By combining an excellent MP3 player and active noise-canceling earphones in an affordable one-two punch, Sony's latest NWZ-S710F Walkman MP3 player series takes a new approach to creating an ideal portable listening experience. Offered in 4GB ($149) and 8GB ($199) capacities, the Sony NWZ-S710F series is a phenomenal value for those looking to carve out a quiet moment in their daily life for experiencing great music.
The Sony NWZ-S710F has a lightweight all-plastic body with a rounded feel that's comfortable in the hand and pocket. Although its 0.5-inch depth feels chunky compared with the iPod Nano, the Walkman's 1.7-inch width, 3-inch height, and 1.8-inch color screen are clearly designed to give Apple a run for its money. The Sony NWZ-S710F's navigation pad offers intuitive and responsive four-way control, with a raised metallic play/pause button at its center and two rice-grain-size Back and Option keys in the upper corners. On the top of the Sony NWZ-S710F you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a slider switch that activates a built-in noise-cancellation feature. There's not much to see on the sides of the Sony NWZ-S710F except a small button hold switch on the top left edge, a volume rocker switch on the top right, and a proprietary USB 2.0 port on the bottom.
The high-quality earphones bundled with the NWZ-S710F series come with three pairs of silicone sleeves in different sizes to ensure a comfortable fit. Whether intentional or not, the additional noise-cancellation technology packed into Sony's headphones creates a thicker cable that we found less prone to tangles than Sony's typically delicate offerings.
The headline feature on the NWZ-S710F is its active noise-cancellation. Like its ATRAC-era predecessor, the NW-S700F series, the NWZ-S710F's noise-cancellation feature is broken into two parts--the player, which handles all the signal processing; and the earphones, which have small microphones built into the outside of each earpiece to monitor external noise. While the two-part design delivers great results (Sony has not published specific decibel reduction levels), the Achilles heel of the NWZ-S710F is the possibility of losing or damaging the proprietary earphones. Any standard set of headphones can be used with the NWZ-S710F, but its active noise-canceling feature will work only with the supplied earphones.
After getting comfortable with the operation of the NWZ-S710F's noise-canceling technology, the rest of the NWZ-S710F's features are identical to those found on last year's NWZ-A610 Walkman. The Walkman includes a well-organized music player which supports MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, and the protected WMA format used by subscription music services such as Napster or Rhapsody. The NWZ-S710F's video player includes an automatic bookmarking feature and is compatible with MPEG-4 and H.264 video formats sized at a strict 320x240 resolution. The FM radio and JPEG photo viewer found on the NWZ-S710F are nothing special, but both are easy to use and add value to the device.
Paired with its excellent in-ear headphones, the Sony NWZ-S710F cranked out wonderful sound quality right out of the box. Activating the noise-reduction feature does introduce some white noise into the signal, but this is common with all active noise-canceling headphones and a welcome trade-off for the relative quiet it provides. If you plan on using the noise-cancellation feature outdoors, it's worth noting that the microphones embedded in the Sony NWZ-S710F's earphones are prone to picking up wind noise.