Being a computer science student, and something of a geek, it’s only natural that I have a rather large collection of mp3s. I’d been looking at mp3 players for ages and drooling over them, but after spending most of my student loan in the pub I’d resigned myself to not owning one for quite a while. My problems seemed to be exasperated when my room mate bought himself a lovely, shiny player in the form of the Sony NW-MS7. However, this was a blessing in disguise… As it turned out, my friend didn’t use the player too often, and when I happened to mention that I was after one, he said that he would sell me his for the princely sum of 75 Earth pounds. This was an offer too good to refuse and although my bank statement warned me not to, I parted with the money and became the owner of a lovely piece of technology. The first thing that caught my eye was the look of the player. After looking at the cheaper players on the internet, mostly the Rio models, this seemed just so small and cool. The dinky size which fits in the hand, the splash of blue, the way the screen refracts the sunlight. I admit it, I dribbled. I’ve heard some people voice worries that it’s not a particularly sturdy piece of kit but as it will probably spend most of it’s life in my shirt pocket and not in a war-zone, I don’t think I’ll be putting it’s structural integrity to the test. The next thing that caught my attention was the layout of the controls on the player. Sony seems to have a jog-dial fetish, as just about everything from them includes one. However this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in this case I found the jog-dial to be an intuitive way of operating the player. Play, skip, fast-forward and rewind were all operated by the dial, so that was nice and easy. The stop button is right next to the dial, and the volume controls are on the top of the player, next to the headphone jack. Although I
217;ve found it can take a couple of seconds of fumbling with the player when it’s in my pocket trying to find the right button, it’s the best layout I’ve yet seen on a player like this. Now for the software. I didn’t have any trouble installing the software on my computer, and in a matter of minutes had converted a couple of my mp3s into ATRAC3s and had transferred them to my player. Yes, the conversion process is slow, and yes, it can be annoying when you want to transfer a lot of mp3s to the player in one go. However, I’ve never had to spend more than ten minutes transferring files, and that is a full transfer, from mp3s on my computer to ATRAC3s on my player. I never seem to be in such a rush that I can’t spare this time to download my music for the day. Also, the problem isn’t really there if you are copying music from CD, and in a dissenting voice from a few others here, I do see the point in doing that. I never bought a CD Walkman because I thought they were far too bulky, whereas with this player I can choose the CD that I most want to listen to on any day and download it onto my tiny player. There have also been complaints about Sony’s measures to prevent people copying files to share with friends, and in theory I have to agree, it is annoying. However, in my personal experience this has never been a problem as most of my friends don’t have the ability to play Sony MemorySticks, and can’t be bothered to set up the software on their computer so they can copy from my player. With this type of usage, the copyright thing never really becomes an issue. So to try and sum up, as I feel I’ve been a little long winded about such a small player, I do adore the thing. I use it daily. It fits my needs perfectly, as I’ve never been one for carrying a lot of minidisks with me, and I’m hardly ever away from my computer for any length of time, so the fairly limited stor
age doesn’t become an issue for me. Although I doubt I’d have bought one new, I’m very glad I parted with my money for it, as it really is a good piece of kit. My recommendation – convince a friend to buy one and then sell it to you for less. You can’t lose…
::Features: - Skip free sound enabled by a removable 64 MB MagicGate Memory Stick - Ultra compact and lightweight - Hi-speed recording on PC using Open MB technology - Connects to PC for Cd recording or Internet downloading - High speed data transfer at 20 time normal playing speed via USB connection - Playback in ATRAC3 sound compression format, supports MP3 and WAV files - Upgradeable to support additional audio formats - Built-in rechargeable Lithium battery – 4 hours continuous playback - Includes Open MG Jukebox Music Management Software - DC/USB Connector - USB Cable - Headphones and carrying case supplied ::Verdict:: It uses ATRAC3 (Sony's favourite audio compression format) which at first was a turn-off fo me, but after I investigated this more it became an attraction. You can convert any type of music into this formatt, and get x3 the quality of music than you can expect from any normal MP3 player. The player uses Magic Gate Memory Sticks, another bonus - as you can buy as many of these as you wish. Each one holds upto 120 minutes of music. You can choose between three different bit rates, the lowest setting allows you to record the most number of tracks, the highest gives you the best sound quality but less tracks. Another big worry was to spend a few £100 then find that the next week there is a new player on the market that can do so much more. I dont think your going to get that with this player, I can see it being a leading force for quite a while. If you have the eye for real quality then this cigarette lighter sized player is for you. In this market you get what you pay for, but be warned, this isnt the cheapest.
MP3 is a format that has existed for a few years now. It did not come about, as many people believe, as a way of swapping music on P2P servers, but simply as a way of transferring music as smaller files. It?s only in the last two or three years, as more people have had access to faster internet connection, that it has been used as a way of pirating music. The explosion of personal MP3 players has been partly due to the rise of Napster and other such file transfer programmes. No matter what manufacturers claim, they all realise that a very large number of their customers aren?t planning to simply copy their own CDs onto their MP3 player like they?re supposed to. I believe that this view of customers, that they are hackers, criminals and cheapskates, had an impact on the designs of the personal MP3 players we saw on on the high street to begin with. They weren?t as well designed as personal Minidisc or CD players. Furthermore, the very large players weren?t prepared to get involved in a market that they saw as being a bit dodgy. Sony?s entry into the market changed a lot of this. Though strictly not an MP3 player (I?ll get onto their rival format later), this box is far more stylishly and professionally designed than any of its competitors. The buttons are in exactly the right place, and Sony haven?t been scared to make its operation as similar as possible to its Walkmans and Discmans (Discmen?). Sony have also had a good look at what people want from an personal MP3 player. This box is small enough to fit in just about any pocket, even the small one at the front of a shirt. This is a huge improvement over clunky CD Discmans that could only fit in the pockets of overcoats, and even then only overcoats with large pockets. It?s also in improvement over any of Sony?s Minidisc Discmans and even over many rival personal MP3 players. The fact that it uses rechargeable batteries is a nice touch. I can?t count the times I?ve had to
go without music after being unable to find any batteries for my old discman. At this sort of price, buying a set of rechargeable AAs wouldn?t make that much of a difference to the overall cost, but it?s handy that you don?t even need to fiddle around with those. As I said earlier, this isn?t really an MP3 player as it doesn?t store its music in the MP3 format. It uses Sony?s own ATRAC3 format which, I believe, is the same format used on Minidiscs. The sound quality cam actually be slightly better. If you encode music from a CD onto MP3 with a high bit-rate for use on your computer, then convert that MP to a lower bit-rate for use on your MP3 player (so that you can fit more music on), you?ll sometimes end up with some tiny segments of white noise appearing on the track. ATRAC3 doesn?t seem to suffer from that problem. There are problems with the format, however. Encoding and transferring your music can take a very long time, far longer than MP3. Also, if you buy a player that plays MP3 files, then you?ve probably already got a lot of these on your hard drive which you can copy straight on, ending the need for any encoding at all. Moving on, the Sony Memory Stick Walkman is more expensive than most of its rivals. At this price, you would expect more than the standard 64 Mb of memory, but that?s all you get. Sony repeatedly point out that you can buy as many more Sticks as you want, but at £100 each, I can?t see many people jumping at a chance like this. It?s a shame that Sony didn?t see the need to have 128 Mb either built in to the machine or on the stick that it comes with. Since Sony?s selling point seems to be that it?s a better quality option than it?s competitors, it would have been nice to hold 2 hours of music in high quality mode rather than having to go down to normal quality to hold this much. Ignoring any encoding errors that appear more frequently with MP3, music encoded at normal quality with ATRAC3 does se
em to sound slightly better than an MP3 encoded at the same bit-rate, but it?s possible that it just sounds better to me because I know before listening that it is slightly better. The actual playback quality is good, the bass and treble are well defined and the music is sharp. The headphones that Sony bundle of good quality and are also comfortable and light. When you mix this with the fact that the player itself is so light, you can quickly forget that you?re even listening to a music player (well, except for the music, obviously). At £300, you have to ask yourself whether this player is worth it. You can get other 64 Mb players for about £150 to £200, and they use the more convenient MP3 format. It?s true that this is probably the most stylish and impressive player out there, but there are other players that look almost as good, such as the Rio players.
Recently I bought a Sony MS Walkman from my local Dixons store. As soon as I got home and opened the box, the earphones were missing, the CD box seal was ripped open, most of the things had fingerprints on it, and the USB cable was missing. I took it back the next day, and at first they refused me a refund - apparently it was brand new and sealed when it was sold to me. Enough about my troubles with Dixons, but I do recommend if you do buy this, then get it from somewhere such as Argos or Index. The unit is small and light, I didn't even notice it was in my hand! The earphones have a comfortable fit. The screen on the unit is easy to read, but it has a bad contrast, even if it is on max contrast. The light has got to be the worst thing about this unit, it turns off so quicky, you couldn't even see the name of the song! The software that comes with it is hard to use, and needs a lot of fiddling about before you can get it to work. The bad thing about this unit is that it isn't actually a MP3 player, it is an ATRAC3 player, which is Sony's own compression format. The time it takes to convert your MP3's to this format takes years, but uploading the songs to the player is quite quick, thanks to the USB connection. (It takes about 10-15 seconds for each song.) The actual unit itself is extremely fragile - It feels as though it'll crack in your hand. The supplied memory stick is 64MB, letting you store only about 60mins of music, although Sony do claim it could hold up to 2 hours - only in the worst quality, which you can't convert your MP3's to, you can only change them to the ATRAC3 format at 105kb/s. The only way to get 2 hours of music is to convert your CD's - of course there is no point of this as the whole point of a digital music player is to play MP3's which have been downloaded off the net! Overall, I think this is a worthless unit, not at all worth the money you're pa
ying for it as it is so fragile, has a bad screen, doesn't give you many options - the list goes on. If you want a good quality music player, and want to pay less for it than this unit, I suggest you get a Sony MZ-R900 minidisc recorder or the MZ-E900 if you can already record minidiscs, or the Sony NW-E3 network walkman, which are what I have now. Both of these have excellent build quality with good quality sound - much better than the MS walkman.
Sony's designers did a great job on the hardware for the NW-MS7 Memory Stick Walkman. I am especially fond of the jog dial that makes the small MP3 player very easy to use. However, Sony's OpenMG software is time-consuming, difficult to use, and wastes storage space on your PC with its file conversions. The beautifully designed rectangular player is similar to Sony's Music Clip. The backlit screen is easy to read, and the jog dial lets you play, pause, and skip tracks with a tap of the thumb. The Memory Stick Walkman comes with a neck strap and headphones with a very short cord for listening on the go. If you'd rather put the player in your pocket, a headphone extension cord is included. Unfortunately, the great design is not carried through to the software. It comes with the same awful OpenMG software as the Music Clip, which requires you to encode your MP3 files in Sony's format. This takes as long as encoding the files from CD in the first place and leaves you with two versions of each song eating up hard-drive space. Thanks to a speedy USB connection, music transfers from the PC to the player pretty quickly, but it works with only Windows 98, and we had trouble using the software on a PC that had been upgraded from Windows 95. Once I loaded my music onto the player, I liked what I heard. The OpenMG files sounded indistinguishable from the original MP3s. Two bass-boost levels helped adjust the tones to myliking, and despite Sony's mention of a signal-to-noise ratio of only 80 decibels, i didn't notice any hiss. One of my complaints about the Music Clip was its lack of room for additional memory. Instead of built-in memory, the Memory Stick Walkman comes with one removable 64MB Sony Memory Stick that holds about 60 minutes of MP3 music at 128 kbps. The advantage of removable memory is the ability to purchase additional Sony Memory Sticks and bring more music with you. I have tried to keep this opinio
n as unbiased as possible and let you make up your own ideas as to weather you wish to purchase the player but in my opinion it is amongst the best
Well, it’s fairly safe to say that the Sony Walkman has come a long way since it first emerged in the 1970’s as the biggest thing to come out of Japan since Godzilla. The Discman followed a few years later and the mini disc took up the flag at the end of the 1990’s. The latest Sony product to bear the famous crest is the Sony Memory Stick Walkman. It’s the company’s latest gadget to incorporate memory stick technology, Sony’s unique storage medium, which means it’s incompatible with normal flash memory. In the box you get the player, a 64mb memory stick, companion software, a USB cable, an AC adapter, plus other accessories such as headphones and a carry case. Using OpenMG software, you record your entire CD collection to your PC’s hard drive, then upload selected tracks to the memory stick through a USB connection between your PC and the Walkman. Sounds simple doesn’t it? And it would be if the tracks didn’t take so long to record. The lengthy recording time is mainly due to the sluggishness of the OpenMG software at converting your music files into Sony’s ATRAC3 format, which can then be transferred to the memory stick. But the real problem is that the Walkman can’t play MP3 files. All your MP3’s need to be converted to ATRAC3 format first, and while the OpenMG software happily converts MP3’s to ATRAC3, it’s a right old pain and very time-consuming. Apart from this set back, the software is mind-bogglingly simple to use. You can record CD’s at three bit rates – 132, 105 and 66Kbps – with sound quality diminishing as the bit rate decreases. The OpenMG Jukebox also gathers title and track information from CDDB’s on-line database for displaying on the unit’s tiny backlit LCD panel. The new Walkman does, admittedly, have street cred by the bucketload, and if you want a piece of the latest technology, 300 smackeroos
may not seem like much. But when the price is double that of comparable MP3 players, and you take into account the MP3 playback issues, anyone can be excused for politely refusing.
I bought the Sony Memory Stick Walkman after about 12 months of 'umming' and 'ahhing' over various makes, models and prices of MP3 players. Most of the MP3 players were either dull grey rectangles with a few plastic silver buttons, or very flashy and very expensive. Common features of all MP3 players I came across were that a) they weren't very well designed with the buttons in all the wrong places b) they were built terribly, out of creaky, thin plastics with little hard plastic buttons or were built of machined metal that scratched when it was put down, and again had hard plastic buttons. I then came across the Sony NW-MS7 Memory Stick Walkman, which I'd seen in a few tech magazines and which I thought was only available as import from Japan. OK I thought, let's have a look. From the moment I picked it up, it felt right, with all the buttons in easily accessible places when in my hand, and a nifty and solidly built jog wheel for fast forward/rewind. The build quality of the unit was excellent, with a proper mechanism for taking the Memory Stick into the player rather than just forcing it into a thin slot. The design was very nice compared to the MP3 players I'd seen, and looked even better than most MiniDisc and CD players, with a rainbow-reflective blue panel set into the silver plastic shell. I then found out that the player was not completely MP3 compatible, and that MP3s had to be converted, encoded and duplicated in a new format. I didn't take this to be much of a problem, as I knew that Sony had made the player SDMI compatible, which means that downloaded music should only play a few time before expiring. The price tag of almost £300 was very steep for a portable music player, but considering that I'd seen MP3 players up to £200 from manufacturers I'd never heard of, the extra £100 seemed well spent on the high-specced and more importantly,
well-built, MS Walkman, which came complete with USB cable, docking station, charger, carry pouch, earphones + extension cable and a 64MB Memory Stick. First thing after getting it home was to install the software. This didn't autorun as suggested in the manual, and a bit of digging into folders on the CD was required, which may trip people up first time. Other niggles with the software included that it is only available in English, which seemed a bit of a oversight by Sony, although a translation is apparently available in foreign manuals; and that the software is only compatible with Windows 98, and it refused to work on my main Windows 2000 machine. Those niggles aside, once the software was installed it ran nicely and was very graphically pleasing, showing that Sony had probably put some effort into the software. Nice touches such as the software auto-running when the player is plugged in makes the software 'feel' good. The conversion between MP3 and Sony's format, ATRAC3 (as used on MiniDiscs) is painless if a tad slow, but providing you only convert the songs you'll listen to you can leave the computer converting overnight and then the songs are ready. The uploading/downloading time to transfer a song seems reasonably fast, but with nothing to test it against I couldn't compare it. I quickly bunged some songs (at 105kbps quality) onto the player and pulled out the earphones and immediately thought the sound was very tinny. 'Here we go - £300 wasted' was my first thought, but a quick delve into the menus brought up the BASS control, and once set to level 2 the sound quality was remarkable for the 'middle' quality setting, and I could hear no 'pinking' or 'crashing' which I find MP3s often produce when played on a computer. Playing about with the player found a multitude of functions, such as fast/slow fast forward and rewind, a track selection menu and all
sorts of display options. The only problems I have found so far are that the Repeat function seems to turn itself off when the songs on the stick are added to/removed from. I also thin k Sony should have added some kind of wrist strap with it, as it is very small and a strap would be useful for fishing the player out of the pouch. All in all, I've very pleased with the MS Walkman, and although I had wondered about how the SDMI compliance would affect the way I use the player, but for my personal use it's great, although I could see it restricting people who want to use the player to share songs with friends. I would suggest buying the MS Walkman if you want quality, a reputable name with the support + backup, great design, ease of use and if you've got the cash and the hard disk space to store the ATRAC3 files. Don't buy it if you want to use it to swap songs, or would rather save the money and buy a cheaper, more compatible but more fragile standard MP3 player.