From cassette to MiniDisc to CD to MP3 and now Hi-Res audio, SONY is the leading portable audio player brand. I had a chance to attend SONY Hi-Res audio demo in 2014 and tried the NWZ-ZX1 Hi-Res audio player. I was stunned by it, both the audio quality and the premium price tag.
On the other hand, SONY A-series Walkman are more affordable Hi-Res audio players. I receives a SONY NWZ-A15 for this review*. Read on to find out more about the most affordable SONY Hi-Res audio digital media player.
I know digital music players are small size nowadays but still I was surprised by SONY NWZ-A15 small size and lightweight. Its dimensions are 43.6 x 109 x 8.7mm and weight only 66g. SONY says it is â€œWorldâ€™s smallest and lightestâ€ Hi-Res Audio digital music player.
In the box, you have SONY NWZ-A15 player and a propriety USB cable. Headphones and microSD memory card are not included.
SONY NWZ-A15 uses plastic body. The silver colour model I received has a shinning front panel but the plastic edges and back panel feel dull.
At first glance, you see a 2.2 inch QVGA (240 x 320 pixels) colour non-touchscreen display and a square shape 4-way navigation control with a center round Play/Pause button. Look closer, you will notice two buttons located below the display: Back (Home) and Option (Power Off).
On the right side, you get volume rocker, HOLD lock and microSD card slot. Headphones jack, data port, lanyard hole are located at the bottom.
Due to the small body of SONY NWZ-A15, the display already take up most of the front panel space. The navigation and home buttons are squeezed to the bottom 1/3 of the player.
I would need to readjust holding position to the bottom to press the buttons, and it is not comfortable. Fortunately, the buttons are very responsive and you seldom need to access them while listening to your favorite music.
SONY NWZ-A15 is the most affordable Hi-Res Audio by the company. It has build-in 16GB storage and support microSD memory card up to 128GB.
The small size audio player supports Bluetooth and NFC for wireless connectivity, but it does not support WiFi connection. Bluetooth connection can be used to pair with speakers or transfer music into the player. NFC allows you to pair SONY NWZ-A15 with supported devices with a touch.
SONY NWZ-A15 uses build-in Li-ion rechargeable battery, which can be recharge through the included USB cable. The recharge time is only 4 hours, and battery life last up to 50 hours for MP3s or 30 hours for 192kHz/24bit Hi-Res audio (when Bluetooth is OFF). Standby time is impressive, too. SONY NWZ-A15 still shows full charge level after idle for a week!
SONY NWZ-A15 digital music player supports most popular audio formats, namely FLAC / Apple Lossless(ALAC) / MP3 / AAC / HE-AAC / WMA / Linear PCM(WAV) / AIFF.
Simple User Interface
On the home screen, you get total 12 menu icons (3 x 4). The wallpaper is replaceable with your picture saved on the player. No, you cannot install/uninstall application. It is not a smartphone.
SONY NWZ-A15 does not have a touchscreen display. You press navigation buttons to select an icon and press Play button to enter. Back button to return last screen, Option button for more settings.
It is simple, except that there were couple times I tap on the display thinking it is touchscreen enabledâ€¦
The song playback screen displays is clean and informativie, displaying album cover and song information. If song lyric is enabled, it will be scrolling on top of album cover. Press Option button for many audio effects and settings (more details below).
Rich sound effects
SONY NWZ-A15 has many sound effects and audio technology to enhance your music experience â€“ ClearAudio+, Equalizer, VPS (surround) sound, Dance/Karaoke/Language, DPC (speed control).
Not everyone has a collection of Hi-Res music. SONY NWZ-A15 uses an optional DSEE HX audio technology to upscale your existing lower quality audio (compressed or CD) to near Hi-Res Audio.
Personally, I donâ€™t notice significant different between original vs. upscaled audio. I might say DSEE HX enabled has more dynamic range but it could be my psychology bias.
According to SONY, ClearAudio+ should allow you to â€œhear audio like its original sourceâ€ but, in my experience, it is merely stronger bass and clearer vocal.
Dance/Karaoke/Language â€“ Language study allows you to study a new language by listening to audio tracks using Quick Replay and set A-B repeat. Dance mode can set A-B repeat and playback speed. Karaoke mode can lower vocal volume or raise/lower song key.
Please take note that ALL sound effects are not applicable to Hi-Res audio without downsampling it by enable â€œHi-Res Audio Effectsâ€.
While you may use any headphones/speakers you have, you are recommended to use high quality headphones/speakers to fully enjoy Hi-Res Audio output from SONY NWZ-A15. I was using SONY XBA-A2 stereo headphones during my review period.
How does Hi-Res Audio compare to CD quality audio? In my experiences, Hi-Res Audio has wider and deeper audio range. I feel the music is richer and clearer.
SensMe Channels (first icon on home screen) is a sweet feature which will auto generate music channels from your song collection based on your mood: Relax, Mellow, Lounge, Emotional, Extreme, Midnight. For example, Extreme channel plays rock songs; Midnight channel plays soft songs. Custom playlists and bookmark lists are also supported.
You can transfer your favorite podcast files to listen on the digital player. The Hi-Res digital audio player also includes the good old FM Radio (not work with wireless speaker/headphones).
Beside audio features, you also can view photos and playback videos on SONY NWZ-A15â€™s 2.2-inch display in forced horizontal mode. I guess these are the least used features.
SONY NWZ-A15 is a small and lightweight Hi-Res audio digital player with long battery life and rich audio features. Non-touchscreen display is not a big issue for a music player. RM699 retail price make it the most affordable SONY Hi-Res audio player. But remember to pair it with a good headphones/speaker.
If you would like to experience Hi-Res audio, SONY NWZ-A15 is a good starting point that wonâ€™t burn your pocket.
*I got to keep the SONY NWZ-A15 after review.