“New Walkman” from Sony, the NW-A306, is more affordable
The NW-A306, a new audio portable player (also known as a DAP), was announced this week by Sony. Think of it as a fancy iPod replacement or a modern Walkman, but don’t be distracted by Sony’s claim that it supports high-resolution audio, which is a lie, just like Bluetooth. The fun factor of a portable player is determined by its build quality, audio circuitry, and software user interface.
The right-hand side of the aluminum shell of the NW-A306 houses clickable playback control buttons and a 3.6-inch touchscreen. On the screen, what kind of glass is utilized? Sony hasn’t said. It is, however, described as a “TFT color display with white LED-backlight” on the spec sheet.
The NW-A306’s Bluetooth playback engine is equipped with an AI-assisted version of Sony’s proprietary DSEE software, which aims to restore lossy compressed audio files like MP3 to their former lossless glory: However, a reality check reveals that whatever DSEE returns to the sound is merely a guess as to what was originally stripped out; and that even Sony’s LDAC, Bluetooth’s highest bitrate compression, is lossy. According to my previous encounters with DSEE in other Sony Bluetooth audio products, its audible lift is minimal (if at all).
The signal path and amplifier stage of the NW-A306 will have a significant impact on the listening experience with wired headphones. Like (every?) We note that Sony portable players of the past and present do not have a pre-installed DAC chip, as many competitors do. Instead, the S-Master HX headphone amplifier is directly driven by the digital audio signal produced by the source file or stream. The nature of its power supply—which is still unknown—will largely determine the sound quality of this digital amplifier. Longer battery life is one major advantage of using digital amplification in a portable player. The NW-A306 from Sony has a battery life of up to 36 hours: that is twice as long as the best of the competition.
Since Sony no longer uses its own proprietary connectors, the bottom edge has a USB-C charging port and a flip-doored microSD card slot next to it. For those who want their Sony portable to hold more than 18 gigabytes of music at once, the latter will become an indispensable partner. The NW-A306’s Android 12 operating system appears to consume more than half of the internal memory chip’s nominal 32Gb capacity.
Additionally, that operating system is where the NW-A306 really comes into its own. I had to look beyond the press release to find a screenshot that shows the Google Play Store is present. This, in conjunction with the unit’s IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi module, allows the Sony portable to connect to the world of native music streaming apps and the offline storage capabilities of those apps.
Sony only needs to be asked to do the following: How long will software security updates for the NW-A306 be available over the air? The policy that the Japanese giant has in place for its Android-based smartphones is only for two years. One of the reasons I didn’t buy Sony’s flagship portable player, the NW-WM1ZM2 (€3372), last year, which runs Android 11, is because the future is so uncertain.
When it goes on sale in Europe later this month, the NW-A306 will cost €399, which is one tenth of the price of its larger sibling.