Best phones for music 2021: top choices for audio on your smartphone

Choosing one of the best phones for music isn’t as simple as just choosing the most high-end phone, as music and audio aren’t always the focus for every device maker.

For instance, the more you pay for your handset, the less likely it is to have a headphone port these days – a major omission for fans of wired audio. You also need to consider whether a phone has Quad-DAC (which improves the audio output), plus the Bluetooth audio quality, the quality of the internal speakers, and more.

You may also want to consider which phones will be on sale during the Black Friday sales season in the weeks leading up to the sales holiday on November 26, and into Cyber Monday on November 29. Scan down our list of music phones and keep them in mind to see which are discounted with Black Friday deals.

With these considerations in mind, this list looks quite different to our best smartphones list, as the LG V60 ThinQ ranks highly here, when it isn’t even present on our overall best phones list. That's a massive feat for a company that pulled out of the smartphone market early in 2021 so you may find yourself with fewer updates if you do decide to go with the LG V60 ThinQ. If that's a concern, there are some handsets that are great all-rounders as well as being excellent for audio, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro.

Below, you’ll find our full list of the best phones for music, ranked in order of preference, and with an overview and specs list for each phone, so you can see exactly what makes it so good – and whether it’s right for you.

Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony Xperia 1 III

The (new) best headphone jack on a phone

Release date: August 2021 | Weight: 186g | Dimensions: 165 x 71 x 8.2 mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1644 x 3840 | CPU: Snapdragon 888 5G | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP+12MP+0.3MP | Front camera: 8MP

Fantastic display
3.5mm headphone jack
Tricky to handle for some

A media powerhouse, the Sony Xperia 1 III stands out initially thanks to it being the world's first smartphone with a 4K 120Hz display. The screen looks amazing and is perfect for watching films, videos or TV shows. However, it's backed up with other useful features like strong performance and the all-important 3.5mm headphone jack.

It also has other key features like a great camera that can cope with pretty much everything you could want to do. Performance is top-tier stuff too with apps loading quickly and no sign of stuttering in sight.

After a few years of Sony skipping the 3.5mm headphone jack, it's great to see it remain here after the Xperia 1 II and it’s precisely why the Sony Xperia 1 III is listed where it is here. If you're keen about embracing all your entertainment needs while on the move, this is the phone for you. Just bear in mind that you're going to pay for the privilege.

Read our full Sony Xperia 1 III review.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier phone for music and more

Release date: January 2021 | Weight: 227g | Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 | CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100 | RAM: 12GB / 16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 5,000mAh | Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP | Front camera: 40MP

High-end audio format support
Bluetooth Dual Audio
No bundled earphones
No 3.5mm headphone port

You don’t get either a 3.5mm headphone port or bundled earbuds with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which are two instant marks against its music credentials, as is the lack of a microSD card slot – slightly limiting the amount of music you can store on the phone.

But with up to 512GB of storage built in, there should be space for all but the very biggest music libraries, and with 5G you can also stream and download at higher speed than on some phones.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also supports ultra-high-quality audio playback, including formats such as DSD 64/128 and 32-bit PCM. And it supports Dual Audio through Bluetooth, meaning you can play music through two connected Bluetooth devices simultaneously.

All of which means that while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t the best for wired audio, it’s a dream for wireless.

And while you’ll always want to use external speakers or headphones to get the best out of smartphone audio, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s built in speakers are pretty good too. They offer stereo sound and even include Dolby Atmos, which can increase the sense of size and scale in audio.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: LG)

3. LG V60 ThinQ

One of the best headphone jacks on a phone

Release date: March 2020 | Weight: 218g | Dimensions: 169.3 x 77.6 x 8.9 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2460 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 5,000mAh | Rear camera: Dual 16MP + 13MP | Front camera: 10MP

Has a headphone jack, and a good one
Excellent EQ settings
Hard to buy outside the US
A huge phone

LG might have retired from the smartphone market but its LG V60 ThinQ remains one of the best options for those passionate about wired audio. You'll need to watch out for fewer updates for the LG V60 ThinQ but for some users, it'll be worth it. 

The LG V60 still has a headphone jack unlike many competing high-end flagships which already makes it better, but the company also includes a Quad-DAC (digital-to-analog) component that drives the audio to an even better level of detail by analyzing the digital signal four times in parallel. It doesn't quite make music sound better but it's a very useful feature. 

It also has an unusually powerful headphone amp that, when used in the Quad DAC mode, offers higher volume output than most. This is useful for naturally quieter headphones. Effective with high quality in-ear and over-ear headphones, the audio quality is much improved over other wired smartphone outputs, and make up for the slightly inferior external dual stereo speakers. 

Read our full LG V60 ThinQ review 

iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

3. iPhone 12 Pro

A strong all-rounder with great speakers

Release date: October 2020 | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.1-inch | Resolution: 1170 x 2532 | CPU: Apple A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 2,815mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP + LiDAR scanner | Front camera: 12MP

Great internal speakers
Top wireless headphone support
No headphone jack
No EarPods included

Consistently a great choice for audio, the iPhone 12 Pro builds upon what worked so well for the iPhone 11 Pro. That means it has excellent internal speakers with stereo drivers for a more immersive experience. Enhanced with Dolby Atmos, the sound seems much wider and more expansive for humble internal speakers. 

Other useful features include the pairing experience between the iPhone 12 Pro and headphones with an Apple H1 or W1 chipset, which includes Apple-owned Beats Solo Pro and the AirPods Pro

The downside? The iPhone 12 Pro doesn't come bundled with any EarPods although we wouldn't recommend using them exclusively for music unless you have no other option anyhow. Also, there's no headphone jack again. Instead, your options lie with the Lightning port or Bluetooth with the latter proving far superior. 

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review


(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony Xperia 1 II

A little large but otherwise great

Release date: May 2020 | Weight: 181g | Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1644 x 3840 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP + 0.3MP | Front camera: 8MP

Beautiful display
3.5mm headphone jack
Awkward to hold

Reintroducing the 3.5mm jack is a smart move for the Sony Xperia 1 II ensuring it's immediately appealing to those keen on playing music unimpeded. The best Sony handset we've seen for a while, the Sony Xperia 1 II is expensive and a little bulky to hold but offers a gorgeous design and excellent battery life. 

Besides being great for viewing media on thanks to that high-end screen, the Sony Xperia 1 II is also good for listening to music through its speakers if needed but you'll likely return to the advantages of the 3.5mm headphone jack. 

Just bear in mind that smaller hands may find this phone a little awkward to handle. 

Read our full Sony Xperia 1 II review.

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: Future)

5. Google Pixel 4a

Solidly dependable in every way

Release date: August 2020 | Weight: 143g | Dimensions: 144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 5.81-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Snapdragon 730G | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 3,140mAh | Rear camera: 12.2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Has a headphone jack
Solid speaker quality
Cheap feeling design
No bundled earbuds

Retaining the headphone jack of the Google Pixel 3a before it, the Google Pixel 4a is already onto a winner when it comes to playing music. Granted, you'll need to add your own set of headphones as the phone doesn't come with any but we expect you already have some in mind. 

Being able to charge your handset at the same time as using wired headphones is a big advantage but it's the Pixel 4a's stereo speakers that propel it further up the list for best phones for music. While they're not particularly loud in a noisy room, they're good enough for the price with decent bass and mid-bass warmth compared to their predecessor. 

Simply put, the Google Pixel 4a continues the Google trend of being a solid all-rounder with clean software, a decent design, good screens, and that much missed headphone jack. 

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review.

Razer Phone 2

(Image credit: Razer)

6. Razer Phone 2

A phone with serious volume

Release date: October 2018 | 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

Forceful speakers
Proper stereo balance between drivers
No headphone jack
May look ugly to some eyes

The Razer Phone 2 is one of the masters of flat-out loud phone speakers, alongside its arch-rival the Asus ROG Phone 2.

There’s space above and below the screen to allow for more room for these speakers. And both of them sit on the front, rather than using the common strategy of having one on the bottom, one up front.

Driver size isn’t actually the crucial bit here, but rather an extra chunk of cabinet space in the plastic speaker enclosure. Sometimes all you need is a little fresh air to let the sound breathe.

At maximum volume, the Razer Phone 2 doesn’t exactly sound super-relaxed and unstrained. But when it’s competing with the noise of your showering or frying onions, volume matters more.

These speakers really project.

There’s no headphone jack on the Razer Phone 2, which loses it major points. However, you do get a 3.5mm adapter in the box, which incorporates a 24-bit DAC.

Read our full Razer Phone 2 review

Post a Comment