Your iPod Classic Can Still Compete With the iPhone Music App

Despite its disadvantages, the iPod is still great

Key Takeaways

The iPod Classic still syncs with Big Sur’s music library.

The iPhone has way more music features, but the Music app is bloated and confusing.

You’d better get used to untangling headphone cables again.

Apple Music app on iPhone next to an iPod Classic

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

If all you want is music, the iPod Classic may still be better than the iPhone’s music app.

The iPod changed how we listened to music. It wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was the best, and it finally let us ditch swappable physical media for a digital catalog containing all our music. “1,000 songs in your pocket,” went the tagline. That might not sound like much now, but it was a revolution back in 2001 when the alternative was cassettes and CDs.

But what about using the iPod today? Is it a curiosity best left in a display cabinet? Or can it more than hold its own against today’s bloated, confusing music apps? The clue, as they say, is in the question.

Old Gold

I recently bought an old 120GB iPod Classic, boxed, via the local classified ads. After cleaning it up, and managing to make it sync to my M1 Mac mini (pro tip: wait. It may take a few minutes to show up after plugging in, but it will work eventually), I loaded up my entire music library and took a walk. 

120GB iPad Classic on black table

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

The first drawback was that all my music was years out of date. I use Apple Music, and have since it launched in 2015. That means all my local music (copied off an old backup drive) dates from then, and earlier. To catch my collection up to my current Apple Music library would be quite expensive. 

But that’s a short-term issue. Let’s get to the important part. How does using the iPod compare with using the iPhone’s Music app?

Classic Music

You navigate the iPod’s menus using the click wheel. “Spin” the wheel to scroll, and press the center button to select. The menu button goes up, or back, and the play/pause and skip buttons do what you’d expect. Once you get used to it, and stop swiping the screen out of habit, the control system is amazing, and because of all those hardware controls, you can do much of it without thinking. Find an artist, then an album, then a song. Easy. 

The Music app is a convoluted mess by comparison. Open the app, find the Library tab. Tap it again, then maybe yet again, to actually return to the main library screen. Then you can navigate in much the same way as the iPod. This basic operation highlights the main weakness of the app. There’s just so much packed in it takes a little while to get to the part you want. 

"So, how could anybody prefer a legacy music player like the iPod when the iPhone does so much more?"

The iPhone does win out in one regard. Its physical volume buttons make changing volume easy when it’s in a pocket. The iPod’s volume is controlled by the click wheel whenever music is playing.

Sound wise, it’s a tie. Through wired headphones (I used my Koss Porta Pros for this test), both devices sound great. There’s nothing different, to my ear. 

The simplicity of the iPod, then, wins. But that’s what you’d expect. It’s a device with one purpose, and both hardware and software support that. 

Modern Conveniences

Let’s look now at the iPhone’s advantages, which are many. It can sync to iTunes wirelessly (not via an old USB 30-pin dock connector). You can buy music from the iTunes Store, or search Apple Music, directly from the device. You can use wireless headphones, and control playback from an Apple Watch. And you can tell Siri to play any song for you.

So, how could anybody prefer a legacy music player like the iPod when the iPhone does so much more?

iPod Classic connected to Koss Porta Pros wired headphones

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

It comes down to purpose. The iPhone is amazing because its touch screen can become anything. But that means you always have to look before you tap. People prefer physical controls for their predictability. Writers use keyboards with their iPads. Photographers prefer cameras with knobs and dials. Musicians debate endlessly about hardware drum machines vs drum apps. 

The iPod is, on paper, far inferior to the iPhone and its Music app. But in use, the mental overhead is way less. The iPod does one thing only. If you pause it and come back tomorrow, it’s right where you left it. It doesn’t reset to the home page, distract you with notifications, or delete downloads automatically. It also sounds just as good as the iPhone, and it has a headphone jack. 

For many, the extra hassle of maintaining a music library isn’t worth it. But for some, it will feel like freedom.

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