NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Sony (SNE) may still call it a Walkman, but its new, $300 Hi-Res digital portable music player, the NWZ-A17 bears little resemblance to to its famous analog ancestor. Yes, it lets you carry and plays your favorite music but it does so using technology.
Sony is, once again, going big into portable digital music. It also introduced a $1,200 Walkman at CES in Las Vegas, earlier this month, seen below.
The new Walkman is very different than the one first introduced in 1979 that allowed you to listen to your stereo on the go and changed the audio industry and the world. The technology continues to improve, and people have realized that overly-compressed digital music files are small enough to cram a lot on a small portable player and have them sound good with high-resolution digital music files.
Championed by some audiophiles, high-resolution music files sound much better than overly-compressed MP3s but require much more storage space -- in some cases hundreds of times more than tiny MP3s. Championed by online stores such as HDtracks and new hardware offering from a new breed of companies such as Pono (one of our 10 Best Tech Gadgets of 2014) , Astell & Kern (AK100 review) and Fiio.
Sony's new digital player is even smaller than it looks in the photo. It measures just 4.3 by 1.75 by 0.39 inches thick and weighs a scant 2.4 ounces. The screen (not touch controlled) is a 2.2-inch (diagonal) QVGA, TFT display (320 by 240 pixels). It connects to a computer through the supplied cable with USB on one end and a proprietary Sony connector on the other. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't give you an AC adapter or headphones with the new Walkman. The Sony connects to PCs (Windows XP through 8) with special programs that are installed the first time you connect/charge your device.
The Walkman NWZ-A17 comes with 64GB of built-in storage and can hold up to 128GB via a covered microSD card slot. The device can store and play digital music in the following formats: MP3 and AAC (32-320), HE-AAC, and WMA, FLAC, Linear-PCM, HE-AAC, ALAC, AIFF (up to 192kbps). It handles video files (AVCHD, MP4 and WMV9) too.
Unfortunately, Sony's new device can't handle the newer Direct Stream Digital audio files, which is a surprise since Sony was one of the inventors of DSD technology, along with Phillips (PHG) . To its credit, Sony's new, higher-end, Walkman, does handle DSD.
You control the device with a number of different, though somewhat confusing, small buttons. Below the screen is a Home/Back button on the left and the Power Off/Options button on the right. Beneath that is the 4-way controller with the Play/Pause button in the middle. On the side is the Volume Up-/Down rocker. Getting used to what to press to go back or forward or change songs takes some time to burn into your memory. After a week, I'm still not 100% confident in trying to control the unit without looking. Installing and removing an extra storage card takes a few more steps than originally expected.
But, it's the sound quality that's most important and impressive. Once the device has a few dozen hours of use, the Walkman lives up to its name and is capable of providing some amazing sounds. We auditioned the player with all possible audio enhancements turned off, and a number of different headphone models ranging from JVC (JVCZF) to Fostex, Shure, and Grado, a new premium Sony model as well as a custom-fit IEM (In-Ear Monitor) from JH Audio. In every test, the Walkman made the music sounds great and traditionally low-resolution MP3 files were more than passable.
I will admit that it doesn't sound as refined as any of the much more expensive Astel and Kern models but it's pretty close and a lot cheaper. I will say that the Sony is pretty terrific and, for its overall size, weight and perceived performance, it offers a great deal for the price.
We'll be very interested to hear just how much better the new, much larger $1,200 Sony ZX2 actually sounds.
Overall Score: 8.3/10
- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.To submit a news tip, send an email to email@example.com.