list for you. Budget accordingly for a decent pair of headphones, and you'll have a formidable portable system.

Check out our list of the best iPod alternatives below. 

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Apple iPod Touch (2019) review

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony NW-A45

A convincing iPod alternative with massive battery life.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 16GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 3.1-inch | Battery life: 45hrs | Dimensions: 9.8 × 5.6 x 1.1 cm | Weight: 98g

Reasons to Buy

Precise, hi-fi sounding vocals
Solid build
DSD playback
microSD slot for extra storage

Reasons to Avoid

Headphones not supplied
Clunky user interface

It wouldn't be a list of iPod alternatives without a Sony Walkman on the list, and the Sony NW-A45 is a particularly fine example.

If you’re looking for a personal music player (PMP) that lets you listen to hi-res PCM and DSD files on the fly with optional noise-cancelling, this Sony Walkman is for you.

It's around the same size as a credit card, so slotting it into a pocket will be simple enough. The 16GB of built-in storage is a little stingy, but a microSD slot means you can boost this to a more usable 512GB for all those high-quality files.

An extra string to the Sony's bow compared to the Touch (or the older Nano for that matter) is it doubles up as a DAC, so can improve the sound quality of your laptop. But it's the natural, detailed sound that keeps us coming back for more. If authenticity is your thing, then this is the iPod alternative for you.

Read the full review: Sony NW-A45

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

2. 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

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 might look a little less than normal, but it suits this player's extraordinary spread of abilities. Boasting an easy-to-use interface, expandable storage and plenty of hi-res file support – not to mention serious levels of detail and a dynamic sound that's synonymous with the brand – it promises a severe step up from your smartphone or iPod Touch.

The 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)

3. 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)

4. 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: budget and premium

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

5. 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: Astell & Kern)

6. Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000

Not very portable and very pricey, but it sounds like no other music player we’ve heard.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 512GB | Screen size: 5in | Battery life: 8 hrs | Dimensions: 13 x 8 x 1.6cm | Weight: 430g

Reasons to Buy

Best sound around
Streaming functionality
Lovely to use 

Reasons to Avoid

So-so battery life
Bulky

Whether your currency is pounds or dollars, this player costs thousands - think around three times the price of a premium smartphone, and you're somewhere in the neighbourhood. And as you would imagine, it's a very respectable neighbourhood.

The SP2000 is bulky and heavy, but reassuringly so - it's Astell & Kern's trademark build quality that lets you know it's a premium piece of kit.

It's packed full of features: MQA file support; dual-band wi-fi and Bluetooth; built-in access to Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Apple Music and Deezer apps (some come pre-loaded, some require installation); and the neat AK Connect which turns the player into a DLNA server or renderer. So you certainly get your money's worth.

It also delivers on the sound front - the audio is big, transparent and refined. In fact, it's quite possibly the best iPod alternative we've ever heard.

Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

7. 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

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

8. Astell & Kern A&futura SE100

Portable music players rarely sound this good, nor cost this much.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 128GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 5-inch | Battery life: n/a | Dimensions: 13.0 × 7.5 x 1.5 cm | Weight: 240g

Reasons to Buy

Hugely capable sound
Extensive file support and storage
Bright, punchy screen
Easy to navigate interface

Reasons to Avoid

Sharp edges on casework

The Astell & Kern A&futura SE100 is a portable pleasure that deserves to be pocketed. Sitting between the A&ultima SP1000 and Award-winning Kann in A&K’s hi-res player portfolio.

It has all Astell & Kern’s best parts – an engaging sound, bold design and a feature-heavy music player experience. It even retains the A&K trademark DAC alter-ego, which allows it to be the sound-enhancing middleman between a computer and headphones. 

Of course, it’s priced out of reach for most at the top end of pricing for the portable music player market. But for those with grand portable ambitions, decent high-end headphones and, crucially the budget, this sonic-savvy source is a logical buy.

Read our full review: Astell & Kern A&futura SE100

Best Apple iPod alternatives 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

9. Fiio M3

Small in stature, but this bona fide iPod alternative is big on sound quality.

SPECIFICATIONS

Storage: 8GB + microSD expandable | Screen size: 2-inch | Battery life: 24 hrs | Dimensions: 7.4 × 3.9 x 0.9 cm | Weight: 40g

Reasons to Buy

Small and lightweight
Expandable microSD storage
Detailed sound
Hi-res support List

Reasons to Avoid

Small controls

The FiiO M3 is around the size (and weight) of a matchbox, and will appeal to those who don’t want their music collection clogging up storage space on their phone, but aren’t prepared to fork out a significant amount for a separate device.

That kind of minimalistic approach to music on the move may be more of a minority interest now than it was a few years ago, but nevertheless it will still have its fans especially those looking for an iPod Shuffle alternative. For everything the FiiO offers at this price, it deserves recognition.

Read our full review: Fiio M3

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