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To really test the player to its limits, I swapped out the excellent bundled earphones and replaced them with my reference cans - a pair of Grado SR325is. I kicked the test off with a rendition of Moonlight Sonata and the warmth and smoothness in comparison with the Sansa View was immediately apparent. In fact the A829 is so buttery smooth that those with overly bassy headphones may find it a little too much. But there's certainly no lack of clarity and detail and music rings out with fantastic clarity and power.
I switched to something a little less laid back for the next track - Muse's Butterflies & Hurricanes from their album, Absolution - and it really showed off the A829's strengths, lashing out the complex harmonies and rhythms with a deftness that was truly impressive to behold. Volume levels are impressive, too - even with the large Grados plugged in with no assisting amplification, I had to notch it down from maximum to reach comfortable listening levels.
And vocals were handled just as comfortably: Oh Susanna's simple, yet heart-wrenching ballad Billy was conveyed with all the emotion originally intended; and Damien Rice's acoustic mix of guitar, strings and voice was immediate in a way that the Zen and View couldn't quite manage. You can almost feel the air resonating in the body of Rice's guitar as he belts out the chords.
Sony's latest Walkman is, then, clearly a very capable player. It's light, good looking, and competes with any for sound quality. It's easy to use too, has fantastic battery life, and with Bluetooth now in the mix, its appeal has been expanded to those who want to listen without wires.
But the price, I have to say, at a wincingly pricy £229, is not exactly what I'd call fantastic value for money. Even taking into consideration the decent pair of headphones, it still seems overpriced. To put it in perspective, for the same money you could buy a Creative Zen, itself not a particularly cheap player, add a pair of Sennheiser's superb CX95 headphones and still have enough change left over to buy a couple of albums.
Quite why it's this expensive when the previous incarnation was such great value is a mystery, but one thing is clear - at this price, alas, we can't possibly give it a recommended award.
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