Sony has today announced the launch of two Network Walkmen, - the NW-E95 and the NW-E99. These players sport a decent amount of solid-state memory, offering 512MB and 1GB respectively. They run off a single AA battery to give around 70 hours of playback time and weigh only 40 grams
However, it’s not so much the players themselves that’s newsworthy but rather that they are the first digital audio players from Sony to natively support MP3. This means that you can now transfer over MP3 over to the players without having to convert to Sony’s ATRAC3 compression format first.
While this is commendable it is a heinously overdue feature. ATRAC3 is undoubtendly a very fine sounding codec, but forcing users to convert their existing MP3s to it is an irritating, time consuming and space wasting exercise.
The decision to support MP3 natively is something of a U-turn for Sony, who had stubbornly held out with its own ATRAC3 format and copy protection used in its SonicStage software.
However, it’s not the first time Sony has changed its tune. It was as recently as March 2004 that at a press event Sony insisted to Riyad, that it was not going to release a hard disk based player - only for the NW-HDD1 to be announced about two weeks later. In fact, we have one of these players in our mitts right now but so far it seems that native MP3 playback hasn’t reached this incredibly small 20GB player. However, based on today’s announcement we’re guessing (hoping) that it won’t be long now.
Owners of Sony’s previous generation of players however, will have more luck as the NW-E55 and NW-E75 will both be able to play MP3 tracks directly thanks to a software update that can be downloaded from the Internet.
UK pricing and availability, has yet to confirmed in the UK.