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Sony's new high-res Walkman reinvents the portable MP3 player

Standalone MP3 players are still in demand, and the NWZ-A17 Walkman is a portable player that features up to 30 hours of battery life while playing full 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution music.

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Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
2 min read

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.

Sony Walkman NWZ-A17 handles hi-res audio (pictures)

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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.

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Luke Westaway/CNET

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.