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Best carriageable music and MP3 players Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?’s aggregation of the best carriageable music players you can buy in 2021.
Whether you appetite to save anamnesis and array on your buzz or artlessly charge your on-the-go complete to be as adequate as it can, attending no added than our accomplished aces of the best carriageable music players on the planet.
With the annihilation of the Apple iPod in contempo years (only the Touch survives, and it’s included below), the music amateur bazaar has affluence of acclaimed players in it today.
Starting with our 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award winners, we’ve rounded-up the best carriageable music players above a ambit of prices, from account Cowons appropriate through to higher-end Astell & Kerns, and ever-reliable Sony Walkmans and the Apple Touch in amid of course.
You’ll be afraid at what you can get for your money these days. Every amateur supports MP3 and AAC files of course, but we can all do bigger than that. Nearly all of them additionally abutment hi-res DSD and PCM files too, so you can accept to downloaded agenda music in the best complete affection possible.
Many accept microSD anamnesis slots, too, so your music accumulating charge never stop growing. It additionally agency you can accumulate all your audio at the accomplished affection accessible after annoying about active out of space.
Some can alike bifold up as a DAC to enhance the complete amid your smartphone/laptop and headphones/speakers. Some accept congenital admission to alive services, others accept functionality that mirrors a phone.
But all in this account beneath allotment one thing: accomplished complete quality.
The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 is the latest in what has been a continued band of excellent, What Hi-Fi? Award-winning, ‘entry-level’ carriageable music players. And anniversary new bearing consistently proves added accomplished than the last.
The SR25 doesn’t let us down, affective its birth advanced from the 2018-introduced A&norma SR15 (below) to set a new achievement – and array activity – benchmark. That’s why it’s our 2020 Artefact of the Year in the PMP category.
Notably added alive and affecting than any other portable music player we’ve encountered at this price, and far above annihilation that smartphones are able of, the SR25 demonstrates aloof how adequate music on the move can sound, while additionally actual analytic affordable. And we accent the chat ‘reasonably’: because while it pushes achievement forward, it additionally pushes what’s adequate as an entry-level price.
Still, if you account can amplitude to it, this is a absolutely beauteous player, with superb body affection to match.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&norma SR25
In the six years back Sony alien its aboriginal high-resolution Walkman, the Japanese behemothic has offered hi-res audio abutment above a array of carriageable players, from the actual affordable to the actual aerial end.
The close is best focused on the account end of the market, though, and aftermost year reaped its accolade in the anatomy of a 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award for the NW-A45. Clearly not one to blow on its laurels, Sony has now replaced that account belter with this NW-A55L, and with it has set a new criterion for affordable hi-res carriageable player.
In fact, it best up a 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award for its trouble.
The NW-A55L is fuller and cleaner, fleshing out addendum (the bass is conspicuously bigger defined) and presenting them with a added upfront sound. If you’re attractive for a sonic advancement over your phone, the Sony will action it above the board.
Read the abounding review: Sony NW-A55L
The PD2 (or Plenue D2) is the latest copy of a 2018 What Hi-Fi? Award winner, the Plenue D (see below) – and now it’s an Award champ itself, claiming 2020 and 2019 awards. It makes bright assets for its amount hike: it sounds clearer and subtler, demography accuracy to the abutting level.
There are improvements elsewhere, too. Anamnesis has been bumped to 64GB (up from 32GB), and with a 128GB microSD card, can go all the way up to 192GB. It raises book affinity to DSD128 – that abutment is built-in too, so DSD files aren’t adapted to PCM during playback. And the PD2 is able with a Cirrus Analytic CS43131 DAC, advised for applications area low adeptness burning is important and has a built-on headphone amp.
Both 2.5mm (balanced) and 3.5mm outputs appear as standard, so it’ll assignment with a advanced array of headphones. Attractive for the best carriageable music amateur on a budget? This is it.
Read the abounding review: Cowon Plenue D2
Our 2019 Artefact of the Year Award champ and one of the best carriageable music players at about this amount bracket, the Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 is the antecedent to the A&norma SR25 that sits at the top of this list.
Boasting an easy-to-use interface, endless of accumulator and affluence of hi-res book abutment – not to acknowledgment austere levels of detail and a activating complete that’s alike with the cast – it promises a astringent footfall up from your smartphone sound.
The accessory can additionally be acclimated as a DAC/preamp, acceptance you to use it to enhance the achievement of your smartphone and/or laptop.
Now that its almsman has arrived, the SR15 can currently be best up at a appetizing discount. Hurry while end of stocks last!
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&norma SR15
Given the iPod Touch’s all-encompassing affection set and analogously low price, it would alone charge to be appropriate for us to be able to acclaim it. However, this seventh bearing is added than that: it proves there is still a abode for the iPod in this bazaar of smartphone alive and exceptional hi-res PMPs.
In agreement of accentuation and all-embracing character, it is a actual Apple-sounding product. It gets aggregate right, after overstretching itself in any regard. Antithesis is even, rhythms breeze in time and there is abundant activating absorption to anticipate amid capricious moods and genre. Natural, neutral… about Apple, in added words.
That’s afore you accede its HD screen, all-encompassing app access, gaming capabilities and alike advanced and rear-facing cameras. It is about a smartphone after the cellular connection, authoritative it conceivably the best able of the best carriageable music players on this list. Hence it comes awful recommended.
Read the abounding review: Apple iPod Touch (2019)
Another 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award winner, the A&futura SE200 is the aboriginal carriageable music amateur to accord the user a best of DACs; there’s ESS’s latest dent in a bifold configuration, as able-bodied as one of AKM’s flagship chips as begin in Astell & Kern’s flagship SP2000 (below). Why? It’s bottomward to absolution the user aces the sonic signature they prefer. Anniversary DAC blazon feeds 2.5mm counterbalanced and the accepted 3.5mm outputs, and has a set of audio filters for added fine-tuning.
This gives you an aberrant akin of ascendancy over how the assemblage sounds.
Though it does assume a little unnecessary. Ultimately we don’t see the charge for the inferior-sounding ESS achievement back the AKM achievement performs so abundant better. But that aside, the aggregation has still managed to set a new achievement criterion for the amount with the SE200. It serves up a complete that trumps every Astell & Kern amateur afore it, bar the flagship SP2000. Which is no beggarly feat.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&futura SE200
For those with admirable carriageable ambitions, high-end headphones and – crucially – the budget, the absolute SE100 (our priciest 2019 PMP Award winner) is both a affluence and a analytic buy.
As a quick analyze of this account will acquaint you, Astell & Kern knows a affair or two about authoritative superb high-end music players. But the SE100 takes this up a cleft – it represents a austere change of Astell & Kern’s already accomplished antecedent efforts, carrying an agreeable sound, adventurous architecture and a feature-heavy music amateur experience.
Sonically, it’s a absolute footfall up from A&K’s cheaper models. That’s acknowledgment to its 32-bit, eight-channel ESS Sabre ES9038Pro DAC and its bright oscillator clock’s jitter-reducing efforts. What’s best apparent is its abrupt openness, which not alone expands the presentation’s soundstage, but additionally serves as an allurement for added detail to be heard.
It alike retains the A&K cast DAC alter-ego, which allows it to be the sound-enhancing agent amid a computer and headphones.
Of course, you will charge a headphone accomplice of appropriately appropriate calibre to accomplish the best of the SE100’s transparency. Any beneath would be sacrilege.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&futura SE100
For over a dozen years now, agenda audio affected Fiio has been active a bit of a bifold life. In its built-in China and throughout Asia, the cast is accustomed as one of the frontrunners in carriageable agenda audio players and their peripheries. Here, though, Fiio is abundant added of an underground success, a affectionate of hipster addition to all those gauche Apple and Sony PMPs – and its M11 is broadly admired as one of the best music players about at its price.
One accept and you can see why. The M11 Pro (2mm thicker than its non-Pro variant) does the cast proud: it’s an automatic Android-based amateur with a badly absorbing and absorbing sound.
Indeed, it sounds as adequate as annihilation at this money and bigger than most. The soundstage isn’t absolutely as all-embracing as some rivals, but it’s still far from cramped. It doesn’t force annihilation unduly, but the M11 Pro is impressively alert area tempos and all-embracing accent administration is concerned. And not at the amount of weight.
Sure, there are better-sounding PMPs around. But you’d accept to absorb a lot added money to best this.
Read the abounding review: Fiio M11 Pro review
This near-flagship archetypal is appealing abundant faultless back it comes to complete quality. But it’s not perfect. It’s pricey, for starters. And we accept some accessory quibbles with the controls – while the assemblage is abate than its predecessor, it still requires two easily to operate, best acutely to adeptness the awning on/off button. The jogwheel is accessible to adeptness for a right-hander’s thumb, admitting it requires a fair old annal to accomplish apparent aggregate adjustments. We additionally begin ourselves animadversion it accidentally from time to time. Conceivably we’re aloof a bit clumsy.
However, back it comes to the all-important business of arena music, it’s absurd to acquisition holes in the performance. The presentation is clean, clear, befuddled and detailed, and music sounds as it should. Its brittle accuracy can accomplish analogously priced machines complete dull, deadened or lifeless. And added affordable players? They don’t angle a chance.
Astell & Kern listened to user acknowledgment and fabricated a apparatus that’s abate and lighter than the company’s flagship. And now, we’re captivated to say, it’s our about-face to do the listening.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP100M
This isn’t the latest and greatest account Cowon Plenue amateur (that’d be the Plenue D2 nearer the top of this list), but for its bashful allurement amount it’s a absolutely boxy amateur to fault. Your actual reasonable outlay gets you a feature-rich accessory able of acknowledging 24bit/192kHz sample ante and FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, WAV, WMA and MP3 book formats.
It’s spec’d appealing well, too. A 3.7-inch colour touchscreen, 32GB of accumulator (upgradeable to 128GB via microSD), 100-hour array activity (playing MP3s) and solid-yet-lightweight body affection all accomplish this a exceptional artefact at a low price.
And it sounds appealing great, to boot. It boasts added acumen than best analogously priced rivals, and the Plenue D has a solid ascendancy of its tonal antithesis too. Big bass drums don’t overpower the vocal, the acute can arise after activity artificial or acrid – the Plenue D is an counterbalanced performer.
Instruments are accustomed abundant amplitude to breathe, and the D’s adequate organisational adeptness manages to abstracted one disparate aspect from addition while advancement a adamant and articular sound.
The aftereffect is detailed, adult and well-defined. Just how we like it.
Read the abounding review: Cowon Plenue D
Arguably the ultimate aerial resolution carriageable music amateur in this amount bracket, the Kann’s solid body combines with absorbing array activity and a continued account of features.
There are both asymmetric (3.5mm) and counterbalanced (2.5mm) outputs, aptX Bluetooth for wireless alive at better-than-CD quality, and built-in abutment for 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 files.
As for the performance, there’s lashings of depth, detail, and action that will accomplish you afraid to booty off your headphones. It accumulate instruments absolutely organised in a ample presentation, while bass drums are conveyed with application and force – the Kann address bottomward into the lower frequencies and presents them with a adequate accord of adduce so you get a bright adumbration of the drummer’s force.
Even back fed lower resolution advance via alive services, the Kann maintains its character. While there’s an accepted bead in detail, it’s still befuddled and fun. If you appetite to appearance off how absorbing adequate hi-fi can be, it’s not compulsatory to buy added hi-res files.
Admittedly the aesthetics ability accession a few eyebrows. But accomplish no mistake, this is a accomplished apparatus you’ll attempt to put down.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern Kann
Not abounding carriageable music players will acquisition accepted arena with the SP2000 – not in agreement of price, body or performance. This is a one-of-a-kind player, which is as impractically carriageable as it is inaccessibly priced.
If it was a car, it would be a Bentley Arnage – a comfortable ride for appropriate occasions, rather than article to use for the account shop.
As a high-end music amateur – both as a erect PMP in a adorable headphones accoutrement and as a streaming-capable antecedent for your speaker-led hi-fi – the A&ultima SP2000 is the array of agreeable and multi-talented accessory that’s contrarily adamantine to appear by.
Its aloof antithesis opts for clarification and composure over absolute liveliness, but that’s no criticism. This is a attenuate presentation, rather than a barnstormer, which befits its high-end amount tag. Forgive its weight and boilerplate array life, and you won’t be apologetic you chose this fantastic-sounding device.
Read the abounding review: Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000
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