Network Walkman NW-HD3 9/10.
Date Posted 11/05/2005.
This is one of the first Sony music players to play MP3 tracks,
without converting to Sony's special ATRAC format. As such it has
been eagerly anticipated in the marketplace. At first glances, the
NW-HD3 (maybe a snappy name would be useful!) looks extremely well
put together, but at the same time it is extremely light for a 20GB
MP3 player, and also quite thin.
the iPod, which uses iTunes, the NW-HD3 uses Sony's Sonicstage software
to transfer music from your computer (via USB2) to it. The software's
not great, but it does transfer your music very quickly, and the
interface isn't too bad even if not quite as nice as iTunes. Although
the NW-HD3 now supports MP3 natively, it does not support AAC (the
protected format of this is used by iTunes Music Store), as such
you won't be able to play stuff you've bought off iTunes.
will however play music from the Connect Music Store, which seems
to have a decent collection of tracks. To be fair to Sony, the iPod
does not support any other music store's format (such as protected
WMA or protected ATRAC). I think it will be a long time till we
get a universal protected electronic music format that works with
every MP3 player. At the moment, the only universal solution is
to buy "real" CDs and rip them to MP3, which is pretty
much 100% compatible!
the important bit, the sound quality! The ATRAC format has been
used in various guises before including on Sony's Minidisc players
(which still sound fanastic!) I did try encoding a track at 64Kbps
ATRAC and playing it. The quality is pretty good given the amount
of compression. However, I did prefer the quality of MP3s encoded
at 192Kbps (not surprising given they take up 3x the disk space).
To truly test the NW-HD3 I tried using it with a pair of Sony MDRV700DJ
and the sound was great with good reproduction of bass and treble.
In all probability, most users will opt for small in-ear headphones
(rather than the expensive and bulky MDRV700DJ pair), which also
offer reasonable audio playback. It's great that Sony now gives
users the choice of using ATRAC or MP3.
terms of ease of use, the iPod wins, since the NW-HD3 has no wheel,
so it can take a while to go through your music collection. It's
funny how something, can really transform the useability of an MP3
player. However, the NW-HD3's major trump card is battery life,
claimed to be 20 hours worth. In use, I found I could use it for
several days (for several hours) without needing to recharge it.
The new NW-HD5 claims 40 hours battery life.
in short the NW-HD3 is a great addition to the Walkman range. If
you are choosing between this and an iPod, it's a tough call. If
battery life is not as important go for the iPod, because of ease
of use and because it uses iTunes (or the Winamp plugin). If battery
life is your major concern, the Sony could be your choice.