Sony has unveiled a new NW-A306 portable music player as part of its Walkman range, with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
At first glance, the NW-A306 looks like a stripped-down version of the advanced NW-WM1ZM2 (£3,299) and NW-WM1AM2 (£1,299) players.
It has a rectangular machined aluminum design with rounded sides, large physical button controls and a 3.6-inch touchscreen. The only major difference is that it has lost the large semi-circular protrusions on the top of the older model.
However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that it has one key selling point that sets it apart from previous Sony portables: the price.
The NW-A306 will be available for pre-order from the Sony Store for a modest £350 / $350 / €400 at an undetermined date later this month.
The price is a bold move from Sony and means the new player radically undercuts our current award-winning portable player, the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII, by £300/$300.
Currently on sale for £699/$749 on Amazon, the SR25 MKII tops our guide to the best portable music players, with our reviewers citing its excellent value for money as a major reason for its recommendation.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a hi-res player from such a big brand cost so little and we’ll be very curious to see how the NW-A306 stacks up against its more expensive rivals when we get it in for testing .
The device runs on Google’s Android 12 operating system and is packed with features normally only seen on much more expensive portable devices.
To begin with, the circuit uses a reflow solder with gold. Combined with Sony’s S-Master HX digital amplifier and native DSD (Direct Stream Digital codec) support, Sony claims this will provide the NW-A306 with significantly better audio, with less distortion and noise, than most flagship smartphones.
For serious listeners, there’s also a 3.5mm input for wired headphones – check out our best wired headphones guide for our curated picks of the best performing headphones we’ve tested.
There’s also support for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, plus improved DSEE Ultimate upscaling technology for those who want to cut the cord. Sony claims it has improved its algorithms to allow the player to offer more acoustic subtleties and dynamic range when playing CD-quality 16-bit/44kHz tracks, even with lossless codecs.
The latest upgrade relates to battery life, with the NW-A306 claiming to provide up to 36 hours of 44.1 kHz FLAC playback and up to 32 hours of 96 kHz FLAC high-resolution audio playback, which should be more than enough to helping you through a long-haul flight. Charging is via the USB-C connection and there’s a handy cable in the box.
Does it all sound great? We think so, but there’s a catch. Specifically, that according to Sony’s spec sheet, the NW-A306 will only have 32GB of storage. To make matters worse, only 18GB of this is listed as “usable”.
Considering how quickly we filled up on the SR25 MKII, which has 64GB of built-in storage, this could be a problem for people who like to download large hi-res music libraries locally. Though given the price of the player, it’s surprising that this is the only obvious shortcoming we’ve noticed so far.
We’ll be sure to keep you posted on how the NW-A306 performs in actual use when we send it to our test labs for review, so check back with What Hi-Fi?.
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