Price (RRP): $329
Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
Significantly more expensive than some of the other units in this roundup, Sony’s tiny NWS705FB offers a bunch of extra functionality to justify the price. Along with supporting three major compressed formats – MP3, ATRAC3 and AAC – it also plays WMA files and linear PCM.
And then there’s the software package. It has the same functionality as iTunes, including connectivity to an online store called, well, Connect.
This is where the NWS705 really shines. There are a number of different colours available (in fact the last letter of the product code determines the colour – we like the NWS705V, it’s violet) but the guts remain the same.
As well as a flash-based 2GB compressed audio player, the device includes an FM tuner and direct-encoding functionality. This makes it handy has a note-taker, although you can’t record FM transmissions.
More significantly, the player has noise-cancellation. This is normally done in the headphones, resulting in bulky gear that needs its own power supply. By running the noise-cancellation in the player, you can still use the extremely lightweight and very high quality earphones that are included, or any headphones at all.
There’s also some signal processing that is intended to more completely separate the two stereo channels, and there’s a bass enhancement feature with a bit more oomph than the regular EQ settings you get from these players.
Like all of Sony’s latest Walkmans (Walkmen? Walkpeople? Walkcrowd?), the NWS705 uses SonicStage to manage your various files. SonicStage also offers access to Sony’s answer to iTunes – Connect.
SonicStage is an effective system, giving you a clear and easy to navigate browser that helps you keep all your music organised. Because the player supports so many formats, it needs good software. Sony’s own format ATRAC3 is best for battery life, but there’s also AAC and MP3 support.
While the bugs are slowly being stomped out with patches, MP3 is still relatively “new” to Sony (the company only started supporting it in 2005) and as a result SonicStage occasionally hiccoughs on some PodCasts that use extremely high compression rates, such as 48kbps.
Support for so many useful formats overrides this mild irritation though. It really is great being able to play so many files, even if DRM-wrapped MP3 and WMA files don’t work.
Pleasingly, the player-based noise cancellation really does work. It’s not as effective as an expensive set of dedicated noise-cancellation headphones, but being able to use your own, lightweight earphones makes up for this easily.
The bass enhancement system is also very effective, even if the Clear Stereo functionality seems to have limited application.
Battery life is a real plus-point for this unit. Apple boats that the iPod Nano gives you a whole day of continuous playback, but the NWS705 gives you two. If you exclusively use the power-friendly ATRAC3 format, you can expect 50 hours from a charge easily. Mix it up with AAC and MP3 and battery life will drop, but it’s still more than enough for any long-haul flight or for keeping the beats going as you watch the sunrise.
What’s more, the Quick Charge functionality gives you three hours of playback on a dead battery with just three minutes of charge.
While it is a lot more expensive than many other 2GB players, the NWS705’s extra features make it a very desirable unit. Noise cancellation in particular is a great feature, and the battery life is second to none. Sony Connect doesn’t have as many tracks available as iTune Music Store, but the SonicStage interface is as useful and simple as iTunes itself.
The real icing on the cake is the included earphones – Ex Monitor headphones which cost $149 by themselves. That easily justifies the extra cost.