The end is not nigh
FOR Precise and articulate presentation; noise-cancelling AGAINST Sound lacks bite; ergonomics could be better
A few years ago, it seemed the market for stand-alone music players was finished. The increasing popularity of phones, and the use of them as music devices, had wiped out most of the breed. Even Apple killed off its iconic ipod Classic.
It turns out the end isn't as imminent as we'd thought, and a steady trickle of new products suggests there may be a recovery of sorts, particularly if high-resolution audio replay is on your radar.
Plays most file types
While the Sony NW&A25HN isn't cheap, it is one of the more affordable of this new breed of player. It’s a decently specified unit and will play most file types – FLAC, WAV, AAC and Apple Lossless among them – to a resolution limit of 24-bit/192khz. We’re surprised at the omission of DSD replay – Sony has long promoted this single-bit file format, so it seems strange that its latest hi-res player won’t handle it.
The NW&A25HN weighs just 66g so it's no real surprise that, while build quality is good, it lacks a properly substantial feel. There’s a choice of colours for the metal body – black, pink, red, blue or yellow finishes are available.
The controls are fairly responsive but lack a quality feel. We don’t find them wholly intuitive in use either, though familiarity improves things to a point where we don’t get overly annoyed.
Video plays second fiddle
The Sony’s LCD display isn’t particularly big at 2.2in, but it has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels and looks reasonably crisp. While the NW&A25HN will play videos and show photos, the screen is too small to make either a truly entertaining experience – this is a music machine first and foremost.
There’s 16GB of memory built-in with the option of adding more by using a microsd card. Or Sony makes a 64GB version of this player, the NW&A27HN, which costs around £100 more.
Battery life is good. It takes around four hours to get to a full charge – then playing time is around 30 hours for high-resolution source material. That figure goes up to around 50 hours for low bit-rate MP3 replay.
These impressive figures will take a hit if you start using the unit’s noise-cancelling function. This works only when you use the supplied in-ear headphones (or one of Sony’s dedicated models) and brings down ambient noise to a decent level.
There’s a choice of sound modes and equalisers too. We prefer the results with most of them turned off, but the Clearaudio+ adjustment (more expressive dynamics and top-end bite) and DSEE HX (improves sound from lower-resolution recordings) are both worth a try.
We load up the NW&A25HN with a range of music from MP3 files (320kbps) of alt-j’s This is All Yours right the way through to Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow (24-bit/96khz) and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12 (in 24/192). We like what we hear.
This Sony delivers a precise and agile sound. Regardless of source material it digs up a good amount of detail and organises it in a neat and stable fashion. Tonally, things are pretty even – though (as is typical for Sony) a degree of authority has been traded for improved clarity.
We like the insight the player gives Kate Bush’s distinctive voice. There’s a sense of texture here and a good degree of expression. The backing instrumentation on Wild Man is delivered with pleasing energy and punch. There’s subtlety too, as a listen to the Mozart piano concerto reveals. The Sony stays composed as the music becomes complex and never sounds edgy or harsh – unless the recording suffers from these things in the first place.
The NW&A25HN isn’t the most dramatic listen though. Rhythmically it doesn’t quite have the drive to truly excite, while dynamic reach feels just a touch restrained. These shortcomings aren’t massive, but they are enough to stop this unit from claiming an unreserved recommendation.
Decent sound via Bluetooth
The supplied headphones are better than usual. Compared to the likes of Soundmagic’s E10S (£40) they aren’t as informative and don’t have the same free-spirited way with dynamics, but aren’t a notable hindrance to the player’s performance. Let’s not forget that they offer noise-cancelling capability too.
We're pleased with the FM radio performance. Hiss levels are acceptable, and there is a nice degree of insight. We're impressed too with the NW&A25HN’S Bluetooth feature, sending sound to a Chord Hugo DAC as well as B&W’S Zeppelin Wireless. The connection shows more refinement and solidity than we’d expect.
The NW&A25HN is a likeable unit. While the ergonomics could be better it’s packed with features and sounds good too.
Portable music player
The NW-A25HN measures
in at 104x44x9mm, so will fit
in pockets or bags easily
You'll need to stick
to Sony cans if you
want to enjoy the