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Sony Walkman NWZ-A815 review: Sony Walkman NWZ-A815

We are happy to report that both high prices and Sony's SonicStage software are nowhere to be seen on the new range of A-Series players. Instead, you'll get a heap of high-quality codecs that can be organised with the utmost simplicity. Simple to use and great looks -- now who wouldn't be happy?

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
4 min read

Earlier in the year, we took a look at the first devices in Sony's A-Series of players, notably the NW-A808. Though we liked it a lot, the reliance on Sony's proprietary software and the device's high price, made it more difficult to score.


Sony Walkman NWZ-A815

The Good

Sound quality; battery life; design; no SonicStage required; high-quality video support; easy to use; price.

The Bad

No FM radio; no gapless playback.

The Bottom Line

A well-priced, high-performing and stylish audio player. Its simple operation and management will appeal to most people but a couple of key features are missing. Overall, this is an excellent contender from Sony

However, a few months down the line we're now looking at the next set of A-Series players, the NWZ-A81x range, which includes the NWZ-A815, the NWZ-A816 and the NWZ-A818 models -- the only difference between the three is memory capacity -- and both SonicStage and high prices are nowhere to be seen. Finally, has Sony nailed it?

The sleek, all-metal casing of the A81x series broadcasts professionalism on all frequencies. It's a solid, rugged and well-built player that doesn't feel like it would break after a short fall. The 51mm (2-inch) screen sits in a portrait format with the player's navigational buttons below. We were sad to see that beside the hold switch around the back sit two silver screws, though they do at least conform to the device's generally metallic appearance.

Videos look terrific on the Walkman's screen

Volume controls reside at the top of the right-hand side, in perfect position for thumb operation by right-handed folk. Finally, a proprietary USB socket sleeps away under the device's base, alongside a 3.5mm headphone socket.

Inside, the A81x series offers a heap of high-quality codecs, though Sony's proprietary ATRAC audio format is highly conspicuous by its absence. Sony even includes software to convert existing ATRAC files into MP3! Support for MP3, protected and unprotected WMA, unprotected AAC and WAV files come as standard. Sadly, there's no support for lossless WMA files. On the video side, high-quality MPEG-4 files can be played, though no included software converts video into this format.

The icon-driven main menu is attractive and self-explanatory, with all functions ordered in a 3x3 grid. In the music menu, your library can be sorted by album, artist, song, genre or release year. There's a quirky 'Time Machine Shuffle' option that creates ad-hoc playlists of tracks from randomly selected years of release.

Videos are simply sorted in a plain list format with small static thumbnails. Image libraries too are organised with the utmost simplicity, appearing as 3x4 grids of thumbnails. These default sorting methods can be changed.

Playlists made on a PC can be transferred when the player is synced with Windows Media Player and accessed from a playlist option within the device's main menu. A rudimentary search system allows you to search your entire music library instantly by letter.

For example, clicking 'A' doesn't just bring up a list of albums and songs that begin with 'A', but also any items that contain the letter 'A', though the latter appears lower down in the results list. Oh, and where's the FM radio, eh?

Sony's signature of prominent bass was immediately noticeable, as were punchy, clear mids and razor-sharp highs. Dream Theater's excellent Stream of Consciousness -- an 11-minute track with a tight and progressive mix of complex instrumentation -- was superbly reproduced, with sonic accuracy across the board. Petrucci's powerful twin guitars were driven superbly alongside subtle, yet complex, keyboards and pianos. These were all undisturbed by the deep rumble of John Myung's bass guitar lines.

Your ears can be slightly protected by an automatic volume limiter, and a whole bunch of EQ presets and audio 'enhancements' will help you customise your music's feel. It's worth noting that there's no gapless playback option, so a split second silence is audible between tracks.

Video playback is top notch and videos with up to 320x240-pixel resolution are supported. We tried a widescreen video podcast encoded with a 320x180-pixel resolution and a data rate of 340kbps. The results were terrific and watching this short video on the small screen was perfectly enjoyable. We can't guarantee watching the Lord of The Rings trilogy would be quite as easy, mind you.

Battery life is rated at 33 hours for audio, eight for video. Check back soon to see if these estimates match what we achieved in our tests.

Sony's NWZ-A81x series is certainly impressive. It's easy to use, sounds great, looks great and -- now there's no SonicStage -- it's a delight to manage. The significantly lowered price tag should make this very capable player even more attractive to consumers, and a great alternative to Apple's new iPod nano.

If you'd prefer even more extensive control over your sound quality and a greater choice of codec support, consider Cowon's superb iAudio D2.

Available from AdvancedMP3Players

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday