Apple iPod Classic review: The iPod that holds it all

Apple's audio file format support remains the same. The iPod Classic allows you to manually add and delete music and video files, but with 160GB of storage, many users will prefer to have their entire media library sync automatically. The Classic can also double as a USB hard drive in a pinch.

Performance
The iPod Classic's sound quality is clean and crisp, but still uninspired when it comes to sound enhancement options. Users do get more than 20 equalization presets to choose among -- but half of them are either useless or indistinguishable from one another. Compared with products such as the Sony Z-Series Walkman, the iPod's sound quality still leaves room for improvement. That said, after listening with our Ultrasone HFI-2200 headphones as well as a set of Shure SE 425 earphones, we can say with confidence that the Classic's fidelity will certainly satisfy most users.

Apple iPod Classic
The Classic is the thickest and heaviest of the iPods, but it offers enough storage for a lifetime of media. James Martin/CNET

In spite of the iPod Classic's ability to hold up to 200 hours of video, it is easily our least favorite iPod for watching movies or TV shows. Over the years, Apple has raised our level of expectation when it comes to screen quality. The company has placed its pixel-dense Retina Display screens in everything from the iPod Touch to the iPhone and iPad. Viewed next to the 1,136-by-640-pixel resolution of the $199 iPod Touch, the 320x240 resolution found on the iPod Classic is disappointing.

The iPod Classic's enhanced battery life is one of the better reasons to fork over your money to Apple. The 160GB Classic is rated for 36 hours of audio playback and 6 hours for video.

Is it worth upgrading?
If you're looking for an iPod that can store more than 64GB of music and video, the 160GB iPod Classic is the only option now available to you. That said, in today's modern age we can lean on the "cloud" to store larger media collections and beam content down to us on demand. Apple has finally figured out this piece of the puzzle for its iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch), with its iTunes Match service ($25). Arguably, using the cloud is a compromise compared with having all your music at your fingertips, but it's clearly the way forward for Apple and the rest of the industry.

Apple iPod Classic wheel.
The iPod Classic's click-wheel interface is one of Apple's most iconic design innovations. James Martin/CNET

The iTunes factor
No iPod review would be complete without mentioning Apple's iTunes music software. For better or worse, the integration between an iPod and Apple's iTunes music software is nearly airtight. If this is going to be your first iPod, it's worthwhile to download iTunes ahead of time to see if it works well on your computer and is intuitive for you to use.

Final thoughts
The iPod Classic is the last of its breed. With the advent of on-demand streaming of music and media from the cloud, the constraints of storage are disappearing along with the demand for high-capacity players like the iPod Classic. Still, I'm glad the iPod Classic is still around for those of us who feel comforted by having their entire music collection at their fingertips, and feel maybe just a little nostalgia for the golden era of the MP3 player.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple iPod Classic (third generation, 160GB, black)

Part Number: MC297LL/A
MSRP: $249.00 Low Price: $249.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Built-in Display LCD
  • Run Time (Up To) 36 hour(s)
  • Capacity 160 GB
  • Color black
  • Weight 4.9 oz
  • Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC
    AIFF
    Apple Lossless
    Audible
    MP3
    MP3
    WAV
  • Diagonal Size 2.5" m
  • Type 1 year warranty
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Type digital player