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The best phones for music 2021: 8 ace smartphones that boast the best sound

The best phones for music 2021: 8 ace smartphones that boast the best sound
(Image credit: Marshall)

While a lot of us enjoy collecting vinyl and buying other physical formats from our favourite artists, when it comes to listening on the go, the smartphone trumps everything. However, to make the most of the travelling audio experience you'll need one of the best phones for music for things to truly sound great. That's where our dedicated guide comes in.

Our in-depth roundup is tailored especially to music fans who simply want the best mobile phone for listening to their favourite music streaming services, along with delivering other desirable features such as a epic battery life and quality performance for stuff like using apps, playing games and taking photos.

So, if you’re in the market for a new device and you've been asking yourself questions like which smartphone has the best audio quality, or which smartphone has the best speakers, this guide to the best phones for music has all the answers for you.

Each generation of smartphone brings with it new innovations and a bunch of new features that make life that little bit easier. We’ve got all the very latest handsets right here from the big brands including Samsung, Apple and LG. If you need further guidance, hit the ‘buying advice’ button above.

Best phones for music: The Louder Choice

Of all the smartphone options out there in the wild, we have a top two that tick a lot of boxes for music fans. The first is the LG G8S ThinQ, thanks to its onboard 32-bit Quad HiFi DAC which makes for some of the best audio you'll likely hear on a phone right now. It also includes a good old headphone port. Looking to upgrade your phones? Take a look at our guide to the best headphones for music

The second is the Samsung Galaxy S20, which boasts great quality audio, masses of storage for all your favourite tunes, games and more, microSD expansion and, of course, a superb display, camera and battery performance. If you want the music phone that covers all bases, this is it.

Best phones for music: Product guide

Best phones for music: LG G8 ThinQ Phone

(Image credit: LG)

1. LG G8S ThinQ

Hands down, this is the best phone for audio quality

Weight: 181g | Dimensions: 155.3 x 76.6 x 8 mm | Display: : G-OLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours | Resolution: 1080 x 2248 | OS: Android 9 Pie | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 13MP | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 3,500mAh

Vibrating top speaker
Quad DAC

When it comes to pure sound clarity, the LG G8S ThinQ stands-out from the rest thanks to it packing in a hefty 32-bit HiFi Quad DAC onboard and DTS:X 3D Sound System for movies too. That means less distortion, less noise and a wider dynamic range than the competition. 

The fact that it also uses a headphone port means you can pair it with the best over-ear headphones for an audio experience that is as high quality as you can get on the move.

All that audio prowess and it's a top-performing smartphone too, with a 6.1-inch QHD+ notch display, dual cameras, Snapdragon 855 CPU backed by 6GB of RAM and an IP68 water-resistance rating. 

Our favourite extra is the Air Motion feature. This lets you control volume and more with Jedi-like hand gestures. Now that's pretty neat, right?

Best phones for music: Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Galaxy S20

The best phone for tuned audio quality – plus free AKG earbuds

Weight: 163g | Dimensions: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Exynos 990 | RAM: 8GB/12GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP

High-quality AKG USB-C earbuds
Support for high-end formats
No headphone port

The Samsung Galaxy S20 comes with a pair of specifically tuned AKG USB-C earbuds which means you get the maximum quality in your ears right from the heart of this phone. And that heart is a strong one when it comes to audio thanks to masses of high-quality format support.

Not only do you get Dolby Atmos support but this will also playback the likes of ultra-high-end formats like DSD 64/128 and 32-bit PCM. The Atmos part means psychoacoustic processing to create a wider soundstage in your ears – making it great for movies and gigs alike.

Pop out the earbuds and the speakers on this smartphone will continue to pump out rounded sounds with lower mids which make vocals clearer, plus weightier bass for instrument punchiness. Add the Dolby Atmos smarts and this phone becomes a viable speaker in itself.

Best phones for music: Apple iPhone 11 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPhone 11 Pro

The best phone for Apple fans who need strong wireless audio

Weight: 188g | Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm | OS: iOS 13 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1125 × 2436 | CPU: Apple A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 3,046mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Superb speakers onboard
Bespoke wireless audio support
Very expensive
No headphone port

If you're on team Apple then you're probably already expecting a steep price tag, so that may not be such a negative. It'll also likely be justified when you look at the iPhone 11 Pro as a source of music. This is largely thanks to the Apple H1 or W1 chip.

The chipset, when paired with Apple AirPods Pro or Beats Solo Pro wireless earphones, offers bespoke audio over the air. This is, of course, very high quality but also means a reliable flawless stability. Or use Lighting port headphones for digital signal audio that allows the headphones to determine how the audio is balanced. 

The speakers in the phone are also worth a mention as they will perform well, meaning you can use this as a stand-alone speaker when without headphones or in a group. This is thanks to stereo drivers which are also backed by Dolby Atmos smarts for the best possible immersion in a wide soundspace.

Best phones for music: Huawei Mate 20 X 5G Phone

(Image credit: Huawei)

4. Huawei Mate 20 X 5G

Rocking 5G? Then this is your best phone for music listening

Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.39-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3120 | CPU: Kirin 980 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4200mAh | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP | Front camera: 24MP

Fingerprint scanner
Stunning camera
5G roll-out still not complete

Streaming high-quality music through services like Tidal is great when you have access to Wi-Fi, but it's the power of 5G that will make this the future. 5G means instant access to the highest quality audio wherever you are – apart from underground without connection, of course. Although with 5G you could quickly save an entire album offline in seconds before going underground.

The Mate 20 X 5G also offers the latest Kirin 980 CPU for super speeds, a stunning and massive 7.2-inch OLED screen with stylus, 4,200mAh battery to back it all up and a triple lens Leica camera that's arguably one of the best out there on a phone. The 256GB storage is a nice extra but with 5G you'll likely struggle to fill it.

Best phones for music: Razer Phone 2

(Image credit: Razer)

5. Razer Phone 2

The best phone for loud volume and power

Weight: 220g | Dimensions: 158.5 x 79 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 5.72-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Very powerful speakers
Well balanced stereo drivers
No headphone port

While the Razer Phone 2 may not be the best looking of smartphones, what it lacks for the eyes it more than makes up for in the ears. This is one of the best phones for music when it comes to speaker audio thanks to lots of loud audio power.

The speakers sit above and below the screen for true front-firing stereo immersion. Rather than relying on the driver size, Razer has created a bit of extra acoustic space in the speaker enclosure which boosts the power of the audio. That means this is loud enough to work as a proper speaker even over the noise of activities like cooking or showering.

There isn't a headphone port but the included 3.5mm adapter comes with a 24-bit DAC for great quality audio through any headphones you connect.

Best phones for music: Nokia 3310

(Image credit: Nokia)

6. Nokia 3310 Phone

The phone for music fans on a budget

Weight: 76.9g | Dimensions: 115.6 x 51 x 12.8mm | Display: 2.4-inch | Resolution: 240 x 320 | Battery: 1,200mAh | OS: Nokia Series 30+ | Camera: 2MP

2.5G connectivity

Not only does it have a compact and pretty cool retro look, but the refreshed 3310 keeps your tunes blasting for days. The phone’s 1200mAh battery isn't the biggest, sure,but wrapped within this glorified feature phone it offers an unbelievable 51 hours of continuous music playback. Fifty. One. Hours!

Want something smaller? Want to upgrade your parents' old Nokias? Or just after a spare phone that can keep the tunes coming as your main phone’s battery circles the drain? Then this is the phone for you.

Best phones for music: Apple iPhone X

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple iPhone X

Take a bite out of the big Apple

Weight: 174g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Screen Resolution: 1125x2436 | CPU: A11 Bionic | RAM: 3GB **Storage:** 64GB / 256GB | Battery: 2,716mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP (both OIS) | Front camera: 7MP

Great screen
Superb build quality
Still pricey
Easily scuffed

Loud and balanced dual drivers make this still a stunning sounding iPhone and since it's a bit older now, you can get it for less. There's one speaker on the bottom edge, and the earpiece speaker outputs sound for better dispersal when you hold the phone in front of your face. 

But there are negatives too. It doesn't have a headphone jack, which means the DAC lives in your wireless/Lightning headphones. Use a Lightning to 3.5mm socket adapter and that little thing actually has a DAC chip inside. 

If your music collection is still a mass of files rather than based in the cloud, an iPhone makes it a bit trickier to get on the phone than Android. Spotify will still work fine, but everything is easier if you use iTunes/Apple Music – worth keeping in mind if you've never used an iPhone before. 

Best phones for music: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

(Image credit: Samsung)

8. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

The best phone for music fans who want a good Android experience

Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5-2.4, f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5mm | Battery size: 3,500mAh | Storage: 64/128/256GB + microSD

Great low-light camera
Good battery life
AR Emoji
UI overlay

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is still a great phone despite it no longer being the newest and shiniest offering from the South Korean manufacturer. So if you've got a great pair of headphones and need a headphone jack-toting phone for less, this is a great option.

Samsung has held firm and kept the handy 3.5mm jack in the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. Not only that, it's also worked with AKG to improve the quality of the speakers. There's also a driver on the bottom, and the earpiece speaker now outputs audio too, avoiding the lopsided effect of a single driver array. 

Best phone for music: Buying advice

Best phones for music: Philips Fidelio X3

(Image credit: Philips)

Wired or wireless listening?

The first big choice you have to make is about how you're going to listen to your music: wired headphones or wireless? If you've already invested in a decent pair of true wireless earbuds, or you've shopped our best budget wireless headphones guide, the lack of a 3.5mm headphone port on a phone likely won't phase you. 

But if you're committed to that DAC and always need a wire, that's going to immediately narrow your choices down. Since Apple ditched the headphone port several phone generations ago, plenty of other manufacturers have chosen to follow suit. A few still remain, but as wireless audio becomes higher quality, the demand for that classic 3.5mm port is dropping fast. 

If you’re going down the wired route, then phones such as the Google Pixel 3a or Huawei P30 have you covered. If you're a member of Team Apple, you can always buy a small adapter for that iPhone port so you can continue with your wires ‘phones.

Audio quality

For the best possible audio quality you'll already be aware of lossless audio and probably tend to download files for listening rather than going for streaming. Tidal is a great option for master quality streaming on the go. Either way you'll likely want offline music so that means thinking about the storage you might need, so bear that in mind when selecting a handset.

Several Android phones still offer microSD ports – and this is an affordable and handy way of expanding how many songs you'll be able to hold. However, for an iPhone, be prepared to pay more for every memory jump you make, or an extra outlay for cloud storage. iPhone alternatives include the Moto Z4, LG G8 ThinQ and Nokia 7.1.

If you've made the decision to go totally wireless, a 5G phone with unlimited data could be the perfect choice. That way, you'll always have high-quality audio at your fingertips when you need it – without using up storage space.

Battery life

Battery life is always an important consideration when taking the plunge for a new phone – especially if you find yourself listening to a lot of music throughout the day, or you spend a lot of time away from him and listen to music on the go. So, you may want to consider a phone with a giant battery, something many manufacturers are now offering. If you want more juice,  the Moto G7 Power and Huawei Mate 20 Pro are just a couple of options.

How much should I spend on a new phone?

What you spend largely comes down to what you can manage. If you're Team Wired then you'll need to go for either an iPhone with adapter and spend a chunk of cash, or opt for a top end Samsung. If you're a proud member of Team Wireless, you have a greater range of options when it comes to choosing the best phone for music. In this case however you may need to think about more storage or splashing out more on an unlimited streaming data plan.