Technophile

Sony’s modern take on the iconic Walkman

Kishore Bhargava | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 18, 2020

The expensive avatar of the good old audio player now runs on Android

The first Walkman seemed no less than magic when it was launched in 1979. This portable cassette player untethered music and allowed users to roam about with headphones looking cool and feeling free as they listened to music. The Walkman went on to become an iconic product with nothing else quite like it. The word Walkman even entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986 and had a major influence on 1980s’ culture. It had no competition while it remained a cassette player.

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, our main music player was the original Sony Walkman. It was the very first personal music player for many of that generation. But the Walkman, like everything else, had to keep pace with changing technologies. Before it became an MP3 player, it was a ‘Discman’ using CDs instead of tapes.

 

Things changed rapidly when the iPod came along and Sony slowly faded away from the music player scene. They later emerged with what came to be known as the Network Walkman and that series continues till today. The NW-A105 is the latest in that product line.

Compellingly small

A good 40 years later, the Walkman of 2020, meaning NW-A105, to give it its mouthful of a name, is small and compellingly cute. True to Sony style, it is a well built and designed little player. At just short of four inches it feels nice in the hand, light-weight and about as thick as most phones. The frame of the device is some kind of aluminium but the rest all seems to be some kind of plastic.

 

The screen is definitely glass. For the tiny size it does pack a nice clear and crisp screen with a 720p resolution. As one would expect of a music player, it has physical buttons for volume and track control which makes it very easy to use. But the box is rather sparse in its contents with just the player, a USB-C cable and the usual paperwork. No headphones or SD card included.

The NW-A105 is the first in the line of Android music players from Sony. A move away from their proprietary operating system and formats. It is a hi-res music player supporting many file formats including MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and many more.

For storage the standard option seems to be 16GB though almost 8-10GB is taken up by the OS and apps leaving very little space for music. It does have a micro-SD slot and if you intend to use it for playing back your own music you would most certainly need that.

 

The interesting thing is that it basically behaves like any other Android device complete with access to the Play Store and all the apps. In fact, when you start the set up process it feels the same as setting up a new phone. There are a bunch of pre-installed Google apps along with some Sony specific apps including their music player, equaliser and noise-cancelling app.

Grab the headphones

The most important aspect of a music player is its sound. In the case of the NW-A105 the sound will depend on the headphones used. I tried with two pairs of headphones one a hi-res dual driver headphone and one a pair wireless earbuds. The player struggled a bit with the dual-driver headphones and it needed extra volume, the wireless buds mostly worked okay except the bluetooth range and antenna seem to be around the top of the player and at just a hands length away it began to stutter. I am sure the player would perform better with Sony headphones but I did not have any to test with.

To enhance the music, Sony has provided an equaliser with several options, a basic equaliser, DSEE HX for upscaling CDs, a DC Phase lineariser for a more analogue kind of response for low-frequencies, a dynamic equaliser for maintaining a consistent volume across tracks, a vinyl process which adds a bit of hiss and pop and finally ClearAudio+ for advanced signal processing. Some of these were difficult to detect any differences and one issue seems to be that it does not work with bluetooth headsets.

Verdict
  • Price: ₹25,990
  • Pros: Compact player, Supports network streams such as Spotify and Apple Music, Full Android device
  • Cons: Very expensive, poor battery-life, long charge time and very little storage

Overall, as Sony claims is it a player for and by music lovers. If you want a small portable player you could consider this. However, some things that go against it include a very poor battery-life and a very high price tag. And it makes you wonder why not just buy an inexpensive phone and load it up with music instead. It wouldn’t be small and elegant, but it would certainly be cheap.

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Published on March 18, 2020
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