Cameras, clock speeds, call quality; there are a lot of standards by which you can measure the abilities of a modern smartphone. One that often gets overlooked, however, is audio ability.
Like compact cameras and physical Filofaxes, smartphones have long since replaced dedicated MP3 players for many. For a long time, however, they failed to evolve their audio abilities at the same rate as processing power or megapixel count.
That’s all changed recently though, with a number of smartphones now going as big on sound specs as they are screen tech and design details.
If you favor audio ability over camera quality then and need Hi-Res audio regardless of the platform the phone’s running on, these are the smartphones you should be looking at the next time you’re due an upgrade.
These are the best phones for music, the ones that will tickle your earbuds the way their siblings are designed to appeal to your eye or wallet. Whether you’re looking to listen alone or share your sounds, the phone you’re after is within.
We’re about to publish our full HTC U11 review – stay tuned to see where it lands!
Digital audio has its benefits, namely it’s portable and easy to manage. It comes at the cost of sound quality though, with digital compression losing much of the intricacies of a song.
That’s where the HTC 10 comes in, with the flagship phone featuring a 24-bit DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter). Paired with the handset’s own built-in headset amp, it takes the listening experience back towards the ear-loving days of analog audio.
The HTC 10 pushes things further too, with each of the phone’s BoomSound Hi-Fi speakers featuring their own dedicated amp and separated tweeter and woofer set-up.
HTC even boxes the HTC 10 with a pair of Hi-Res headphones, so you can enjoy top-quality tunes on the move without forking out for an additional compatible pair.
Read the full review: HTC 10
LG was one of the first manufacturers to squeeze Hi-Res audio support within a smartphone and things have only improved since the LG G2 dropped way back when. The company’s latest flagship offering, the LG G6, features its own 32-bit DAC, to further boost the phone’s audio options.
The phone’s quad-DAC array brings bold, impactful sounds that cut no corners and make no compromises. As well as taking audio back to the lossless days of analog, the phone is capable of boosting standard MP3 files, filling in the sound-depleted gaps to enhance their overall sound.
There is a catch though, and a pretty big one at that. Sadly, only the South Korean version of the G6 offers the 32-bit DAC – so if you want the audio upgrade, it’s time to get importing.
Read the full review: LG G6
With its Walkman heritage, you’d expect Sony to be hot on smartphone sound and, thankfully, the company is. The XZ Premium’s Music app is one of the nicer native music players out there, and is backed up by support for Hi-Res audio.
This phone’s sound skills are about more than just a mark in a feature check box, however. With the Xperia XZ Premium you don’t need to fork out extra for high-resolution downloads either. The phone’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HX) is able to upscale your existing tracks to near Hi-Res quality.
Further boosting the phone’s music-loving playback options, those pumping out tunes to a Bluetooth speaker or pair of wireless headphones can benefit from LDAC, Sony’s own tech that lets you transfer Hi-Res audio over Bluetooth.
Transmitting three times the amount of data as standard Bluetooth, it keeps audio quality high by cutting down compression.
Read the full review: Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Decent music playback isn’t limited to high-end flagship phones, as the wallet-friendly ZTE Axon 7 Mini offers impressive audio on a budget. The compact phone packs 3D stereo sound made possible by dual speakers at both ends of the phone.
Enhanced by integrated Dolby Atmos technology, the phone is capable of pumping out music that features more powerful bass and far less distortion than on most rival devices of a similar size and price point.
An AKM 4962 chip combines the two separate audio processors to create beautiful well-rounded and surprisingly beefy sounds. With this your Bluetooth speaker will be resigned to life in the clutter cupboard.
Read the full review: ZTE Axon 7 Mini
Listening to music doesn’t have to be a solitary experience, even if you’re listening with wireless headphones. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the first phone to boast Bluetooth 5 connectivity, with one of the key features of this new tech being Bluetooth Dual Audio.
This lets you sync two pairs of wireless Bluetooth headphones to a single phone simultaneously. It’s like a modern-day headphone splitter, and a feature that’s ideal for those looking to enjoy communal tunes while riding the train or chilling in a park.
It’s not just about the sharing options either. The S8, like many modern flagship phones, also supports Hi-Res audio, letting you enjoy top quality sounds whether alone or listening with a mate.
Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S8
In a bid to up smartphone sound quality, a number of audio specialists have dabbled in the handset space. Marshall, however, has had the best stab at things with the Marshall London.
Supporting Hi-Res audio output, the phone’s Wolfson WM8281 sound processor strolls ahead of many more specs-heavy phones, giving standard MP3s a decent audio-enhancing boost. There are also two headphone jacks for easier sound sharing.
It’s not the most well-rounded phone and already looks long in the tooth thanks to a 720p display and Snapdragon 410 chipset, but its audio qualities are hard to fault. As an added bonus, you’ll also feel like a rock God strutting around with a phone that resembles your guitar amp.
If you can’t get your hands on a Korean LG G6, the LG V20 offers similar audio abilities with the phone’s quad-DAC setup powered by the ESS Sabre ES9218 chip to take your listening experiences to unparalleled heights.
Capable of upscaling traditional MP3 files as well as supporting native Hi-Res tracks, the V20 brings added depth and punch to your listening experiences when paired with a suitable set of headphones.
The LG V20 isn’t just a phone for listening to lossless music, it’s capable of recording it too. The phone’s three mics are able to capture 24-bit audio up to a 48kHz sampling rate. The result is a phone that lets you record concerts and relive them in lossless bliss.
Read the full review: LG V20
Given its lack of traditional 3.5mm headphone port and the fact that its second base-mounted speaker grille doesn’t actually cover a speaker – it’s there purely for aesthetics – the iPhone 7 might seem like an odd addition to a best phone for music feature. There’s a good reason for its inclusion though.
It might be a few years now since the iPod was the ultimate must-own gadget, but it’s ability to get an entire generation locked into the iTunes ecosystem is still being felt today.
Yes, you can now port across your iTunes library to any smartphone, but with plug and play simplicity on the iPhone 7 – and no plug required with iCloud – your entire iTunes back catalog is now once again at your disposal.
It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’ll get you listening to forgotten ‘00s hits again, (although we’re not so sure that’s a good thing). The built-in speaker is pretty solid too.
Read the full review: iPhone 7
For some, Hi-Res audio isn’t necessary for a smartphone to offer great music playback. For those who are perfectly happy with how MP3 quality files sound, battery life is likely to be more key.
Living up to its iconic billing, that’s where the new Nokia 3310 comes in. The phone’s 1,200mAh battery might not be the biggest, but wrapped within this glorified feature phone it’s enough to offer a massive 51 hours of continuous music playback before needing a trip to the mains.
No, you’re unlikely to buy this just for its musical abilities, but if you’re after a spare phone that can keep the tunes coming as your main phone’s battery circles the drain, it’s a solid option.
Read the hands on review: New Nokia 3310 (2017)
No sound experience is going to be flawless, and OnePlus is aware of that. That’s why the company has fitted the OnePlus 3T with Dirac HD Sound enhancement.
This actively hunts out the faults in audio – be it weak bass, lacking clarity or general distortion – and tweaks the output to counteract the problems.
No, it doesn’t deliver quite as on-point a sound as some of the flagship phones out there, but for a device that will leave an extra chunk of change in your pocket, its audio abilities are difficult to beat, as the phone’s impulse and frequency responses are tweaked to produce the best sound possible, whatever you’re listening to.
However – this phone is nearly off sale, so we’re waiting to see how well the OnePlus 5 does as a replacement.
Read the full review: OnePlus 3T
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By Luke Johnson
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