Sony has unveiled a new NW-A306 portable music player as part of its Walkman range, with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
At first glance, the NW-A306 looks like a stripped-down version of the higher-end NW-WM1ZM2 (£3,299) and NW-WM1AM2 (£1,299) players.
It features a rectangular, milled aluminium design with rounded sides, large physical button controls and a 3.6-inch touch screen. The only big difference is that it has lost the large semi-circular protrusions seen on the older model’s top.
However, look a little closer and you’ll find it has one key selling point differentiating it from past Sony portables - its price.
The NW-A306 will be available for pre-order on the Sony store for a modest £350 /$350/€400 at an unspecified point later this month.
The price is a bold move by Sony and means the new player radically undercuts our current Award-winning portable player, the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII, by £300/$300.
The SR25 MKII currently retails for £699/$749 on Amazon and sits on top of our best portable music player guide, with our reviewers listing its great value for money as a key reason for the recommendation.
It has been quite some time since we’ve seen a hi-res player from such a big brand cost so little and we’ll be very curious to see how the NW-A306 performs against its more expensive rivals when we get it in for testing.
Running off Google’s Android 12 OS, the device is full of features normally only seen on much more expensive portables.
For starters, its circuitry uses a reflow solder containing gold. Combined with Sony’s S-Master HX digital amp and native DSD (Direct Stream Digital codec) support, Sony claims this will let the NW-A306 offer significantly better audio, with less distortion and noise, than most flagship smartphones.
For serious listeners there’s also a 3.5mm input for wired headphones - check our best wired headphones guide for our curated picks of the top performers we’ve tested.
There’s also Bluetooth and wi-fi support, plus improved DSEE Ultimate upscaling tech for those that want to cut the cord. Sony claims it has improved its algorithms to let the player offer more acoustic subtleties and dynamic range when playing CD-quality 16-bit/44kHz tracks, even with lossless codecs.
The final upgrade relates to its battery life, with the NW-A306 claiming to offer up to 36 hours of 44.1kHz FLAC playback and up to 32 hours of 96kHz FLAC high-resolution audio playback, which should be more than enough to get you through a long-haul flight. Charging is via the USB-C connection, and a cable is helpfully provided in the box.
Does it all sound great? We think so, but there is a catch. Specifically that according to Sony’s spec sheet the NW-A306 will only feature 32GB of storage. To make matters worse, only 18GB of this is listed as being “usable”.
Considering how quickly we managed to fill the SR25 MKII, which features 64GB of onboard storage, this could be an issue for people that like to have large hi-res music libraries downloaded locally. Though given the player’s price, it’s surprising that this is the only obvious shortcoming we’ve spotted so far.
We’ll make sure to update you on how the NW-A306 performs in actual use when we get it into our test labs for review, so make sure to keep checking back with What Hi-Fi?.
Upgrade your portable's audio using our best wired headphones guide
Check out our best wireless earbuds buyers' guide