Wow, my first Walkman in about 3 decades! I''ve been thinking about getting a high resolution music player for a while, but most of them are really expensive. I don''t think I even realized that Sony''s current Walkman line played high-res files until I stumbled onto a couple...
Wow, my first Walkman in about 3 decades! I''ve been thinking about getting a high resolution music player for a while, but most of them are really expensive. I don''t think I even realized that Sony''s current Walkman line played high-res files until I stumbled onto a couple of YouTube videos that reviewed a couple of the models. I''m pretty sure this is the lowest current model in the lineup but it does everything I want it to do.
It plays basically every music format I can think of at pretty much any sampling rate and frequency, including DSD. It has a headphone jack, physical buttons for the most common actions, Bluetooth if you want it (you''re not going to get real high-res over BT, though, even if you use LDAC), an SD card slot that you''re absolutely going to need, and all in a tiny metal case. Really, the player is smaller than it looks. It might be smaller than an original iPod Mini, but I don''t have one of those around anymore to compare it with. It has a nice heft to it and feels good in the hand, though.
I realized as I was researching this player that I already had about 14 high-res albums that I''d gotten through various means with other purchases. They were a mix of WAVs, FLAC files and DSD''s. The WAV files I converted first to FLAC - there is no point storing songs as WAV, since FLAC is lossless, about half the size and also supports tagging - so WAV is one format I haven''t tested. It is supposed to play WAVs, but seriously, take the 3 seconds to have dbPowerAmp or Audiomuxer convert them to FLAC for all its other benefits. Anyway, I transferred all of my FLAC and DSD files, along with some mp3''s, and they all play great.
Transfers can be done through either Sony''s Music Center software or just via drag and drop in Windows (and probably Mac). The Walkman just shows up as a mass storage device. There are a few features you miss out on if you use drag and drop, I guess most notably the CDDB database matching that will fix any missing ID3 tags or artwork for you (if you turn that feature on). But I have found Music Center to be a little buggy when using SD cards. You have to select the SD card manually to transfer to, but then it seems like Music Center still internally thinks the card is the size of the Walkman''s built-in storage. It always seems to stop after transferring around 10GB of data, which is the amount of free space on the Walkman itself, not the card I have. The Walkman then no longer recognizes the card until I reinsert it.
But one nice thing about Music Center is that you can put the card in a card reader directly and it recognizes it as Walkman storage and will transfer back and forth just the same as if it was in the Walkman. I have a permanent card reader in my PC, so I just did that and it worked fine. It just seems to get confused if it has two different memory locations to think about. The Walkman then has no problems with the card either, or at least not so far.
Sound quality seems pretty great to me, and I consider my standards relatively high. I''m not an audiophile but I am a musician and was a recording artist in a past life (ie. many years ago), so I can tell a good recording from a bad one (and good vs. bad playback of said recordings) and I''m conditioned to listen for accuracy. I''m listening with a set of Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT''s, which are pretty well known for having good, fairly accurate sound. I''ve tried them both wired and wireless. And I have no real complaints with the sound of the NW-A55. When using a wired connection, you''re using the Walkman''s built-in DAC, and it sounds pretty flat to me (that''s a good thing; it means it''s not coloring the sound) with smooth highs and lows.
Using Bluetooth, you''re using your headphones'' DAC, which in *most* cases is probably going to be inferior. So you can''t judge the player''s sound quality when using Bluetooth, both because Bluetooth itself uses lossy codecs and then your headphones are doing the conversion to sound from the digital data, not the player.
I will say that the NW-A55 supports up to LDAC and AptX HD for its Bluetooth codecs (of course it''ll use whatever your headphones support up to that), so it''s about as good as it gets right now for Bluetooth listening. But the quality of the headphones become even that much more important if you''re thinking to go wireless. There''s no point in buying a dedicated high-res audio player and then using some crappy wireless earbuds with it. Just stick to mp3''s on your phone in that case; they will sound the same and save you money and storage space.
You may see a few reviews where people complain about the volume being too low... those people are either a) in the EU, or b) using Bluetooth and don''t know that volume is controlled on their headphones. EU models have a decibel limit that''s mandated by law. You can alter the firmware to change this. US models (like the one I bought here) do not have this issue; it''s plenty loud for me at 80-85 (it goes up to 120) even with "big" headphones. And if you''re using Bluetooth and the volume seems low, again, just use your headphone volume control. This is just how Bluetooth works. The player''s sending data to your headphones, not sound; it''s up to your headphones what to do with that data. The NW-A55 does have a workaround for this in the output settings if for some reason your headphones don''t have a volume control.
There are also custom firmwares to change the sound profile of the NW-A55 to better match Sony''s high-end DMP-Z1 player. I haven''t tried these but I probably will sometime. Like I said, I have no complaints with the sound as is, but some people have said they find it a little harsh and these custom firmwares are out there to fix that, if you have that problem. That''s actually ultimately what convinced me to buy one of these, but luckily I don''t feel I *need* to alter the sound profile, at least.
So what are you missing out on with the NW-A55 vs. a higher-end Walkman model like the A100? Well, the biggest thing is probably wifi and apps. There''s no streaming on this model; it''s just for playing your own music collection. That is fine with me, but if you''re into streaming, you''ll need to go higher in the line. The downside of going to a streaming model is that then you''re just on basically stock Android. It''s not much different than having an Android phone; you''ll need to be signed in to your Google account to get your apps, and you''ll probably want to lock the device since your account info will all be on there. For me, I''ll just stream on my phone if I want to (and I don''t very often); I''m glad to have an old-school, offline, dedicated music player with a good DAC... but one that plays high quality files.