Display and Interface
The Sony NWZ-B173 has a tiny 3-line monochrome display, used to relay the MP3 player's interface and all track information. Although very small, its bright, light blue backlight makes reading text off it fairly easy.
Menu systems don't get much more minimal than the NWZ-B173's. Its top layer consists of three little icons. One represents voice recordings made using the pinhole mic on the back, the next your music library and the third takes you to the settings menu.
Navigation through your tunes is bog-standard, breaking down into albums, artists and so on, but it's here that the circular nav wheel displays its oddest behaviour. You'd expect that turning the thing right - which skips to the next track in playback - would take you down the menu list, but instead it takes you up. If there's a reason why, we're not sure what it is. And it takes a bit of getting used to.
While playing tracks, the Sony NWZ-B173 predictably doesn't show any album artwork, but it does show basic Tag info - artist and track/album name. Long track info scrolls across the display, as you can only fit so much on a 1in screen.
The NWZ-B173 features the Zappin mode, a Sony-branded take on the traditional shuffle function. It's a mainstay of Sony's MP3 players. There's a button on the player's body that operates this and the bass boost function.
Zappin plays either a short 3 second clip, or longer 15-sec clip, of tracks before skipping to another. Find one you like and you can tap the Zappin button once more to stop shuffling and play the song in its entirety.
It's a neat idea, but we've always been put off by the unnecessary sound effects that accompany the mode - an American woman saying "Zappin", then an annoying whoosh sound, which returns each time the track changes. However, Sony has given the mode less prominence in this model - the NWZ-B162 had its very own Zap button, front and centre.
Sound Quality and EQ
The Sony NWZ-B173 has impressively powerful audio output for a small player. Maximum volume is very high, and even with over ears headphones that would benefit from a headphone amp, we could get a decent sound level at 50 percent volume.
Output is noise-free too, which is more than we can say of some "audiophile" players. However, as you might expect of a mainstream player, some of its EQ options are less than tasteful. To engage the bass boost, you simply need to give the Zappin button a long press. But we wouldn't advise doing so. Even with normally bass-light headphones, it turns sound into a muddy, boomy mess. It has far too great an influence over sound.
There's also a slightly higher-fidelity EQ section. Within the settings menu there's a 5-band equaliser, each with up to 3/-3 settings. Any extreme changes tend to bring unsightly results - and the four preset options all disfigure the sound their own way. But there's also a custom option you can maul to your heart's content. In short - the EQ is best left alone if you have decent earphones or headphones, as is the bass boost.
If value is your primary concern, you can get more player for your money elsewhere. SanDisk's Clip players do more, with a radio tuner and expandable memory. However, the runner-friendly design - thanks to its easy, quick charging and ergonomic curves - make this the superior model if you don't want to clip a player to your clothing.
The Sony NWZ-B173 is latest stick MP3 player from the MP3 player veteran. If you want the most features and the most flexibility, you won’t find it here. There's no radio, limited format support and a very basic, teeny display. What it does have, though, is convenience. With an integrated USB socket and decent 18hr battery life, it's a great casual player if you need a player to use while running. And while it's similar to its predecessors, it looks and feels less cheap.