Best portable music players Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best portable music players you can buy in 2020.
Whether you want to save memory and battery on your phone or simply need your on-the-go sound to be as good as it can, look no further than a portable music player.
With the demise of the Apple iPod in recent years (only the Touch survives, and it's included below), the PMP market has plenty of reputable players in it today.
Starting with our 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award winners, we've rounded-up the best of the lot across a range of prices, from budget Cowons right through to higher-end Astell & Kerns – you'll be surprised at what you can get for your money these days.
Many of these portable music players have microSD memory slots, so your music collection need never stop growing. It also means you can keep all your audio at the highest quality possible without worrying about running out of space.
Most support hi-res DSD as well as PCM files, while some can even double up as a DAC to enhance the sound between your smartphone/laptop and headphones/speakers. Some have streaming built-in, others have functionality that mirrors a phone.
But all in this list below share one thing: excellent sound quality.
The new PD2 (or Plenue D2) is the latest edition of a 2018 What Hi-Fi? Award winner, the Plenue D (see below) – and now it's an Award winner itself, claiming a 2019 award. It makes clear gains for its £60 price hike: it sounds clearer and subtler, taking transparency to the next level.
Add to that class-leading sound with an expandable 64GB memory, both 2.5mm (balanced) and 3.5mm outputs and PCM 24-bit/192kHz and DSD128 file support, and you have yourself a winner.
Read the full review: Cowon Plenue D2
Our 2019 Product of the Year Award winner, the Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 may look a little less than normal, but it suits this player's extraordinary spread of abilities. Boasting an easy-to-use interface, stacks of 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 sound.
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
Yes, it's 2019 and you're reading a new review of a Walkman! And a 2019 Award-winning Walkman at that. Sony has designed, marketed and priced the NW-A45 to act as a companion to your smartphone rather than as an alternative, purely handling your desire for hi-res music. And it does this very well for the price, boasting more hours of playback than the iPod Touch, plus the build quality is excellent and it feels more expensive than it is.
The iPod Touch also has apps, cameras, FaceTime, messaging services and a voice assistant. However, despite the Sony's offline status and clunky user interface, at this price, there’s an awful lot to like about this latest version in a long line of Walkmans.
Read the full review: Sony NW-A45
Given the iPod Touch’s extensive feature set and comparably low price, it would only need to be decent for us to be able to recommend it. However, this seventh generation is more than that: it proves there is still a place for the iPod in this market of smartphone streaming and premium hi-res PMPs.
In terms of tonality and overall character, it is a very Apple-sounding product. It gets everything right, without overstretching itself in any regard. Balance is even, rhythms snap in time and there is enough dynamic interest to discern between varying moods and genre.
That's before you consider its HD screen, extensive app access, gaming capabilities and even front and rear-facing cameras. It is essentially a smartphone without the cellular connection.
Read the full review: Apple iPod Touch (2019)
For those with grand portable ambitions, high-end headphones and, crucially the budget, the supreme SE100 (our priciest 2019 PMP Award winner) is both a luxury and a logical buy.
The SE100 represents a serious evolution of Astell & Kern’s already excellent previous efforts, delivering 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.
Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&futura SE100
For over a dozen years now, digital audio obsessive Fiio has been living a bit of a double life. In its native China and throughout Asia, the brand is acknowledged as one of the frontrunners in portable digital audio players and their peripheries. Here, though, Fiio is much more of an underground success, a kind of hipster alternative to all those gauche Apple and Sony PMPs – and its M11 is widely regarded as the one of the best music players around at its price.
The M11 Pro (2mm thicker than its non-Pro variant) does the brand proud: it's an intuitive Android-based player with a hugely likeable and entertaining sound.
Read the full review: Fiio M11 Pro review
This near-flagship model is pretty much faultless when it comes to sound quality. It’s not cheap and we have minor quibbles with the controls, but when it comes to the business of playing music it’s impossible to find holes in the performance.
Astell & Kern listened to user feedback and made a machine that's smaller and lighter than the company's flagship, and now, we’re delighted to say, it’s our turn to do the listening.
Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP100M
For £199 – £60 cheaper than its sibling above – this is a really tough portable music player to fault. For your money you get a feature rich device capable of supporting 24bit/192kHz sample rates and FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, WAV, WMA and MP3 file formats.
A 3.7-inch colour touchscreen, 32GB of storage (upgradeable to 128GB via microSD), 100-hour battery life (playing MP3s) and solid-yet-lightweight build quality all make this a premium product at a low price. The result is a detailed, sophisticated and well-defined sound.
Read the full review: Cowon Plenue D
Arguably the ultimate high resolution portable music player under a grand, the Kann's solid build combines with impressive battery life and a long list of features.
There are both unbalanced (3.5mm) and balanced (2.5mm) outputs, aptX Bluetooth for wireless streaming at better-than-CD quality, and native support for 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 files. As for the performance, you can expect layers upon layers of depth, detail and dynamism with real texture.
A talented machine you'll find it tough to put down.
Read the full review: Astell & Kern Kann
Not many portable music players will find common ground with the SP2000 – not in terms of price, build or performance. This is a one-of-a-kind player, which is as impractically portable as it is inaccessibly priced.
But as a high-end music player – both as a straight-up PMP in a desirable headphones set-up and as a streaming-capable source for your speaker-led hi-fi – the A&ultima SP2000 is the sort of musical and multi-talented device that’s otherwise hard to come by. Forgive its weight and average battery life, and you won’t be sorry you chose this fantastic-sounding device.
Read the full review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000