You can put Apple's ownership of the portable music market down to two things: Steve Jobs' marketing nous and (iPod designer) Jonny Ive's understanding that most people value convenience and gadgetry above audio quality. So it's easy to believe that Apple doesn't give much thought to fidelity.
Thankfully, judging by our review of the new Walkman NWZ-A845, Sony thinks differently.
Music player first
For music lovers it's hard to pick fault with Sony's thinnest-ever Walkman. Feature-wise, the NWZ-A845 is bound to appeal to anybody who wants a high-quality portable music player. It has 16GB of memory, an S-Master digital amplifier, Digital Noise Cancelling, EX headphones and an impressively bright 2.8-inch OLED display. And the feature list ends there.
There's no Wi-Fi. No 3G connectivity, no touch screen, gaming or App Store. This is a music player first and a (really good) portable video player second.
Sony makes no attempt to compete with Apple's iPod touch. If you want a mobile internet device and personal media player that plays music occasionally, then by all means shell out a few quid more and buy yourself one of Apple's latest MIDs (mobile internet devices), because the iPod touch is a wonderful pocket computer.
But if you want music on the go, then we would definitely urge you to consider a new Walkman instead. What it lacks in features it more than makes up for in audio (and video) quality.
No, no, nano!
The NWZ-A845 is 7.2mm thin and it's a lovely looking, beautifully crafted bit of kit. Unlike the featherweight and plasticky iPod nano, it feels reliably solid and weighty.
Priced at £149, the NWZ-A845 will be competing with Apple's slightly cheaper 16GB nano. The fact is, that those users that still rely on iTunes for purchasing and organising their music libraries are always going to plump for an Apple device over anything else.
Sony doesn't have that software eco-system that is Apple's bread-and-butter. Some users have also been quick to dismiss the design of Sony's NWZ-A845 as 'a bit too 1990s.' Which, admittedly it is, unashamedly. No bad thing, mind, especially as the interface is simple, quick and easy to use.
The first thing any audiophile will notice, is that Sony's noise-cancelling in-ear EX headphones that accompany the NWZ-A845 are surprisingly good. So good, in fact, that you won't forget them in a hurry.
They are unlikely to be quite as good as your favourite cans – and they were certainly not as good as the custom-moulded ACS T2s we used to compare and contrast the new Walkman with Apple's iPod – but they are a country mile better than any other 'bundled' headphones we've tested.
Sony informs us that the EX earphones are worth around £70 on their own, which makes the NWZ-A845's £149 price tag seem even more reasonable. If you are travelling on a bus, train or plane then noise can be a major set-back. But not with Sony's 'Advanced Artificial Intelligent Noise Cancelling' technology, which automatically monitors your surroundings and successfully manages to cut out a considerable amount of the ambient interference.
With a battery-life of up to 29 hours and iPod-beating sound quality, the latest Sony Walkman is truly a contender for our favourite personal digital audio player. Of course, Apple has the benefit of the iTunes eco-system, which most people are going to be happy to continue to use alongside their iPod touch or nano.
However, for the discerning audiophile, once you pit Sony's machine alongside any Apple device, the difference in audio quality is immediately apparent. Whether you are listening to quiet folky guitar tunes or bass-heavy hip hop, this Sony Walkman and its bundled EX noise-cancelling earphones deliver a surprisingly clear sound.
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