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Sony NW-A306 review: The Walkman is back and sounds bigger than it looks

Our Rating :
£321.96 from
Price when reviewed : £349
inc VAT

Given the right stuff to work with, the Sony NW-A306 can sound bigger and more expensive than it is


  • Impressive sound (in the right circumstances)
  • Small and light
  • Can deal with truly hi-res audio


  • Dislikes lower-resolution content
  • Sluggish interface
  • Limited usable memory

The Sony Walkman is back, baby – and in many ways, it’s entirely fit for purpose. With the Sony NW-A306, the Japanese manufacturer has delivered a compact, light yet unarguably premium device with almost as much functionality as your favourite Android smartphone but sound quality that is (in the right circumstances) streets ahead.

If you’re prepared to pander to it just a little where the sizes of your digital audio files and the quality of your headphones are concerned, the Sony’s capable of sonic detail, clarity and well-controlled punch – it’s quite a distance from the sound of your average smartphone with some ordinary wireless headphones linked to it.

It’s no great shakes where lower-resolution content and/or inferior headphones are concerned, though. And for some reason, Sony has decided to give the NW-A306 the full-on Android 12 experience – which means a lot of internal memory taken up by stuff that’s duplicated from your smartphone’s functionality, and an operating system that takes its sweet time to respond to your requests.

Sony NW-A306: What do you get for the money?

The Sony NW-A306 costs £349 and in purely physical terms, that money doesn’t buy you an awful lot, which is actually a very good thing. The Sony NW-A306 is just 57 x 12 x 98mm (WDH) and weighs a mere 113g – so it’s small and light enough to slip into even a close-fitting pocket.

What there is of it looks and feels good, though. The casework is milled aluminium, tactile and grippy, and it’s nicely rounded at the edges to make it even more palm-friendly. The 3.6in touchscreen is bright and acceptably sharp (though quite reflective), and the physical controls along one edge (play/pause, skip forwards/backwards, volume up/down, power on/off and a “Hold” button that disables those physical controls) make operating the player easy even if it remains in your pocket.

As far as physical connections are concerned, along the bottom of the NW-A306 you’ll find a 3.5mm balanced headphone socket, a USB-C input and a microSD slot compatible with microSD, microSDHC and microSDXC cards. Sony states that microSDHC cards up to 2TB are supported, along with microSDHC and microSDSC cards with up to 32GB and 2GB storage, respectively. This additional storage option is particularly important when you consider that only 18GB of the NW-A306’s 32GB is available – the rest is taken up by the Android 12 operating system.

Wireless connectivity is handled by dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codec compatibility – the combination of Android 12 and Wi-Fi means the Google Play store is accessible, and from there, it’s simplicity itself to download your favourite music or video streaming services.

Sony’s not all that forthcoming with the details of the DAC that’s on board here, but what’s certain is that the player is compatible with numerous digital audio file types, including MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, MQA, Apple Lossless and DSD256. So no matter the DAC’s native resolution, the NW-A306 is an unambiguously high-resolution device – it doesn’t top out until 32bit/384kHz.

Once the digital audio information is aboard, the latest version of Sony’s “S-Master” digital amplification, the HX, takes care of business. It’s augmented by an updated version of Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSSE Ultimate) – this is the method Sony uses to upscale compressed audio files in real-time.

It even claims to be able to take CD-quality 16bit/44.1kHz content and bring it up to a genuinely high-resolution audio standard. You can fiddle around the edges of performance using the NW-A306’s integrated 10-band EQ adjustment, or make your digital audio sound like vinyl by using the player’s “vinyl processor”. Because nothing says modernity like adding some surface noise and low-end resonance to your digital audio experience, right?

Listen to the NW-A306 using wired headphones and playing small, compressed audio files and you should be able to eke as much as 36 hours out of the battery between charges. Upping your content to 24bit/96kHz cuts that figure to around 32, and if you go the whole hog with some DSD stuff you’ll get no more than 14. Using wireless headphones takes its toll on the battery too, of course – even with 128kbps stuff you’re looking at 20 hours or so.

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Sony NW-A306: What did we like about it?

If you’re even passingly familiar with the last few Android operating systems, nothing about the Sony NW-A306 will confuse you. It’s simple to set up (you can use backed-up data from an existing Android device if you like, which means the NW-A306 basically mimics your smartphone but without the telephony) – and it’s simple to operate, too.

Performance is the key, of course – and if you listen to this player using some half-decent headphones and some reasonably high-resolution digital audio files, its performance is very agreeable indeed. For a relatively modestly priced device, the NW-A306 has plenty going for it in sonic terms.

A DSD64 file of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City via a wired pair of Sennheiser IE600s sounds – in technical terms – the absolute business. The player’s frequency response runs from deep, textured and beautifully controlled bass to crisp, attacking and substantial treble – and tonality at every point is naturalistic, neutral and consequently very convincing. The overall characteristics of its sound combine delicacy with muscularity very pleasantly, and the Sony controls the low-end presence so well that there’s real momentum, as well as proper rhythmic expression, to the sound.

The Sony organises a soundstage well – the presentation is big and well-defined, with a proper sense of front/back and left/right to its layout. And even when the recording gets hectic and element-heavy, it’s attentive to the fine details and can contextualise even the most minor occurrences without alarms.

It’s the midrange, though, that’s the real star of the show. Stevie Wonder always puts his voice front and centre, high enough in the mix that an audio system really has no hiding place – and the NW-A306 does great work with it. Detail levels are sky-high, the secrets of his tone and technique are made apparent, and the overall impression is one of relentless communication.

The Sony is just as accomplished where the broad dynamics of the tune are concerned – the distance between quieter and louder is considerable. And it’s a similar story where the less obvious dynamic variations apparent in a single instrument are concerned – without ever getting uptight about it, the NW-A306 stays on top of proceedings with real authority.

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Sony NW-A306: what could be improved?

Obviously, you buy a dedicated digital audio player because you don’t quite think your smartphone is up to the task of playing music. But it’s possible to make the NW-A306 sound the same as a bog-standard smartphone, and that’s by using ordinary headphones to listen to compressed audio files.

With a 256kbps file of Billie Eilish’s When I Was Older being played on the Google Pixel Buds A-Series over a Bluetooth connection, a lot of what makes the Sony an enjoyable listen goes astray. Detail levels drop off, the complete authority with which the Sony controls low frequencies and establishes a soundstage goes missing, and the overall level of insight into the recording is diminished. It’s hardly a catastrophic change in performance, but really – if you’re going to listen this way, your smartphone is almost certainly good enough.

At least you can do something to mitigate these traits, though. What’s impossible to get around is the terribly leisurely response time of the player’s touchscreen. Here’s where the NW-A306 truly differs from your smartphone – because when you use your smartphone’s touchscreen, you get what you asked for pretty much instantly, right? That’s not the case here – the Sony has a good long think about your instructions, to the point you may be tempted to press the touchscreen again. Don’t, though – because eventually, the NW-A306 will act on both presses – which is even more frustrating than having to wait for it to act on the first one.

Sony NW-A306: Should you buy it?

There are very few digital audio players from brands this big available at such a small price – so if you want to maximise your mobile listening without breaking the bank (relatively speaking) the Sony NW-A306 has a lot to recommend it.

A lot is riding on the sort of audio content and the sort of headphones you choose to use, though – and also on how much patience you have when it comes to user interfaces.

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