As smartphones continue to be our all-in-one pocket communication, internet, camera and media device, it’s easy to forget that the WALKMAN was once the iconic, dominant media player. Till this day, Sony still caters to the focused niche with the range. The Sony NW-A45 offers a window into Hi-Res audio with the most accessible player in their lineup, with built-in USB DAC and intricate sound engineering enhancements to boot.
Some may still question WALKMAN’s existence in today’s technological climate, but there are few that will recognise and appreciate having a dedicated music player, and that’s who Sony are reaching towards.
Let’s start shall we? There is little besides the Sony NW-A45 when I unbox the package – a proprietary cable that connects the music player to your laptop, an instruction manual and… that’s really it. The box is resultantly compact which snug fits the NW-A45. You can use any USB charger you have at home or just charge it using the cable included, but you’ll find none here. I would prefer a USB-C port with all the benefits of fast charging, data transfer and just simply being widely available these days. I’d rather not add another cable to carry with me but it is what it is. So let’s dive straight into the player itself.
Measuring at under 10cm tall, over 5cm wide and 1cm thick, the Sony NW-A45 is very pocketable. It’s lightweight at 98g, making this a featherweight you won’t feel in your trousers, coat pocket or bag. It comes in vibrant colours such as: Twilight Red, Pale Gold, Horizon Green, Moonlit Blue and Greyish Black. I carry the Moonlit Blue version and find it to be a colourful, though subtle colorway. It has a note of green together with blue for a balanced, attractive exterior. There’s a slight texture and glistening sheen under light, which adds to the visual and feel of the player.
In terms of hardware, you’re looking at a matte plastic exterior with a 3.1″ LCD touchscreen display. There’s a bezel underneath the glass around the screen too. Though we’re used to a near bezel less design, I find the colourful front refreshing and not bulky. That being said, Sony could fit a larger display to make menus more viewable. It’s definitely a contrast from the 6.5″ of today, with essentially two bezels that squeeze the Sony NW-A45.
Above is a Sony logo and the iconic WALKMAN logo on the bottom right. All controls are on the right, raised from the body which breaks design, but adds usability. Though the frame is boxy in typical Sony fashion, the sides have a slight curve that sits in the palm of my hand comfortably.
There are six buttons in total: power button, volume rocker, next track, play/ pause, previous track button and a hold switch. On the left side is an expandable microsd card slot, while the back features the WALKMAN logo and NFC touch symbol. Shockingly there’s only 16GB onboard storage which is paltry to today’s standards. You can opt for the 64GB version but that’s quite a bit more expensive. I can restrain my gripe with Sony as they include an expandable memory card slot, though when you consider Hi-Res files can be up to 100MB per song, 16GB will go fast. A 400GB or 512GB memory card will work thankfully.
On the bottom is a 3.5mm headphone jack, proprietary connector and a secure loop slot. Though the Sony NW-A45 is not made of metal, it feels balanced and of quality in the hand. A soft-touch, matte textured finish that’s lightweight and rich in controls and connectivity. So far so good.
Doubling Down on Quality Audio
So why in this day of age would you still want (or need) a dedicated music player? Well there are several reasons. Most are geared to audio enthusiasts and the core proposition of the Sony NW-A45: Hi-Res Audio. It’s the most affordable, entry-level device in Sony’s WALKMAN lineup that is certified for Hi Res audio, built using physical components to output Hi-Res audio cleanly, together with file support to play it back.
There are very few smartphones that output the depth and rich support of audio files including Hi-Res Audio DSD, 24 bit FLAC or USB DAC (LG comes to mind and Razer’s external adaptor), but software, components and possible interference affect performance and quality, all while trying to stay thin. Sony’s NW-A45 can let loose a little and focuses on delivering the best it can.
From easy connectivity to rich audio support, the Sony NW-A45 does one thing and it does it well which is, playing high-quality music. To reap the most benefits however, you do need Hi-Res headphones and Hi-Res music files. I have what I need which are my Sony Hear on 2 WH900N and a range of DSD and FLAC music files (24 bit) to put it to action.
It’s difficult to separate performance from the player and headphones, but at source there is no distortion or noise throughout the volume range. The ability to playback lossless files such as DSD or up to 24 bit FLAC files – that captures the most music reproduction as artists intend – brings nuanced instrumental sounds and vocals to life, the raw grittiness of lyrics and depth in notes. For conventional compress files like MP3, DSEE HX restores and refines your everyday music files with a bit more detail. It’s not distinct, but just a little cleaner.
The very nuanced, but welcome S-Master HX amplifier which reduces distortion and noise. LDAC bumps up bluetooth wireless transfer three times the rate of standard connections (990 kbps) so you get more detail coming through your wireless cans. Wired is the best way to enjoy the fullest sound, but if convenience and wireless is your thing, you won’t miss too much as a result here.
Music Menu Simplified
The menu has basic options with a few additions: the ability to select your song in different cuts (artist, album, genre) and a dedicated Hi-Res audio section. It automatically recognises and adds said files into this section (higher than 44.1 kHz and 16 bit). You can choose to hide certain options if you wish too. From the same menu list, you can toggle music volume controls, FM radio, language study and DAC function. Language study is a neat feature where you can send any song or audio file to the list for easy access. Playlists are generally straightforward, but pedantics like songs needing to be on the same storage (internal or card) to pair in the same playlist is unnecessary. (Really?)
As for the interface, four icons are always accessible on the bottom, these are: back button, back to now playing screen, library (as shown) and settings. The latter opens a pop-up that offers access to the general and contextual settings depending on the screen you’re on. Touchscreen make these easy enough to tap, thanks to the wide spacing even on this small display. The LED backlit display offers deep black levels and very good colour reproduction for album art.
WVGA resolution (800 x 480) is low for today’s standard, but at 3.1″ delivers a tack sharp screen with 300 pixels per inch (ppi). Icons and text are sharp, paired with a deep black that gives the illusion of a larger display than it is, with the black bezel underneath the glass.
A great feature of the Sony NW-A45 is the USB DAC(Digital to Analogue Converter) function. Once connected to your laptop or desktop with the cable, it takes advantage of the sound processing capability to output a clean, refined sound without component interference for audio enthusiasts and purists. On the DAC screen, you’ll find a separate volume control dial and shows the Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) signal atop. It lets you take advantage of the NW-A45 player and put it to full use with your laptop audio too.
It works very well with local audio, but find it has a noticeable delay with audio streamed online like YouTube. I’m not sure if it’s the processing time to the external DAC but it’s intended for local audio, which makes sense if you’re looking for the highest-quality sound; a moot point but worth noting that I came across.
Great for sound reproduction through the DAC, handy if you don’t already have a dedicated unit for cleaner workflow editing if you’re doing anything around audio. Oh and you also get greater length for your headphone cable as you plug it into the Sony NW-A45 instead of the laptop itself, quite handy if your headphone jack is on the lid of your laptop like mine.
Nearly Smooth Like Jagger
Moving onto the controls, it’s mostly positive with a few caveats.The raised buttons make it easy to press without looking. The problem is, there are six buttons I find myself trying against that are too close together. The hold button is better off right towards the bottom, while a wider spread means I won’t mistake the volume down for the next track. They’re clicky and tactile and find them great to press, just a little too cramped.
You can of course opt for the onscreen controls which are bigger to tap, but without any physical feedback. Borrowing design cues from their Android phones, the OS will feel similar in the arrangement and layout. Controls feel responsive for playback, though menu performance is a little choppy to scroll through. It doesn’t flow buttery smooth like our phones so imagine the innards aren’t fast enough. It’s not jarring to the experience, but it’s not as slick as you may expect it to be.
As you expect it pairs best with Sony’s own headphones, made to work together in harmony both wired and wireless. With my Sony Hear on 2 wireless headphones, it connects through NFC to pair instantly. Aesthetically, the moonlit blue also pairs stunningly for a succinct package.
To bring all those details, technical specs and features together, Sony offers a very appealing and accessible path into the dedicated Hi-Res audio market. The 45 hour battery life will provide a week’s worth of music while easing the battery of your smartphone. It’s ease of use make music a simplistic pleasure, stripping away the convoluted experience of a phone.
They sprinkle the well-packaged Sony NW-A45 that audio enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the world of Hi-Res audio. This works great for the long commuters, frequent flyers that want to enjoy music on the road. It may not be for everyone, but for the few it does appeal to, it delights.
Sony NW-A45 WALKMAN
NW-A45 continues Sony's solid line of WALKMAN music players that makes Hi-Res Audio accessible to the audio enthusiasts and focussed masses. All day battery life and the ability to bring rich music on the move in a compact body will appeal to those wanting a bit more quality, separated from their daily driver. All the more at a reachable price point.