It has finally arrived. For years now we have reviewed Sony MP3 players; players that provide good functionality, great audio and come in stylish designs, but they have always suffered from one fatal flaw; SonicStage. Sony's proprietary music software has always been sluggish, unwieldy and quite frankly totally unnecessary. In a sea of digital music players that offer straight plug and play functionality, this program stuck out like a sore thumb. However, Sony has finally made the leap, offering its NWD-B103F player without the flailing software.
- No SonicStage, Intuitive menu with ID3 sorting
- Slightly flat sound that requires some equalization, No support for DRM encrypted WMA
Sony's NWD-B103F is another solid Sony digital music player which is only made stronger by Sony's decision to finally abandon its proprietary software.
Price$ 99.00 (AUD)
Aside from the removal of SonicStage, the unit itself is fairly standard. It has a stick like design that is common among flash based players these days and it weighs just 30g; you can safely slip it in your pocket and forget about it, or even dangle it from your headphone cable without a hassle. The controls are scattered in different areas, with volume, power and record buttons along the top, while play, menu and track-skip buttons adorn the unit's face. While it's not the most intuitive setup we've seen, it does the job once you get the hang of it.
The B103F is constructed of black plastic and is adequately sturdy. It will survive the occasional tumble without incident, but don't go abusing it. Aesthetically it is reasonably nice with a fairly simple style, although we did find it to be a magnet for finger prints. No USB cable is required as the end pops off to reveal a USB connection; great for people who may use the player on more than one PC.
It comes with a three line LCD display, which does a pretty good job of cramming all the relevant data in. We did notice the absence of a time lapsed or time remaining indicator, but aside from that everything is as you'd expect.
Audio quality is decent but not the best we've heard. Throughout our tests everything tended to sound a little flatter than we like, lacking the richness provided by some other units. Bass is quite good, with excellent crunch, but the mid range comes out a little thin. Using the onboard equaliser we were able to correct this to some degree.
As usual we tested with a high quality pair of third party headphones rather than the stock earbuds, however we also gave them a quick run through. They performed as anticipated, offering passable but unimpressive sound that will satisfy undiscerning users but nobody else. If you want to get the most of your MP3 player we strongly recommend purchasing some new headphones.
The unit is a little scant with regards to support, only allowing unprotected WMA files as well as MP3. We'd have liked to see DRM encrypted WMA supported in the very least. As mentioned earlier, SonicStage is no longer a requirement for file transfer, you can simply drag and drop the files into the 'Music' directory and you're good to go. Alternatively there is an auto update function you can also configure, which will automatically scan allocated directories for new music each time the device is plugged in. The combination of these two is perfect and makes copying music to the B103F a breeze.
Files are sorted by ID3 tag and navigation is a simple process. You can search by title, track, artist or simply display all. Tracks are listed alphabetically if you search by artist, and by track number if searching albums.
The menu is fairly simple, with just a smattering of options. There is a voice recorder, which works nicely and picked up a good range of sounds, even from several meters away. Meanwhile the radio function is similarly impressive, picking up crystal clear reception in a number of different areas. You have the option of saving presets, as well as recording anything you hear to the player's memory. There is also a five-band equaliser with presets and a custom mode, which makes a fairly big difference to the overall sound.
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