Remember many years back when Sony Ericsson launched the Walkman phone, everybody went crazy over its sound quality and the Walkman brand continues to live up its name, Sony has even made sure that the original cassette player Walkman appeared in Guardian of the Galaxies to remind us of the brand’s existence. Fast forward today, Sony sells XPERIA smartphones that offers one of the best multimedia experiences, indirectly affecting sales of its Walkman music players, however there’s one thing that audiophiles will always agree – a smartphone will never be the ultimate music playing device.

Design and Feature Overview

Sony’s recent aggressiveness in promoting Hi-Res audio has got my interest into revisiting dedicated music players, the Walkman NWZ-A15 is Sony’s smallest and lightest Hi-Res Audio in the world or at least the company claims so. True enough, the device isn’t going to weigh down your pockets like a huge phablet, its aluminum build quality also tries to tell you that this isn’t some crappy device that the company has made, despite having all that beauty and simplicity, the device is susceptible to scratches and dents so be very careful of it.

The NWZ-A15 sports 16GB of internal memory and a 2.2-inch QVGA (320×240) display with no touch capabilities, therefore you get a five way navigational button and two buttons for Back and Options to control the device, on the right you’ll find a volume rocker, Hold switch, and a MicroSD card slot that takes a 128GB memory card. On the bottom, you’ll find Sony’s proprietary Walkman port for charging and file transfer and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Connectivity wise you’ll get Bluetooth 2.1+EDR with aptX and NFC for easy pairing with Bluetooth devices.

It’s not difficult to use the device and you don’t need to be an expert to use it, there’s no need to sign in to any online accounts, nor do you need to plug in to a PC to get the Walkman working, everything works out of the box. Apart from being able to play music, the device sports an extremely sensitive FM Radio feature that will be able to receive signals in rooms and a video player that plays AIFF, H.264 and WMV9 videos, don’t expect it to play Full HD videos of course.

Simple User Interface and Awesome Sound Quality

Sony has kept the user interface fairly straightforward and simple, since it doesn’t run on Android or any common operating system, you don’t need to be worried by lags and freezes, the user is basically presented with a 4×3 icon user interface and you will move around as if you are using a feature phone.

The music player interface isn’t much different from Sony’s previous Walkman products, which allows you to play your songs by tracks, artists, genre and etc, the playback screen is simple and beautiful and it even lets you skip tracks in a fluid album art flow. Options and settings can be easily accessed by pressing the player’s option buttton.

Apart from the usual five band equalizer and ClearAudio+ feature in the sound department, Sony has added DSEE HX to complement the Hi Res audio experience which upscales MP3 files to sound like lossless music, in our tests the audio quality of our 320kbps MP3 does get a little better, however it isn’t going to give you the true lossleess audio experience.

The NWZ-A15 is truly made to enjoy a Hi-Res audio experience, Sony has literally created that moniker as a nicer name to lossless audio, the device will accept FLAC, DSD and WAV files however omitting APE file formats, which leaves us confused as it isn’t an uncommon codec, you’ll also be able to play 24bit/192KHz bitrate audio that only a rare amount of people can notice that sound quality difference, therefore if you have manage to find a VBR (variable bit rate) lossless audio file, you are already in for a great listening audio experience.

Our playlist genre mainly include songs from Michael Jackson, Jay Chou, T-Ara and orchestra performances that will have lots of background instruments in the playback, we also have Sony’s MDR-1A and the Mi Piston Earphones for the test. With the MDR-1A, the device managed to demonstrate audio performance that will definitely surpass a smartphone music listening experience, every detail and instrument sounded natural without overwhelming bass. With DSEE HX enabled, MP3 songs are said to be up-scaled to Hi-Res audio and it is perceivable if you have sensitive ears. On the Mi Piston Earphones, you will be expecting extremely bright sound and a little bass, which is the attribute of the earphone itself, while it isn’t really an audiophile grade earphone, listening to lossless audio on the A15 is still decent.

Bluetooth audio streaming is also great on the A15 when connected to an aptX compatible device and in addition, you’ll be able to send and receive audio files wirelessly. The device isn’t a complicated device when it comes to file transfer as you simply drag and drop audio files on to the player when connected to your PC, while the only complain that we have here is the lack of a standard MicroUSB port, which means you’ll have to keep one extra cable in the bag if you need to transfer data to and from the device.

When it comes to battery life, the NWZ-A15 is an excellent performer, Sony rates the playback time at 50 hours on MP3 and 30 hours on Hi-Res audio, there are times that we forgot to pause the track, leaving the player looping songs the whole day, we simply can’t kill the battery easily.

Verdict

The Sony NWZ-A15 is a dedicated music player made for audiophiles on a budget, while it may not sport fancy features like a smartphone, you certainly won’t resist its great audio quality and capabilities of playing lossless audio files. Despite of that, the device isn’t really affordable at the price of RM699, which most users could have opted to trade off sound quality for a fully featured smartphone that will still be able to play lossless files using a 3rd party app, but there are less chances that you’ll be able to experience that great sound quality on smartphones with that price range, hence the need for a dedicated music player is still required.

The Good:
+ Simple user interface
+ Great audio enhancement features
+ Amazing battery life
+ Sensitive FM Radio receiver
+ MicroSD expansion

The Not So Good:
– Proprietary charging and data port
– Non scratch resistant display
– No support for APE music files
– Expensive

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