After 30 years of fighting format wars, Sony is letting others do the dirty work when it comes to high-resolution music. Neil Young's Pono project is calling attention to high-res music in a way that no amount of in-store promotion or colorful Sony adverts could ever reach.
As a result, Sony's newest NWZ-A17 Walkman will ride the wave of publicity created by the Pono while coming in at a lower price ($300 versus Pono's $400; prices for the UK and Australia were unavailable at time of writing, but that converts to about £180 and AU$325). Though its design isn't as eye-catching as the Pono, the Walkman appears to be a lot more user-friendly, with a larger 2.25-inch display and a four-way selector instead of an up-down switch. It will play all popular formats, including WAV, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, AAC, and WMA, though surprisingly not Sony's own hi-res DSD.
The NWZ-A17 comes with 64GB of storage, and the device features a microSD memory card slot if you want more.
Unlike the flagship high-res ZX1--which may never make it to the States, Sony says -- the NWZ-A17 isn't based upon Android but an in-house operating system. What does the lack of Android mean? You can't expand the player's capabilities with more apps.
More crucially, while the NWZ-A17 has Bluetooth, the Walkman doesn't have the one thing you would naturally expect: Wi-Fi. Imagine that: a 2014 MP3 player -- a strange idea in itself -- that doesn't connect to the Internet! As a result, there'll be no streaming; this device is designed to play your existing music collection -- most of which the company is expecting would be high-res. It does have an FM radio, though.
The benefit to the eschewing of connectivity could be battery life. The Sony Walkman will feature up to 50 hours of battery life or a still-impressive 30 hours when playing full-fat 24-bit/192kHz files.
While Sony's last attempt at a high-res format, Super Audio CD, wasn't exactly a failure -- they're still being produced -- it didn't catch the public's interest at all, at least, not in the way the original CD did.
Will the NWZ-A17 have more of a market than SACD -- or the Pono? Only time will tell. But given that Pono's future is uncertain, what with key staff members leaving and the "buy a piece of Pono" campaign so soon after the "wildly successful" Kickstarter, I'd say Sony is a better bet.