The back/home button has been moved off the edge of the player to just below the play button, which makes navigation much less of a fiddly affair. The other controls – volume, record, and on/off – are still on the edge but they’ve been made much bigger than before. The hold key is also easier to use, taking the form of a collar switch around the headphone jack. And the up/down buttons used for navigating through lists are larger too.
It’s the same story when you switch on the NWD-B105 and start to browse your way around. Again it is similar to the NW-E015, but with subtle improvements. In addition to tag-based music organisation, this player also allows you to browse by folder and file name, for example. This is a boon for anyone who listens to a lot of classical music, which tends to be tagged confusingly and inconsistently. Scrolling through long lists of songs and albums is still a bit fiddly – it always will be on a device this small – but this seems to have improved as well, scrolling with a little more speed.
The supplied earbuds represent another significant improvement over the NW-E015. Gone is the annoying hiss that plagued the original items: these sound good, with plenty of clarity in the mid-range and top-end without losing out on the bass. Sony has also added an external microphone so you can use the NWD-B105 as a dictaphone, but you’ll have to spend a little more if you want the FM radio-equipped version (NWD-B105F).
Alas the detachable cap covering the USB connector is just as easy to lose as it is on the NW-E015 – it can’t be tethered. But thankfully the most important aspect has also remained unchanged. Its sound quality is one of the best you are likely to clap ears on for under £100.
Listening to each player back to back the new player sounded a touch warmer than the older one. But it’s a subtle difference that won’t detract from your listening pleasure. Kicking off with Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black revealed the same balance between clarity, mid tones and bass presence that I praised the NW-E015 for. Furthermore, a touch of big band blast from Georgie Fame demonstrates that even when faced with complex, dynamic material, this player can still cope, rendering each section of the band without turning it into audio pea-souper.