Sony NWZ-A846 Review
Thanks to Advanced Headphones www.advancedheadphones.co.uk for the samples (AMP3’s sister site)
First Impressions: Oh my god where is the rest of it? This thing is tiny and crazy thin, especially compared to my usual ipod and XM5 set up, dear lord the difference is horrifying! Right after that the next thing I notice is proprietary connector on it, okay so you’re not going to lose points for that but it seems like a missed opportunity, is there a reason it couldn’t be mini usb? Still that screen, mightily pretty.
Having a little listen and oh hell it’s making a good first impression. It sounds so huge! Making a note I must try the IE8 with it, if it can make the Super.Fi 4 sound so big I wonder what it will do with the Senn’s.
Screen: A photo won’t do it justice, the screen is OLED and it looks just beautiful. Album art really pops out and looks just gorgeous with its super crisp and colourful image. If anything it’s a little too lovely a screen as it really annoys me when album art isn’t displayed. For me the screen could really be a third the size as I’d never want to use it to watch video on it. Lovely as it is, it’s only 2.8 inches and for some things size really does count. Oh and it works just fine out in daylight too.
Battery Life: Sony claim up to 30 hours and that doesn’t seem unrealistic to me, I wasn’t going to sit and time it but it certainly lasted far longer than my ipod does.
UI: It’s simple enough and never gave me any bother. If I’m really honest I can’t say I barely even noticed or thought about the User Interface at all. A couple presses of buttons and it becomes blisteringly obvious how it works. The only thing that did take me a day to notice was that you can power it off if you hold the button that say’s “PWR OFF” and yes I did feel rather stupid for not noticing it before. It really isn’t hard stuff which is just how it ought to be.
Photo Viewing: Erm you can view photo’s on it. Not sure why you would want to but you can.
Video Viewing: Err erm, see photo viewing. If you do want to use it be prepared for format support to be a bit random. Some files I could drag on to the content transfer programme and it would convert. Not the quickest thing ever but quality was great. Some files would do nothing however as it can’t convert everything specifically .mkv files and that’s a bit of a pain.
Radio: It has one. It works. Actually it works quite well but not sure why anyone would really want to use it.
Sound Quality: I suspect this is the bit most will be interested in reading. I’ve spent rather a lot of time with the little Sony and my feelings have become slightly mixed. Sony makes a big deal of the S Master amp they have inside it and it created a storm of interest when it first came out on the X series. I know some people who just love it and my first impressions were similarly positive. If I had written this review in the first days of hearing it, it would be overwhelmingly positive but right now it’s not going to be.
The problem I have is that in some cases when paired up with some IEM’s the Sony sounds just amazing for something so stupidly tiny. For example it made the Super.Fi 4’s sound fantastic for them, the stock buds likewise sounded great. Next I tried the Sennheiser IE8’s and I was a little disappointed, good and expansive but not all I had hoped for. By this stage I had noticed that the volume really didn’t go too high compared to other things I’m used to. So I decided I would give the Etymotic ER4P’s a go. They were deeply unimpressive. Next I tried the Triple.Fi 10 and I was shocked. They sounded so thick and muddy, the treble was enormously disappointing.
Then I thought I’d give the UM3x a go, which I’m not a big fan of anyway, and low and behold they sounded absolutely fantastic. The pairing up with the UM3x was just by chance but I’m glad it happened. They both just go so well together and on paper I don’t really see why they should. The UM3x was always something I’d been disappointed in with its great separation but dead and lifeless sound. The Sony just breathes life and perhaps even a soul into it. It became such a different beast, for the better. Such space and size it’s wonderful. I do believe it is the best I have ever heard the UM3x sound. It’s staggering how well they go together.
The volume restriction I must say is something I could see bothering me long term. I don’t think I listen overly loud to music and I have been able to max it and survive. I couldn’t do that with anything else I’ve heard. Granted it was using the ER4P’s and it was listening to some older music (before the Loudness Wars set in) Shakespeare Sister’s Stay if you were interested. I realised I had the volume up at 24 out of 30 and thought lets go for it, while 30 was a bit too loud it wasn’t blisteringly loud. Trying out the HD600 was rather disappointing as you might expect. Dear Sony, it’s a French law so how about you enable the low volume limit only if you set the language to French? I can’t decide just how big of an issue it is having a stupid French law volume restricted one. Is it that has limited what the S Master amp can do? Since it’s a loaner I haven’t investigated removing that restriction to compare.
What I have gathered with my time with the A846 is that it works best when you pair it with something nice and easy to drive and when it is performing at its best it can sound immense. I do mean that in both size and quality. The A846 wants to present you with this huge and expansive sound stage which is bizarrely utterly at odds with its sound signature. Its sound signature is that of the traditional Sony sound. A thick, heavy sound that’s a little midbassy and a crisp edgy high thrown in right up at the top. Its thickness belies the superb clarity that cuts through, it’s so contradictory to have such a thick, warm - bordering on lush too – sound yet offers such clean and clear detail. It’s a bizarre combination and I’ve got to admit it’s a fantastically enjoyable sound when paired well. The trouble is if you pair it badly it’s really not all it should be.
It did pair up particularly well with the bundled buds which somewhat surprised me as Sony IEM’s tend to be warm and thick so it really ought to mean they want a brighter source. How they made it work I couldn’t say but they go well and spank the junk that Apple give with theirs. I’m genuinely convinced Apple have abandoned even the pretence they give a crap about audio quality. Sony clearly are putting in somewhat more effort.
In The Hand: My first impressions were great and the absurd thinness of the A846 looks amazing. With a little time the ridiculous thinness began to annoy me. The thing is just so incredibly thin it made a it a little awkward to hold. There is just nothing to hold on the sides, it’s practically two dimensional. What also began to annoy me slightly was I’d have much rathered the volume controls were by the play/pause and skip buttons. Some will of course like the arrangement found here but I like to change the volume constantly.
Format Support: Dear Sony, why the hell can’t it deal with lossless formats? (I don’t count .wav) it’s really a waste of the effort you put in. Of course high bit rate stuff that it does support sounds great and it’s not like anyone is readily going to notice the difference anyway. The other thing I really want fixed is the Album Art not always working issue. Some songs it worked, others it didn’t. Get it fixed as otherwise it’s a waste of that beautiful screen.
Conclusion: I can see a bucket load of reasons to buy one of the A series. The sound on the whole is great. Certainly out of the box, player and earphones will utterly beat the living poo out of Apple’s offerings. The absurdly minimalist size of the player too will really appeal to many, I may be used to carrying around a house brick but most aren’t. The A846 is just so thin it’s a little ridiculous. I don’t know how they manage it, seriously I’ve seen thicker bits of paper. The screen too is just beautiful to look at, so while I don’t really want a screen on a music player I cannot deny it’s one of the best screens I’ve seen on anything. I’m also going to throw in as a positive that you don’t have to use Itunes or any software; you can just drag and drop
The less positive aspects were I found file format support to be a bit random, a couple times it complained things were in unsupported formats. I can’t really forgive Sony for not giving it flac support; go on Sony give me a good reason why not? The other big niggle I had was album art for some stuff just not working. I saw it commented that it only works if the imbedded jpeg is 160 x 160 or less. I really didn’t have the patience to test that as it’s not mine to keep. Sony, you gave it such a lovely screen every time I see the default Walkman “W” symbol it makes me sad inside. Scratch that, every time I see it Angels weep!
So should you buy one? On sound alone, possibly. Certainly it’s better than Apples offerings. While good it’s a bit pairing fussy. The rest of the player I have trouble faulting if it’s what you want. If you want a thin music player with a 2.8 inch screen then it’s a fantastic package. Its only real fault is that Sony has so limited the volume that you can’t just use anything with it. It would be like Ferrari making their next car a 200mhp capable monster and then shoving a 50mph speed limiter on it. You know because if you go to fast while driving on icy roads its dangerous, ignoring the fact you might not actually be driving on an icy road.
Still, if you pair it up well with something like the DBA-02 or UM3x then it’s really pretty good stuff and you know what? I think I’m going to miss it when it goes back.