The current holy grail in audiophile circles is high resolution (hi-res) audio. Among hi-res audio’s many promises are better sound, less noise and distortion, and increased dynamic range over traditional CDs. Several high end audio companies have championed this cause for hi-res audio. Chief among them has been Sony.
Sony Electronics supplied us with with the review products and the necessary resources to review them but as with all our reviews, the sentiments and opinions about the NWZ-A17SLV and MDR-1A/B are solely ours.
While I was certainly excited to be able to get my hands on this latest generation of high fidelity products from Sony, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was too little, too late. With the incredible success of the iPhone and Android smartphones is there really that much of a strong market for yet another device that people need to carry around? Any such thoughts were dealt dose of reality with the incredible success of the crowd-funded Pono high resolution music player. Over 18,000 people pledged over $6.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to support this effort. Don’t think that there’s a thirst for high-res? Think again.
Not to be outdone, this past September at the IFA electronics show in Berlin, Sony unveiled the NWZ-A17 walkman and MDR-1A headphones. In contrast to the Pono, which is just a high resolution music player, Sony announced a complete end to end system that included both a high resolution Walkman and high resolution headphones capable of delivering the audiophile quality of Hi-Res music. Unlike the Pono’s, bulky and awkward form-factor, the new hi-res walkman is sleek, light and packed with features.
On paper, both the hi-res digital walkman and hi-res headphones are impressive. The 64 GB Hi-Res Walkman boasts broad file support including MP3, WMA, FLAC, L-PCM, AAC, HE-AAX, ALAC, and AIFF. There’s also an FM tuner and audio modes including ClearAudio+/DSEE HX/5-band EQ/VPT/Dynamic Normalizer/DPC. You can also expand the internal 64 GB to a larger capacity via a MicroSD card slot.
For my part, I know I’m very much looking forward to taking the Sony Walkman Digital Music Player and the MDR-1A/B, their Hi-Res Stereo Headphones for an extended trial. At first glance, the build quality and portability of this pair seems superb.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be DSD support for those die-hard audiophiles who remain staunch proponents of the format.
The removable cable is not your run of the mill cable. Sony states that it is a silver-coated oxygen-free copper (OFC) cable that “ensures minimal signal transmission degradation for pure audio response at the driver.” The cable uses a 4-wire architecture with a separate ground and signal connection to each driver that Sony claims provides enhanced separation, expanded sound and tight bass.
There’s an included smartphone control cable, but alas, it’s for Android only. If you want to use these with an iPhone with full control, you’ll need an adapter.
But comfort, high build quality, and a removable cord are only some of the features that highlight these new cans from Sony. Sony claims that they will reproduce frequencies up to 100kHz, which Sony claims is ideal for high-res audio. The diaphragm used is a 40 mm, dome type, Aluminum-coated Liquid Crystal Polymer Diaphragm. The Sony cans can handle 1500 mW (IEC) and have a rated frequency response of 3Hz – 100 kHz.
At first glance, this Walkman-headphone combo looks like a high-quality, promising solution from Sony. The MSRP for the NWZ-A17SLV 64 GB Hi-Res Walkman Digital Music Player and the MDR-1A premium high-res stereo headphones is $299.99each or $599.98 for the pair. Stay tuned for our full review.