Monday, April 27, 2015

Sony digital media player : Sony NWZ - A17

Why I ditched iPod touch for good ?
I bought my first digital media player, an Apple 80GB iPod classic not knowing it wasn’t supported by Rockbox in 2006. I was disappointed but went on to buy an iPod touch 64GB to have bluetooth capabilities to use with my bluetooth compatible devices. I bought iPods not because they’re good products but there weren’t a range of quality digital media players in 2006.


In recent times I loved the sound quality of Astell & Kern but spending $1000 on a personal digital media player was just absurd given the amount of time I truly use it. There were a few alternatives but I didn’t quite like them for there were a few compromises in the sound quality, size and durability.

I’ve heard a few good reviews on Sony, their most recent wave of portable digital media players. The first generation or the first wave of Sony players were based on early Andriod 2.x platform which was a total failure. They were not just sluggish but full of issues on top of a poor battery life.

After reading many many many reviews and listening to some music on Sony media players, I figured the new generation of Sony media players have jumped a huge leap forward from where they have started. That gave me some confidence to purchase a Sony NWZ - A17, 64GB digital media player for A$399, which assures a 50 hour battery life on certain compressed media formats. Importantly this device boasts flac support.

Look and feel:
The built quality is pretty good, I would rather say ‘decent’. It’s lightweight yet didn’t appear to be made out of cheap plastic although it is has a plastic body :D The design wasn’t over engineered but quite simple. The nice hold button and navigation keys placed on the surface is quite good.

Compatibility :
To my surprise, this worked well with Sennheiser bluetooth headphones, BT 210. Volume and the navigation controls worked well. The battery life was advertised as 50 hours for MP3 files at 128kbps, however it lasted a little over 40 hours when apple’s lossless media format was used at 320kbps.

Unlike Apple, Sony allows users to have a full control over media files and how the files are supposed to store in the device. This means, it’s possible to organise media/music files in the device’s storage at user’s discretion. For an example, I was able to create a folder ‘chrisbotti’ and a discrete folder to hold each Chris Botti album. This is very handy when backing up music or remove them to reclaim space. The support for microSDXC I compatible cards are an added advantage, allowing users to store music up to 200GB.

The media files can be copied using iTunes or move files to the device, as you would copy files over to a standard USB storage device. The FM/AM radio, NFC, bluetooth are a few of many features this device could brag about.

Sound quality :
I have tested the sound quality using Sennheiser IE 6, B & W P7 headphones. The sound quality is exceptional compared to Apple, aided by a user customisable five band graphical equaliser. I’m not a huge fan of tone controls when listening to music. The music would not sound as _music_ when the tone controls are engaged. That been said, certain limitations in the headphones, original source and the device can be tolerated with the help of a GEQ.

The volume control runs from 0-30 and mostly sufficient for larger headphones without a headphone amplifier. I have also tested this device with Sennheiser’s in-ear noise cancelling headphones, CXC 700 and the music reproduction was pretty good.

The hiss is on par or less compared to Apple. The ability to play flac files is a great bonus. It would have been a lot better had there been ‘ogg’ support in this.

What’s bad and ugly :
All the good been said, there are a few concerns of Sony’s media players. The big deal breaker is finding accessories, at least in Australia. The media player comes with a proprietary data/power cable. This connector cable cannot be purchased from a regular electronic store as you could with Apple’s. Not even Sony stocks them, unfortunately.

This means, you need to contact Sony’s third party spare parts supplier to buy a new cable if you play up with your stock cable. This is ridiculous. Why can’t sony stock them on their online store and make them available for the customers ? Why do the customers need to ring their parts supplier to buy just a connector cable ? That’s absurd!!!

The battery charging time is a bit too much for my liking; four damn hours. The LCD display lights up each time I increase or decrease the volume. This is unnecessary and a waste of battery life. The same manner, the LCD display doesn’t need to lights up at a key press when the device been locked with the ‘hold’ key.

A single click ‘home’ key to navigate to the home screen and a key to access the currently playing track would have been very ergonomic, eliminating the need to navigate through multiple key presses. The lack of wifi support is another missing piece for an ‘A’ grade media player with a price tag of $399. File transfer support over wifi would certainly make this a good selling point if Sony is likely to persuade this avenue.

Conclusion :
This is a very good pick over Apple’s media players. The sound quality, features, built quality and the freedom have surely eclipsed this over Apple's media players. However, still there are lots of room for improvisation to catch up the audio/headphile market if Sony is trying to take the mobile media players seriously.

built quality :    6/10
sound quality :    7/10
battery       :    7/10
ease of use   :    7/10
accessories   :    5/10
features      :    8/10

overall score :  6.7/10

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