Considering a dedicated portable audio player? I like that. Maybe you have a thriving collection of FLAC files that never seem to play well with your phone (or just eat up its storage space to the point where you decide which app to dump), or maybe you want to Tired of being interrupted by phone calls or WhatsApp notifications when you’re trying to enjoy music?
We applaud you. We’re here for you, as are the best MP3 players available today – by which we mean portable audio players that play a lot more than lossy old MP3 files.
While streaming Spotify is all well and good for a quick music fix, high-resolution digital audio files stored on a portable music player (often abbreviated as PMP) or digital audio player (you might hear it called DAP) can sound so much better , and they don’t care if you’re online — or if your Tidal or Apple Music subscription is still valid. However, there are gamers who access the streaming service of their choice. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
And the portable audio experience will be particularly good if you want to use your shiny new player alongside some compatible over-ear headphones – as long as your DAP is powerful enough to power them. (More on that later.)
But which player to choose? Don’t worry we can help because we love these things and we want you to love one of them too. (Full disclosure, I still own an iPod Classic, and while it doesn’t have Hi-Res or Bluetooth support and you can’t really buy it from mainstream online retailers these days, I love it dearly.)
1. Easy to travel or travel-heavy? Storage and microSD cards
Do you have a collection of digitally stored music or planning to stream everything? We probably all know that keeping downloaded Hi-Res files on your phone tends to eat up onboard storage, and the same goes for portable music players.
Now, if you plan on streaming all your tracks from the best music streaming services, onboard storage won’t matter, but if you’re packing files, the numbers are worth considering.
For example, I saved my money for the larger 160GB iPod storage option in 2007 just because 40,000 songs seemed an overwhelming number; it still does today – I’ve never managed to fill it anywhere near full – albeit with AAC, AIFF, ALAC and my dear old friend MP3 (aka Lossy but Little) music files.
But if there’s no struggle, there’s no progress, and progress has certainly been made to include more storage space and support for high-resolution files in portable players. As? Removable microSD cards are one possibility, and it’s worth checking if the player you’ve settled on has a small slot for one.
The rather brilliant Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII, for example, has a built-in memory of “only” 64 GB, but it is expandable. Buy a 1TB microSD card, pop it in its rightful place and have all that glorious extra storage.
The magnificent bijou Cowon Plenue D3 also comes with 64GB of onboard storage, which can be expanded to 192GB by adding a 128GB microSD card – note that a 1TB card cannot be accommodated, so you must check the datasheet of your potential player to avoid disappointment if you’ve already bought one of the more accommodating microSD cards (yes, I’m speaking from personal experience here).
2. Judicial Records
Continuing briefly with the two options above, the A&K SR25 MKII easily handles a wide range of high-resolution music formats and sample rates, including support for native playback of DSD256 and high-resolution 32-bit/384kHz PCM audio. while the cheaper and smaller (but still nice) Cowon Plenue D3 supports 24-bit/192kHz WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF files, as well as native playback from DSD up to DSD128 – ie. Support double DSD but not quad DSD.
Well, chances are that if you haven’t heard of DSD – it stands for Direct Stream Digital and was developed by Sony – you won’t miss any lack of support for it. However, if you pay extra to get all that glorious extra audio in digital format (a The DSD256 Album is around 8GB, so this is a data-heavy purchase) you’ll want to be able to enjoy it at its best.
As mentioned, my old iPod Classic only supported AAC, AIFF, ALAC, and MP3 files, and since FLAC is such a popular format now, this list is more than a little out of date in 2022. Apple’s most recent (and now discontinued) player, the iPod Touch (7th generation) meanwhile with support for AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC-3) , Dolby Digital Plus added again (E-AC‑3) and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+).
You’ll probably have to head to an auction site to snag one, but if an Apple-centric (and dare we say, slightly retro?) vibe is your thing, it might be for you.
Essentially, we urge you to check your potential player’s file support, folks…
3. Wireless connectivity and additional extras
My old iPod Classic is a relatively simple beast. I can’t even match it with a pair of the best wireless earbuds. Why? There is no Bluetooth receiver chip embedded in it. However, there is Bluetooth support in newer iPods (the 7G iPod Nano, 2G iPod touch, and later all support Bluetooth), but that’s only part of the story.
Certain players are offline only; see Sony NW-A55L for starters. The lack of Wi-Fi precludes direct streaming of network files and music services, but its absence is hardly surprising given the affordable price and the presence of a Bluetooth receiver can Pair a laptop or phone and play its music content through this much newer Sony Walkman.
The beauty of offline players is that they aren’t disturbed by guest WiFi networks, Siri misunderstandings, Spotify Free playlists, Bluetooth dropouts, ads, app updates, an incoming call, a Google notification, or an important e-mail. mail are slowed down.
But if you want to take full advantage of your Tidal HiFi Plus subscription, you need something that can jump online too. Astell & Kern’s A&ultima SP2000T would be our top shoot there, but you have to pay for it.
You don’t have that much money? That’s fine, the A&norma SR25 MKII also offers Wi-Fi access and the high-quality LDAC and aptX HD Bluetooth wireless codecs for access to streaming services, including Tidal (which is helpfully just waiting here on the tab “Services” to be discovered ) and the battery life of 20 hours is only 9 hours across the entire A&ultima SP2000T.
4. It’s all about the Benjamins
Isn’t it always? You can’t buy what you can’t afford (or, as the saying goes), so rudimentary as it may seem, keep in mind the maximum you’re comfortable spending when looking for the DAP of your dreams.
You can buy a cheap portable MP3 player for about the price of a coffee, but these are pretty basic things that might only hold 32GB of MP3-quality music and play for maybe three hours before needing a charge – but if that good is enough for you, we support you all the way.
The products mentioned in this particular guide range from $220 / £160 / AU$339 for the Sony NW-A55L, all the way up to $2,399 / £1,999 / AU$3,599 for the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T portable gem. Yes, really.
The point is, there’s a product for every budget, so don’t assume that your desire for high-resolution files will completely ruin you.
We wish you a long future of musical satisfaction with yours. After all, my iPod Classic and I have been successful for 15 years and we are very happy together…