The included earphones are certainly an interesting design. One part is a deep insertion in-earphone with a soft flex sleeve, the other part sits in the outer of your ear like Apple's earbuds. The premise is that the inner section handles upper frequencies while the larger outer section, which holds a much larger driver, handles the lower frequencies. It certainly makes sense but I can't say I was overly impressed with the results. Though there was certainly oodles of bass, clarity was lacking and the overall result was just a bit muffled. No doubt they will appeal to the Max Power Nova drivers of this world but to the music enthusiast they won't be competing with your usual aftermarket choice. Having said that, they are the best bundled earphones I've come across so if you don't want to spend another £100 or more on a pair of earphones then at least you'll have something half decent to get on with.
While audio playback is certainly important, what really sets this player apart from the competition is the superb display that is large, bright, and clear. Viewing photos is a pleasure and though there is some slight colour banding, as evidenced by our photo below, the overall experience is better than any other. Video is also eminently watchable and, though I might hesitate to watch a full movie on a screen this size, I would quite happily watch trailers, TV shows, and podcasts. You can orientate the video to play in landscape to make maximum use of the screen and can even choose which way round the video is in case you prefer to have the controls on the left or right of the screen. Videos and photos can be dragged and dropped onto the player without any intervention from proprietary software – assuming they're the right format. Otherwise a file conversion tool is provided that will prepare your files for you.
However, it's not all good. To transfer music to your Walkman, you must use Sony's SonicStage software. Yes, that's right, we all knew it was coming. Sony just couldn't let us have our cake and eat it. If you want to use the best mp3 player available, you apparently have to make sacrifices somewhere. And, in this case it comes in the form of music library hi-jacking software. If you're a Winamp, Musicmatch, iTunes, or any other media player user, you're going to have to either run both simultaneously or switch completely to SonicStage. In fairness to Sony, locking the hardware to your software is no different to Apple and iTunes, I just wish it might have made the bold step into either DRM free downloads - giving a use for SonicStage, or, just used a drag and drop interface. This is all the more important considering the sizes that this Walkman comes in. Most people's music collections are over 10GB so cannot all fit on these players therefore albums have to be cherry picked for transfer. In which case I'd rather just use my file browser rather than have to open another piece of software.