Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Klipsch Custom-3 IEM headphones review

Here it is, the final review in my journey through Klipsch's Custom series, and the last review of 2008. Perhaps next year I'll do another one (maybe Sennheiser's IE range? I'll go broke!). So anyway, the Custom-3 is Klipsch's top-end IEM in terms of SQ performance and the second most expensive after the Image X10. With a recommended retail price of US$199/£199 (the street price is a lot cheaper than that), the Custom-3's direct competitors includes Shure SE420, Sennheiser IE8, Denon C751, Sleek Audio SA6, Etymotic ER4P and Westone UM2 - all of which are well regarded and have received raved reviews.

Some boring technical specs:

Frequency response: 8Hz – 19kHz
Sensitivity: 115 dB SPL/mW (1mW)
Nominal impedance: 32 ohms
Crossover frequency: 1500 Hz
Tweeter: KG723
Woofer: KG731
Headphone weight: 13 grams
Bundled accessories: Large carrying case, 1/8" to 1/4" adaptor, airplane jack adaptor, two pairs of bi-flanged ear gels, three pairs of single-flanged ear gels, ear wax tip cleaning tool

Perhaps rather disappointingly, the Custom-3 shares the exact same physical and attractive triangular enclosure as its lower-end cousins. There is no removable cable system or additional use of premium material that reflects the premium cost. The only distinct difference is the colour scheme - that is of the traditional bronze Klipsch logo. It is personally my favourite colour scheme of the three Customs, as the bronze accent doesn't make it stand out as much as the other two, and also because the classic Klipsch logo is, well, classy. Regardless the built quality was excellent.

Again like the other two Customs, the enclosures are connected to 50" fabric cable which terminates to a gold plated right-angled 3.5mm plug. The fabric cable is both a joy and curse. It is sturdy, but is microphonic like hell. This can be fixed by running the cables through the back and tightening it with the adjuster, or getting a shirt clip. It also tangles easily, though untangling isn't a hellish experience as you would get on a low-end Sennheisers or Sonys. On the upside the Y-split is reinforced and seems to be able to withstand some abuse.

While the outside might look almost the same, the Custom-3 is an altogether different beast on the inside. Like the Custom-2, each speaker is powered by dual balanced armature drivers. However unlike the Custom-2, the Custom-3's armature drivers is a two-way design, meaning a dedicated woofer and a tweeter through a crossover system. This may seem insignificant in comparison to the Westone 3 with its three-way system - but then again it does not cost nearly as much. Still, all these are just bullshit if it doesn't perform. More doesn't always mean better just like the best shaving experience still comes from a good traditional cut throat.

With a low impedance of 32 ohms, the Custom-3 is relatively easy to drive using my Walkman S639. I can listen to it at a comfortable level and portable amp is needed to run this. It is a less sensitive headphone compared to the Custom-2 which exhibited a slight hiss during silent passages, where as on the Custom-3 it was very difficult to detect any - if at all. Compared to the fuller sounding Custom-2, the Custom-3 is noticeably more refined, analytical and tight. Personally I think it is less fun in comparison to the Custom-2.

One thing I noticed about the Custom-3 was how alike the sound is to the Custom-1 - with better defined and forwarded mids and overall brighter less aggressive with a slighter warmer sound signature. The top-end could have been better, but the clarity is still amazing and isn't fatiguing and does not suffer from sibilant. Sound stage wise it is similar to the two Customs - in that they deliver a more 'in-head' sound than you would get with a traditional headphone, though it is evidently more spacious than the other two. Another area where the Custom-3 really does improve upon was its performance in regards to instrumental separation.

The bass is defined and sharp, though the dedicated woofer does very little to increase the bass quantity. This is good as I am beginning to appreciate a more neutral less-bassy sound, though Jennifer did scoffed at it before throwing it back and immediately switching to her trusty Sennheiser CX 95. Regardless, bass response is tight and the quantity an improvement over the muddy low-end escaping the Custom-1. Listening to Master of Puppets on the Custom-3 revealed wonderfully textured bass lines by the late Cliff Burton. Overall I have to say that the Custom-3 is a well balanced IEM that performs well with many genres.

Like the Custom-1 and Custom-2, I found the Custom-3 to be extremely comfortable. Despite wearing glasses, the memory cable is unobtrusive. It is fatiguing and I can wear it for a couple of hours at a time. I can even sleep on the side with it, though I would not recommend doing so with such an expensive pair of headphones. It doesn't isolate as well and you can definitely hear people talking when the music is switched off, though once music is player you will be happy to read that ambient noise isn't that noticeable at a moderate volume level. Very little sound escapes the headphones, which is ideal when listening to music in a semi hostile environment like the London Underground.

As much as I love the Custom-3, I seriously can't recommend the headphones at the suggested retail price. Do not get me wrong the Custom-3 is a great IEM, the best I've ever owned, but for US$299/£199 I would expect a bit more frills - for example having the cables replaceable like the those on the cheaper Sleek Audio SA6. Microphonics is still an issue with the Custom series, though it does disappear if you run it through the back. And not everyone will appreciate the mandatory over the ear fit either. At least with an IEM like Sennheiser's IE8 you get a choice between over ear or traditional earbud (cord hanging down) fit.

Remember that the Custom-3 is an IEM geared towards audiophiles and musicians. It isn't as 'fun' or 'emotional' (though I have to street it isn't 'boring' either) like other consumer-orientated headphones like Klipsch's own Image X10 or Ultimate Ears Super.Fi series. The best thing to do would be to try to audition as many as possible. I really do love mine, and would heartily recommend it if you can find it was readily available within the US$200/£150 mark or it gets marked down like during that recent Klipsch sale.

+ wonderful SQ with great all around performance and tight bass response
+ unique stylish design
+ very comfortable with the right tip
+ fabric cable
- expensive RRP (street and online price is far cheaper)
- excess packaging (this issue is being addressed by Klipsch)
- cumbersome to put on and remove


You can buy now from

My favourite gadgets this year

Not many to choose from really, but I really can't imagine living without all of these:

1. Sony Walkman NWZ-S639F (review)
It is easy to use, has great battery life, available for little of your money and deliver superb sound quality. It even comes with an acceptable pair of headphones.

2. Nokia E51 (review)
A great all around performing Series 60 mobile phone with superb built-quality and low price to match (free on cheapest contract). Brilliantly small and sexy, the E51 is a proof that enterprise phones need not be boring.

3. Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (review)
The sexy X61 continues upon the strong tradition of amazing portability, performance and built-quality of the ThinkPad X-series heritage. Still the toughest consumer level notebook on the market. Has since been superseded by the slightly uglier X200 series.

4. Sony PSP Slim & Lite (review)
With a great (if rather limited) library, amazing screen and all-around versatility, the PSP Slim & Lite is only let down by lazy developers and scratch prone display window.

5. Navman B10 (review)
Dirt cheap Bluetooth GPS-receiver with acceptable accuracy and speed in a petite package. Sadly no longer available.

Hopefully I'll spend less next year.

Zune madness

Read this reply on a Zune-related forum. Why oh why did the forumite, after reading about the issue no-less, decide to check it out on his/her personal Zune? Silly silly thing to do.
I've got both a Zune80 and a Zune30. After reading about all of that, I went and checked the Zune30. Battery was dead. After putting it on the charger, it booted up, and is promptly stuck on the Zune logo screen with the loading bar all the way full.

I'm not really sure what to do now, this was a launch unit (purchased within the first month of release), and is outside microsoft warranty and the 2yr extended warranty from circuit city.
Update: For all you unlucky Zune 30 owners, you'll be glad to know that apparently your self-bricking Zune 30 is also capable of resurrecting tomorrow once the clock resets itself. o_O

Welcoming the New Year in London

For those planning to watch the fireworks today in London, do make sure to get there early especially if you want the best view. The best view is undoubtedly directly opposite the London Eye on the Victoria Embankment just north of Westminster tube station. Also be prepared to increase your tolerance level. Despite it being a celebration, there are obnoxious and rude people who attends this as well and they boy do they love to push and shove as the fireworks show begins. This is the single biggest reason why we are not bothered to go this year, that and the cold.

Getting back to a Tube station won't be easy as many will only be re-opened at 2am. Last year (well this year), we had to walk all the way to Baker's Street. Nothing much to worry about though as we've always found walking around Central London during the New Year as a pretty fun experience. As usual free Tube transport from 23:45 till 04:30 the following day, except where the stations are closed.

While we won't be braving the midnight chill just to watch 10 minutes of crackers, we will be in London tomorrow for the London Parade. The parade will start at around 12pm in Parliament Square, passing Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and terminating on Berkeley Street, Piccadilly. Hope to see you there.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some January sales stuff

Amazon UK

Bioshock (PS3) £24.10
Casio EX-Z100 10MP digicam £99.99
Dexter complete season one DVD boxset (recommended) £13.97 (review)
Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3) £19.57
LittleBigPlanet £24.99
Mirror's Edge (360) £19.57
Mirror's Edge (PS3) £14.99
Samsung SM2032BW 20-inch LCD monitor £107.99
Samsung LE32A558P3 32-inch Widescreen 1080P LCD TV £499.99
Sony Walkman NWZ-E436FB 4GB DAP £49.75
Sony Walkman NWZ-S639F Black 16GB DAP £78.29 (review)
The World Ends With You £17.99 (review)

Richer's Sound

Sony KDL32V4000U 32-inch Widescreen 720P LCD TV £299.95
Samsung LE32A336 32-inch Widescreen 720P LCD TV £299.95

Advanced MP3 Player

Cowon iAudio 7 16GB £126.26
Denon AH-P372 headphones


Denon AH-C751 IEM £89.99

Klipsch Custom-2 in-ear monitor headphones review

Klipsch's Custom-2 is a mid-range in-ear headphones, just a step up above the Custom-1 which I reviewed here. The two model share the same design cues, of which primary difference is that the Custom-2 is driven by dual KG 534 balanced armature drivers instead of the single balanced armature driver in the Custom-1. It has the same elegant housing though the Custom-2 does feature a silver accent that while signifying a slight premium over the Custom-1, which I personally did not care much for. I honestly actually prefer the more understated black finish of the Custom-1.

Frequency response: 10Hz – 19kHz
Sensitivity: 112 dB SPL/mW (1mW)
Nominal impedance: 16 ohms
Drivers: KG 534 dual-balanced armatures
Headphone weight: 13 grams
Bundled accessories: Large carrying case, airplane adaptor, five pairs of ear gels, ear wax tip cleaning tool

With a retail price of £110, Custom-2s is in direct competition with the Super.Fi 5 EB, Future Sonic Atrio M5, Sennheiser IE 6 and Shure SE310. It had a lot to live up to. As with the Custom-1, the Custom-2 performed very well within the mid-range. Vocals were forward. Rather expected from the price, the Custom-2 also outperformed its lower range brother in bass. While the bass on the Custom-1 seems restrained, the Custom-2's bass response was punchy though with slight distortion. The quantity is still lacking compared to dynamic driver based headphones or even the Super.Fi 5 EB (Extended Bass for a reason), but it should still be sufficient to all but the most ardent basshead. Performance on the highs is a tad better than the Custom-1. The separation of instruments is more noticeable and the sound stage a bit wider (though still more 'in-head' than other IEMs I have tried).

I kinda liked the Custom-2, but they do sound a lot different from the Custom-1. While the Custom-1 sound more like a budget monitor, the Custom-2 has a more fun and warm sound signature - obviously aimed at consumers. There are obvious improvements but they just do not sound alike. It would be interesting to compare them to their high-end Custom-3 IEMs (it is still on its way), which has its own dedicated woofer and tweeter. I personally would not recommend them for the usual £110 but price has recently dipped to about £60-£70. At that price level the Custom-2 is a worthy of your consideration particularly if you are keen on replacing that disgustingly awful free bundled earbuds.

+ great SQ with improved bass response
+ unique stylish design
+ very comfortable with the right tip
+ fabric cable
- excess packaging (this issue is being addressed by Klipsch)
- cumbersome to put on and remove
- microphonics


Buy now from or

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dear whining politicians

What is so spiteful of Channel 4's alternative Christmas message by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that makes it so different from, say, the Pope's message of hate delivered last Monday?

Happy Holidays

Have a Happy Christmas everyone.

Go enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Amazon UK: £3 (one album) of MP3s for free

Amazon UK is offering £3 of MP3s for free this Christmas and Boxing Day. As most (not all) of their digital album catalogue seems to cost £3 to purchase, this means you are allowed to legally download for free one whole £3 album. For example, The Killer's new Day & Age album. The MP3 files are encoded in either VBR or CBR with a bitrate of 256kbps, ensuring reasonable sound quality.
We've got an extra gift for you this Yuletide: £3 to spend on anything in our MP3 store on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Visit us on December 25 or 26, then just add your chosen MP3s to your Shopping Basket (you need to use the Shopping Basket rather than 1-Click) and enter code FREEMP3S at the checkout--£3 will be deducted from the total.

Priest 'ruins Christmas' for kids

A Catholic priest has been criticised by parents in a city in northern Italy for telling their children that Father Christmas does not really exist.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.
Someone really ought to let Father Dino Bottino know that the story of Jesus Christ can be treated in the same respect as Santa Clause, Cinderella and Snow White, in that all are merely fairy tales. You know, like three magis following a star, virgin births etc. And it isn't like the alleged Jesus Christ's birthday is tomorrow, even in the fabled text.

Still, what kiddies actually really believed in Santa Clause these days?

From BBC News

Monday, December 22, 2008

My GOTY: The World Ends With You

Yes, you read that right. That is my personal choice for game of the year - besting highly rated titles like LittleBigPlanet, Persona 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, etc. etc. etc.

The reason is very simple. Whilst LittleBigPlanet was incredibly innovative and MGS4 mind numbingly amazing, The World Ends With You far exceeded my expectation not only with its innovative and unique gameplay and great visual style, but also in terms to changing my whole perception on how the evolution of role-playing genre should head next. The game literally offers hundreds of possible combinations of attack forms, tons of customisation and good funky music - while being addictive at the same time. The videos may seem baffling, but once you grasp the mechanics, you will not want to stop. Hell, the game completely destroys the concept of forced levelling by introducing an adjustable difficulty, manipulating brand trends and cashing in for unique goods and pins from different sorts of stores. Even the emo lead character got a bit likeable near the end.

I won't bore you with a repeat review as you can already read that here, but I have to say I have extremely disappointed with some of you lot. The World Ends With You deserves huge success. Instead you keep buying complete shit like Dinosaurs, Junior Brain Trainer, Mario & Sonic, Sight Training, Wii Music and all the other crap that is spewed on a regular basis - just because Fern and Phil told you so. Tut tut.

My 2008 top 5
1. The World Ends With You
2. Persona 3 (review)
3. Metal Gear Solid 4
4. Bangai-O-Spirits
5. LittleBigPlanet

Monday, December 15, 2008

Klipsch Custom-1 follow up

As promised, here is a follow-up post regarding the Klipsch Custom-1. I have been experimenting with different fits and have found that the large single flange gels works best on my ears. The double flange works good as well, but they go so deep I found them uncomfortable. Also, the Custom series works well with glasses, but then again I never had problems with other over the ear headphones anyway.

In my previous post I lamented on the lack of bass response, but have since discovered that it does exist. They are not more forward like what you tend to get with Sennheisers, and are more restraint. I can actually 'feel' the bass, perhaps surprisingly as I was led to believe this was not possible on balanced armature headphones (due to the lack of moving parts). Still the bass isn't as strong as the Sennheiser CX 95. Overall, the Custom-1 has good bass, but I still stand on my belief that bassheads or those who are into trance/dance music will be better off with Sennheiser or Denon.

Treble wise, the Custom-1 is a bit better than my CX 95 and considerably better than the Shure e2c's muddy highs. They are still pretty weak compared to the performance on the mids (which is awesome). This can be fixed by upping up the highs on your player's EQ. In my case boosting the 16kHz range helped a lot with the S639. This fix is only needed for complex music, where the single driver design works against it. As I mentioned before the Custom-1 highlight the mids more than others, which works rather well on instrumental solos. On the other hand instrumental separation seems to be rather average and can get a mid muddy...

The sound detail is amazing on such a cheap headphone and while the sound stage could have been better (they tend to go straight into your head), the clarity is amazing. The sound isn't as warm as other headphones, and no where near as 'fun' as the CX 95. Microphonics was initially a slight issue, but running the cables through the back all the way up will help a lot. Again, definitely worth £50 if you like this kind of sound, or whatever you paid for it during the recent sale ;). But then there's the Custom-2...

The Custom-2 is a considerable improvement over the Custom-1, and the list price of £110/US$199 highlights this fact even if the model number doesn't. At this list price its competitors includes Ultimate Ear's popular Super.Fi 5 EB, Shure SE310 and the new Sennheiser IE 6. It shares the same housing, cables etc. with the Custom-1, but the primary difference is its dual balanced armature drivers which offers greater frequency response particularly on the lows compared to the Custom-1.

As I have only recently tried the Custom-2 (and have a Custom-3 coming in from the US soon) and I haven't given it much listening, so I won't go into much detail. But my initial impression so far goes like this: warm, great mids, better bass and good highs - though still not as fun the cheaper CX 95, though definitely offering greater SQ. I probably won't give the Custom-2 a dedicated review, but I'll most likely write something about the Custom-3 and give an overall comparison between the three Custom models later during the New Year.

Lack of updates

Sorry for the lack of updates. You can however find me lurking the dark corners of my new hobby, Head-Fi and occasionally on NeoGAF. Oh, and Twitter.

I wrote a review on The Killer's Day & Age, but it is full of crap I decided not to post it. The album is great though and I thoroughly recommend it. Not so great though is Guns N' Roses's latest album of mediocrity - Chinese Democracy and Bloc Party's awesomely disappointing Intimacy.

As for video gaming, I am just enjoying Loco Roco 2 at the moment. It is a deserved sequel to the original Loco Roco, and ought to keep my PSP busy until Patapon 2 arrives next year. I also like the Mirror's Edge demo. All future first person shooter titles will have to be judged against DICE's revolutionary gameplay introduced in this game. The only thing I dislike about the game is its unrealistic video gamey clean look.

Will also be busy this weekend. Mates coming from all over, including one whom I have not met for almost ten years!

By the way, what is the etiquette in regards of treating blood relatives whom you have never ever met? As fellow family members or strangers?

Oh, it is also Jennifer's birthday. Go give her a hugz or buy her something nice.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Klipsch Custom-1 in-ear headphones review

I bought on impulse the Klipsch Custom-1 from Amazon UK two weeks ago when they reduced the price from £70 to £18. The deal is now over, though Amazon UK has since reduced the price of the slightly better Custom-2 (oh, so tempting - someone better buy one for me from my wishlist!) from £105 to £49.99, which is a great price for a mid-range dual-balanced armature headphones from a reputable company.

The Custom-1 is the headphone that I own that uses balanced armatures drivers instead of dynamic drivers (the Custom-2 has dual-balanced armatures instead of single as the Custom-1). Balanced armatures are said to offer higher resolution, clarity and cleaner sound compared to the 'fun' and 'emotional' sound gained from dynamic drivers. Dynamic drivers are also cheaper to make and tend to require more space to fit inside the headphone enclosure in order to achieve great performance. What you prefer may depend on what you intend to get out of your music and what genre you are into. There are hybrid IEMs with dynamic drivers for bass and balanced armatures for treble, but those are ridiculously expensive. Read here and here for more pros and cons regarding the various headphone technology.

Included in the sales package are five pairs of ear tips (two of which are bi-flange) in various sizes. You also get a vinyl carrying case and an ear wax cleaning pick. The Klipsch Custom-1 itself is powered by a single balanced armature with a low impedance of 30 ohms, so it is great for people like me who wants to avoid carrying a portable amp. Even the relatively low powered Sony Walkman are capable of driving the Custom-1 with no problem (volume around halved). The Custom-1 is well designed and housed in a sturdy and attractive triangular enclosure featuring an over the ear design (which is coated in rubber like material). It is connected via a 50" cloth cable which terminates to a gold plated 3.5mm plug. A memory wire system is used to hook the cable over the ear. This does take some getting used to, and it may take a number of tries to get the correct fit (I eventually settled for the largest single flange tip).

Coming from the CX 95 and Shure e2c, the bass is noticeably less from the Custom-1. In fact it is almost none-existent, due to the narrow frequency response plus the lack of airflow in a closed system. They do exist, but you'll have to work on getting a perfect fit in order to obtain them. On the other hand the clarity is amazing. I have to admit the Custom-1 sucked the fun out of the vast majority of my music library. LCD Soundsystem's 'Get Innocuous!' without bass, sounded not only wrong but fatiguing. Still what I got in return was further enjoyment to my sizeable collection of rock, classical, acoustic and instrumental music. Joe Satriani's 'Love Thing' sparkled with the guitar solo amazingly sharp, clean and refined. Often details that are 'hidden' by dynamic driver headphones due to more emphasis being placed on the bass and treble. Put it simply, the performance on the Custom-1 on the mids is fantastic and will work great on instrumental and acoustic music. Instrumental separation could have been better though.

Considering I paid only £18 for this, I have to say I am reasonably pleased by the Custom-1. You could do a lot worse even with £50 headphones. On the downside the isolation is poorer in comparison to the Shure e2c and Sennheiser CX 95, though it is still much better than say a Sony EX082. It does seal well though. If you are a bass-head or is into bass heavy music (i.e. dance music), I suggest you give the Custom-1 a miss and go for a dynamic driver canalphones like the those made by Sennheiser instead. However if you already have one of those and is keen on trying out an in-ear headphone that emphasise mid-range clarity and resolution, then the Custom-1 (or Custom-2) is a great budget introduction into just that.

+ bargain (at the time)
+ great sonic detail and clarity with excellent mids
+ unique stylish design
+ very comfortable with the right tip
+ fabric cable
- excess packaging (this issue is being addressed by Klipsch)
- lack of bass response
- cumbersome to put on and remove
- microphonics


You can also buy now from in addition to

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An example of excess packaging

I've just received my Klipsch Custom-1 canalphones today. Have been listening to it for around an hour. So far so good, it definitely isn't for bass head, but it is still a great entry-level introduction to the world of balanced armatures in-ear headphones. A review will be posted once I have more time with it.

Anyway what I want to write about now is the excess packaging that came with the Klipsch. First up, the Amazon box is a bit too large in relation to the product, with a huge amount of plastic and brown paper strewn around to protect the product. Not that the product needed much protecting anyway! The Custom-1 itself is packaged in no less than three separate boxes, two of them made of hard plastic. This is probably some misguided attempt to prevent opportunistic theft... I really do hope the fine people at Klipsch will understand the concern voiced here regarding such wastefulness.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sony Walkman NWZ-S639 16GB review


The NWZ-S639F is the 16GB version of Sony's new Walkman S630 series, similar to the S730 series but cheaper because it lacks the noise cancelling function. This isn't their flagship Walkman, that belongs to the Bluetooth equipped Walkman A820 series. Having said that, the S630 offers tremendous value for money. The S639 for example costs only £87.99 at Amazon UK. On the other hand Apple's iPod Nano 4G costs £134 for the 16GB version. You don't need to be a genius to see which offers more for your money. This review also applies to the Walkman S638 (8GB version) and the Walkman S738/S739 (the difference being the S730 series contains noise-cancelling headphones and brushed metal case).


Compared to the Walkman A818, the S639 is similarly well built. The S630's aluminium case has a smoother finish than the A818's matte finish or the S730's brushed metal finish. The red version here is almost pink in colour depending on lighting, which I don't really mind if truth be told. Unlike the A810's chrome surrounds, the S630 is surrounded with black plastic giving the player a better grip than it would might have been. The 3.5mm headphone socket is again sensibly placed on the bottom next to the WM-Port, great for fans of jeans and pockets. At 46g, it is also 10g lighter than the A818. I personally prefer the look of the A810 and A820 series, but to each his/her own. Having said that the S630 is well designed, offering extreme good function in a competent form factor.


Sharing the same UI and same basic control layout, the S630 is very easy to use and I didn't have to relearn anything. The front of the S630 features a layout similar to a mobile phone. Due to the design of the controls, some has quipped that it bears semblance to the classic 'Mickey Mouse' look, which I do not disagree. The buttons are a bit softer and recessed than those found on the A810, which are raised. I personally found the A810 to be more intuitive for 'blind' control. Even the volume control on the S630 is harder to feel for. On the upside accidental button presses is less likely, and I am finding myself less reliant on the 'hold' switch. Overall the S630's buttons offers reasonable tactile feedback, which is better than any 'touch-based' controls can ever hope to offer.


Like the A810 series, Sony is wise to bundle the S630 series with better than average earphones. The Sony EX082 (the same one that was bundled with A810 series) is sort of a hybrid between an canal headphone and a normal earphone. The sound on these are great, though they do not seal nor isolate near as well as proper canalphones. Also included is a USB cable and 3 months free trial of Napster To Go, a music subscription service that I am going to guess most won't be bothered with. Still it is rather nice to have a trial to something that is longer than two weeks.


Like any old DAP, the S630 is primarily a music player first. It does have other features that may prove useful to people who care. People who often find themselves bored with their own music collection will be pleased to find a FM radio here. This is also the first drag and drop Walkman to support Podcast (fancy word for pre-recorded amateur radio by bloggers) as well as wallpaper and themes. A competent video player is also present which increased the file support of those featured on the A810 series to include WMV files (including DRM files). The video player is compatible with BBC's iPlayer, which I will touch in a separate post one day. An auto-playlist generator in the form of SenseMe is available which generates playlists that is suitable for the time of the day.

Video Playback

First and foremost, the S630 is not designed with primary video playback in mind. If video playback is what you are seeking foremost, a separate device like the Archos or Sony PSP would be better suited. Like the A810, the S630 is capable of playing files encoded in 320x240 resolution using h.264 (Mpeg4-AVC) video format. It can also play WMV9 files, including those coated in DRM. Video playback is smooth and the vibrant LCD display makes watching videos easy on the eye. Options are readily available to the user who wishes to switch the display orientation. Personally I would prefer not to watch videos on the S630 as the screen is rather smallish. It is great for showing off a couple of music videos or maybe a 20 minute Futurama episode, but for anything longer I highly recommend a PSP or the new Nokia N97 instead.

Transferring Content

It is amazing how far Sony has opened up when it comes to their newest and greatest Walkman. Transferring content is a doodle. The player is MTP compliant, meaning you can just plug-in and immediately start dragging and dropping content into their appropriate folder. No proprietary and bloated nonsense like Sonic Stage or iTunes to worry about. For those who prefer some form of music management software, the S630 supports a hold host of applications including Windows Media Player, Sony Media Manager, iTunes and my personal favourite, MediaMonkey. Linux geeks will also be pleased to find that the S630 will show up as a UMS device.


The Walkman supports basic audio codecs such as MP3 up to 320kbps (as well as those encoded in VBR) and WMA. Lossless fans will be disappointed by the lack FLAC, WMA Lossless or even ATRAC3 Lossless. Gapless is also sorely missing, which in the case of this blogger, is more of an irritant than something crucial. The only way to play full CD quality music (including gapless) is through Linear PCM, hardly the sort of thing you may want to do on a device with only 16GB of space. A couple of sound effects are present for those who likes to tinker around including the 5-band equalisers (four presets and two user definable), VTP Surround setting (which I advice to ignore), DSEE (this is only useful for low bitrate files), Clear Stereo (only useful if you use the bundled EX082 headphones) and Dynamic Normalizer (do turn this on).


Disappointingly the S630 still lacks an on-the-go playlist editor, which is a crying shame in this day and age. Instead Sony has decided to introduced a feature dubbed SenseMe which analysis the music library and register the tracks into ten preset playlist categories - Pop Ballad, Relax, Extreme, Energetic, Classical, Electronic, Acoustic, Daytime and Lounge. No doubt some may accuse Sony of stealing this technology from a certain fruit company, but this nifty feature is actually a veteran function in Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones. Analysing takes some time and it took more than two hours for the Walkman to sort out 2000+ tracks I uploaded. Probably best to leave it to do its business over night.

I found SenseMe to be pretty accurate, with the odd niggles here and there that is probably best placed in another category. The classical playlist was spookily very accurate with mainly tracks by Bear McCreary, Joe Hisaishi, Vanessa-Mae, Hiromi Haneda (piano) and even 'Intro' from Muse's H.A.A.R.P. live album making the list. Not sure what is so classical about Cradle of Filth's 'Darkness Incarnate' though...

Sound Quality

Out of the box, the S639 is one of the best sounding DAP on the market. This is because of the bundled EX082 headphones which surpasses many (if not all) usual bundled headphones. You are going to have to spend at least £20-30 to gain an improvement. As for the S630 itself, the lack of hiss even on sensitive phones makes it an improvement over the A810 series. Apart from that the S630 is very impressive sound quality wise, surpassing even the A810 in my opinion. Sound stage is wide. Without EQ, the sound isn't as neutral as one might hope. Like the A810, the highs and lows are slightly more defined. Bass is tight, precise and clean at least on my CX 95. Put is simply, the S630 is the best flash based Walkman yet, if judging purely form the perspective of sound quality. Shame that you can't buy a line-out cable for it yet.


I've had the S639 for a couple of days now and have used it for roughly 12 hours. Only one battery bar is missing so far, though I am ware that this isn't an accurate way of measuring battery life. Still it is impressive that I've yet to find myself in a situation where I require to charge it.

A quick note on increasing battery life. Sony's quote of 40+ hours audio playback is impressive, but you will only ever reach that level of impressiveness if you turn off the all those sound effects settings. Bitrates also affect battery life, where the higher the bitrate the more power is needed to decode them. Finding the balanced between achieving acceptable battery life and sound quality is something different people will have to do for themselves.


Sony has a lot to prove in a market where they once had a monopoly of. The A810 series was a step in the right direction and the S630 series further proves their commitment. Despite the fair assessment, there are a couple of areas Sony should improve on. For one they ought to implement gapless support (or at least cross fade) for lossy playback, as well as supporting at least one lossless codec. Hell even if it means opening up Atrac3 Lossless. They should also really look into introducing flash based Walkmans with replaceable batteries. Remember those chewing gum Sony batteries? Well I do.

Overall, the S630 series is an amazing portable Digital Audio Player that offers great sound quality for very little of your money. At £86, there really isn't any excuse not to buy the 16GB Walkman S639 really.

+ Amazing sound quality
+ Great built quality
+ BBC iPlayer support
+ Exceptional battery life
+ Quick navigation and UI
- No gapless
- No lossless
- None replaceable battery


Last updated 19 Dec 08

The NWZ-S639 16GB is available for £87.99 at Amazon UK. An international shipping friendly option is available from Advanced MP3 Player with no-VAT.

Firmware update:

Sony has issued a firmware update for the S638/S639 DAP. This small utility takes about 3 minutes to update and as far as I know does not format the content of player (well, it didn't on mine). Firmware 1.11 fixes a bug that sometimes (very rarely) causes a random freeze/reset on the player.