The Walkman I am reviewing is the NWZ-A845, which features a rather limited 16GB of storage capacity. The new A-series should have been Sony's premier and flagship Walkman, but for whatever reason Sony decided that the flagship Walkman should remain the X-series, which has an in-vogue touchscreen display. It isn't even cheap (£140 for a 16GB DAP isn't what I would term as value for money these days). The review also applied to the 32GB A846 and 64GB A847 should Sony ever decide to release the damn things here.
If some of these sounds familiar, it is because I've copied and paste of my other Walkman reviews where the features overlapped.
The A840 is solidly built. The front is dominated by a glossy scratch resistant glass with an OLED display beneath it. The rest of the DAP's case is made of some kind of metal, giving it an extremely premium look and feel. The A840's design is a natural progression to their popular S639/S739 DAPs and A820-series. It is also the thinnest Walkman ever built at just 7.2mm deep.
The A840 marks a return of the hardware buttons. This, in my opinion, is a welcomed move as I much prefer the tactile feels of buttons to touchscreen-only devices. You will find the usual volume controls on the side. The bottom contains both the WM-Port USB connector and 3.5mm headphone port. Unfortunately the buttons just aren't as good as the one found on previous Walkman DAPs. They just do not offer the same tactile feedback. But better to have them than none I guess.
The new A-series features a brilliant looking (better than the X-series in my eyes) 2.8-inch OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display with a resolution of 400x240. This isn't Sony's first OLED PMP (that honours belongs to the Clie VZ90 released way back in 2004), nor their first Walkman with one. The advantage of using OLED is its power requirement, or lack of. OLED works without backlight due to the way its pixels gives off light when electrical current flows through the panel. This negates the need of bulky and power hungry backlight.
Because of the way OLED pixels directly emit light, they show a greater range of colour saturation, higher contrast and has a quicker refresh rate. Even when viewed at a 90 degree angle, the OLED display on the A-series remains equally as stunning as when viewed from the front. Black remains true black, unlike that of a normal LCD display (even one equipped with LED backlight). They also have a faster response time than a standard LCD screen, ideal for watching video. They work okay under the sunlight, no better or worse than most of their modern contemporaries.
UI & Controls
With the A840, Sony has decided to finally updated their none-touch UI to greatly resemble the the X-series. When you first switch it on you will be greeted with the familiar grid layout. It is as intuitive to use as the UI that graced their older none-touchscreen Walkmans.
The previous 'now playing' shortcut that can be toggled anywhere within the system by pressing the 'Options' button has been replaced by 'to playback' shortcut that isn't available everywhere, but a whole a bit more useful than the previous incarnation as it presents more shortcuts depending on where in the system you are on. Tracks can also be added to a 'wish list', which is useful for people with a subscription based music service. For people who likes to purchase CDs (like me), the feature is kinda redundant, but it is there for those who wishes to use it.
The system as a whole felt slightly slower, but I didn't find this a major issue for day to day usage. We are also still cursed with only two custom EQ slots, and the lack of quick find (the table with alphabets is missing) is also irritating, particularly if one is planning on installing hundreds of albums. On the other hand fans of podcasts (fancy word for pre-recorded radio) will be happy that the A840 supports them out of the box.
Sony is well known for bundling good sets of headphones with their mid to high end Walkmans, and they did not stop with A840. The headphone bundled here features a design similar to Sony's EX500 and EX700 IEMs with dynamic transducers. This is a hybrid canal earbud that is designed to work with Sony's noise cancelling system. The way the A840's noise cancelling engine works is by analysing the waveform of ambient noise collected via the microphone, and generate a reversed waveform that cancels out the noise. With the A840, you not only have a stock headphone that works pretty good (but not perfect) at cancelling out background noise, but also offers excellent sound quality (in comparison to the majority of bundled headphones).
The A840, unlike the X-series, has almost no extra features really worth mentioning. It is as it is - a no frills music player. Sure there's video support but nobody I knows buy a Walkman for the video. As such there's no silly stuff like YouTube or web browsing support (might as well, there's no WiFi here). There's also a FM radio for those still listening to such things and a folder for your Podcast (amateur radio).
You can't create, edit or delete playlists on the device itself (it must be done on a PC, which isn't really difficult). This is something that irritates many, but to me isn't a huge deal as I don't tend to use playlists a lot. But what I do wish is for Sony to bring back SenseMe, the auto-playlist generator that I loved so much on the S630/S730. It was a brilliant piece of innovation. Another thing I would like Sony to support is last.fm integration.
There is also a TV-out function, but this requires the purchase of a separate cable. The output isn't in HD, so I honestly think this feature is a mere token inclusion and should not be a factor in getting this.
It isn't really that amazing how far Sony has opened up when it comes to their newest and (not so) greatest Walkman. I swear the next person who complains about Sony and SonicStage I would personally... well, I can't slap them through the internet but I would if I could! They have ditched SonicStage for years!
Transferring content is a doodle. The player is MTP compliant, meaning you can just plug it in and immediately start dragging and dropping content into their appropriate folder (up to eight level deep). No proprietary and bloated nonsense like SonicStage or iTunes to worry about. For those who prefer some form of music management software, the A840 supports a hold host of applications including Windows Media Player, Sony Media Manager, iTunes and my personal favourite, MediaMonkey. And you can force it into UMSC mode if you desire. Connecting Walkman DAPs to Windows and Linux machine has never been easier.
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 (not a problem with 64GB, but dear Sony release the darn thing already!). 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, and great as ever), VTP Surround setting (which I advice to ignore), DSEE (this is only useful for low bitrate files), Clear Stereo and Dynamic Normalizer.
Out of the box, the A840 is one of the best sounding DAP on the market. This is because of the bundled ANC headphones which surpasses many (if not all) usual bundled headphones. You will need to set aside at least £30-40 to gain any sort of improvements, and even then it would only be slightly.
Now, the most important bit: how it sounds with a high quality headphone (in this case the reference headphone I used here would be my old and trusty Sennheiser IE 8). With the X-series, there was a very very slight hiss compared to the S630/S730 series. With the A840 the hiss has gone. Yes gone. I have never been bothered by the hiss on the X-series, but it is nice to know that it isn't audible on the new A840.
Sound signature is similar to the X-series and it should, they share the same S-master technology.
Like the X-series, the sound signature isn't neutral (based on my limited knowledge on what actually defines neutral...). Again it is pleasantly warm, unlike how you would expect from a 'digital amp', and exactly like how you would expect a Sony to sound. The amp here isn't as powerful (or it may be a bureaucratic decision) as the one that powered the X-series or S730/S630. With the old X-series I rarely ever go above 12/30 (max 15 before it gets too loud), but with the A830 I would need go increase it to 20s to get to a comparable loudness. Not a problem with my IE 8, but this may be an issue with people with more demanding headphones.
Clarity wise there is nothing wrong with the A840. Everything is tight and clean and the bass is powerful (at the sufficient volume). Bass head will be pleased to find that the Clear Bass setting is ever present (3 notches). Two user customisable EQ slots are available, in addition to the presets. The EQ is unsurprisingly effective and scales well. I know some audiophiles may scoff at the use of EQ, but whatever the EQ here does not distort the sound at all. On the other hand I suggest steering clear of other audio enhancements like DSEE and Clear Stereo, especially if you have good quality rips. Sound quality is good, but not on par with the X-series.
Sony has set the bar very high with the X-series, so the A840 always had plenty to prove. Unfortunately whilst the A840 is very good, it just isn't quite as good as the X-series. The headphone-out quality is still brilliant but because the amp is comparatively weaker, you wouldn't want to use it with a more demanding headphone.
I've never had a problem with any Walkman when it comes to their respective battery life. From their classic Walkman to MiniDisc players, it just isn't an issue. With the A840 series, Sony claims a battery life of 30 hours for audio playback. This will be sufficient for most people. Based on my experiences with other Walkmans (and I had many) I've no reason to doubt the claim.
The NWZ-A840 is a pretty darn looking Walkman. It has style and it delivers where it should - the sound quality. But in typical Sony fashion, they had to remove the one other feature which would have made this a hit - the higher capacity models.
The A840-series was supposed to be a strong follow up to the immensely brilliant X-series, a potentially great product that could help Sony gain back market share. But by not releasing the 32GB and 64GB options here, Sony has given owners of 32GB X-series and 16GB S-series no legitimate reasons to upgrading. Great sound quality isn't enough. The X-series sounds just as good, is more powerful and comes with more features and finally - is available at a larger capacity.
It is a good player, trust me on this, but there are better alternatives out there by Sony. I honestly do not understand Sony. They are made up of some of the best engineers in the world (when it comes to consumer electronics at least) and come up with a great sounding product, but decide to cripple their products with arbitrary limitations like volume and limited storage.
The limited volume should not be a problem if you are using a IEM, and I can recommend the A845 if you are fine with 16GB and do not mind the fiddly buttons. Otherwise spring more for the X1060 32GB.
+ Fantastic sound quality
+ Fantastic OLED screen
+ Amazing build quality
+ Good ANC bundled headphones
+ Good battery life
+ Drag and drop
+ Quick navigation and UI
- No gapless for MP3/AAC/WMA files
- No compressed lossless playback (in NWZ versions)
- Some functionalities not brought over from previous A/S-series
- Accessories a bit hard to come by
- None replaceable battery
- No 32/64GB available