A name to be reckoned with when it comes to music, the latest model in the Sony Walkman range is all about the sound quality. It has its own digital amplifier, dedicated bass and stereo mix controllers and a SensMe function that adjusts the output depending on the type of music being played. The A866 has a 2.8in LED-backlit touch-sensitive display and a highly intuitive menu system that ensures you can get to the tracks you want to hear without delay.
Tracks can be imported from iTunes as well as the Windows media library. Sony's Media On The Go app helps ensure a speedy drag-and-drop transfer from a range of sources. Video can also be played on the QVGA (400x240-pixel) device, Bluetooth support adds streaming options, there's an FM radio and a karaoke mode that displays the lyrics so you can belt them out.
As on the Philips Muse SA3 player, there’s an FM radio that uses the earphone cable as an aerial. Tuning is via a spinning onscreen dial. A long press results in the Walkman performing an intelligent ‘high sensitivity’ search and locking on to the best signal for the next available station. This simple setup has one drawback though: moving your head about alters the reception, so what was initially a clear reception becomes muzzy. If you’ve got long hair, it muffles the sound even more. We only ever managed to get the FM scanner to find five stations – an achievement given the dozens of bedroom DJs hogging the FM airwaves in London.
Bluetooth options let you pair with a device such as a wireless speaker or a laptop. Once paired, you can receive files this way – not the most efficient mode of music transfer, but useful in the absence of a USB connection and cable. You can also use Bluetooth if you want to listen to the contents of your Walkman through a speaker rather than the discomfort of earphones. We didn’t manage to get the player to pair with our iPhone or even recognise its presence, but had no trouble pairing with Bluetooth earphones. The NWZ-A866 can also push music wirelessly to a suitably equipped car stereo.
The in-earphones that Sony supplies are very comfortable to wear for an hour or so at a time, but the soft rubber gradually warms up. Bluetooth headphones such as the popular Jaybirds that AdvancedMP3Players (which supplied this review sample) also stocks, work well here.
We like the fact Sony hasn’t added too many airs and graces to this player. It’s an MP3 player with superior audio output and some decent earphones through which to enjoy your music. The 2.8in QVGA screen is responsive, less reflective than some touchscreens we’ve tried and onscreen items are large enough to accurately select each time, without having to screw up your eyes in an effort to do so. The recessed Home button at the bottom of the player is ideally sized for an adult finger- or thumb-tip.
Music options include a quirky list of Genres. Death Metal, Inspirational, Comedy and Progessive Rock are all included. A separate Settings menu lets you adjust the EQ and effects. We’d love to be able to give you our thoughts on the Maximum Karaoke Mode; disappointingly, none of the MP3 files we had to hand came with the necessary tags. Audio offers plenty of punch thanks to an above average emphasis on bass.
Video plays rather well on this little player, too. The resolution is bettered by many an MP4 player, but the colours here pop and, for longer clips, we found it useful to be able to fast-forward and to jump to a specific part via the scene scroll and thumbnail previews for each section.