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Sound and Vision: If you love music, get a portable music player

OPINION: It’s widely considered that if you’re going to listen to music on the go, you’re going to do so through a smartphone. With that said, if you’re devoted to the art of music then there is a better option in the form of a dedicated portable music player (even if that means having an extra device to carry on your person).

Smartphones are great for convenience but they’re not necessarily great for sound. As they’re multi-taskers, able to perform a range of functions, that also means they are a product that’s a jack of all trades but master of a few. Support for higher quality music has become better in the portable space with what Qualcomm is doing with its Snapdragon Sound platform and Sony’s innovations with LDAC, but in terms of outright quality for music, you won’t find better than a portable player.

Sony’s announcement of a new and not too expensive Walkman is a sign that portable music players still have a function and a purpose, as well as reminding some they still exist. Most would assume that portable music players have (or are) going the way of the Dodo, slowly passing their way out of relevance. However, we’re still seeing specialists such as Astell&Kern launch new players every year, and just recently FiiO announced the M11S. While Apple killed off the iPod, the rest of the portable player market isn’t interested in joining the scrap heap just yet.

Sony NW-A300 lifestyle image

The convenience of Bluetooth streaming is great but it is constrained by how much data it can pump through its signal. Though portable music players are preferably used with wired headphones for maximal performance, wired cans have seemingly enjoyed a recent renaissance too.

In a wider sense, of this seems to have converged around a greater want for higher quality music on the go. We have for decades limited ourselves in this area as MP3 streaming and downloads were a step in the wrong direction, one that’s taken a long time to reverse. In people’s minds, the quality of what they’re listening doesn’t matter as much as having access to it. We have access to more music than we can fathom at the moment, the area that we need to beef up is the quality we listen at.

From DACs to headphone amplifiers and higher quality streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz (we still wait for Spotify Hi-Fi to make its entrance), the issue of ‘quality’ is one of the frontiers that the music and audio industry is pushing towards. All these devices have the potential to make music sound better, so while my smartphone will still be my device of choice given how much it (rightly or wrongly) rules my day-to-day activities, when it comes to listening to music in its highest quality, I’ll be tuning in with my portable player to get the best experience possible.

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