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Sony NWZ-A846 Review

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 



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.


post #2 of 45

Nice review, wrong forum though biggrin.gif

post #3 of 45
Thread Starter 

lol so it is, doh force of habit.


i'll pm a mod and ask to shift it

post #4 of 45

Nice balanced review, mark2410.


I did find my NWZ-A847 sounded pretty good with my recently sold TF10s, though I enjoyed them just a little more with my X1061, but I probably enjoy the A847 a little more with my UM3X & ES3X - don't know about my new W4 and the X1061 as I'd sold the X already, but the W4 & A847 is a great match.


I found the A840 series hisses significantly less than the Sony X series Walkmans. As for the volume cap, I have over 1000 albums, and only with very few old recordings I have I found myself pushing the volume to 27 or so if I wanted to listen at loud volumes, but for the most part (over 98% of the music I have) 20-22 would be pretty loud already with my less sensitive W4s, and 15-18 with my more sensitive ones.


As for artwork, I haven't had any issues using .jpg files of varying sizes. Picture quality on the A840 series is better (sharper colours) than the X series. I have a couple of videos on it and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the superb picture quality, I didn't expect this improvement over the Sony X series, which was already pretty good.


One feature I like a lot that only comes with the A840 series is the "Language Learning Mode"; when it is set to "On", you can also use the quick "Replay" button - it will play the last 3 seconds of any particular passage - and the A-B repeat function. This is particularly useful not only for language learners but for those who practise a musical instrument and want to replay again (and again) a particularly short passage of any given piece of music. Great, too, that it has something called "DPC Speed control", where you control the speed (faster/ slower), but the tuning/ pitch remains exactly the same - this is fantastic when practising fast runs of guitar/ piano/ bass/ violin as you can hear each note more clearly without the notes becoming sharp/ flat (ie no pitch change).


One last thing which is unrelated to this DAP's review: shouldn't this review be posted on the "Portable Source Gear" forum, Mark?  :)



Edited by music_4321 - 3/5/11 at 2:56am
post #5 of 45

Nice review Mark.

I still have and love my A828 even though it is a little hisser on Low Impedance.

The v-jays are getting a good run on it now. Its a good match v-jays, short cord, walkman.

Apparently everything coming from Sony to Europe and UK is volume limited. Absolutely crazy blink.gif

Edited by paulypaul - 3/5/11 at 3:39am
post #6 of 45
Thread Starter 

oh i agree its lovely for video, just im not sure its a reason it should be bought as it too little.  something you may use if you have it but not i think a reason to pick it, if i put video asa  priority id certainly want something much bigger.


as for the volume your right it isnt a constant problem but it is a problem if you use some insensitive headphones.  it that its an entirely artificial issue that pee's me off and i dont see why i shouldnt hammer Sony for it.  if they chose to make a DAP and pitch it as having great sound then assume you shall never use anything but the IEM's they come with to me is an issue.  it clearly wont be a problem for everyone but it something that i feel needs to be raised.  its a shame too.

post #7 of 45

Agreed, it is definitely valid to raise the volume-cap issue, but I think it would not be a deal breaker for most people with most IEMs and most recordings. Also, it seems the Noise Cancelling IEMs included in the A840 series are even of better quality than those on the X series, which were pretty good, apparently. I never tried the X's stock IEMs nor have I tried the A847's, but I do know the latter are more expensive and have even better reviews.


Forgot to mention on my previous post that I prefer the 'hold' button on the A840 - which is more user-friendly - over the one found on the X series. Also the A847 itself doesn't switch on accidentally like the Sony X often did (even when the X was used with an excellent Sony leather case).


As for video, the A840 series should not be purchased for the video features alone, of course - the best feature it has is the excellent SQ -, but for anyone who wants to watch certain types of videos on such a portable DAP, it delivers stunning picture quality. I have about 10 YouTube videos on it and I like a lot what I get from a DAP that really is pocket sized, but not tiny like a Sansa Clip or bulky like an iPod Touch/ Classic - the A847's screen is MUCH better than the 4G & 5G iPod Nanos. The videos I've got are not films or concerts in large venues, but solo performances & interviews, and the screen size for these is pretty good; you also get several zoom settings, one of them being 'automatic', which does a kind of automatic close up which actually works very well.

post #8 of 45
Thread Starter 

well i certainly concur its a gorgeous screen, no idea why it looks so crappy in the pics but in front of you its all rich lovelyness.  the pictures dont come anywhere close to doing it justice.


as for the included IEM's yeah they were fine, good for stock but i think if your buying £200 DAP's then why settle for what sound like £20 IEM's.  i know Sony say its worth far more but i dont rate the noise cancelling as worth a hill of beans.  if they wanted to block out noise they could just give you some reasonable BA IEM's and have done with.

post #9 of 45

Nice review, I agree with pretty much all of it, although I don't have a problem with the size, having had all the a-series dap's now I can't imagine having anything much thicker in my pocket. I suppose the volume controls are in a wierd place but sony has had them there so long I never notice anymore. The problem for me is a slightly different one. On my a818, I could reach in my pocket, slide the hold switch and adjust the volume in about 2 seconds, with them on the same side of the player now it's not as easy. I'm nitpicking really though. I love mine.

post #10 of 45
Originally Posted by mark2410 View Post

well i certainly concur its a gorgeous screen, no idea why it looks so crappy in the pics but in front of you its all rich lovelyness.  the pictures dont come anywhere close to doing it justice.


as for the included IEM's yeah they were fine, good for stock but i think if your buying £200 DAP's then why settle for what sound like £20 IEM's.  i know Sony say its worth far more but i dont rate the noise cancelling as worth a hill of beans.  if they wanted to block out noise they could just give you some reasonable BA IEM's and have done with.


One consistent comment in all reviews I've come across re the stock IEMs is that they are, in fact, VERY good and nothing like what you often get from other brands, and that also accounts for the price of these A840 series DAPs. Not everyone spending £200 for the 32GB A846 or £300 for the 64GB A847 will be spending an extra £200/ £300 on a set of top-tier IEMs.

From what I've read regarding the stock Sony X series IEMs and even more so the stock A847's, they do not sound like "£20 IEMs" at all. I won't find out for myself (even when I could do it right now) because I'm currently selling my A847 and I'd rather sell the stock Noise-Cancelling IEMs 100% new. Besides, you have the option of using them in Noise-cancelling mode or just as ordinary dynamic-driver IEMs, a sound signature which quite a few people prefer over BA IEMs, and also that gives you the chance to also use them as ordinary IEMs that still allow you hear some outside noise, ie when not wanting full isolation.

It has also been reported that the A840 series' Noise-cancelling feature is better implemented than on X series Walkmans. You do get to choose how much isolation you actually want - going from -15 to +15 and three choices for different environments (Bus/ Train, Airplane, Office). That seems to be a big plus for some of the people who have reviewed this Walkman.

On top of that, the actual build-quality of the IEMs themselves is first rate, with an excellent sturdy cable (reminds me a little of the CK10/ CK100's cables), with excellent strain reliefs - slightly better build-quality than those on the X series. They also have a great design, in my view, looking rather classy, if I may add. I don't think any £20 IEMs can give you that kind of sound, features and such build-quality by a long shot. I'm actually quite tempted to try them out but I will not.

Also, it has to be noted that all Sony IEMs, as far as I know, only use dynamic drivers. Some people, also, are not too keen on deep insertion IEMs.

I think it's OK that you express your unbiased views, but I can't help thinking you're being (a little) over critical of some aspects of this most excellent DAP.


post #11 of 45
Thread Starter 

well i am quite critical, as for the £20 comment i stand by that.  noise cancelling aside you can find some pretty decient sounding IEM's out there for £20.  the £20 comment wasnt meant as an insult but as backhanded praise, apples offerings id rate at about 5p so clearly the Sonys are leaps and bounds better.


yes you are right that to some the noise cancelling will be worth more but i cannot help but view it a gimmick. 


personally i thing the DAP is good enough that it deserves to be paired with something better otherwise its a waste of potential

post #12 of 45


It has also been reported that the A840 series' Noise-cancelling feature is better implemented than on X series Walkmans. You do get to choose how much isolation you actually want - going from -15 to +15 and three choices for different environments (Bus/ Train, Airplane, Office). That seems to be a big plus for some of the people who have reviewed this Walkman.

Not true, you have the same options in sony x.

post #13 of 45
Originally Posted by Tiges View Post


Not true, you have the same options in sony x.

Yes, you do have the same options on the Sony X, but it is better implemented on the A840 series, ie the noise-cancelling feature does better what it was designed/ intended to do.


One thing I did forget to mention, too, is that the transfer rate is significantly faster on the A847 than on the Sony X. The latter's tranfer rate was painfully slow.


Edited by music_4321 - 3/5/11 at 11:10am
post #14 of 45

Good job, mark2410!


Would love to see a comparison between A846/847 and A856/857 sometime.  =]

post #15 of 45

Oh, one other thing you failed to address, Mark, and it is something VERY important, specially here on HF, was the equalizer on the A840 series. This is an excellent 5-band EQ, in my view, which offers two custom presets. That was another key reason, apart from overall better SQ, I sold my 160GB iPod Classic and got the 32 GB Sony X and subsequently the A847, willing to sacrifice storage space for better SQ and real quality EQ options. I hardly ever equalize any of the music I listen to, but on those rare occasions when I do the X & A840 series do a fine, fine job - particularly useful with some older recordings or some rather old and bad live recordings I've got.

Edited by music_4321 - 3/5/11 at 12:12pm
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