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.
Feature-tweakers and sonic malcontents will revel in the amount of sound-enhancement options available on the NWZ-S710F, including a user-definable five-band EQ, Clear Bass boost, Clear Stereo processing, DSEE high-frequency restoration, virtual surround, and dynamic normalization. Using the Sony NWZ-S710F in our office, the noise-cancellation feature silenced the drone of nearby computers and air conditioners and provided a pristine backdrop for Nick Drake's "Which Will," allowing details such as the squeak of fingers against the guitar's fretboard to jump out of the mix. On the subway, the Sony NWZ-S710F admirably defended our ears, reducing outside noise at least as much as our Shure SE310 sound-isolating earphones and restoring the rich bass frequencies we usually surrender during the commute.
We experienced no problems getting the included headphones to fit comfortably, but if you're going to bite the bullet on the NWZ-S710F Walkman, we recommend buying from a retailer that will let you return the player if the earphones feel awkward. Finding a comfortable pair of headphones can be difficult for many of us, and unfortunately, if the noise-canceling headphones bundled with the NWZ-S710F don't jive with your ears, you'll be missing out on one of the product's most valuable features.
Sony rates the battery life of the NWZ-S710F Walkman at 33 hours of audio playback and 8 hours of video, presumably with the noise-cancellation feature switched off. We'll update this review with our CNET Labs battery results once testing is complete.
Sony makes no claims of Mac compatibility with the NWZ-S710F series, but we're happy to report the player had no problem receiving files from our in-house MacBook. Ejecting the Walkman from a Mac isn't easy (it reconnects instantly), however, the player can be safely removed after shutting the computer down.
These days, MP3 players come loaded with features such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, stopwatches, datebooks, video games, movie players, and even GPS navigation. On most days, however, our MP3 player's first feature is still its best, providing us a musical break from the stress or mundaneness of our lives. By integrating active noise-canceling headphones with the NWZ-S710F, Sony has not only created one of the best values in portable audio, the company has also shown a way to evolve the MP3 player concept without turning it into a smartphone.