Plugging in my Denon canalphones, the S639F is even more impressive. You still get the beefy bass and clarity, but the sound has a little more body and a rounder tone. Each note of the piano in Bach’s ”Goldberg Variations” rings out with a crisp precision. Listen to the John Legend/Corinne Bailey Rae duet of ”Where is the Love” from the first’s Live in Philadelphia album and you could practically be in the auditorium, the vocals, bass and brass all sitting perfectly in place with the percussion pushing through from the edges of the soundstage.
”LoveStoned” sounds amazing. Normally it’s a track I listen to for testing purposes rather than pleasure, but on this Sony/Denon combo it just makes you want to get up and go get that hot chick on the dancefloor. Or, at least imagine doing that sort of thing while you enjoy your bedtime cuppa, anyway.
Normally I steer clear of the enhancement modes built into players, but the S639F has an interesting innovation here: these enhancements actually can make the sound sound better! True, the VPT surround modes are the fun but ultimately useless reverb effects we know and don’t much love, but the DSEE Sound Enhance and Clear Stereo features have a positive effect on the dynamics of the song and widen the soundstage. Normally I try these things then rapidly switch them off. Here, I’ve actually left them on.
Battery life was a real strength for the E436F, and so it goes for the S639F too. I left it running overnight and the battery had gone down, to use a technical term, a smidgen. Sony quotes 40 hours of music or 10 hours of video, and at the moment I have little reason to doubt them.
The S639F isn’t quite the best sounding MP3 player I’ve ever heard, but it’s certainly better than any Apple player I’ve listened to, and I suspect that this is the important thing for Sony. Put together the excellent sound quality, the fine bundled headphones and the value – 16GB for only a little more than the 8GB iPod Nano – and anyone who values music over style would be mad to buy the Apple player.
Audiophiles will still be better served by a player from Cowon or iRiver that has support for APE, FLAC and Ogg Vorbis, which the Sony doesn’t, and will doubtless have their own headphones, anyway. At the end of the day, though, the S639F is an excellent buy for the average music lover. If I couldn’t quite bring myself to recommend the E436F, this time it’s easy. It’s an excellent player, and one I’d be happy to own and use myself.
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While the most demanding audiophiles could do better, the S-Series Walkman has the edge on Apple’s Nano when it comes to sound quality and value. Compact players don’t get much better than this.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9