And, despite the fact that the buttons on the A829 have been redesigned and rearranged, there’s actually no change in the control method either. You get three buttons on the face of the player – a five way d-pad plus back and menu keys. It’s a tried and tested system that works extremely well, however, and even with the absence of some kind of clickwheel copy, browsing music is a slick operation. You can search by the usual tag-based attributes, with long lists despatched swiftly by Sony’s search-by-initial-letter feature, and for when you can’t find tracks using tags, you can also browse by folder. The hold switch has moved to the side, next to the volume control – a welcome change – but what we didn’t like so much was that Sony has persisted in not building a playlist creation feature in here, or offered the ability to queue up tracks as you listen. It’s baffling that this kind of basic facility is missing from a player with such luxurious pretensions. And the insistence on a proprietary USB connection is another source of irritation.
There is one further major difference with the A829 I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the addition of Bluetooth. In fact you can also buy the player in a Bluetooth bundle, if you fancy ridding your wallet of even more hard-earned readies. And it’s a doddle to set up and use. Naturally you have to pair your headset with the player to start with, but switching between Bluetooth and standard modes thereafter is simply a matter of pressing and holding a small circular button on the side of the device.
Choosing to listen to Bluetooth instead of wired headphones would of course negate the main reason for owning a Sony Walkman in the first place – sound quality. And in the case of the NWZ-A829, that’s one area where it almost justifies its sky-high price tag. Not only does the A829 itself sound terrific – powerful and loud, and a touch warmer than its aforementioned rivals – but you can also enjoy its superior sound quality out of the box. That’s because the NWZ-A829 comes supplied, not with a pair of cheap earbuds, but a pair of Sony’s EX headphones and these produce a very competent sound indeed. They’re similar in appearance to Sony’s top-of-the range noise isolating phones, the £70 MDREX90LP’s, and the solid punchy bass and clear treble they produce is easily the equal of a pair of £40 mid-rangers, such as Sennheiser’s class-leading headphones, the CX400’s.