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Sony Walkman NWZ-A15 review – hands on with Sony’s latest portable Hi-Res Audio player

Sony simplifies Hi-Res audio with the NWZ-A15 Walkman, the smallest and lightest Hi-Res player to date

High resolution audio is arguably one of the most important changes to how we listen to music since the birth of MP3, but so far only bulky, expensive music players and high-end smartphones have been able to decode the FLAC and DSD files that are capable of such incredible clarity and detail. Sony aims to change that with the NWZ-A15, a new addition to the Walkman range that the company says is the smallest, lightest high-resolution audio player ever made.

Unlike the smartphone-styled Walkman NWZ-F886, Sony has made sure there’s no mistaking the A15 for a phone. With a design more than a little reminiscent of the iPod Nano, it is long and thin, with a screen near the top and physical buttons below. It’s made from aluminium, so feels tough and looks like a premium device, plus it comes in a range of colours that should appeal to both genders. It’s thin and light, and will easily slip in a pocket – either by itself or alongside a smartphone.

Despite the compact dimensions, the A15 still makes room for Sony’s proprietary S-Master HX digital amplifier for decoding Hi-res audio files, along with the same Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) technology upscaling technology Sony has added to the Xperia Z3 smartphone range. The company claims it can turn MP3s into near Hi-Res tracks with some clever software algorithms, although with a carefully selected library of Hi-res only songs it was impossible to test that claim on the show floor.

It almost seems a little backwards to have to press physical buttons rather than tap a screen, but the entirely custom user interface is easy to navigate using the diamond-shaped controls. Scrolling through a long list of albums could require a lot of tapping, but once you’ve settled on a playlist it’s easy enough to skip between tracks, pause playback or return to your library. Volume controls on the side of the unit will let you silence playback without pulling the Walkman out of your pocket too.

With 16GB of storage you certainly won’t be holding many Hi-res audio albums at once, especially if you’re a fan of classical music recorded as massive DSD files, but you can at least add extra storage with microSD cards – a real upgrade over last year’s simpler models. Sony says the internal battery should last for around 30 hours when playing Hi-Res tracks, or up to 50 hours on a single charge if sticking with lowly MP3s.

More importantly, how does it sound? In a word, excellent – as long as you have the right pair of headphones and some Hi-Res content. There’s no point pairing a high-end player like this with a pair of cheap earbuds, but with the pair of MDR-1A headphones Sony provided, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories sounded crisp, clean and incredibly detailed. There’s no danger of vocals crowding the soundstage with a lossless FLAC file, so you can still hear every bit of detail in the instruments behind Pharell’s vocal during Get Lucky. We can’t wait to hear how it upscales MP3s, as although Hi-res content is great, it’s still few and far between.

Based on what we’ve seen and heard, the NWZ-A15 could bring Hi-res audio to a new audience. With no need to buy a bulky player, and the option for adding extra storage, there would be no excuse for leaving your lossless music at home.

Sony expects the NWZ-A15 to go on sale from October onwards in the UK, but wasn’t yet ready to talk about prices with us. Hopefully we’ll learn more ahead of the launch, when we hope to bring you a full review.