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Sony has an enviable history in the entertainment electronics business. It has had fingers in most pies over the years, from TVs to hi-fi, games consoles and music publishing and along the way has produced some truly groundbreaking products.
But despite its undoubted pedigree the Japanese giant has managed to hobble itself completely in the digital music player market. This hasn't been through any lack of engineering expertise. Every Sony digital player I've reviewed has had fantastic sound quality. But every one I've looked at has also forced owners to use Sony's in-house SonicStage music transfer and management software. And whereas Apple has managed to make a virtue of this practice, Sony's effort at matching it has always been dreadful.
Alas, the firm's 2GB NW-E015 is no different to its predecessors in this respect. Despite the player's USB thumb-drive design you cannot simply drag tracks to it from your hard drive, use Windows Media Player or any other player you might favour. The only way to transfer tracks to the NW-E015 is to fire up SonicStage CP 4.3, wait for a while for it to boot up…then wait for it to update information on the player…and then, when you try to copy your music across to it, wait for it to update the track information before finally getting around to performing the task at hand. And of course if any of your music is in WMA format, you'll have to wait an extra few minutes while SonicStage transcodes it, reducing quality at the same time.
The waiting isn't the end of it, though. Bizarrely, SonicStage doesn't support file paths longer than 250 characters, so if you have a long name or some intricate folder structure leading to your Music folder, it'll simply refused to transfer tracks. It won't let you multitask either, stonewalling requests to browse the music library while performing the relatively simple task of transferring tracks to your device.
Of course SonicStage isn't all bad. You can use it to rip tracks to Advanced ATRAC lossless format and play them back, a codec which to my ears is every bit as good, if not a touch superior, to open source FLAC lossless files. It also exchanges stats on what you've been listening to and how often with the NW-E015, allowing it to build up an accurate picture of your favourite music without you having to rate each track by hand.