About a week ago we brought you a preview of the new addition to the Sony Walkman line up: the S-series, and now having put it through some rigorous use we’ve managed to come up with a full review looking at whether or not this MP3 player can punch its weight.
To make this review of the Sony Walkman S Series easier to read and compare it’ll be split up into 7 main sections: Screen, UI, Headphones, Syncing, Speakers, Features and Battery as well as a couple of others looking at more general aspects.
Much as I don’t want to start off on a negative note I was a little disappointed (but not at all surprised) when I opened the nicely designed box to find that the earphones weren’t of the ‘in ear’ species which I personally find a lot more comfortable to use, and I hope that soon more of the major manufacturers will start using them as standard… but really that was a little qualm.
Generally the sound from the earphones was of very good quality: the sound was really impressive and rich, and although they needed some persuading (via the equaliser) when you turned the bass up it was up there with the best that I have used and I was pretty impressed. The only real downside to them came in the form of the casing of the jack connector which looked worryingly flimsy, and may well not stand the pressures of everyday use for very long.
As someone who uses an iPod more regularly than any other MP3, I have a pretty high expectation of how easy it should be to navigate around but fortunately the Sony offering didn’t let me down. The main menu was really easy to navigate around (and easy to find as it was only a button away) and the same could be said for the ‘now playing’ screen (again just two taps away via the dedicated options button) — the music was also sensibly arranged and despite the fact that there is no touchscreen I was able to find tracks as quickly if not quicker than on an iPod Nano.
Yes it’s not as fancy, but it is well designed and does exactly what you want it to!
Before I started testing the S-series I expected my main disappointment to be the lack of a touchscreen, but in fact the quality and the well designed UI just went to show that they are more important than being able to move stuff with your fingers.
Perhaps most tell tale sign that Sony were proud of the screen was the fact that it came with a ‘UEFA cup highlights’ video on it, and from past experiences I’ve found that being able to watch sports (including football) on a small screen is a good benchmark. And in this case it was great — the brightness was perfectly adequate and the quality was brilliant, and being able to watch videos (and view pictures) horizontally on the well proportioned screen just brought this out more.
One of the worst things (as any father on Christmas day will tell you) is getting your new toy, but having to wait forever till something is on it to use it. In the case of the S-series I merely plugged it into the USB slot and sat back as it automatically started syncing — however this isn’t quite as great as it sounds, as it literally starts grabbing everything that it will work with.
I left it for about an hour, and when I returned as well as finding it had got all of my music (which I was obviously pretty happy with) I found it had also looked for every picture and video on my PC and taken that too, including things I didn’t even know I had (like the opening sequence of ‘BBC Parliament’ from iPlayer) which meant I had to spend another 20 minutes deleting everything that I didn’t want to take with me everywhere.
We knew beforehand that the S-series battery was supposed to last up to 42 hours playing music, and although admittedly I didn’t sit there timing how long it lasted, I think that value stands fairly true; from when I received the fully charged MP3 player I didn’t even need to think about the battery for a week — obviously not switched on permanently but the kind of on/off usage that you would expect from general use. As someone who owns an MP3 player powered by AAA batteries I was very impressed by this, and although it may not be the best around it is still easily good enough for all but the most demanding of listeners.
As I come to writing this it has occurred to me how horribly little used the little extras that come bolted onto MP3 players these days — both the FM radio (and the voice recorder) that come with the S-series remained pretty much untouched in the week that I was using it for, and although I can see the attraction of having an FM radio (although why listen to the radio when you’ve got all the songs you want on it anyway) the attraction of a voice recorder is lost on me.
Nevertheless I gave them both a bit of a workout, and as it turns out they are both pretty acceptable: the voice recorder was exactly what you’d expect from an MP3 player, and although the FM radio had some trouble finding anything when indoors when out-and-about it was pretty flawless as far a signal goes — the tuning takes some getting used to, but when you get the hang of it’s fine.
Although all of the things mentioned above are very important, the defining feature of the S series is the speakers so it was pretty important that Sony made a good job of them. As it turns out they did…
As far as the technology goes the reasons are pretty complicated (I have eight sheets worth of graphs, charts and lots of excessively long words) but it all boils down to two key elements: Linear Phase Correction and Virtual Bass (for those that don’t care how it works and just about what it sounds like feel free to skip a paragraph or two!).
By making a more linear amplitude, flattening the difference between the left and right speakers and correcting the phrase the Linear Phrase Correction it aims to have a more natural sound reproduction, clearer sound field and making the two speakers as similar sound characteristics as possible to create a high quality natural sound.
Virtual Bass on the other hand essentially creates bass sounds on frequencies that are not available by using the harmonics which are then used to create the desired frequency in the human ear. By manipulating this system they hope to recreate bass sounds that beyond the reproduction capabilities of the speaker and thus create a better sound.
So does it work? Well to be honest you don’t really notice all the clever technologies, and you would have a fair point if you were to say that they were a little wasted on speakers that are only designed for small scale use, but the sound created did really impress me.
There was no hint of tin, the level of sound was impressive given its size (it’s easily loud enough for a medium sized room at sing-along level) and even at its loudest there is no sense of distortion which is great — I often had it sitting playing on my desk and then carried it around the house with me as it seemed almost perfect for that.
Of course there are some negatives — the speakers are on the back which means that unless you take the stand with you, you have to put the player face down if you want to hear it properly — and also you can only ever play it when you’re by yourself cause it irritates other people no end as they have to listen.
So…the Sony Walkman S Series is a good quality MP3 player with an added speaker…personally I am not looking forward to having to part with it, and having used it for a week I am seriously considering shelling out however much it costs. Yes it’s not perfect, and no it’s not quite up to the 5th generation iPod’s standard, but it is still really good, and would give the 4th gen ones a good run for its running: so it’s a 9/10 for me!