Sony audio goodies include Clear Stereo and Clear Bass and the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE). The latter aims to emulate sonic elements lost in compression but – unless you’ve got so used to that tight bandwidth MP3 sound that nothing else will do – you'll never want to switch it off. With this additional processing, and a quality set of headphones, the sound was rich and rewarding, and just about the best we've heard from a portable player.
Noise-cancelling headphones as standard
Conveniently accessible from the music player, the five-band graphic equaliser features five presets, plus a further two that you can customise. There’s also a selection of ambient treatments provided by Sony’s Virtualphones Technology (VPT), which offers effects such as studio, live, club, arena etc. These offer clear differences to suit the type of music you’re listening to, although some seem a bit gimmicky. We can’t imagine anyone subjecting themselves to the ultra compressed and seemingly flanged sound of the karaoke setting for long.
Supporting a broader range of formats than Apple's alternative, the X-series accommodates Microsoft's WMA, plus MP3, AAC and lossless PCM, although you won't be able to play FLAC, or, indeed, Apple Lossless. For video there’s H.264, MPEG4 and WMV9. Sony’s Media Manager software certainly lacks the grace and far-reaching capabilities of iTunes but it is easy to use.
Unlike Apple’s iTunes, Sony’s Media Manager only works on Windows PCs. If you haven’t got a Windows XP or Vista machine, the flash drive will still mount as a storage device for drag and drop use on Macs and Linux machines. A facility that runs contrary to Sony's own website FAQ claims that there is no Macintosh support. In use, Media Manager can be set to automatically sync data with your PC, or you can drag and drop files individually. It’ll also automatically pull in any tracks you already have on your computer, even from your PC version of iTunes.
Wi-Fi proved to be easy to set up, but when it comes to web browser design, Sony would have done itself a favour by having a quick consultation with Sony Ericsson on its excellent phone-based versions. Alas, the X-series browser is sadly wanting, with an awkward interface for inputting URLs that uses a phone-style keypad rather than a QWERTY keyboard. Also, we were shocked to discover we had to physically enter ‘http://’ at the beginning of a URL – it was like something out of the nineties.
Smaller than the iPod Touch, but a smaller screen too
The bundled Youtube application works well for playback but, when browsing, the pages didn't always render properly, so it was a bit of a disappointment overall. On the plus side, you can swap the resolution to landscape mode and zoom in and out of pages, but it’s really not as easy and intuitive as it should be for a modern handheld browser.
Even if I had some sort of bias towards Sony, that is my right as a consumer, and visitor of this website.
I was under the impression that reviewers were supposed to be pretty impartial about what they say. Say what you want, the review sounded very Apple-friendly to me - I appear to not be the only other commenter to notice that either - maybe you should lace some other barbed comments their way too.
@ Robert – the Walkman will read MP3 tags, and organise files accordingly. Or you can organise your files into playlists.
@ Anonymous Coward – no, you can't stream iPlayer content over Wi-Fi, you need to side load it from your computer. You can use other noise cancelling headphones with it – but in that case it won't be the noise cancelling that's built into the Walkman. As for the other stuff, perhaps you'd have preferred a longer review?
@ Scott – I'm hardly Apple-biased, I don't even own a Mac. I do think the iPod has achieved iconic status in terms of portable music, just like the Walkman used to be, and may possibly be again if it keeps improving. Also, I made it clear in the review that the Walkman sounds better than the iPod Touch, or was there not enough Sony bias for you?
Noise Cancelling Headphones
So you only get the noise cancelling using the supplied headphones?!
I think that some of Sony's advertising may be a bit misleading in this department as I initially believed that the noise cancelling would happen on any headphones attached, your review is however correct.
Seeing as the headphones are usually the first item broken/replaced on a portable stereo, there seems to be no availability of replacement headphones with noise cancelling.
Shame really as it's not a bad attempt, especially as Apple are so sure that no one wants FM radio.
@Robert E A Harvey
"stream .ra from iplayer over the wifi?
make sheduled recordings from the FM radio? While you are listening to something else?
I notice it does not include DAB radio, an increasing omission in consumer gadgets. I reckon DAB is dead if it can't be crowbared into something like this."
Fuck me dead, you don't want much do you?
Doesn't include DAB radio? Hasn't this system just been abused with stations using poxy quality settings such that sound quality is often perceptibly worse than FM?
Take a look at this page...
especially the bit about the new DAB+ standard. Maybe that's a good reason why nobody's bothered yet? DAB is dead. Creation of DAB+ will see to that. Australia for one has gone with this so it seems that the UK was too early an adopter or went in half-arsed and it's now fallen by the wayside/taken off too late.
In the end this is a bloody mp3 player and it does the job exceedingly well. Maybe they should reduce the price a touch but I think people's expectations are getting as out of hand when it comes to features in technology - a bit like house/share price expectations were. The old "if it doesn't <insert ridiculous expectation here> then I certainly won't be buying one" tripe.
If it doesn't have the kitchen sink functionality that you deem necessary then don't buy it but please leave your unrealistic expectations/marginal requirements at the door.
One thing it should do is force Apple to up their game to keep ahead and, as a consumer, that can only be a good thing.
ok, but what about...
screen rez and colours? detailed video file support? DRM support for iPlayer? support for subtitles files? Actual battery life (33/9 are Sony's figures!), does it come with/work with Sony's iTunes Media Transfer Tool? Can you set up playlists or synch them from MTP media players? Can you bookmark video/audio files? How does it cope with various aspect ratios? Does DSEE work with video playback or just audio? Oh, and how does the touch UI actually work? 2/10. El Reg usually does -much- better.