Updated: March 18, 2020 9:19:19 am
I still fondly remember going to a Sony store with my dad to buy a new Walkman. The appeal of the old-screen cassette player endures to this day, despite multiple refreshes and eventually being replaced by the iPod. So when Sony announced the new NW-A105 Walkman, I was genuinely excited. The NW-A105 Walkman is a rush of nostalgia for at least some of us. But there’s much more to Sony’s new Walkman.
Powered by Android 9, the new Walkman is designed for the newer generation, compete with modern aesthetics, colorful Full HD screen and a handful of features for audiophiles. At Rs 23,990, it’s not a cheap music player. This is a Sony device and on top of it, the NW-A105 is the first Android-based Walkman.
Sony has got some things right and wrong with the new Walkman. Here’s the good, bad and confusing aspects of the NW-A105 in my opinion.
Good: Small size and physical buttons
The first thing you notice when you start using the Sony NW-A105 Walkman is how solidly built and sturdy it is. The design is instantly recognisable as a Sony. The body has an aluminum milled frame that not only provides a sturdy built, but is ergonomically good in case you want to hold for longer durations. The music player comes with a dimension of 55.9mm x 98.9mm x 11.0 mm and weighs about 100 grams.
The right side has physical buttons that let you control your music. The power, play/pause, volume, skip forward and skip backward music selection are positioned for easy operation. Then there is a hold switch to lock the buttons so that your music doesn’t skip around while the device is in your bag or pocket.
On the bottom side of the device, you have a USB-C port for charging, and the microSD card slot for expandable storage. And yes, the Walkman also has an old-school headphone jack so that you can use a pair of wired headphones with the music player.
One of the big selling points of this Walkman is its compact size. Just look at how tiny it is next to my iPhone 11. I know a lot of people who would want the NW-A105 because of its size. The Walkman can easily fit on an exercise arm strap or slips into track pant pockets. Trust me, this is the perfect device to carry in a gym. What’s nice is that I could use the device one-handed. That’s especially useful for when I’m walking around with my iPhone 11 in one hand and the Walkman with the other.
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Good: Hi-Res audio
As I said at the beginning, the NW-A105 is designed to cater to audiophiles. The Walkman has an S-Master HX digital amplifier to deliver crisp Hi-Res audio, a DSEE HX processor to upscale compressed audio and a vinyl processor that supposedly recreates the sound of traditional vinyl records. The device supports MP3 with up to 320kbps, WMA with up to 192kbps, FLAC, AAC, MP4, AIF, and DSD converted to PCM.
To test the Walkman’s prowess, I listened to preloaded tracks in Hi-Res audio and they sounded excellent. In simple words, Hi-Res audio delivers a sound that comes close to what you’d hear in a recording studio. My problem with Hi-Res audio is manifold, especially if you are living in India. There aren’t any streaming services available in the country that offer a catalog available in Hi-Res or “High Definition.” Amazon Music HD is not available in India and nor is Tidal.
Yes, there are some international sites and platforms that offer tracks in Hi-Res audio like Qobuz, HDtracks, Chandos but downloading music in High-definition can be expensive. For audio lovers or professional musicians though, investing in both hardware (that also includes a pair of Hi-Res audio supporting headphones) and super Hi-Res audio files is more of an investment. They are the ones who would actually use the feature but for the rest of us, Hi-Res audio does not matter much.
Confusing: Streaming Music
Do I need to spend Rs 24,000 on a Walkman to stream music? I know a lot of you would ask this question and I was expecting this. Look, I understand…this is the first Walkman to support Google’s Android mobile operating system. All your music streaming apps, be it Apple Music or Spotify, can be downloaded onto the device itself to stream music over the internet. So essentially, the NW-A105 is a kind of mini Android smartphone that can’t take phone calls.
My only problem is that the quality of streaming music is similar to what you get on a high-end smartphone these days. That’s not to say the NW-A105 sounds bad or something like that. The issue I personally faced while reviewing NW-A105 was how do I fit this device into my day-to-day life. Keep in mind that the Walkman only gets data over Wi-Fi. That means you can’t use it everywhere like a smartphone.
I don’t know who would spend Rs 24,000 on a Walkman to stream music. Considering the size of the Walkman, it might be a good option for the people to take the device with them in the morning for jogging.
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Confusing: Noise-cancelling feature
Honestly, this is the most confusing part of the new Walkman. So basically, in the control center, you will notice a feature called Noise Cancelling/Ambient Sound function. So I tried listening to music using my Sennheiser Momentum and I could hardly make a difference with the mode turned on and off. In reality, this feature does work but you need to buy a specific pair of headphones that Sony doesn’t offer or sell in India.
Display: A lot of people who saw this device had one thing to say: the 3.6-inch screen is small. But if that is the right size depends on what you want from a portable music player. I do feel that the screen is super small and a little cramped as well. But the display is of a high-quality and texts look sharp enough. Obviously, you do lose in-display real-estate. You can watch movies on this device, but the experience is not great.
Battery: Battery life is too short. Even though Sony claims the device will last 26 hours on a single charge, I found the battery doesn’t last that long. It fell to half after streaming music on Apple Music. What’s more annoying is that the device takes a hell of a lot of time to charge. The retail box comes with a USB-C cable, but no adapter.
Sony didn’t really put an effort to maximize the performance of the new Walkman. The music player packs in a quad-core processor and 4GB RAM, which is absolutely fine for a device like this. Unfortunately, I noticed that some apps take forever to load and one shouldn’t expect the device to handle games well.
Should you buy this Walkman?
No, if you have a high-end Android smartphone or an iPhone. Yes, the NW-A105 comes with a premium design, Android 9 support and plenty of apps, and the ability to listen to Hi-Res audio. So if that is what you are looking for, then there is nothing else you can invest in. But then the price of being an audiophile is having to carry two different devices to listen to music and phone calls.
So the NW-A105 is best suited for someone who appreciates 24-bit quality music and already owns high-end headphones. But even for those users, the battery life could be a problem. Otherwise, the Sony Walkman NW-A105 is a great music player to listen to pure music.
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