Sony's new Walkman players pack noise cancelling

Sony is packing its new Walkman digital music players with noise cancelling and other audio enhancing technology in its latest attempt to challenge the iPod

Sony is packing its new Walkman digital music players with noise cancelling and other audio enhancing technology in its latest attempt to challenge the dominance of Apple Computer's iPod.

"The strongest point is audio quality," said Hiroshi Yoshioka, corporate senior vice president of Sony and head of its Walkman division, at a Tokyo news conference.

Front and center of Sony's marketing will be built-in noise cancelling. The system is tuned to cancel out background noise in the 100Hz to 1kHz range like that often present on trains, aircraft or cars.

To do that, the system uses a microphone to detect the noise to be cancelled out. On the new Walkmans, that microphone is in the headphones, which means listeners must use the supplied headphones for the noise cancelling to work. In a demonstration on Thursday the headphones did a good job of cancelling out simulated train noise.

The noise cancelling is something that really has to be demonstrated to be understood, Sony said, so it is planning to offer such demonstrations in shops across Japan.

Two other features, both of which are headphone independent, include "clear stereo," a system that better separates the left and right channels and stops audio bleed between channels, and "clear base," which improves the bass response.

The players have a battery life of 50 hours, and can display album art on a small color OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display panel. Listeners can search through their music by song name, album name or artist name.

The players are compatible with MP3, Windows Media, AAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless and Linear PCM audio files. However, they won't play Windows Media or AAC tracks encoded with digital rights management: That limits downloads of DRM-protected tracks to stores using Sony's ATRAC system.

The new players, which will appear in Japan later this month and in other markets later this year, draw on Sony's rich history of audio engineering and Sony is aiming the devices at music fans. As part of this plan it will promote them through sponsorship of a series of events linked with Japanese cable TV music channels.

The measure 87 millimeters by 27mm by 15mm and weigh 47 grams.

The S700-series, which come with noise cancelling and an FM radio, will come in versions with 4G bytes, 2G bytes or 1G bytes of memory. They will cost around YEN 29,000 (US$242), YEN 23,000 and YEN 18,000 respectively.

In comparison the 4G-byte version of Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod Nano costs ÂYEN 23,800 in Japan and the 8G-byte version is ÂYEN 29,800. That might make the 4G-byte Walkman look expensive at first glance but when the price of a pair of noise cancelling headphones is added to the iPod price consumers might find Sony's price more reasonable.

Sony will also sell two models without noise cancelling or FM tuner. The S600 series will be available in 2G-byte and 1G-byte capacities and cost YEN 20,000 and YEN 15,000 respectively.

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Martyn Williams

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