Best Portable Music Player: Great Portable Sound

While smartphones offer convenience by being able to do everything, they are also compromised in that they can’t do everything at high levels. If you listen to and enjoy high-quality music, that’s a problem.

But that’s no problem for the portable music player. These devices are dedicated to playing the highest quality music, reducing signal noise and optimizing audio playback so you can listen to your favorite artists and albums in the best quality.

So if you value your music collection, choosing a portable music player is serious business, with some costing as much as the best smartphones on the market. Despite the prevalence of smartphones, there are still many brands in the portable music player market from Astell & Kern, FiiO and Sony.

We’re here to help make the right purchase for you. Our team of experts tested many players to compile this list, listening to high-quality music files, testing as many features as possible, and real-world usage to judge their performance.

This current list is an Astell & Kern-focused selection, but we’re also looking to review the latest portable music players on the market, and we’ll update this list as we find those worthy of consideration. be on it.

If you somehow happened upon this list and didn’t find what you’re looking for, check out our list of the best smartphones for a more general reader and check out our other audio list like the best headphones if you need to find a partner for your new portable music player.

The best portable music players at a glance

How we test

Learn more about how we test portable music players

We play a lot of music, different genres and at different file resolutions to get an idea of ​​the quality of portable music players.

If there are features, we make sure to modify them until we are satisfied. We assess their battery life and whether the player stands up to the manufacturer’s claims. We try them out on their various wireless connections to see if they deliver smooth performance, and we’ll dive into their submenus and see if they work as they should.

Of course, it always comes back to the music. Portable music players are tested by reviewers who are passionate about music, know the sound quality and know the market context. We’ll be comparing similarly priced rivals, so when we recommend a particular model, it’s among the best you can buy for the money.

Obviously, we know that not everyone has the same musical tastes, so we will not only test with the same perfectly mastered album, but with a variety of genres and file qualities, from MP3 to FLAC Hi-Res. Learn more about how we test in our ethics policy.

Astell and Kern Aultima SP2000T

Best High End Portable Music Player

Advantages

  • Totally musical and endlessly revealing sound
  • Extended specification
  • Well done, finished and presented

The inconvenients

  • Punish dear
  • Big and heavy by “portable” standards
  • Battery life is nothing special

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T is currently our favorite high-end portable music player. Like all Astell & Kern products, it looks striking with its asymmetrical design and it also feels premium, although our reviewer felt it wasn’t too comfortable to hold. This is due to the weight and bulk of the product, which for a portable music player is not the most desirable attribute.

But what the SP2000T lacks in portability, it makes up for in its feature set. In addition to various headphone outputs with 3.5mm unbalanced jack and 2.5 and 4.4mm balanced outputs, the SP2000T features extensive wireless connectivity via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with AAC, aptX HD and LDAC, with support for files ranging from MP3 to DSD512. and four ESS ES9068AS DACs that can decode up to 32-bit/384kHz. The internal memory is only 256 GB, but can be expanded by 1 TB via microSD cards.

The 5-inch FHD touchscreen paired with a Quad Core processor is one we found particularly responsive, and while the total nine-hour runtime is decent, we felt the 3-hour charge time is a not quiet though.

As a tri-amp device, the SP2000T offers a choice in presenting it with Astell’s standard OP AMP circuit or dual triode KORG Nutube amplification for richer, warmer sound. To further tweak the sound, there are 5 hybrid positions to switch things up.

Our reviewer found the SP2000T to be a captivating listen, with extraordinary levels of detail in an expansive soundstage. The lower end of the frequency range is heavy, solid and textured in description, with the upper end dealing with extended levels of detail, with as much bite and crunch to those high notes as it can possibly provide, but with that in mind you’ll want to find the headphone partner to prevent high-frequency notes from sounding too coarse and unforgiving.

Critical: simon lucas
Full Review: Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000T

Astell and Kern Afutura SE180

Best mid-range portable music player

Advantages

  • Open, expansive soundstage with plenty of detail
  • Superior build quality
  • Intuitive user interface and operation
  • Extended specification
  • Exchangeable DAC function

The inconvenients

  • Player and DAC modules are expensive
  • Not exactly wearable
  • Battery life isn’t the longest

The Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is one of the most advanced players from the South Korean brand thanks to its DAC switch modules that allow the user to remove the DAC inside and replace another. .

It’s an innovative idea in the portable music player market, although we found the process of swapping out the DAC modules to require some force. This is an area that Astell & Kern could make easier and faster in future releases.

The SE180 does well, though like the SP2000T its 280g isn’t exactly portable (the similarly sized iPhone 13 weighs just 173g by comparison). It’s well-built, less asymmetrical than Astell’s other readers, and has a wonderfully tactile volume wheel that mimics a dial on an expensive watch. Headphone outputs are supported by 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5 and 4.4mm balanced, with a USB-C port for charging and microSD expansion that supports cards up to 1TB.

The Quad Core processor delivers fast and responsive performance, the 5-inch color display delivers great colours, while we liked the Android-esque interface that’s intuitive to use and easy to grasp. File support extends MP3 to DSD256 and resolutions up to 384kHz, although by changing DAC modules file support can be extended further. With aptX HD and LDAC support, the SE180 has you covered on the wireless Hi-Res Audio front.

All this Hi-Res support allows the SE180 to achieve a high level of sound quality. We tested the device with several headphones and found it brought neutral, noise-free sound to the pair we were using, with terrific clarity and detail. The soundstage is big and spacious, with the sE180’s sense of precision wringing out as much music as possible. Although capable of handling lower resolution files, this is a player that shines with higher bitrates and resolutions, making it a true portable player for the audiophile listener.

Critical: Kob Monney
Full review: Astell&Kern SE180

FAQs

Is it worth buying a portable music player?

Smartphones are compromised in terms of performance because they are designed to do several things. A portable music player is expressly designed for one thing, so if you love your music and want to hear it in its best quality, it’s worth investing in a portable music player.

UK RRP

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