Sony’s new Walkman has the modern touch, but is it powerful enough? - Hindustan Times

Sony’s new Walkman has the modern touch, but is it powerful enough?

Jun 07, 2023 10:38 AM IST

The Sony Walkman NW-A306 demands you part with a significant amount of money, also because it needs a premium headphone.

The Sony Walkman is still very much around. Not in the same way as you probably used many years ago. It is neither a cassette player, nor does it need CDs. The Walkman NW-A306, as it goes, is the latest addition to a heritage that is now almost 45 years old. But does a Walkman still hold the same value, the charm or any nostalgic value for a generation that has everything (including millions of music tracks) available in a jiffy on their smartphones? After all, the Sony Walkman in this era is relying heavily on a smartphone-esque foundation. Without itself being a phone. It’s complex.

The Sony Walkman NW-A306. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)
The Sony Walkman NW-A306. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

Let us get the matters of the price tag out of the way, first and foremost. The Walkman NW-A306 has a sticker price of 29,990 which will test your resolve for nostalgia. More so, if you already have a flagship or flagship killer smartphone, which will likely have HighRes music playback well in place. But then again, this piece of tech is designed to go a step further with audio processing hardware, which aficionados would appreciate. Others, lesser still.

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Sticking to the components point for a moment, the Sony Walkman NW-A306 gets what is Sony’s S-Master HX digital amplifier, which has been specifically designed for this Walkman. Hence, the wide high-resolution music support — Hi-Res Audio, Hi-Res Audio for wireless with the LDAC codec support as well as support for Direct Stream Digital format. The footprint has been kept compact, which you’d notice soon enough with the 3.6-inch display size. Not the best for an immersive experience, but in this case, portability and convenience (most likely as a second device in your trouser pocket or handbag) are more of a concern.

Sony’s paid attention to the build and the smallest of components at play, to limit any sort of audio quality loss that may happen. The frame is made of milled aluminium to reduce any sort of reverb or vibrations that a plastic shell may have resulted in. Materials used on the capacitor and resistor, soldering with gold, the circuit board layout and even the 3.5mm headphone jack are all an upgrade over the hardware you get in traditional smartphones, for music playback.

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Remember we had mentioned foundations similar to a smartphone? We circle back to that important detail. The Walkman NW-A306 runs Android, as you’d see on your phone. It is an iteration of Android 12 to be precise. It is on devices such as this, one realises the need for a completely stripped-down version of Android. Gmail, Google Meet and Drive are just some preloaded apps, that seem out of place on a device primed for music playback. YouTube Music is a pleasant exception. All you really need is the Play Store, to download music streaming apps. And hopefully, an ability to customise the home screen more, with music widgets as the focus.

That has to be the Walkman NW-A306’s biggest strength — you get all music streaming apps you may already be using on other devices. Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, the lot. You can, of course, still connect the Walkman to your PC and transfer music, much like the good old days. Internal storage is 32GB, of which a significant chunk is used by the operating system and preloaded apps. But there’s always the memory card slot.

You might want to spend some time with Sony’s preloaded sound tuning app — the easy way to identify it is the yellow icon replicates an audio equaliser. There are a lot of options in there, including the EQ settings for music, audio quality and upscaling options (the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, or DSEE is an example) and even the option to give the sound a vinyl-esque layer. Irrespective of which streaming app you use, these are blanket settings applicable to all.

To appreciate the step-up in audio quality, compared with most smartphones as well as PCs or tablets, you should be using high-quality headphones, earphones or wireless earbuds. Anything less, and you’ll do injustice to the Walkman NW-A306. I had the fortune of access to the Sennheiser HD660S2 headphones (these cost around 54,990), and that’s the sort of combination you should be aspiring for. Paired with Apple Music lossless audio streaming, and the experience transcends a few steps forward, at least from what you’re used to in most phones.

That said, quite a few tracks (or even music genres) will not illustrate the complete picture — you need to listen to some really vibrant music with finer details on the soundstage, to appreciate the upgrade. After that, return to your older music playback source, and it’ll give you a fair comparison of how advanced the Walkman is.

Sony says the Walkman can last up to 26 hours if you use a music streaming app. In our tests, with the Walkman audio level at 50%, the battery discharged at a rate of 10% every 60 minutes while streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. That’s significantly lesser, and at this rate, would last perhaps a bit more than 10 hours before it needs to be charged again (That’s USB-C, thankfully). This is, with the latest updates installed. The back panel and sides also feel tepid when playing lossless audio — not warm, but definitely warmer than phones do now, when playing music.

Perhaps the Sony Walkman NW-A306 is marking its arrival at a good time. There is a craving to return to the basics with some of our tech interactions. The fact that digital cameras are still around (be it a mirrorless camera or a DSLR), testifies to it. Perhaps there is the need to reconnect with our music too, rather it just be a soundtrack to endless scrolling on Instagram and Twitter. A Walkman evokes that sort of connect. We don’t have the Apple iPod returning anytime soon. Perhaps, we have something better. The Walkman. Still evoking nostalgia, at least for some of us, while adopting the modern efficiencies of tech.

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    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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