This is a bit of a two part review – firstly we’re going to have a look at the relatively new Sony Walkman X series and see how that matches up to the competition, but we will also have a bit of a deeper look at the actual technology that goes behind all of the Clear Audio tags that Sony music players have, such as DSEE and Noise Cancelling.
So first things first – the X series, and as you might expect from the Sony ‘flagship’ this is the kind of product that is out there to challenge the top of the market, in this case the Apple iPod Touch. And even from first glance you can tell that it’s going along the right sort of lines.
It has a slim, elongated design, a large touchscreen for playing videos, a whole host of features (including Wi-Fi for browsing the internet) and a price tag that will be fairly hefty if you just want to play MP3’s, but you’re getting top quality features you won’t find elsewhere.
Building on the similarities there are a few things that Sony have managed to do that bit better than Apple – for a start it is a lot more friendly with different formats (including, you’ll be glad to hear, Microsoft’s WAV and WMA). It also feels solid and well made, and although it doesn’t have quite the stylish looks that the iPod’s flaunt (and which will surely be gracing art and culture museums in a century or two) it is by no means ugly, although it’s fair to say the black is probably aimed more at the male market.
The other major difference (apart from the host of technology which I will come onto in a minute) is the screen as Sony has opted for the generally better OLED over the LCD used by Apple in their iPod touch. Unfortunately the speed, sharpness and viewing angles are for the most part wasted on a 3” screen on an MP3 player, but Sony get points for trying!
Now onto the additional Sony technology behind it that makes it ‘more than just an MP3 [and video] player’. There are really 5 generic Sony examples that I will address quickly, and then have a look at something that we are seeing for the first time here on the X series. So, Sony Clear Audio technologies:
- Clear Bass – by using automatic level control this aims to produce deep, rich and distortion free bass, exactly how you define ‘deep’ and ‘rich’ bass is beyond be, but I’m assured that they play bass very well!
- Clear Stereo – Prevents ‘stereo leaking’ (audio signals leaking between left and right channels) and thus delivers a more balanced stereo effect.
- DSEE – this stands for Digital Sound Enhancer Engine which does exactly what it says on the tin by restoring the higher frequencies that are lost in compression. An interesting fact (and one the manufacturers are unlikely to tell you) is that most of these frequencies that are lost in compression because humans can’t detect them anyway and they are therefore deemed useless. However apparently (I am no music expert) it does change the overall tone and texture of the music, and restoring them results in a fuller sound.
- S-Master Digital Amplifier – by combining the above technologies this ensures high quality music reproduction.
- Silicon earpieces – by fitting ‘snugg-er’ in the ear these earpieces aim to reduce leaks and thus improve audio reproduction quality.
So that is all well and good (and that goes some way to explaining why Sony has generally good quality sounding products) but the thing that’s special about the X series and justifies the £220 price tag (for the 32GB version, the 16GB one is £165) is the built in noise cancelling.
Ok, that may not sound revolutionary, but when you think about it you’ll see why in fact this is new and in may way’s very useful. If you look around at the noise cancelling headphones out there today you’ll see that they’re large cumbersome things, none in the convenient shape of an earphone which is really the best for discrete everyday listening.
By using the microphones on the earphones and processing the sound cancelling within the device you remove the need for external batteries and external circuitry and thus make noise cancelling available in earphone form, even up to the 98% figure that this device offers. The only disadvantage with the Sony Walkman X Series is that you will have to keep buying Sony earphones if they break (and I expect they won’t be cheap) but in the long run that could well be a sacrifice worth making!