Replace the bundled buds with a better pair of earphones, however, and two things immediately become apparent. First, you’d better lay off the bass boost if you don’t want to have your ears assaulted by the sort of racket you normally hear emanating from a tricked-up, resprayed Peugeot 206 with darkened windows. The pounding bass dominates the output to the extent that other frequencies just can’t get a look in.
Secondly, the B133 sounds good, but it’s limited in terms of the material it really works well with and there’s a definite point to which you can push the quality. The Timbaland mix of OneRepublic’s ”Apologize” sounds excellent; the dark bass and big beats working well against the piano and vocals, with all the layers of voice and instrumentation coming through clearly across a nice wide sound stage. ”Ordinary People” from John Legend’s ”Live from Philadelphia” sounds warm and intimate, just as it should. However, the understated tango and yearning violin of Gidon Kremer’s ”Homage to Astor Piazzolla” is too much for the little Walkman; the sound doesn’t have the subtlety or the dynamics to make the track come to life.
Frankly, the B133 is a bit of a thug. Give it something with a big beat, a booming bassline or some crunchy riffs to work with and it does brilliantly. Give it something more subtle, and it struggles a little. Overall, the Walkman has a slight edge over the Samsung YP-U4 when it comes to sound quality, but that edge really is pretty slight.
But that’s not Sony’s biggest problem. What is, is that both the Samsung and the Sansa Clip have the B133 licked in one crucial area: value for money. The big issue is capacity. The 1GB model I’m looking at here is £28, and while some stores are currently offering the 2GB B135 for the same price, it still seems like a bad deal when you consider that you can get a 4GB YP-U4 for under £30 or a 2GB Clip for under £20. Throw in the lack of features and audio format support – no AAC, no OGG VORBIS – and the Sony is okay value, but not what you’d call great value. It’s a well built, good sounding player, and most people wouldn’t complain were they to get one wrapped up on Christmas Day. All the same, it’s neither the most exciting nor feature-packed player around for this kind of money.
A decent if unexciting player, but against strong competition from Samsung, Creative and – especially – SanDisk, it doesn’t do enough to be a winner.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7