The NW-A35 is the new entry-level Sony Walkman “Hi-Res”. Replacing the NW-A25HN and NWZ-A15, its main novelty is its touch screen, a bit more in tune with modern times than the fully-controlled interface to the buttons of its predecessors. A welcome evolution … which, unfortunately, is also accompanied by problematic regressions.
Compact and light, the NW-A35 sports a construction that is not really luxurious, but still robust and relevant. The aluminum frame adopts a very grainy texture which is pleasant to the touch and which should also be able to cope with the scratches and scratches that will inevitably appear during the use of the device. In this regard, we would nevertheless have seen with a good eye that Sony provides at least a small carrying case with his walkman; the builder is dispensing with it alas.
On the left side of the player are the control buttons: on / off, volume control, play / pause, navigation between tracks. These buttons complete a convincing, reactive and intuitive touch interface – one just regrets some mistakes in the French translation, which can make some titles rather nebulous. The IPS screen is of very high quality: its comfortable definition (480 x 800 by 7.8 cm diagonal, or 300 pixels per inch), its wide viewing angles, its brightness and its generous contrast guarantee a legibility almost always ideal . “Almost” only because the display suffers from the total absence of oleophobic or anti-reflective treatment. Light disturbances can quickly become troublesome, as can the rapid accumulation of fingerprints.
The other side is occupied by the microSD card slot, microSDXC compatible. A necessity due to the internal memory frankly chic of the player: only 16 GB (12.26 GB actually usable). As soon as we are lovers of encoding without loss, our music feels very fast cramped.
Featuring Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity for use with a wireless speaker or headset, the NW-A35 also features an NFC chip for easy pairing and connection to compatible devices. A setting in the player settings allows you to decide whether you prefer a connection that favors the stability of the broadcast or the quality of the encoding.
The promised autonomy of the walkman is very variable according to the conditions of use. Wired, it goes from 45 hours at best (MP3 playback at 128 kbps) to half this duration in the worst (DSD file playback). In Bluetooth, the announced values range from 20 hours (MP3 files, SBC communication) to 13 hours (high resolution Flac files, LDAC communication). The measurements we have carried out seem to verify these theoretical values, which makes the NW-A35 a very good student in this field.
The list of file formats encoded by the NW-A35 includes MP3, WMA, AAC, HEACAC, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, linear PCM (up to 24 bits / 192 kHz) and DSD to DSD256 at 11.2 MHz). Almost no one misses the call … the exception being, as always at Sony, the Vorbis. Despite its beautiful screen, the player can not read images or videos. It has an FM tuner.
The player does not include any advanced file manager. It is possible to delete songs from the memory or manage its playlists, and that’s it. No way to move files or edit tags. No search function is available either. It is therefore necessary to make sure to carefully organize his music on computer before taking the walkman on the move.
Difficult to get excited about the sound performance of the NW-A35, which are certainly not dishonorable, but that do not really do better than those of any smartphone correct. The headphone output is particularly of a rather limited power, therefore unfit to feed any hi-fi helmet a little bit greedy. Apart from this, the player “does the work”, but hardly more.
Distortion and dynamics reach quite respectable values, respectively 0.004% and 94 dB. Crosstalk, on the other hand, is rather disappointing: it reaches just -50 dB; and unlike other models in the Walkman range, the NW-A35 does not have a “Stereo Clear” option that can improve things. In the ear, this translates into a tightening of the stereophonic scene, subtle but certainly perceptible.
Sony’s other usual sonic treatments are all there, but are proving to be of such questionable utility. It’s hard to understand what ClearAudio + is trying to accomplish while mistaking the frequency response in such an erratic way. VPT “surround” treatments only generate artificial reverberations that are as unpleasant as they are unnatural. The “phase linearizer”, which wishes to emulate the sound of an analog amplifier by phase shifting slightly the bass, generates only imprecision and confusion in the sound message. The DSEE HX mode, finally, claims to “repair” the encoded files to MP3 and other lossy codecs, simply by producing a kind of artificial harmonic distortion supposed to replace the frequency components of the signal lost during the compression; needless to say that the result does not make much sense.
In the end, among all available audio settings, only the customizable EQ may be of interest. With its 6 non-parametric bands, however, it does not allow for high-precision adjustments.
For performance in Bluetooth, the NW-A35 disappoints on the list of codecs supported via this protocol: it comes down to SBC and LDAC. No trace of AAC or even aptX, even though last year’s NW-A25HN / NWZ-A15 was compatible with this latest codec. Pity.
Given Sony’s talk about the NW-A35 as a gateway to the world of Hi-Res audio, one can only be wary of the remarkably mundane sound performance of this player. Its predecessor, the NWZ-A15 (naked version of the NW-A25HN) certainly did not have touchscreen, but it did better on the essentials, namely sound – and was also more complete in terms of features . As long as the latter is still commercially available, prefer it without hesitation to the NW-A35.