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The Walkman is, unsurprisingly, at its best playing Sony’s own music compression format, ATRAC3Plus, but will happily play MP3 files too – they just don't sound quite as good. WMA files are dealt with by the Connect music management software, which converts them as it transfers them from your PC to the Walkman. Ask it to play DRM files, though, and you’ll be in for a big disappointment. It will only play rights-managed files downloaded from its own music service which will be a show-stopper for anyone who has a library of paid-for copy-restricted downloads.
We were a little surprised to discover that we couldn’t turn it up loud enough to make our eardrums bleed, which could be a problem for those with higher impedance headphones or anyone using open-backed cans in noisy environments. On quieter recordings it occasionally left us fumbling for extra volume that just wasn’t there. Fortunately a quick search on the web revealed that the volume limitation is down to an EU restriction and can be removed with a simple engineering mode hack.
Even the supplied earbuds are decent, which is more than I can say for most phones that come with MP3 devices. As usual, you’ll benefit from a few extra quid spent on a decent pair, of course. We gave the Walkman a run for its money with a pair of Koss Sportapros and Shure’s in-ear E2Cs and were rewarded with far greater depth of sound and detail.
Another area where this machine – along with other Sony players - kicks some serious butt is battery life. The NW-A1000, which we’re reviewing here has a claimed 20-hour battery life when playing ATRAC files and 17-hours for MP3 files, which should be enough to enable you to listen to your music non-stop for the entire duration of most long-haul flights.