The end is not nigh

FOR Pre­cise and ar­tic­u­late pre­sen­ta­tion; noise-can­celling AGAINST Sound lacks bite; er­gonomics could be bet­ter

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Test -

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.

Sony NW-A25HN

Por­ta­ble mu­sic player

£240

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

noise-can­celling

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