There was once a time when Sony was considered the king of audio products. It was “cool” to be seen with a Sony Walkman, their ostentatious music systems that loudly proclaimed 2000 watts of output were a staple in almost every household. Then the iPod happened. Apple’s portable music player single-handedly killed not just every other portable audio product in the market, but also started a digital revolution, where people moved away from cassettes and CDs in favour of mp3 files.
Now we listen to music through our phones and over the years, the quality of the audio experience has only deteriorated. Going from CDs to compressed mp3’s to streaming music that’s optimised for poor bandwidth, there’s not a lot out there that would appease an audiophile. Enter Sony and its attempt to regain the hearts of music lovers with their line of high-resolution audio players.
Specifications: 3.1 inch 800×400 TFT colour display | 16GB on-board storage (expandable to 128GB) | weighs 98 grams | Physical playback buttons |Proprietary multi-function port |
Sony NW-A35 Walkman
The Sony NW-A35 Walkman is the newest addition to the company’s small portfolio of dedicated, high-resolution audio players. The NW-A35 is quiet a compact little device with a small touchscreen to help you navigate your music library. It weighs just enough to feel hefty and sturdy, without seeming heavy.
We reviewed the portable music player to see if it made any sense to carry an additional device just to play music. Through our review, we used multiple earphones and headphones, used both mp3 and high-resolution audio and tested playback quality on various devices.
Sony claims while the NW-A35 can play high resolution files in their true fidelity, where the layer shines is in upscaling the quality of mp3 files. Sony claims that thanks to the built-in Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, the player is able to scale the resolution of an audio file by up to three times the fidelity.
The feature does have its limitations, in the form that if you’re trying to upscale mp3 files with a 128kbps bitrate, the mode isn’t going to automatically turn the file into a superior file. There’s a lot going on with the NW-A35, so we’ll just break down the essentials for you
The NW-A35 supports a multitude of file formats such as AAC (Non-DRM), AIFF, ALAC, DSD, FLAC, HE-AAC, Linear PCM, MP3, WMA (Non-DRM). If you’re an avid music listener, chances are you’re either listening to mp3 or Apple’s AAC formats. For anyone with a serious love for listening to music, the support for DSD, FLAC and ALAC formats is a blessing. It is likely that your Android phone supports these formats too, but the hardware inside the NW-A35 is what really extracts the most out of audio files.
In order to test the Sony NW-A35 Walkman, we used over seven different earphones and headphones to compare the audio coming out of the Walkman with the output of a OnePlus 3T, a Google Pixel XL and an iPhone 7. We played back FLAC files (16bit-44KHz and 24bit-96KHz), mp3 files (ripped from CD at 320kbps, constant bitrate).
Consistently, the NW-A35 sounded noticeably better across all formats. While we expected better FLAC playback, turning on the DSEE mode for enhancement of files that weren’t high resolution audio files also enhanced the quality of the music.
The other thing that we really liked was the physical playback controls. If you’re the kind of listener who would put something on and then let the playlist progress on its own, you’re going to get a lot of mileage out of the battery.
If you prefer to occasionally skip, pause or repeat a track, the Sony NW-A35 has physical buttons for all that and even for adjusting volume. They even bring back the old “hold” button which disables the physical buttons to avoid any changes due to accidental pushes. In our test, we peaked the battery life at about 19 hours of playback with mixed media files.
Lastly, the Walkman also comes equipped with NFC and Bluetooth for easily connecting wireless speakers or earphones. We tested this feature out with Sony’s own XB50BS Bluetooth earphones. Connecting using NFC was easy and playback was strong throughout our use. There were no skips, but this could be attributed to the Walkman never being more than 4 feet away from the earphone. The quality of the audio was not as great as we got from wired earphones and headphones, so we’d honestly recommend skipping the NW-A35 if your primary need is wireless playback.
What’s not so good?
While the Sony NW-A50 excels as a music player, we encountered some issues with it as a holistic device. For starters, the touchscreen was occasionally non-responsive, sometimes scrolling through songs wasn’t seamless and the software as a whole could use some improvement.
Our second issue with the NW-A35 is the fact that it comes with just 16GB of on-board storage and if you’ve got a library of FLAC files, you’re going to be annoyed by this. We had to add a 32GB microSD card to the Walkman in order to fit our library onto it. It’s a shame that Sony doesn’t bundle a microSD card with this otherwise excellent Walkman.
Speaking of things not being bundled, the Sony NW-A35 Walkman comes as a standalone device, that is, there are no earphones in the box. We were disappointed to see that there’s no case, pouch or even a screen protector in the box. In comparison, the MDR-EX750NA (noise cancelling high-resolution earbuds) that cost less than the Walkman, come with a carrying pouch. We feel that for a device that costs Rs 15,990, a screen protector or a carrying pouch would have been a nice touch.
Who should buy it, Who should steer clear?
High-resolution audio players, as much as we’d like them to be a staple in everyone’s hands, are not so. This Walkman is a great tool for anyone who really enjoys the experience of good quality music. What that means is if you enjoy listening to the intricacies of instrument arrangement, or want to hear music the way the musician intended it to be heard, you’re going to need FLAC files and the NW-A35 will help you get the most out of them.
You should be ready to invest in some good earphones or headphones as well because listening to high-resolution audio on bad earphones/headphones is like trying to drive a Ferrari through the busy streets of Chandni Chowk. You don’t need to go overboard with expensive equipment, but a decent pair of buds will definitely help you get more out of your player.
If you’re the kind of person who would download low-quality audio files ripped from streaming websites, the NW-A35 can’t do anything to improve your audio experience. If you’re okay with streaming music from various services, then the NW-A35 can’t do anything for you as it cannot stream music.
The Sony NW-A35 Walkman is a device not for everyone. Those who listen to music for recreation, as active listeners are the ones who would benefit from being able to enjoy higher fidelity music than their phones are capable of delivering (maybe except for the LG V20). For the price, the Walkman is good value for money. However, we wish that it had come with at least a carrying pouch, and a decent pair of earbuds.