Sony Network Walkman NW-HD5
Third time lucky?
But while SonicStage may be a poor stunted thing compared to iTunes, the NW5 is undeniably a great sounding player. Tracks encoded in MP3 sound noticeably better than they do on my third generation iPod, giving them a new lease of life. I also conducted some subjective listening tests using ATRAC 3 and ATRAC 3 Plus. Of course, this was on my own excellent sounding Koss Porta Pro earphones as opposed to the small earphones included in the box. The default encoding method in SonicStage is to ATRAC 3 Plus at 64Kbps. This is decent but not fantastic - equivalent to 128Kbps MP3. The next higher quality ATRAC 3 Plus setting is 256Kbps. It's quite a hike in terms of file size but it does sound superb. Below this is plain ATRAC 3 at 105Kbps and 132Kbps, and personally I'd go with the latter as it gives the best trade off between quality and capacity. If you prefer a more universal format SonicStage can now rip straight to MP3 and will convert WMA tunes on the fly.
What the HD5 doesn't have is extra features such as an FM tuner or a microphone, which will probably put off those who want their MP3 player to offer kitchen sink functionality. SonicStage may put off even more people. The look and the interface of the NW-HD5 may be too quirky for some.
Judging the hardware alone, however, the Sony is a lean mean little player that knocks spots off the iPod in terms of size, battery life, sound quality and even price. Granted it still doesn't have the same unquantifiable cool but then there are an awful lot of people who aren't members of the iPod fan club.
|Sony Network Walkman NW-HD5|
|More info||The Sony NW-HD5 site|