However, we now come to the X1060’s strong suits. First, the screen really is excellent. At 3in it’s a half-inch smaller than the display on the iPod touch, and the resolution (432 x 240) isn’t actually as high. However, to counter this the screen is superbly bright, colours are extremely vivid and clarity is plain top notch. It’s a great screen for viewing or sharing photos, and an even better one for watching video content. It’s hard to know which player I’d rather watch a movie on – the touch has size on its side and is sharp and vibrant enough for me – but the Sony is certainly one of a handful of PMPs where I could imagine watching a whole blockbuster, and it’s superb sound and pocket friendly size make it a great ultra-mobile cinema device. Of course, coming from Sony you can’t expect format support to be that comprehensive, but MPEG-4, H.264 and WMV files are all handled without any major issues. What’s more, the X1060 also plays iPlayer downloads, and while trying this out I discovered something else. When the X1060 imports video files it automatically chapter marks sections where it finds a natural gap, allowing you to flick between ‘chapters’, DVD style, using another neat, CoverFlow style menu.
Now for the really good news. I’m tempted to stick my neck out, right here and right now, and say that the X1060 is the best sounding PMP I have ever heard, surpassing even the Cowon S9 and D2+. It’s certainly the best sounding player I’ve heard out of the box, thanks mostly to the excellent bundled headphones. With their 13.5mm drivers the EX earphones provided are in a different league to the buds you’ll find bundled with the S9 or iPod touch, and the sound they dish out is warm, slightly bass heavy but surprisingly detailed. I tried out a range of material from The Kings of Leon through Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde to The Hold Steady, Justin Timberlake and Mastodon, and while I’ve heard all sound better with more expensive headphones and canalphones, I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to upgrade unless you’re going to spend £60 or more.
In fact, I can think of one good reason not to; with the bundled EX headphones connected you can use the X1060’s built-in noise reduction processing. You can switch between train, plane and office modes, and the effect is actually pretty convincing, doing a very effective job of drowning out traffic noise on a long walk into town – to an extent that was probably not all that good for safety. Again, you will get better results from a more expensive pair of active noise cancelling ‘phones or a really good pair of isolating canal phones, but given this is all in the one price, it’s another win for Sony.
All that said, it’s only when you hook up some more high-end cans that you really get a sense what the X1060 is made of. I suspect the superlative sound quality really comes down to two things: intelligent processing and high-class digital amplification. There are three processing options you can switch in and out. One, the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, is designed to restore high-frequency information lost during compression and – like similar technologies from BBE, Samsung and Philips – seems to create a fuller, more dynamic output. The other two, Clear Bass and Clear Stereo, have a less marked effect, but seem to do exactly what you might expect. Combine these with some fine DAC circuitry and what Sony claims is a derivative of its S-Master amplification tech – as used in the manufacturer’s audio and home cinema equipment – and the sound quality of the X1060 is set on course for the stars.