Of course all these features aren't much use if the player fades in the final few metres because sound quality isn't up to scratch. But fortunately, the A3 does well here too. It's helped by a decent output power of 32mW per channel, which means that it'll power larger headphones such as my reference Grado SR325i's without breaking sweat, but it's also pretty good in terms of out-and-out quality.
This is one smooth-sounding player that manages to sound clear and detailed at the same time as being warm and very pleasing on the ear. It can't quite match the Creative's Zen Vision W for sheer dynamics and punch, and it's not quite as exciting to listen to as the Trekstor Vibez, but feed most types of music through it and it's at least as good as Apple's iPods, while the lossless support means it edges in front of the Archos 605 WiFi.
I listened to a series of Flac-encoded tracks, starting with Pat Metheney's atmospheric Map Of The World, and this backed up my initial feelings about the A3. The guitars don't sound quite as clear as they do on the Vibez or quite as three-dimensional, and this was more obvious when moving the listening test on to a bit of big band sound courtesy of Georgie Fame. With Simple Kid's joyous pop anthem Staring At The Sun it was a similar story: it's very accomplished, but not quite the ultimate in audio engagement or all out fun.
In fact, I was wondering if this player had a single major weakness - then I found out about its battery life. While seven hours continuous video playback is impressive for a player with a screen this large, just nine hours for music playback is poor.
The A3 is such a multi-talented media player that it's hard to knock it too much for the battery life. If its sheer power and flexibility you're after, the A3 has no peer, but taken with the other shortcomings - its lack of style, old-fashioned physical interface and the high price of £280 - it's enough to hold it back from bursting through the finishing tape in first place. The gold medal still remains the property of the Archos 605 WiFi which is considerably cheaper and has better all-round battery life.