Gadgets, Gizmos and Gear

The Sony Walkman HD Conundrum: Is Better Really Better?

6 mins read

Do you have a junk drawer in your kitchen? I think some people call it the “utensil” drawer. You know, the one with some paperclips, one of those big pink erasers, two old keys, a misshapen button, a 9-volt battery, a wing nut, and hiding at the bottom, a sheet of unicorn stickers. 

I’ve always had one of those, even as a kid. But something my parents didn’t have is a box of electronics stuff. I bet you have one of those, as well. Mine is full of chargers for phones I no longer have, old phones that no longer work, coax cables, RCA adapters, a rat’s nest of headphone cords, flash drives, and old .mp3 players. 

What’s funny is you can almost always find this “box” at someone’s garage sale, but you’ll never see junk drawer contents on display next to their boxed Christmas tree. 

When I saw an advertisement for a new Sony Walkman, I was intrigued. My electronics box doesn’t even go back that far, but if it did, there would be a bunch of Sony Walkmans in it. There might be an original iPod or an old Palm Treo in it now, but nothing from before 1986. Nevertheless, as sure as day, I was staring at an advertisement for a $1,198.00 digital Sony Walkman. 

What could it possibly do for $1,198.00?

My first Sony Walkman was grey. It was the highlight of my life at 14 years of age. I’d shove that Huey Lewis tape in, and for 14 minutes, I’d get solid music (with a background hiss). Then, I’d hear the “click” as it “auto-reversed” to play the other side. (Not having to eject the cassette and flip it over was a cool feature.)

After reading a little bit about the NW-WM1A Premium Walkman, I knew I had to ask an audiophile friend of mine. He’s been a connoisseur of Bang & Olufson, Bose, and Klipsch equipment forever. He’s constantly striving to find equipment that will perfectly reproduce the sounds of real instruments, which is important to a classical music fan like him. 

I don’t have that kind of ear. 

His first question to me was, “Are you thinking about this for podcasters?” 

I said, “No, for podcast fans.” 

He gave me a curious look and replied, “I think you should just pick something else to write about, because this Sony Walkman is absolutely not for listening to podcasts for a huge number of reasons. I got a chance to try this Walkman out at the Sony booth at CES, and it’s not what you’re thinking it is.” 

“First of all, it’s an .mp3 player—a really good one. Who’s going to download their podcast episodes and then transfer them by USB cord to the Walkman? Nobody.” 

And that’s true. The only podcast episodes I save to my computer are mine before I release them, and as a backup in case something happens to my podcast. Otherwise, I listen to other people’s podcasts via an app on my phone. 

And the Sony NW-WM1A doesn’t support apps or streaming content. In the world of everything connected, the Walkman walks alone. It’s not connected; it’s not online; it’s not like everything else. The folks at Sony decided to put all their energy into a player that could reproduce sound unlike anything else. 

“And that’s the other problem,” he said. “Podcasters don’t use this kind of equipment when creating and editing their shows. This Walkman produces sound so clear that if you use them to listen to podcasts, all the little cuts they make while editing the podcast, the background noises, and every other noise and hiss will end in your ears. Unless it’s an NPR podcast, I think it could be a disaster for the average listener.”

His words reminded me of the troubles independent filmmakers had when HD TVs came out. Their edits and poorer equipment were highlighted with the detail of high definition. I could see how that could be a problem with podcasts. 

I can’t imagine what my podcast sounds like through unbelievably good equipment. But I’m sure with the right headphones, you could hear my kids playing Fortnite in the background. 

But if you happen to be an audiophile, someone who knows Erich Kunzel’s 1812 Overture backwards and forwards, and you’d love to replicate that perfection while jogging or working out at the gym, the Sony NW-WM1A is worth looking into. 

Just to whet your appetite, it features oxygen-free copper cables, is compatible with high-res DSD files up to 11.2MHZ, and can handle all high-res formats. The batteries last 35 hours, and the Walkman does have Bluetooth technology, so you can wirelessly stream the sound to your high-resolution wireless speakers. All for $1,198.00.

Me? I just want to listen to podcasts when the kids aren’t in the minivan.

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