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

Best phones for music
(Image credit: LG, Samsung and Apple)

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

A key example of that is the fact that the more you pay for your handset, the less likely it is to have a headphone port – which is a major omission for fans of wired audio.

Beyond that, 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.

With these considerations in mind, this list looks quite different to our best smartphones list, as the LG V60 ThinQ ranks top here, and isn’t even present on our overall best phones list. A massive feat for a company that's recently announced it's pulling out of the smartphone market 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 12 Pro.

Below then 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.

If you're not in an urgent rush to buy a new phone for music then it could be worth your while waiting until Amazon Prime Day 2021. The sales event often cuts the prices on many phones and it's highly likely that'll happen again this year. We could well see the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra enjoy a price cut as well as the iPhone 12 Pro, making both seem like a much more promising proposition. Just waiting a few more weeks could save you a lot. 

(Image credit: LG)

1. LG V60 ThinQ

The best headphone jack on a phone

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

While it may not be as popular with consumers or tech press as its Korean rival Samsung, LG is the leading smartphone manufacturer when it comes to wired audio so it's a shame then that the company is leaving the smartphone market which may mean fewer updates for the LG V60 ThinQ. Still, it remains the best phone for music out there right now. 

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.

What’s the point? Does this somehow make the sound four times better, or louder? Not quite. The DAC turns the digital signal into the analog one your headphone drivers can be fed. Bluetooth headphones have a DAC, even some USB-C to 3.5mm cables do.

The LG V60 has a ‘quad’ DAC because it lets the phone analyze the digital signal four times in parallel. These four interpretations are then combined and cross-checked, to eliminate errors. This in turn increases the signal-to-noise ratio, giving us purer sound.

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.

We tested the V60 with high quality in-ear and over-ear headphones and the audio quality is much improved over other wired smartphone outputs, as well as wireless. The external dual stereo speakers aren’t the best on the market, but with wired audio this good, it doesn’t matter to us. 

LG also does a whole bunch else with its tech, incorporating the most wonderfully geeky sound customization of any phone. You can alter the ‘digital filter’, which changes the shape of the impulse response. This is like EQ that affects the character of the sound stage rather than the tonal make-up.

There’s normal parametric EQ too, and a DTS:X 3D Surround mode. But we don’t recommend the latter for music.

Read our full LG V60 ThinQ review 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier phone for music and more

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+High-end audio format support+Bluetooth Dual Audio
Reasons to avoid
-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

iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

3. iPhone 12 Pro

A strong all-rounder with great speakers

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great internal speakers+Top wireless headphone support
Reasons to avoid
-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

Sony

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony Xperia 1 II

A little large but otherwise great

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful display+3.5mm headphone jack
Reasons to avoid
-Awkward to hold-Expensive

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: Google)

5. Google Pixel 4a

Solidly dependable in every way

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Has a headphone jack+Solid speaker quality
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Forceful speakers+Proper stereo balance between drivers
Reasons to avoid
-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