SonicStage has greatly improved since it was first introduced but Sony has only succeeded in uprating it from utterly and truly god-awful, to slightly bizarre, unintuitive and clunky. And while native MP3 support does make transferring tracks much easier, it still irritated by throwing its hands up and refused to transfer over two MP3 tracks from an album that it otherwise had no problems with. Perhaps it just didn’t like Duran Duran. Well hey; perhaps they slipped in a taste filter as well.
As Riyad pointed out in his review, a classic ‘bizarro’ feature is how it handles, or rather doesn’t handle Playlists. I managed to work out the rather convoluted way you put these together but when you actually transfer these over it actually transfers over the same tracks again. This means that if you set up 20 playlists with the same track it will copy it over twenty times, – madness! Way to go on the intelligent space saving Sony.
It also crashed while trying to encode a test CD. Closing and restarting SonicStage solved the issue but it was annoying. Then there was the fact that you can’t select a folder and drag and drop it into the SonicStage library – you have to go into the folder, select all the tracks and then transfer those over. What’s that all about?
Another unsettling feature of SonicStage is that its doesn’t actually synchronise the contents of its library with the HD3 automatically. It will transfer over new tracks but when I re-labelled an album with the correct genre in the library, this information wasn’t passed to the album on the player on next sync. Apparently, Sony has SonicStage 3.0 lined up with a number of enhancements, including drag and drop support for playlists, so let’s hope it’s a genuine improvement.
As well as MP3, it of course support Sony’s ATRAC3 codec at 66, 105 and132Kbps and ATRAC3plus at 48, 64 and 256Kpbs. ATRAC3plus is the 2004 update for ATRAC, originally introduced with the Minidisc format. As you can see from the diagram, (by the diagonal lines) Sony believes that 64Kpbs plus is as good as 132kbps ATRAC3. Meanwhile ATRAC3plus at 256kpbs is judged to be ‘near CD quality’ – and better than the 292kpbs bit-rate used in older Minidisc decks. 256kpbs ATRAC3plus does indeed sound fantastic but if you use this exclusively the file size is such that the amount of tracks you can store drops from 13,000 at 48kpbs to 2,500. The choice, as they say is yours.
Battery life is still listed at a healthy 30 hours, but this is only for when all tracks are encoded at 48kbps. If you use higher bit-rates the processor will have to work harder so battery life will drop. It’s still a lot better though than the 12 hours offered by the current 20Gb iPod.