Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sony Walkman NWZ-E384 8GB Review Part 2: My iPod Replacement

Packaging / Unboxing
Picked it up in person from Best Buy. The package it came in was a few inches wider and longer than the player itself, which wasn't big at all. A quick measurement shows that the NWZ-E384 Walkman measures in at around 1.75" x 3.5" x 0.25" (Sony website has exact specs). No clamshell box, just a plastic shell inside a cardboard box. Included were earphones, a USB cable, and some short documents (e.g. warranty, quick start).

Overall, it was very easy to open and get started with. The most trouble, if you can even call it that, was peeling the sticker off the LCD screen.
Sony Walkman NWZ-E384 hooked up to headphones and computer
Video Walkthrough
Overview of Sony Walkman NWZ-E384
Longer Overview of Sony Walkman NWZ-E384

I'm running Windows 7 64-bit and  Windows Media Player (WMP) version 12.x. Apple's iTunes is installed on the computer too, but I mainly use it for the store.

All I had to do was use an existing USB A to USB mini-B cable to connect the NWZ-E384 Walkman to the computer, and then let Windows do its own installation while connected to the internet. The quick start guide mentions something about running a setup.exe file on the player itself to install some software, but I didn't bother.

After the first full charging session, I disconnected the NWZ-E384, turned on the device, set the time, and made a few minor changes to the options. The biggest change I can remember was to the volume limiter (turned on). All other enhancements were turned off by default.

File Transfer
One of the reasons I bought this player was because I read that drag and drop using Windows Explorer worked. I think it does because I can browse all the media folders on the player and there may be a blurb about it in the manual -- haven't tried it. Apparently, this player could display album art, so I wanted to properly "sync" the device to make sure those images transferred over. That meant using the built-in Windows Media Player sync that I had never used before. Before I get into file transfer, let me note that this player should be able to sync using iTunes and Media Go as well.

The sync process was extremely easy and intuitive after following the instructions in the manual. Essentially, it was only necessary for me to drag and drop my music files from the WMP main library onto the "Sync" sidebar, then click a button to start syncing. About half an hour later, it had finished transferring about 6 GB worth of music files (.wma variable bit rate and .m4a formats).

For the hell of it, I copied over a .mp4 video to test it out.
Sony Walkman NWZE-384 Rear

Does it work?
Good news: both .wma and .m4a files from CD ripping and the iTunes store worked. Album art also showed up properly. The .mp4 video worked as well!

I find the user interface acceptable. It's simple enough and music/files can be sorted by criteria like album, artist, genre, and year. Obviously, iTunes and Windows Media Player are much easier to use, but you have to give something up for size. An iPod Touch or Classic probably functions better though. The LCD screen is extremely small, so I don't think I'll be watching videos on there much -- despite ignoring the battery usage rate for videos.

I couldn't find any specs concerning what range of impedances the player could drive adequately or the impedance of the earphones that come with it. However, the cheapest in-ear earphones I could find on Sony's website from their Prestige line had impedances below 40 ohms.  The current iPod Shuffle, which is essentially what I have, comes with headphones with an impedance of 32 ohms (Apple website).

As noted earlier, I'm using my Sennheiser Momentum on-ears with the Walkman. They have an impedance of 18 ohms as they should be designed for portable music players and not living room stereos. All I can say is that they are plenty loud for me.

A setting of "5" on the volume was able to produce about 60 dBC on my louder music files. This was measured by mashing a RadioShack SPL meter (C-weighting, never calibrated after purchase) right into the cups of the headphones. This is very good for me considering that I try to keep all my music, headphones or stereo, hovering around the 60 dBC mark.

Pushing the volume to "10" got the loudness up to about 70 dBC, which is way too loud for my liking. The volume protection feature caps the volume out at "14" (about 80 dBC). Note that the loudness is probably dependent on the specific set of headphones used (e.g. impedance), so "10" may not produce 70 dBC consistently across different headphone models. The volume level is capable of going past "14" and probably up to at least double that in case you're wondering (Canadian model) -- haven't checked. Having passive noise isolation with the headphones helps a lot with maintaining a low volume level.

The Walkman also remembers my last volume level. My Shuffle would always reset to the highest volume setting and it'd be a mad dash to decrease volume before the music started playing -- not as bad as it sounds considering I had set the volume limiter pretty low.

Sound Quality
My standards for portable music are pretty low, but I think everything sounds as good, if not better, than the iPod Shuffle I have. This, of course, is while using a $300 set of Sennheiser Momentums for both devices. I never bothered to unpackage the included Sony earphones -- they went straight back into the box while cleaning up.

Do they sound better than the iPod Shuffle with the included Apple ear-buds? Definitely. The noise isolation from the Momentums is incredible and makes listening significantly more enjoyable without having to hear things over undesired noise. This, of course, may have nothing to do with the player itself.

Do they sound as good as my $700 receiver + bookshelf speakers + subwoofer? Not sure, doubtful. I've been running the bookshelf setup for more than five years now, so my ears are accustomed (read: biased) to hearing all of my music through them.

FM Radio
This is an awesome and welcome feature on the device. Even in the middle of the house behind three or four double-brick walls, the FM reception for most of my favourite stations is good. There is definitely some static when I put the player down on the table for one station though. I'm pretty impressed given the minute size of the device. The tuner is digital and station presets can be setup.

Battery Life / Charging
Haven't used up the first charge yet. In case you're wondering, the battery is built-in and I don't see a way to open the Walkman up. The manual says "up to 30 hours" for music at a relatively low bitrate. Videos apparently kill the battery after 4 hours at a specific bitrate. These estimates obviously depend on a number of different factors.

The first charge took about 2 hours to get it from "82%" (according to Windows) to full. I'll update this section after I use up the first few charges.

Love it. It plays .wma and .m4a files, so I'm covered for both my Windows Media Player and iTunes collections. The device even plays .mp4 video files. Not being tied down to a specific file type or program is an excellent "feature" and I would recommend the Sony Walkman E-series on that alone.

Then there's also the built-in FM radio, the relatively small size, light weight, separate headphone jack and data/charging port, functional interface, lack of required software to transfer data, and functionality with my headphones. All for around $70 -- it's $60 as I write this because of a sale. My fingers are crossed on reliability. It's a Sony product, so I hope I'm in luck.

<<< Part 1: But I don't want an iPod

Alternative to Walkman or iPod: FiiO X1 Music Player
Sony Walkman NWZ-A17B: Upgrade from NWZE384?

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