A great (little) music player...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 14 June 2019
Finally got myself one of these, after lusting after it for some time but not being able to justify the outlay. I used to own a Cowon D2-DAB and that too was a great little device, but the need to use a stylus to operate the touchscreen, and the limitation on memory kind of forced me to use my smartphone(s) instead as it was just easier.
I recently sold on the D2, so was looking for a replacement, since while my smartphone with the DSub (Android) app gave me remote access to my *entire* music collection remotely (via the Subsonic Music Server I run on my NAS), the phone is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Battery life degredation being the main concern since i'm not on contract, and the chance of being able to afford a £500+ upgrade once the thing dies is unlikely in the short-term future. Therefore a dedicated music player with good battery life, that's not going to premeturely "age" my phone (Xperia XZ1 Compact) was the order of the day.
Ironically, the NW-A45 shares many similar design elements to the XZ1-Compact (one of the initial reasons I was drawn to it in the first place). It's a neat, small device, about 1/2 the size of the smartphone, and fits neatly in the pocket. I purchased the base model (without headphones) with 16GB internal memory and purchased a 128GB memory card to enable me to put the smartphone's existing 256GB card in the NW-A45.
The UI on the unit could be simpler, but once you get the hang of it, it's certainly not obstructive. My biggest gripe with it is that there are a lot of "sub-category" menus that could of been consolidated down, to make configuration a bit easier, and there's also a few minor "engrish" translation issues in a few places, but nothing too serious.
With regards embedded (or seperate) album art, it going to need to be under about 800k per image, and in 'baseline-JPEG' format. The player won't load 'progressive' format JPG's, and also seems to baulk on files much over 800k in size. YMMV on this issue. Likewise, Sony's 'Music Center' app for this device suffers from the same issue(s), but will (as far as I can tell) correct any imported artwork if nessecary.
The fact it plays DSD files as well as all the popular music formats like MP3, AAC/M4A, FLAC, and even WMA and WAV files is really good. Shame it doesn't support OGG format, but again, this is rare in the wild too, so not a massive issue, unless of course your music library is in those formats.
It incorporates a traditional FM radio, which is a nice addition, but it would of been better served / nicer to have seen a DAB radio included instead. Where I live, I can get a total of 9 (nine) FM radio stations, whereas DAB radio offers at least double this number, and possibly more. My Cowon D2 which was at least 12 years old when I sold it had DAB functionality built in, so IMHO, Sony missed a trick here.
Another minor issue is the charging port / data connector. It looks somewhat like a very skinny HDMI port, but is referred to as a "WM-Port" by Sony (Walkman Port). This is no doubt an effort to tie you in to Sony approved after-market accessories / add-ons / docks and the like. I intensely dislike efforts like this as it limits your options. For example, have a phone charger you carry with you or a data cable for similar use? Your not going to be using it with this device, without an adapter. Said adapter is available only from Japan, and costs approx £68 for a small piece of plastic & metal to convert the proprietry "WM-Port" to USB Micro-A or USB-C for example. Over-complication for sure.
Finally, the port itself is unprotected from dust / water ingress. In Japan, you can get dust covers for this port, but anywhere else in the world and your S.O.L. Since the MicroSD card slot has a protective door, would it of increased production costs so much, to include a similar feature for the charging dock? I somehow doubt it. Another opportunity missed here.
On the whole, aside from these minor issues, it's a great little unit. Probably not up to the standards of Sony's £500 offering, but that's a lot of money for a PMP device anyway, and probably more geared towards the niche audiophile type anyhow. This unit works well, sounds equally as good as, if not better than the smartphone, and it's battery life will last a lot longer. Not sure it will last up to the "45 hours" quoted by Sony, and that is based on 128Kbps files anyway, and so, again, YMMV.
Finally, to allay some fears as posted in other reviews here;
It has been quoted here that the SD card is "difficult to remove", and requires "long fingernails or tweezers" to get it out. I'd like to debunk this right now. The SD card slot works in *exactly* the same fashion as on Sony smartphones. i.e: you push the card in (upside-down) with your fingernail more than required until it clicks into place. The slot being spring-loaded will then partially eject the card when you repeat the proceedure to remove it. All you then need to do is hook your fingernail inboard of the lip of the SD card at the edge and hook it out. Easy, simple, my mother could do it blindfolded and she's no tech-wizard.
Secondly, the quality of the responsiveness of the touch-screen has also been critisized in some reviews. This is a £150 PMP device, not a £500-600+ smartphone. It's not *quite* as responsive as my XZ1-Compact, but it is better than my £80 Samsung J1-Mini. If you avoid stabbing and jabbing at the touchscreen it will work fine. It may be more awkward for those with bigger fingers, but for those with average-size hands, who also treat the device with some respect during operation, it will be responsive enough. Your expectations need to be tempered somewhat by the price of the device, and it's intended use.
So in summary, while not *perfect* in every respect. If your looking for a (relatively) simple to use, no nonsense Music player, you could do far worse than the NW-A45. It also has NFC / Bluetooth, and works well with the SBH-54 bluetooth headset (also by Sony). It's even possible to have said headset connected to this and your phone at the same time, which is nice. Alas the NW-A45 *won't* pair with the XZ1-Compact via bluetooth, which is a shame, but there are ways around that by use of data transfer cables and the like.
All-in-all 4 out of 5 stars, and glad I've now taken the pressure off my smartphones for music duties. Reccomended.
4 people found this helpful