Sony 64GB Hi-Res Walkman Portable Music Player NWZ-A17SLV
$300 [$298 at Amazon]
Sony MDR 1R Premium Headphones

by | May 15, 2015 | Component Reviews

A17 Specs:

Supports hi-res audio files of AIFF, WAV, ALAC, FLAC & other formats
up to 192K/24-bit
Built-in AAC and aptX codec support
Charges via your computer USB (cable supplied); USB 2.0 compliant
Up to 30 hours hi-res playback; 50 hours with MP3s, lithium ion battery weighs 20gr separately
Streaming with Bluetooth spec 2.1 (wirelessly, about 30 ft. max.) or NFC (wired)
Compact design with microCD slot for up to 192GB memory on card
S-Master HX digital amplification, designed for hi-res audio playback
DSEE HX restores hi-frequency signals stripped by MP3 files and expands signal to slightly improve sound quality
Also handles video (screen flips 45 degrees), photos and podcasts
Screen is 320 x 240 pixels and 2.2 inches in size, using TFT display with white-LED backlight
Supports AVCHD, MPEG4 and WMV9 video formats; max. image size is 4096 pixels square
Digital audio input: 22-pin WM-Port (cable supplied)
Stereo mini-jack for headphones has 10mW output
Weight: 2.4 oz.

MDR1RheadphonesHeadphone Specs:

40mm liquid crystal polymer film diaphragms with 4 Hz – 80 K range
Improved bass and transient response due to Beat Response Control
Comfortable ear pads, enfolding structure for comfort and improved acoustic seal
Silicon rings for smooth but silent earcup movement
Inward axis structure for optimum fit; silent joints
Comes with carrying pouch and operating instructions



The A17

Although listening to music on smart phones has now become the norm, there have been a number of hi-res improvements to the old iPod-type mobile music units. Neil Young’s Pono digital player ($400) is now out and doing well, and there are super-high-end mobile players running as much as $2500. This one can handle the basics and saves you a lot of money. The Internet is full of the sales of hi-res downloads, at double or triple the price of CD quality.

Astell&Kern (who offer that $2500 model) have recently launched an entry-level model to get in on the lower-priced units, but it is still $200 more than this Sony, which for me is plenty good enough for all mobile use. It comes with 64GB of memory for your audio files, and that was plenty to hold all three of the extensive AIFF playlists I had in my iMac with lots of room left over. And it also supports video and still photos, which few of the other players do. It is extremely compact, fitting easily into any pocket without a bulge, and provides studio-quality sonics wherever you may go.

The A17 makes it possible for those of limited finances not to be stuck between the poor quality of MP3 files on iPods and iPhone vs. hi-res sounds on gear such as that made by Astell&Kern. Now we have some options, and this a very good one. Some of its reviews leave a lot out. I’ve tried to cover what might be important to those of us, like myself, who do not own any mobile devices except an ordinary old-fashioned cell phone (or perhaps an old analog Walkman).

The original cassette Sony Walkman was quite a revolution in listening to music. It was surprisingly heavy and bulky by today’s standards, but something really special that you could take anywhere. This new digital Walkman has a flash-memory unit built-in, plus an excellent FM receiver, and also plays back photos and videos. It runs much longer on one battery charge (via a USB cable from your computer, about four hours for a total charge) than the original Walkman did. And you won’t be going thru batteries like almost everything else nowadays. There’s a Help Guide for the A17 online, but it’s frustrating to use.

The screen options that come up may at first be disconcerting, especially if you’re not used to these little mobile gadgets. There are a dozen of them:

Sense-me Channels – no idea what this is

FM – This is a great FM radio, better than the small Sangean of about the same size which I have. Had almost no multipath when moving around with local stations. It has up to 30 station presets, and you can use all the different audio modes with it if you want to.

Playlists – The easiest way to access the playlists you copied over from your computer.
Photos – Any you download to the A17
Music – All the music on your A17, including artist, genre, release year etc.Videos – Any you have downloaded to the A17; it comes with one sample (and very beautiful) hi-res video
Bookmark – didn’t use
Podcasts – which you have downloaded to the A17
Bluetooth – if you use this once fidelity-challenged technology for headphones or speakers (but later versions are much better)
Settings – Very important; the Common Settings includes the clock; make sure all of these settings are exactly what you want
CD Card Settings – self-explanatory
Go to song playback screen – haven’t used

There are four touch buttons under the screen: Home, Back, Option and Power Off. You will be using the Back and Option a lot. You have to hold them down for awhile until the option is displayed on the screen, including Power Off. Under them is a joystick-type control with a center button for Select or Pause. The Hold and Volume controls are on the right side.

Up in the right-hand corner of the small but useful screen is an indicator for the battery charge and at the top is the time. The time elapsed and the total time of each selection is also displayed in the middle. If you have the cover art for the music downloaded (and have selected that in the settings) it will appear. I downloaded all three of my playlists, which are entirely AIFF audio files from CDs, and all three appear under Playlists. You should use Content Transfer (free to download) for this task. You can also import it directly from CD using Windows Media Player. At first the A17 jumped around crazily, going from the classical list to the jazz list and sometimes even changing in the middle of a selection. (Once I was listening to a Bernstein symphony and it suddenly switched to Brigitte Bardot singing “Neu au Soleil!”) The Sony rep had me reset the Walkman to factory default settings and it seems to be more sensible now. When disconnected from everything you go to:

SETTINGS>COMMON SETTINGS>RESET/FORMAT>RESET ALL SETTINGS and then use a paper clip to press in a moment the tiny RESET button on the back of the A17.

There are also several Music Settings to choose: Play Mode should be Normal, Playback Range should be All Range; the DSEE HX is the software that supposedly improves MD3 quality, so if you don’t have any MP3s, have this Off. Hi-Res Audio Effects is best left off too. SOUND EFFECTS downsamples hi-res files so that you can use the settings: Equalizer, VPT (Surround Sound), Dyamanic Normalizer and ClearAudio+. There is an online comment which misunderstands (understandably) that the hi-res files are always automatically converted to standard CD quality. That’s wrong. That is only if you select this option.  I struggled to find out exactly what ClearAudio+ really is (and never found out), but it is something evidently in the EQ that is supposed to make music sound enhanced. The Sony page has only two sentences on the subject and really says nothing. I frankly can’t hear a difference so I leave this off as well. Forget about equalizing, trying to get a fake surround effect or definitely the Dynamic Normalizer. And be sure to leave the Speed Control Off.

Now to the playback of hi-res files. In order to do a comparison I downloaded the 96K/24 files of the new piano concerto album, Britten and Barber Piano Concertos with Elizabeth Joy Roe and the London Symphony conducted by Emil Tabakov (Decca). I zeroed in on the Waltz movement of the Britten. I copied to the A17 both the hi-res and the standard Decca CD, as two separate selections on my playlist. I compared them, using both the excellent Sony headphones supplied with the A17, and my AKG K1000 headphones with their dedicated K1000 amp, fed from my Marantz preamp.

Frankly, I could tell very little difference. After the introduction, when the piano comes in with the orchestra behind it, there was a very slight additional clarity to the sonics, but it was unheard in the noisy surroundings in which the A17 would usually be used. This was only apparent with careful listening on my AKG phones in the quiet of my living room. The A17 worked fine playing back hi-res files thru my Marantz preamp, but so would an SD card plugged into its USB port.

This brings up a point I have not seen in any of the reviews of various mobile sonic devices. That is that mobile devices and headphones are normally used in extremely noisy environments where the additional sonic advantages of hi-res files are not heard at all. If you’re listening on the so-called tiny speakers of any mobile device, this is of course even more true. It also begins to question the efforts headphone fanatics make with their dedicated DACs and headphone amps. Why bother, if the background noise makes it impossible to hear six times the resolution of CD quality?

For all those of us who purchased an analog Walkman back in the ‘80s so we could listen to our cassettes on the go, here’s your reason to purchase a digital Walkman. And there’s no more carrying and turning over of cassettes, or having the sound affected by body movements.

The MDR 1R Premium Headphones 

There is another similar Sony headphone designed for full integration with iPods, iPhones or iPads (at slightly more cost), which has an in-line remote on it giving volume and track controls plus a built-in mic so that you can take calls thru it. This one lacks that feature.

This is a terrific stereo headphone. I found it was almost identical sonically to my cheaper Grado RS-80s, but it had a much better acoustic seal which minimized outside noises. I’ve been enjoying them in the weight room at my community center, where they refuse to turn off the several speakers blaring an online music service, even though half of the people there have on headphones or earbuds. The headphones are very comfortable, and have a strong bass response which doesn’t need any sort of boosting, as do many headphones. They fit snuggly but comfortably and although I haven’t tried out many recent quality headphones, I think these are a perfect match for the A17, although its built-in headphone amp seems able to get decent sound out of almost any headphones plugged into it. Only my special and expensive AKG K1000 headphones, with their dedicated amp, surpass it on fidelity, and then only very slightly.

—John Sunier

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