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Hands-on with the new Walkman: Sony is bringing the music player back to life

Published Sep 3rd, 2014 4:15PM EDT
Sony Walkman Hi-Res Audio

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Long before cell phones replaced MP3 players, before the iPod eliminated any trace of competition, there was one name that was synonymous with portable music: Walkman. Sony’s Walkman line has been through countless incarnations since its debut as a cassette player in 1979, but the latest might be the most interesting in recent memory.

FROM EARLIER: Meet the smartphone Sony will use to fight the iPhone 6 and Galaxy Note 4

Unveiled at IFA 2014 this week, the new Walkman NWZ-A17 Hi-Res Audio Digital Music Player is Sony’s attempt to bring back the dedicated music player. The Walkman features a 2.2-inch color display, Bluetooth connectivity, 64GB of internal storage (upgradeable with microSD cards) and NFC capability. It weighs just 66 grams and can last for up to 50 hours while listening to MP3s and 30 hours with Hi-Res audio.

Sony’s new Walkman is compatible with just about every file format you can name, including FLAC, Apple Lossless(ALAC), MP3, AACHE-AAC, WMALinear PCM (WAV) and AIFF.

The Walkman is light and attractive, but it’s not flashy. I had the opportunity to go hands-on with the Walkman before IFA, and as a fervent music fan myself, I appreciated the relative simplicity of the device. There’s no touch screen, no limitless app store, no incredible features that make it stand above anything we’ve seen from Archos, Apple or any other vendor in the past — it’s just a great media player.

If you’re looking to spend a little extra to listen to your lossless music files on an extremely portable device, the Walkman is worth your consideration. The Walkman NWZ-A17 will be available this November for $299.99.

Sony’s press release can be found below, covering the Walkman in much greater detail.

Sony Gives You More Ways to Enjoy High-Resolution Audio On The Move With All-New Walkman® NWZ-A17 Hi-Res Audio Digital Music Player and MDR-1A Hi-Res Headphones

SAN DIEGO, September 3, 2014 – High-Resolution Audio brings you closer to the spirit and soul of the artist’s original performance – just as you’d hear it on stage or in the recording studio. Now Sony offers an expanded range of options for enjoying pristine Hi-Res sound on-the-go.

Packing audiophile performance into a pocket-sized player, the Walkman A17 Hi-Res Audio Digital Music Player sets an exciting new benchmark in sound and style. It’s joined by the all-new MDR-1A Hi-Res headphones to wrap you in a sumptuous, unparalleled listening experience.

“As digital audio emerged and allowed consumers to more easily and accessibly enjoy music, audio quality was inadvertently sacrificed,” said Michael Woulfe, Vice President of Sound Division at Sony Electronics. “Sony’s commitment to hi-res audio continues with the new Hi-Res Walkman and MDR-1A Hi-Res headphones. Music lovers no longer have to choose between audio quality and portability – they can finally listen to their music library on-the-go, with the quality that the artist intended.

Walkman NWZ-A17

Named the world’s smallest and lightest Hi-Res Audio digital music player1, the all-new exquisitely styled 64GB Walkman A17 supports Hi-Res audio playback, while offering expandable memory capacity and long battery life. This device delivers brilliant sound quality for the best music experience.

1 Based on volume ratio, as of August 2014 according to research by Sony.

Prepare for Quality Sound

The Walkman A17 showcases “master quality sound” via a number of different digital formats. It supports digital music files up to 192 kHz/24 bit. Compatible file formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV and ALAC. Both major and independent music labels provide a variety of compelling Hi-Res content to choose from – in practically every music genre.

The S-Master™ HX digital amplifier, uniquely developed for Hi-Res audio playback, reduces distortion and noisehile reproducing wide frequency response for a clearer acoustic experience. DSEE HX™ technology is used to upscale the quality of compressed digital files (MP3, AAC, and WMA) to surpass CD resolution, nearing High Resolution quality, giving the listener the feeling of being in the performance space, and closer to the original recording.

Design and Build

At just 64GB, the Walkman A17 is the world’s smallest and lightest Hi-Res Audio player. The device’s sleek and compact design features a spun brushed aluminum chassis in front and a simple user interface for ease-of-use. On the inside, the Walkman A17 borrows a few tricks from some of Sony’s flagship audio products. First up is the high-purity lead-free solder from the ES audio line, used for thousands of component connections. The first time being adopted in a portable device, this high-purity lead-free solder allows for reproduction of finely-detailed sounds with well-balanced low, mid and high frequency ranges. In addition, the power supply line strengthened by thickened wires offers reduced impedance, reducing distortion and ensuring deep, sonorous bass. The extremely rigid aluminum die-cast chassis further reduces electronic noise and stabilizes sound reproduction. Finally, instead of conventional ceramic capacitors, a high-grade POSCAP®2 capacitor is used as the charge pump for the S-Master HX™ digital amplifier to minimize noise and distortion even further.

2 POSCAP is the registered trademark of SANYO Electric Co., Ltd.

Enjoy Your Music Library, Wherever You Go

With 64GB of internal memory, the Walkman A17 provides plenty of room for a music lover’s library of tunes. A microSD slot has been added, and microSDXC memory cards with a capacity of 64GB or greater are also supported. And, the built-in lithium ion battery provides up to 50 hours of MP3 audio playback3 or up to 30 hours of Hi-Res Audio playback4 per charge.

Users can also enjoy high quality Bluetooth® audio streaming convenience and simplified connectivity with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology. With built in SBC and aptX® codec support, users will benefit from high-quality audio when streaming music wirelessly.

Building a music library on the Walkman A17 is also easy. Users can just drag and drop files from their PC.

3 MP3 128kbps, when Bluetooth is off

4 FLAC 192 kHz/24 bit, when Bluetooth is off
MDR-1A Hi-Res Headphones

Sony’s MDR-1A Hi-Res headphones are the perfect match for today’s finest High-Resolution Audio sources. These all-new headphones deliver ultra-responsive, Hi-Res Audio performance with thoughtful design and lush, enveloping comfort for an unmatched sound experience. Through accurate soundstage and audio reproduction, the MDR-1A headphones allow for a balanced and highly articulate sound.

Hi-Res Audio Capable

The MDR-1A headphones utilize 40mm HD driver units which render incredibly wide bandwidth audio performance, from low to ultra-high up to 100 kHz frequency. This level of quality produces atmospheric musical nuances that are characteristic of High-Resolution audio.

Lightweight and responsive, the aluminum coated Liquid Crystal Polymer Film diaphragms provide the necessary rigidity and internal loss for a wide, balanced sound reproduction. Whether you’re enjoying a string quartet or jamming to rock music, these driver units minimize coloration across the audio spectrum.

Impeccable Sound Quality

To further refine the listening experience, the headphones’ 4-wire oxygen free audio cable structure uses separated ground cables to minimize crosstalk between the left and right channels. The silver-coated OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) cable provides each driver with a separate ground and signal connection for heightened separation, expanded sound and tight bass. With less of the inherent electrical resistance that you would find from standard copper cabling, silver coated OFC minimizes signal transmission loss – enabling less sound degradation and mellifluous treble sounds.

Even the most demanding bass-lines are reproduced with effortless pace and rhythm, thanks to Sony’s Beat Response Control that vents airflow via acoustic ports to optimize diaphragm movement.

Extended Comfort

The design and pressure relieving urethane cushions of the all-new MDR-1A headphones allow for wrap around comfort and an acoustic seal for deep bass response. Through the placement of silicon rings around every moving axis, these headphones allow for an immersive music experience devoid of mechanical rattling. The MDR-1A melds sound quality, ergonomic design and long-term comfort to create headphones that you will be proud to listen to, and proud to wear.

Pricing and Availability

The Walkman A17 will be available starting November 2014 for a suggested retail price of $299.99 at Sony stores and other authorized dealers nationwide.

The MDR-1A Hi-Res headphones will be available starting end of September 2014 for the same suggested retail price of $299.99 at Sony stores and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.