It all works. Even with a pair of mid-range Denon AC551 earphones plugged in there's a noticeable distinction between the X Series and the iPod touch. The sound is warmer, there's more detail at the top and in the mid-range, and the bass is crisper and more authoritative. Driving a pair of Grado SR125s the X1060 is nothing short of stunning. The soundstage and imaging is more impressive than I think I've heard from any unamplified PMP, and music is really punchy, rich and detailed. There you go thinking that Justice's DVNO rocks on an iPod touch, when the Sony strolls around and kicks sand in the Apple player's face, creating a noise so vibrant and exuberant that it takes all my self control not to bounce up and down at my desk. The piano in Wading Through, from Terence Blanchard's Hurricane Katrina requiem, A Tale of God's Will, sounds fantastically natural and lifelike, but as the percussion gets louder and the double bass, strings and wind instruments come forward, there's no sense that the X1060 is struggling to maintain mid-range clarity or resolve high-end detail. The warm acoustic and electric guitars, drums and piano in Ray LaMontagne's Let it be Me, from Gossip in the Grain, positively sparkle, but it's the vocal that amazes. Again, it has a certain degree of presence and body from the iPod touch, but the X1060 is simply streets ahead when it comes to tone and definition. Basically, to hear the X1060 is to love it.
Here's something else to love. Battery life is rated at 33 hours for music and 9 hours for video. For audio that puts it slightly behind the iPod touch, but to counter that you get an extra three hours of video - useful on a long-distance train or long-haul flight.
Is all that enough for a recommendation? It depends. If you just want a great sounding PMP, then the 16GB S639F is £60 to £70 less expensive than the 32GB X1060's stablemate, the 16GB X1050, and while I don't have both for a direct comparison, I'd say it's not a huge step backwards in terms of audio quality. The 16GB and 32GB iPod touches, meanwhile, are both more expensive than their X-Series equivalents, but you get the benefits of a much better browser, a more glamorous user interface and - and let's not underestimate the importance of this - access to all the games and apps on the app store. Meanwhile, Samsung's YP-P3 undercuts the Walkman on price, with a comparable screen, comparable video quality and marginally inferior but still very fine sound. Sure, it doesn't have Wi-Fi, but when the Sony browser is so poor, how much does that matter to you anyway? What's more, while the X1060 supports MP3, WMA and AAC, Sony still hasn't embraced FLAC or OGG, so many audiophiles might still opt for a Cowon D2+ or S9 PMP instead.
In a way, the iPod touch comparisons haven't done Sony any favours. As a touch beater, the X1060 is a damp squib, let down by the Web browser and the lack of additional apps. Where the touch feels more and more like a general purpose handheld computer, the Sony feels like a jumped-up PMP. However, when you actually get down to it, the X1060 is a bloody great jumped up PMP, and now prices are stabilising, reasonable value. Were I spending £180 to £230 on a new player I'd certainly shortlist it, if only for that awesome audio quality. Just be aware that it's not the be all and end all of PMPs, and you'll probably agree.
Not the touch beater some of us wished for, but an excellent touchscreen PMP boasting what might just be the best sound quality of any player in its class. Mildly disappointing, but warmly recommended.