Best Portable Music Options

Published on 2017-07-31 (5 minute read)

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Music can pick you up when you are down, or take you that extra bit higher when you already feel on top of the world. Packing some music to take with you is easy with our portable music options guide.

Smart Phone

Smart phone multipurpose capabilities are an easy way to bring the music with you, especially if you already plan to have one with you. Tips:

  • The more storage you have, the more music you can bring. Look for phones with large on-board storage, or expansion capabilities with memory cards.
  • Playing music on your phone uses battery. A power bank, or a spare battery (rare in modern phones) can extend your battery time before you need to seek a power outlet.
  • Bringing your phone charger when out can pay dividends as charging facilities are becoming more common. Audiophiles:
  • Some manufacturers provide dedicated DACs in their phones, head-fi.org comparison list. Phones like the LG V20 and LG G6 (some models) are reported to be able to compete with many respected dedicated audio players (DAP).

Digital Audio Player (DAP)

Advantages:

  • A DAP does not use your mobile phone battery.
  • Option of tactile physical buttons you can use without looking/in your pocket vs touch screens.
  • The user interface is primary designed for audio (although some of these are still terribly designed) Disadvantage
  • Another device to carry/pack

iPod

While the Apple iPod was not the original DAP, it exploded onto the scene and brought portable music to the masses. Recently (July 2017), Apple have whittled down their iPod range to just two iPod Touch models.

The original iPod Classic designs are still sought after and considered by many to sound better than their newer counterparts.

There are a number of small companies that provide very cheap DAPs with great sound quality and top components inside. You may find that they suffer in other areas, like design, quality assurance, ease of use, customer service etc.

SanDisk Clip

SanDisk have made a number of Clip models, although it seems the Clip+ was perhaps the most popular model. These tiny little devices have good sound for how cheap and small they are. The lowest memory model is normally more cost effective and spend the extra on a large memory card. The most recent Clips have lost the recording feature. Popular for gym/sports due to the small size, decent battery life, price and also the Clip models have a clip on the back that can be used to attach to clothing.

Sony

Sony make a number of well respected DAP models.

Audiophile DAPs:

Xduoo X3

Very cheap device and very well reviewed sound. Disadvantages

  • Original firmware has some flaws that have not been fixed. A free version of RockBox fixes many of these issues, but is not supported by Xduoo.
  • The screen is reported to be terrible in daylight. I saw where a person had removed the smoke coloured screen and replaced it with clear plastic and felt it was readable in daylight.
  • Some people seem unhappy with the customer support from Xduoo and report they stopped responding to their queries.

    Xduoo X10

    This newer Xduoo fixes a few problems with the X3 firmware and has had some updates and is cheap for the included specifications.

FiiO, iBasso, Cowon, HIFIMAN, Pioneer, Onkyo, Lotoo, The Bit, Questyle, Acoustic Research are other brands worth checking out.

Highly priced DAPs from companies like Astell&Kern may provide better support and ease of use, although some of the prices are pretty scary!

Notebooks

Apple MacBooks have decent audio and are very portable. For those who love iTunes, a Mac can be a good pick. Audiophiles:

  • Try the trial version of Audirvana and see if you can notice a sound quality improvement. Audirvana have created their own audio playback engine code, as opposed to the standard Apple engine used by many players.

Earphones

A good set of earphones are a great investment. Generally small and easy to carry, you can make a huge improvement on the enjoyment you receive from your music. Generally phones and DAPs come with very basic earphones that sound terrible. Today there are some significantly better options available at very low prices that can make a huge difference. Advantages:

  • Some earphones have very good isolation to block noise in planes, offices etc.
  • Some earphones can have microphones and controls to conveniently work with a phone... although some purists prefer not to have these features in case they degrade the sound quality.

Headphones

Not quite as portable as earphones, but some headphones are still portable. Disadvantages

  • Some headphones might have a high impedance and require more power to sound good. If your portable audio player does not pump out enough power for you headphones, you can look into options like a portable amplifier.

Portable Speakers

If you want to enjoy music with others there are a number of options. Many find battery powered wireless speakers a great option for parties/camping/backpacking etc.

Check out brands like UE, Bose, JBL.

Portable Digital Analog Converter (DAC)

For the person looking for that extra bit of sound quality, a portable DAC might be what you need. These are specialty devices that can take input from one of your other audio sources, like a DAP, and turns into an analog signal. This will generally not be loud enough and will then require some form of amplification before being passed onto /earphones/headphones/speakers.

The Chord Mojo is an example of a DAC/Amplifier combined and is "A multi-award winner, you can pair Mojo with your Smartphone, tablet, music player, DAP, games console, PC, Mac, or almost anything that allows audio out via USB, Optical, or Coax"

Portable Headphone/Power Amplifier

An amplifier's job is to make the sound louder without changing how it sounds. Such a simple job is difficult to achieve.

Why:

  • For earphones or headphones that need more power to drive them to their best output. The higher impedance (measured in ohms), the more power required.
  • The amplifier available may not be of good enough quality and a better one is desired.

Conclusion

Audio generally comes with diminishing returns, as in the more you spend, the harder it is to get improvements. Thankfully there are plenty of options that can get you enjoying your music for little outlay and not taking up too much room.

"Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you." ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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