The New Walkman- Sony’s High Resolution Audio Play
Like many other companies of its generation, Sony has had a difficult time as electronic hardware design has transitioned from analog to digital and business models have become more cloud and software based. The key to successfully competing in this commoditized space is focusing on what you are good at and what you are known for. Sony has done just that with the new high resolution audio Walkman. Sony's original Walkman was the iPod/iPhone of its time and really put Sony on the map with a must-have product. With the new Walkman, Sony has revamped its audio product strategy to focus on high resolution audio, an area of strength that many people still associate with Sony. Not only is Sony promoting its high resolution Walkmans, but also its high resolution headphones and speakers. You need to have high resolution headphones to get the most out of your high resolution music and nowadays and companies like Beats have made it fashionable to walk around in public with large bright headphones. In a way, Sony is trying to psychologically connect to consumer's growing need for 4K video and generate a need for high resolution audio. Unlike 4K video, high quality audio is a traditional strength for Sony which is harder for its competitors to match. If you go into Bic Camera in Japan you can see this strategy in full play. Not only can you see Sony's full line of 4K camcorders and TV's but also it's line of high resolution audio products and music. Even in outside Japan in Shanghai China, you can see Sony Automated Kiosks selling their high resolution headphones and Walkmans. So what's the big deal about high resolution audio anyways? You may have heard of new lossless audio formats such as FLAC and Apple Lossless. Audio files in these lossless formats are huge compared to their MP3 cousins but promise better fidelity to the original recording. Given how cheap storage and high speed internet is nowadays, it's faster and more affordable to download and store lossless formats especially for audiophiles. While many people might not be able to clearly tell the difference, similar to the argument with 4K video, if the technology becomes very affordable, why not go for the superior reproduction and resolution? Some may ask, why do you need a separate music player when some phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy Note 4, and Sony's Xperia Z3+/Z4/Z5 already support some of these high resolution formats? The main answer is simple- battery life! In the race to cram in as many features as possible despite relatively stagnant battery technology, to many users it's alarming how quickly the battery gets drained from just a few minutes of use. Even though smartphones like the iPhone were initially derived from the success of the iPod, the non-music power hungry functions of today's smartphones dominate. After just a few hours of usage, trying to listen to music on your smartphone when there isn't much battery left, discourages you from listening when you know you need to use the phone later to make a call. The Walkman brings back listening to music to a dedicated device optimized for listening to music. Unlike the iPod whose success was due to iTunes making it easy to legally buy music, the Walkman makes it easy to listen to different high resolution formats. You still need to go a little more out of your way to find high resolution formats but audiophiles can nowadays easily find high resolution content from online stores like HDTracks or through Peer to Pear file sharing services. For high resolution audio, Sony offers the A series for mainstream users and the ZX series for serious users with a much fatter wallet. Not ready to shell out the the big bucks for the ZX, I purchased one of the Walkman A Series models, specifically the NW-A25 at Bic Camera in Shin Yokohama. Bic Camera has a wide selection and dedicated display area for high resolution audio products from a variety of brands. I opened the Walkman at Chibo, a restaurant in Japan known for its Okonomiyaki. There is definitely an art to Okonomiyaki sauce decoration. There is even special red wine to pair with Okonomiyaki. The Walkman NW-A25 comes in a standard compact box typical for mobile electronics products sold in Japan retail. Opening the Walkman's box, all the manuals and accessories are fit very compactly. Most of the bulk and weight of the box comes from all the instruction manuals that come with the Walkman. Sony still includes a lot of easy to read manuals compared to products that you find nowadays from Apple and Amazon. The Walkman also comes with headphones and a USB cable that is able to connect to the bottom of the Walkman for charging or file transfer. The Sony Walkman A Series has just about the right weight to feel valuable but still light enough to carry around anywhere. The look is eye catching and stylish, and different enough to be a conversation starter in any cocktail party. One of Sony's nice touches is that they include a barcode that you can scan with your phone if you have problems connecting the Walkman to your PC or Mac. The User Interface of the Walkman is similar to what you'd see in the pre-smartphone era when there weren't touch screens. Although this may seem very retro, it allows much longer battery life and lets you just focus on the music. Unfortunately the menu system doesn't have any obvious ways to change language system so if you bought this units in Japan, you are stuck with using Japanese. The Walkman A Series is great for those that want a nice looking device dedicated to listen to high quality audio tracks for long periods of time. For those that used Walkmans of old, it's a nice to see Sony's push to bring Walkmans to become popular again with audiophiles. Whether they can become the mainstream hit like before remains to be seen, but it's great to see Sony's focus on making the best product and user experience, as opposed to trying to cram in every possible feature and being best at nothing.