The Sony Walkman NW-WS413 is a go anywhere all-action MP3 player that doubles up as a pair of waterproof headphones
Headphones subtype: In-ear waterproof, Plug type: None, Weight: 32g, Cable length: N/A
Very few runners would hit the treadmill without their favourite music player and pair of headphones, so it’s always been rather strange that swimming headphones never really took off in the same way. After all, swimmers doing laps in the pool need just as much motivation and entertainment as runners do, but the main problem swimming headphones face is, you guessed it, waterproofing. This in itself is quite a challenge for manufacturers, but there’s also the problem of having a waterproof audio source as well.
Enter Sony’s Walkman NW-WS413, which gets round these problems by combining its headphones and MP3 player into a single, waterproof device. There are two models available, either with 4GB (the NW-WS413 on test here, costing £80) or 8GB (NW-WS414, £90) of storage, and both are available in a choice of either black, blue, green or ivory finishes. However, with such a small difference in price between each model, there’s no reason not to opt for the larger model if it’s available.
As you’d expect from an all-in-one device, the NW-WS413 is rather large compared to a regular pair of Bluetooth headphones, but considering there’s a whole MP3 player hidden inside it, it’s really quite sleek given how much tech Sony’s managed to pack in. In practice, wearing them is a bit like having two Bluetooth hands-free headsets in each ear, but neither feels too heavy on your head and an adjustment band is included if you want to wear the flexible neckband more snuggly, which is ideal if you want to take them out running instead.
There’s not much more you can ask for when it comes to build quality. The headphones are waterproof to a depth of 2m for up to 30 minutes (at shallower depths it can last much longer) and they can also withstand saltwater, dust and sand, making them the perfect companion for your next beach holiday. Temperature-wise, they can cope with -5 to 45-degree temperatures.
Two different sets of silicone earbuds are included – four standard ones and four specifically designed for swimming thanks to their additional thin membrane. This is designed to help keep the water out, and in use, the NW-WS413 proved as adept for running as it was for swimming. The adjustment band helps stop them bouncing around while hitting the pavements, and I never had any problems with them staying on while swimming either. I’m a far from proficient swimmer, but even my wayward flailing didn’t cause them to fall out, which is quite an achievement. Similarly, put through their paces during explosive Olympic weightlifting session, and they still didn’t budge.
There’s a multitude of buttons on the NW-WS413, and it can take some time to memorise what each of them do, especially as some functions are only accessible by holding or double-pressing. For instance, you’re able to toggle between Folder, Playlist and Album play modes by holding the Mode button, whereas short presses on Mode toggle Repeat and Shuffle functions.
Once you get your head around the different buttons, though, controlling music playback direct from the headphones without a screen becomes a lot more intuitive, especially as you get a verbal readout of modes and statuses in your ears.
The NW-WS413 also comes with a particularly useful function called ambient sound mode. This uses the NW-WS413’s external microphones to capture ambient sound that can then be played through the headphones artificially. This means you don’t need to be sealed off completely from your environment, which is useful for keeping an ear out for traffic while road-running, listening to an instructor during fitness classes, or simply for having a conversation if you don’t want to remove your headphones.
Even better, there are three microphone sensitivity levels available, so you can adjust how much ambient sound is picked up. I found the first mode was more than adequate for most activities, but the strongest mode was almost too sensitive, as it felt like the ambient sound was magnified beyond my normal hearing level.
Otherwise, though, the NW-WS413’s sound quality was very respectable. There’s a good amount of bass presence with the conventional earbuds thanks to the isolating fit, and mids and trebles are well represented, too. You do lose some bass when wearing the swimming earbuds, however, and the extra membrane tends to skew the sound towards being quite bright, which helps when hearing your music clearly underwater, but is less than ideal when you’re back on land. At least they have enough volume to be heard over splashing, though, and they sounded particularly great when I was playing high-energy electronic tracks.
Thankfully, transferring your music to the Walkman can be done simply by dragging and dropping your files in Windows Explorer, meaning you don’t have to mess around dedicated Sony software. As there’s no screen, you don’t even have to worry about tagging your music correctly, as you can just keep your different albums in separate folders. File support is good, too, as it can play MP3, WMA, AAC-LC and L-PCM music files.
Battery life is rated at 12 hours, which is more than enough to get you through a week of workouts. You’ll need to use the NW-WS413’s cradle to charge and sync it to your PC or laptop, but its Micro USB port can provide up to an hour of playback from just three minutes of charge, meaning you can quickly top it up before heading out. A full charge takes 90 minutes.
The NW-WS413 is an incredibly versatile pair of headphones regardless of whether you’re a runner, swimmer, or even someone who just wants to be able to listen to music without needing their smartphone or audio device. The only thing that would make them even better is Bluetooth support, as it would have been great if they could double up as a pair of regular headphones as well much like Sony’s Smart B-Trainer headphones, particularly when more people now tend to stream their music rather than download it. It would also have been beneficial for Sony to include a carry case, as this would have made it easier to switch out its various earbuds on the move.
However, these are small complaints overall, and it certainly doesn’t stop the NW-WS413 from being a fantastic pair of headphones that can be used for a variety of different activities. The NW-WS413 ticks all the right boxes when it comes to performance and comfort, and at £80 you really won’t find anything better. It wins a Best Buy award.
|Silicone tips, swimming silicone tips, charging cradle
|Supported audio formats
|AAC, LPCM, MP3, WMA
|One year RTB