Pros: Sound & Build quality, Drag & Drop, PCM support, Sound Enhancement Technologies, Line-out docking, not an iPod
Cons: Availability, Longetivity, Low-contrast and small Display, Coloured sound (subjective), not an iPod
The smallest, toughest, yet great sounding player you can buy. Though that really depends on your luck, but it can be found for as low as 20 euros on eBay, other classifieds, or your local electronic pawn shops. Having bought mine in 2008 as a birthday present, and been listening to it primarily as a main on-the-go DAP now and then, there must be some nice and critical things to be said about the A810 series.
*OTHER REVIEW'S EDIT* This player DOES support gapless playback. The other reviewer probably had an album that was ripped/downloaded with iTunes, and iTunes have a default option to add a two-second gap between songs in an album, and should be where his 2 second gap came from. Mine plays any album I throw at it fine.
If you prefer the flattest and more neutral sounding DAP, stay way from any Walkman, Cowon, or iRiver DAPs. They are all VERY coloured compared to any iPod, especially the iPod Classic.
The Sony Walkman NWZ-A818 is without a doubt, the BEST SOUNDING Walkman MP3 Player without the Sony S-Master amplifier technology. When compared to E, S, or A820 series, this player blows them all out of the water in terms of specs, usability, and value. However, it is just not up to par with the NWZ-A840, NW-A850, NWZ-A860 or the NWZ-X1000 series, and the newest F series with that built-in amplifier.
This can be easily identified primarily through the differences between soundstage and extension between the two kinds. Having an built in dedicated amplifier will make a difference, but not really noticeable unless you use high impedance ear/headphones. On the other hand you can just get the FiiO L5 Sony line-out cable, and connect it to a portable amp of your choice. The NWZ-A810 series reproduces sound in a super satisfying way, even though it is a coloured sound, it's coloration derives a more natural sounding signature, similar to speaker or Hi-Fi home theatre systems. Clear bass does extremely well in remedying the Missing 6db Effect, and gives the user a more perceptible bass quantity, though still controlled, textured, and well extended. Clear Stereo, DSEE (these two only come to shine on low bit-rate files like 160kbps and below) and Dynamic Normalizer are all there to fix things you DON'T want in certain recordings, but will not affect the good parts of a good recording. The VPT Surround modes give recordings a different sense of feel, and does quite well at simulating the environment it tries to.
The A810 series are colored in a good way as said before, though definitely not as extensive and consumer oriented as the E series. Some people say all Walkman players sound the same but that is definitely not true. I have listened to ATH-CK10, MDR-EX1000, and CKW1000ANV on the A818, and the results it gives are more than what you'd expect from such a compact player. Not one bit of detail is left out or missing, soundstage have great width and depth, but lacking some height, and of course, the bass. It is definitely on par (and better than) with high end Sandisk, Creative, Cowon/iAudio, and iRiver (not the newest Astell & Kern) DAPs.
The equalizer presets and custom settings this player offers are more than enough to suffice most user's needs. Like any Walkman MP3, there are Heavy, Pop, Jazz, and Unique. Custom having the frequencies 0.4, 1.0, 2.5, 6.3, and 16 KHz respectively. This configuration gives the user more flexibility to flatten or colour the FR as they see fit for the headphone they are using. While I hardly use the presets, they are definitely way better than all Apple EQ presets found in iTunes, iPods, and iOS devices; I am not bashing Apple here, just saying how the equalizer on the Walkmans are better. (Apple EQ preset is crap. Believe me, I've listened to over 10 different iPods and iOS devices. All the same, emotionless, useless filters.)
Even though it does not support flac, it does support .WAV files I put in, ripped from CDs with Exact Audio Rip, and will give you the uncompressed CD quality your CD player or computer can produce. There is really nothing bad to be said about this player, besides the availability, and that abomination of a display. Low contrast, bad viewing angles with a white/bluish tint, and a terrible stock MDR-EX082 earbuds are the only cons I could find, but it really does nothing wrong for its price point and class. It's not like you are going to watch movies or view pictures on this thing anyways, let alone any other small Walkman. Even the 3" of the X1000 doesn't satisfy for visual entertainment.
The player itself is extremely easy to self-diagnose and service, with its housing simply taken off after unscrewing the screws. I've did this one time only to replace the battery, which can be easily found for very cheap on eBay, just like an used version of the player itself. Don't expect to find a brand new unsealed one today, unless you are willing to pay 30-50% more than the MSRP when it was in production. There are Walkman enthusiasts and collectors out there that wants to make a few extra flipping bucks out of their collection.
For those of you who already have one, keep it! It really isn't worth it to sell it now unless you have it in a complete package in a mint/collector's condition. Otherwise, there are used players that work perfectly like a new one (besides physical wears and damages) on eBay and the vast 2nd-hand electronics market.
Conclusion: While the A810 series can't compete with the newest F880 and the ZX1, it certainly holds the position of being the top of non-S-Master enabled Walkmans, and it is definitely worth the money if you can find one to bid on/buy. The flawless design, compact size, and premium look/feel makes it an entry deserving of a 5-star rating.
I've owned 4 of these players now, not to say four have broken but I went through a bit of an ebay buying spree and ended up with several at once. Compared to newer players they are left wanting in many ways, sound quality isn't as good as my a846, for example. Battery life isn't as good as some players, especially when they are more than a year old. The 8gb capacity of the largest isn't much by today's standards, considering this was Sony's premium player at launch. Also there's no large, touchscreen, no apps, no phone, etc..
However, this was meant as an mp3 player and it does that rather well. Like all Sony's it produces a warm sound which, paired with the wrong earphones, can sound rather heavy on the bass. It is a tiny player which fits in any pocket, has a good/simple user interface and the entire case is metal rather than the plastic of a lot of cases of other players. Some complain of the hold button positioning but I can't think of a more logical place for it, it falls to the touch very naturally.
Value very much depends on when/where you bought/buy it. My first one cost me a lot of money (I forget quite how much, it can't have been that bad) and the last one I bought was under £30 from ebay. ebay is one of the few places to find these nowadays, usually, lightly used or reconditioned. make sure though to bid on a a810 series not the a800 series, they look the same but the latter are a pain to use with the sony software that must be used in conjunction, the a810 series allows direct drag & drop and you can throw the cd in the bin.
A few things annoy me about the useability of this player which are worth mentioning. There's no flac support, gapless albums will have a 2 second gap put in between the songs and you can't delete any songs directly off the player. All minor points but when combined with a relatively small capacity it means mine has been relegated to a gym mp3 player now. Being so tough it's ideally suited, i've dropped mine countless times now.
Depending what you want in a player, don't dismiss this one too soon, it sounds/works better than a sansa clip for less money. I would comment on the included earphones but have forgotten what they sound like, this is head-fi after all.