Sound quality is very important to us, but the truth is that most digital media players are very accomplished performers these days. There are much greater differences between sets of earphones than there are between two mid-range MP3 players.
The Sony NWZ-E463 has a reasonably warm sound signature, but doesn't particularly elevate itself beyond the standards of the iPod Classic. Sound quality is perfectly good though, deserving of coupling with a great set of headphones.
Just as the player lays on a wide selection of bizarre-o modes to play with, there's a spread of sound customisation options. The equaliser function has four preset modes - Heavy, Pop, Jazz and Unique - and two customisable settings. These give you control over five frequency bands, with -3 to 3 modification for each, and 0 to 3 control over the Clear Bass low-end booster.
The equalisation is fairly low-key, giving a subtle adjustment that never makes the sound harsh or ugly. It's not a patch on the powerful EQ system found in the Cowon J3 and X7, but it is a step above the norm. And better than that of the iPod Classic. It's worth noting that the NWZ-E463 doesn't go hugely loud though. If you're on a self-destructive one-way trip to early hearing loss, this player won't speed-up your journey.
What makes the NWZ-E463 a good overall sonic package, though, is the decent noise isolating earphones thrown in. They are EX-83 models, and although they're not available to buy separately, they are aesthetically most similar to the MDR EX-85LP. While we didn't have that £20 pair to compare directly with, they sound a lot better than most bundled sets.
They're bassy and warm, while mostly avoiding the harsh top-end we've heard in some of Sony's MDR headphones. Sennheiser's CX300 earphones sound better but otherwise they can stand up well against £20-30 sets. The treble doesn't sparkle as much as the best, but they work well as an all-day-long set.
Add this decent audio performance to a 50-hour battery life and the Sony MWZ-E463 emerges as a great choice if you want an all-in-one package that doesn't look quite like every other MP3 player out there. We do wish it has expandable memory, but the improved interface, quirky extra features and decent earphones make it a better bet than the SanDisk Sansa Fuze.
Not quite cheap, but definitely cheerful, the NWZ-E463 combines a natty design with a good-looking interface and a wealth of music-related features. There are some significant bits missing, such as lossless format support, expandable memory and a standard USB connection, but this won't bother everyone. The key to this player is that, thanks to its thumb-friendly physical controls, pleasant interface and decent earphones, it's a device that's enjoyable to use.