I always maintain one of the toughest tests for an MP3 player, bar listening to classical or acoustic music, is listening to busy noisy metal, as with lesser players the whole lot becomes an ill-defined mess. However, the NWZ-A815 handled Soilent Green's Hand Me Downs with adequate accuracy, power, and brutality. Moving onto less aggressive fair, Martha Argerich's interpretation of Frederic Chopin's Nocturne No. 1 in B Flat Minor proved this player's ability to reproduce the merest subtlety was up there with the best as well. That said, volume levels are only just adequate for quiet recordings like this and, although earphone listening is fine, moving to something more power-hungry, like Jon's Grado headphones would be pushing the player to its limits.
Of course, Sony provides a really quite decent set of in-ear headphones with the player so you shouldn't need to rush out and buy expensive alternatives straight away, as we'd always recommend you do with most of the competition. They employ a twin driver design in which the smaller treble driver is inserted inside the ear canal and the larger bass driver sits in the outside of your ear, like standard headphones. The combination works very well with clarity being maintained even while a good dose of bass is being dealt. They don't cut out external noise as well as Shure's headphones, but they are sufficient for listening on the tube without requiring deafening levels of volume.
Claimed battery life is also impressive at 33 hours for music playback and 8 hours for watching video. Having listened to the player for several hours each day for the last few days and watched an hour or so of video, the battery indicator is still on full so I have no reason to doubt these claims. This puts the NWZ-A815 firmly out in the lead in players of this size and capacity.
So, Sony has once again created a superb sounding MP3 player that is easy to use, has a great screen for watching video, comes with some of the best earphones in its class, has superior battery life, and, to top it all off, is now drag and drop. But, does it all combine to make for a recommended purchase? Well, that really comes down to cost. And, looking at the prices of the 4GB versions of the NWZ, nano, iRiver clix2, and the Creative Zen V-Plus, the Walkman comes out cheapest. So, I guess it is. The only possible fly in the ointment is the upcoming Sansa View but until we take a look at it, we can't say for sure.
With the Walkman NWZ series, Sony has finally created the nano killer the NW series always should've been. Being able to drag and drop files to it makes managing your music a breeze, while the superior sound quality and bundled headphones round out the package. Best of all though, is you get all this for less money than any other player in its class.