Music

Sony NWZ-A15 High-Res Walkman Review

Sony invited me to be an influencer for the Sony Walkman NWZ-A15. It took me a while to consider, because I would not advocate products if I do not find a fit to my lifestyle. And now that I have, I have found the Walkman to be a pretty awesome product.

The only way for me to agree carrying a separate music device is if the device is compact. This A15 weighs next to nothing, and it supports High-Res 24-bit audio files. Not that most people can hear the difference, but it is definitely good to have, just like you would buy 4K television thought there is not much content at such high resolution. For normal compressed MP3 files, the A15 also improves to make them sound sweeter.

Here are a few favourite things I like about the A15:

1. Quality Audio Processor

Every smartphone now can play music, and many could handle 24-bit audio files, so why bother to carry another dedicated music device? Because the A15 is powered by quality audio processors that some smartphones do not come with (lucky you if yours is). The A15 S-Master is an all-in-one digital-audio-converter and amplifier which is supposed to reduce noise and distortion. Then there is the DSEE HX that enhances your normal MP3 files by sweetening the treble frequency. I like how the tweak is subtle but noticeable for audio lovers.

 

2. Small and Lightweight

The last thing I want to do is to lug a bulky music device. The A15 is so small and light, it weighs next to nothing, so you can conveniently bring it around without fuss.

3. SensMe Channels

SensMe scans all the songs stored in the A15 and categorises them into various mood channels. The very moment you select a channel, a random song plays immediately. At times when you have no idea what you feel like listening, SensMe is the best way to get things going.

 

4. Enjoy Music Away from Smartphone

Imagine the times when you needed music but don’t want a smartphone to constantly disrupt you. I am thinking during meditation, during workouts, during times when you need music but do not want to be disturbed.

How about times when you wanted to play music through your wireless speaker at home or at an event but you need to keep your smartphone with you? Worst, if there are incoming calls, everyone can hear your conversation over the speakers, and music gets disrupted. And what about places prohibiting smartphones, like military camps, planes?

A dedicated music player like A15 gets you through.

5. Hardware and Features

The A15 has an intelligent power on-off feature, where the device wakes up instantaneously to resume where you left off. It only goes into full shutdown if unused for several days.

The A15 can last up to 50 hours per charge, so no worries about battery, especially when your smartphone battery life is ever so precious no thanks to heavy data usage.

It comes with 16GB of internal storage (64GB for A17) with microSD card expansion, so you can load up all your favourite tunes at high resolution, without fear of storage issue if you were to use your smartphone as the music player.

Connecting to wireless headphones and speakers is very easy via NFC and Bluetooth, which supports aptX for distortion-free audio experience.

It also has built-in FM tuner if you got tired of your music collection.

One thing I like – believe it or not – is that there is no touch screen! That means there is no risk of accidentally activating any functions. It really takes getting used to, as I often panic when I touched the display while handling the A15.

A photo posted by Chester Tan (@musicdiary) on

Here are some drawbacks of the A15:

1. Does not support DSD

It might not sound like a big deal, but what it means is that the A15 cannot support multi-channel audio that are available in SACD. The quality really makes a difference compared to normal CD.

2. Not So Intuitive Menu Browsing

What annoys me mildly is that when I navigate into a sub-menu and selects something, instead of going back to the previous menu, the A15 exits the menu. I then had to re-enter the menu again.

3. Limited adjustments on graphic equalizer

Unlike the luxuries of a smartphone app, you will not be able to customise the equalizer as liberally. There are limited presets which you can apply, but I would assume you should not be too keen to alter your audio files if you are getting A15 for its unadulterated sound output.

4. Non-standard USB connection

Sony continues to keep the proprietary Walkman data cable instead of a more universal USB port. But at least it is common across the Walkman series, which means you could get a replacement relatively easy.

5. High-Res audio file availability

There aren’t a lot of commercially-available 24-bit files for download. It is also not so easy to rip 24-bit SACD compared to 16-bit CD. But if you are an audio engineer, you should have no problems accessing pre-master 24-bit files for your self-indulgence.

 

16-bit vs. 24-bit

Is there a significant difference? My ears tell me no. I could not significantly tell the difference, which means during a blind test, I am quite happy with either audio formats. But I do detect that 24-bit audio delivers a more natural high-frequency quality, with less distorted sibilence, and less stifled low-frequencies.

Also, do bear in mind that music files that are created specifically for 24-bit enjoyment tend to be specially mastered to cater for the audiophiles. The audio encoding into a lossless format may be more stringent compared to consumer-grade audio files where people are more concerned with file size.

Finally, it also depends on the type of music you listen to. Heavy rock that are already compressed to death during mastering process will not benefit from 24-bit, while recordings of acoustic instruments with purposeful sound staging will shine in a digital format without the technical inhibitions.

 

Verdict

The Sony NWZ-A15 is an inexpensive Walkman that can play High-Res audio in an extremely compact size, allowing you to enjoy great music separate from your smartphone. It is capable of playing music instantly from standby, via wired or Bluetooth wireless. Thanks to the expandable microSD card, I have no qualms about uploading my music files in the best audio format possible without worry of storage space.

The 16GB model retails in Singapore for S$299, while the 64GB NWZ-A17 retails for S$399.

I would like to thank Sony Singapore for engaging me as an influencer, where I get to keep the A15 at the end of the campaign. The campaign does not require me to write a blog post but I am more than happy to review the product in my own way without obligation.

A photo posted by Chester Tan (@musicdiary) on Mar 5, 2015 at 5:24pm PST

Spec

Internal Memory: 16GB
External Memory: microSD slot
Bluetooth: Bluetooth® Ver 2.1+EDR1 A2DP / AVRCP / OPP
NFC: Yes
FM Tuner: 76.0~108.0MHz
Display: 2.2″ QVGA (240 x 320 Pixels) TFT color display with white LCD-backlight
Power Source: Built-in Li-ion Rechargeable Battery / USB power through the USB connector of the player
Battery Life: MP3 – 50 hours (*MP3 128kbps, when Bluetooth OFF). Hi-Res Audio – 30 hours (*FLAC 192kHz/24bit, when Bluetooth OFF)
Recharge Time: 4 hours
Sound Effects: S-Master HX / DSEE HX / Clear Audio+ / Clear Bass / Equalizer / VPT(surround) / Dynamic Normalizer
Compatible Formats Music:FLAC / Apple Lossless(ALAC) / MP3 / AAC*1 / HE-AAC / WMA*2 / Linear PCM(WAV) / AIFF Movie:MPEG-4 / AVC(H.264/AVC) / Windows Media Video 9
Other Functions Karaoke, Dance, Display Lyrics, Language Study, Sense Me™ Channels
Dimensions: (W x H x D) Approx. 43.6 x 109 x 8.7mm
Weight: 66g

Reviewed by Chester Tan http://musicphotolife.com/
Rating: 4 of 5

7 comments
  1. matt

    Thanks for your reviews. I’ve enjoyed looking over the Walkman ones after doing a search here. I only wish blogs like this showed up more in search engine results! (I clicked over from Head-Fi instead.)

    1. Chester Tan

      Hi Matt, thanks for your kind words. I’m currently reviewing the Sony Signature series audio products, so do stay around and follow my blog so that you receive the latest updates. Appreciate your support!

  2. Rons

    I bought my A17 but a bit disappointed cause I cannot use the control of my headset to change the song or adjust the volume.

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