With the whole tech world constantly banging on about the iPod, sometimes it's easy to forget that there are other big-name brands who also make portable music players. Sony has a long history in personal audio, and still uses the Walkman brand that it made famous with its personal cassette players. Thankfully, things have moved on and Sony now offers a comprehensive range of MP3 players including the top-of-the range A-Series and the sporty, water-resistant W Series. The B Series is the brand's entry-level offering and comprises two models - the 4GB NWZ-B163B and the 2GB NWZ-B162 that we're reviewing here.
Available in black, blue, pink, red or green, the NWZ-B162 measures 90 x 23.3 x 15.2mm and weighs just 28g making it nice and compact and roughly the same size as a USB stick, so that it slips neatly into a bag or pocket. A detachable clip means that you can also attach it your clothing or bag to make it easier to access the controls. There's also a small strap hole on the back in case you want to attach it to a keyring or lanyard.
The NWZ-B162's fascia features a small screen, two hard buttons (for "back" and the "Zap" mode), along with a large play/pause button enclosed by a round "shuttle switch" which can be rotated slightly forwards or backwards to skip tracks or wind forwards or backwards. There are a few tiny ridges on either side of the dial, so it's easy to control. The dial also incorporates a ring of LED lights which flash in time with the music. Depending on how you feel about such things, this is either a neat little touch of genius or the most annoying thing in the world. Thankfully, there's an option to turn this off in the settings menu.
The play/pause button is perfectly located so that it sits exactly where your thumb naturally rests when holding the player - likewise for the dial that surrounds it.
The bottom edge of the player is home to a hold switch to stop you accidentally knocking the controls during playback, while the top edge is home to the bass/play mode button along with the volume control and a record/stop button for the voice recorder function.
Connecting the player up to your computer is a piece of cake. You don't need a lead as the top of the player can be removed to reveal a built-in USB connector. Transferring music is very straightforward via Windows Media Player (11 or 12) or you can just drag and drop from any PC and you can also transfer directly from iTunes. The player isn't Mac compatible, but then we're guessing that if you've got an Apple computer, it's more than likely that you'll be sticking to Apple's audio devices, too.
Switching the player on (by pressing the play button), pulls up the home menu on the tiny screen where you can choose between voice (for the voice recorder), music library and settings. The NWZ-B162 will play MP3s and non-DRM WMA files and the 2GB memory should let you get around 500 songs or so on there. On firing up the NWZ-B162 for the first time, we found a bunch of pre-loaded tracks recorded by people we'd never heard of. It's very simple to select and delete these to make more room for your own tunes, while hooked up to a PC.
The NWZ-B162 lets you choose from a few basic play modes, including shuffle and repeat and you can search your music library by artist, album, genre or playlist. There's also a built-in equaliser with four presets - including Heavy, Pop and Jazz - and a custom setting. You'll also find some more general stuff in the menu, including date and time settings and screen contrast adjustments.
A particularly nifty feature on the NWZ-B162 is the the Zap button which changes between the ZAPPIN function and normal playback. This handy feature plays back song clips in the order that they're stored on your player so that you can easily search for a song by ear, then switch back to normal mode when you've found the one you want. You can choose between two settings - one plays about 10 seconds of each song while the other plays around 3 seconds.
One of the most important factors for any portable device is battery power, so the fact that a full charge of the NWZ-B162 will give you 18 hours of listening time is good news. What's more, the inclusion of a Quick Charge function means that you'll get 90 minutes of playback after plugging the player into your computer for just three minutes - perfect when you've got to dash out, but haven't had time to charge it completely.
The sound isn't exactly up to audiophile standard, but for 30 quid, it's surprisingly good. The overall audio performance is strong, with a warm sound that's full of punch. The bass boost mode is also particularly impressive. The sound does tend to lose a fair bit of clarity when the volume is cranked up, but at this price range, that's hardly a surprise.
The supplied headphones feel about as cheap as they possibly could, but they're perfectly functional and actually quite comfortable. Switching to a more expensive pair of cans, the sound was certainly improved, although the bass boost function sounded a little overdone - the audio actually sounded better without it.
Voice recordings - which can be captured in high, low or mid quality - are also reasonably sharp and clear and certainly good enough to take down the odd voice memo.
The NWZ-B162 is a no-frills product that delivers decent sound quality at a bargain price. With just 2GB of memory on board, it's unlikely that most people will be buying this as their primary music player, but it's ideal as a back-up for when you don't want to take any risks with a pricier gadget. If you're going for a run or indulging in some poolside tunes then this pint-sized player is a handy gadget to have at your fingertips. A nice design, built-in USB connectivity and the simple music transfer system all combine to make this a neat little MP3 player that won't break the bank.
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