There's enough raw grunt to make the frantic riffs and screamed vocals of Soundgarden's Rusty Cage sound good, and enough low-end presence to give Massive Attack's Angel it's brooding atmosphere and steadily building dynamic. It's always good to have something poppy when out on a run, and whether it was Justin Timberlake talking me through his Sexy Ladies (the jammy git) or Gary Barlow promising The Greatest Day, the NWZ-W202 works well with tight, clear productions and strong percussion.
Being picky, I would say that while the bass-end is thick it's not particularly articulate, and this can come across in songs with dominant bass lines. Meanwhile, mid-range clarity isn't perfect and the treble can be slightly brash. All the same, give me the NWZ-W202 over a low-end player with a pair of bundled earphones, any day.
Finally, Sony has played smart when it comes to battery life. Battery life of 12 hours is claimed, and in my test the NWZ-W202 exceeded this by several minutes. Plus, for those moments when you're about to go on a run then - DOH! - you realise that you forgot to charge the battery, you can just slip it onto the supplied charging cradle, making sure the standard mini-USB connector is correctly inserted, and three minutes later you have enough juice for an excruciating 90 minutes of jogging.
I also like the fact that when you take the headset off, magnetic clips on the left and right units hook together and the whole thing goes into standby mode. What could be an unruly mess quickly turns into a compact device you can sling in the gym bag without thinking. Nice.
The NWZ-W202 isn't the ideal compact player for everyone; with its 2GB capacity, its lack of navigation facilities and no display, it isn't really designed to be. But for those activities where you want to keep clear of cables and entanglements, it's ideal. I can't really imagine a better player to take on a run or to the gym, and now I've got used to having it during spells of gardening and DIY, I'm not looking forward to losing it. If you want a versatile, great-sounding small player for everyday use then the Sansa Clip remains your best bet, and with the right headphones will give you a better sound. If, however, you want music to work or workout to, then the NWZ-W202 comes highly recommended.
A well-designed MP3 system for active pursuits, offering decent sound quality and intelligent controls. For gym use, jogging or dirty work, it's hard to find anything better.