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Event Coverage

High resolution audio gets personal with Sony's new Personal Audio range

By Marcus Wong & Liu Hongzuo - 8 Oct 2015

High resolution gets personal with Sony’s new Personal Audio range

Sony just held an event to celebrate the launch of their new h.ear (pronounced hear) series – a range of stylish headphones and a Walkman that support High Resolution Audio (HRA) and come in a variety of striking colors with a metallic finish.

Every element in the h.ear series is available in a choice of five colors: Viridian blue, Cinnabar red, Charcoal black, Lime yellow, and Bordeaux pink – said to match every type of personality.

Bright colors mark the young, fresh nature of the h.ear series.

The MDR-100AAP h.ear on headband-type headphones are an extension of this ethos. It is a lightweight headband-type over-ear headphones that are powered by a 40mm HD driver unit that’s said to reproduce audio up to 60kHz (which is quite a fair bit higher than the 20kHz official upper-end hearing range for humans). Lightweight CCAW voice coils and titanium-coated diaphragms provide accuracy and clarity, and the headphones fold down easily for storage.

In our brief time with a pair of MDR-100AAP’s , we certainly felt that the headphones were light and decently compact. Though we must say we’re not sure how pliant the headphones can be as it certainly didn’t feel as sturdy as some of the other over-ear headphones we’ve seen recently.

Giving it a very quick audition on the display floor, we felt that the set seemed to lack a bit of sparkle on the high trebles, while a needing a bit more bass extension. But, the imaging certainly felt pretty good – on a recording of Freddie Freeloader by the great Miles Davis, we certainly didn't have too many issues placing the drums, piano, and of course trumpet work of Mr Davis himself.

The NW-A26HN and NW-A25 are virtually identical except for storage space.

Moving on to the NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkmans, the first thing that hit us was how light and small the Walkmans were. The NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkmans barely filled our hands, and felt extremely light. The main difference between the two is that the NW-A25 has a 16GB capacity, while the NW-A26HN has a 32GB one, and comes bundled with a set of MDR-NW750N headphones.

Both gain Sony’s S-Master HX digital amplifier and DSEE HX technologies from the previous generation, allowing for quality audio listening thanks to Sony’s unique upsampling technology which brings uncompressed music files to near HRA quality. LDAC (low latency codec) support allows for high quality wireless audio streaming via Bluetooth, and the battery life is also a fantastic 50 hours, which should take you anywhere you wish to go.

Talk about extremely compact! The NW-A25 and NW-A26N almost disappear in our hands.

We had a brief audition of the NW-A26HN player using one of the h.ear in MDR-EX750APs on display, and we do think the sound quality on the player shows promise. The interface is fairly simple to use, with most functions accessible from the main four-way controller. Switch between tracks by thumbing left or right, and choose between albums by hitting up or down. Overall, it seems like the players do a good job with pop pieces as there is a good sense of separation on vocals. Again, we’ll need a better listening environment to get a full sense of the capabilities, but the first impressions are positive to say the least!

The NW-ZX100 is more of a premium HRA player.

Finally , we gave the NW-ZX100 Walkman a run. These also have the enhancement capabilities of DSEE HX technology, and utilize S-Master HX digital processing technologies to perform full digital processing of the audio signal. Noise is reduced by eliminating the coupling condenser for the headphone output; changing the design so that the left and right channels each get two power supplies for positive and negative each.

LDAC is also present for optimal wireless connections, while the player has a 45-hour battery life and 128GB internal memory storage, ensuring that your music won’t run out before you get to your destination. There’s also a microSD card slot for easy expansion of memory, with support for microSDXC cards larger than 64GB.

A microSD slot allows for easy memory expansion.

In terms of audio, the NW-ZX100 certainly had a more refined sound than the NW-A25/NW–A26HM, with performance that was more even throughout the entire range. We again liked how vocals sounded on this player, and thought the quality seemed fairly consistent no matter what genre of music we tried.

The NW-ZX100 will be available from mid-October for S$699, while the MDR-100AAP headphones, NW-A25 Walkman and NW-A26HN Walkman will also be available from mid-October for S$249, S$299, and S$399 respectively at all authorized Sony retailers.

Sony's in-ear personal audio lineup.

Of course, we're not forgetting their in-ear lineup, designed for users who like having more portability for their personal audio.

MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC

For the listener who wants uninterrupted music even in the noisiest environments, Sony has the MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC in-ears. The stylish earpiece comes equipped with a module that has Automatic AI Noise Canceling, powered by an internal lithium-ion battery. When the power is out, it functions like a normal in-ear. The MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC noise canceling feature can last up to 16 hours on a full charge, and it’s rechargeable via micro-USB. Audio-wise, it has a pair of 9mm high sensitivity drivers that can reproduce frequencies of up to 40kHz.

MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC's Automatic AI Noise Canceling.

A quick spin on the MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC was enough to showcase how effective the noise canceling feature was. By turning it on, it was able to cut down the floor’s music to a whisper, and crowd chatter to nearly nothing. The sound signature was pleasant, with bias towards frequencies in the bass and mids when we tested it with pop songs by Bruno Mars.

MDR-EX750AP h.ear in

Moving on to the MDR-EX750AP h.ear in, these ones come with aluminum housing, which allows these trendy-looking in-ears to suppress vibrations. It also comes with 9mm drivers that can support High Resolution Audio. What sets this apart from the other earpieces is its Beat Response Control that gives your audio tracks a tighter rhythm and bass, and an acoustic port on the housing that controls airflow, resulting in solid bass frequencies and better diaphragm movement.

After trying the MDR-EX750AP h.ear in, we find that it’s a little bit brighter up on the trebles when compared to the noise canceling ones. By running it through a playlist of songs by Korean girl group Girls’ Generation, we found that it was sound imaging was generally well balanced, although the treble and bass overwhelms the mid frequencies. It does work better for acoustic tracks on a whole.

 XBA-300AP

To top the in-ear series off, Sony has the premium XBA-300AP in-ear headphones with a Triple Balanced Armature feature. The XBA-300AP uses a full-range, a tweeter, and a woofer armature, each handling the set of respective frequencies for clearer sound. It also features a double layered housing that gives better transient playback.

The Sony XBA-300AP on "display".

We expected the XBA-300AP to be crystal clear when reproducing notes across different frequencies – and it did. Treble was bright enough without being too jarring, and the bass sounded tight yet impactful. Mid-range frequencies tend to be overshadowed in such a sound profile, but the XBA-300AP held up. We tried it across a variety of tracks, from electro to acoustic, and jazz, and it fares quite well across these genres.

MDR-EX750NA h.ear in NC will retail at S$199, and the MDR-EX750AP h.ear in will retail at S$139. The XBA-300AP will retail at S$399, and they can be found at all authorized Sony retailers.

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