capsule review

Sony Walkman NWZ-S738F

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At a Glance
  • Sony NWZ-S738F Walkman

Carrying the torch of the Walkman brand name 30 years after the first cassette Walkman was introduced, the Sony Walkman NWZ-S738F is a high-quality MP3 player. The marquee feature is noise-cancellation, which showcases the player's excellent sound and equalizer.

This is a slim, stylish player, with a brushed-metal faceplate and back. It also slips easily into small pockets, thanks to a 1.6-ounce frame that measures 3.6 inches high, 1.75 inches wide, and 0.31 inches deep--a bit smaller (but thicker) than a credit card. It's available in capacities of 8GB (for $180) and 4GB (for $150).

The NWZ-S738F sounds phenomenal, especially when using its noise-cancelling earbuds with the player's noise-cancelling feature turned on. That makes it a great option for flights, bus rides, and settings where outside noise may creep in on your listening experience. In PC World Test Center audio tests, it netted a signal-to-noise ratio score of 82 decibels--just a shade below the latest iPods and the top-ranked Creative Zen X-Fi--as well as a barely registering harmonic distortion and noise level of 0.01 percent.

The noise-cancelling earbuds are a bit bulkier than most earbuds and will probably work best with bigger ears. The headphone port on the NWZ-S738F works with any minijack, but to get the noise-cancelling feature, you need to use the included set. That's worth thinking about if you don't like the look or feel of the large earbuds.

What's more, thanks to the proprietary noise-cancellation connector on the side of the included earbuds' jack, they won't work with other devices. In short, you can use other headphones with this player, but the bundled noise-cancellation headphones won't work with standard minijack inputs.

The earbuds, manual equalizer settings, and great sound aren't the only reasons why an audiophile might want to consider this player. A number of other audio features would entice any aural perfectionist.

For example, there are six surround-sound settings (which, in my informal tests, had a clear influence on the depth and shape of the sound); these include DSEE Sound Enhancement, to restore audio lost due to MP3 compression (but it didn't produce many noticeable audio changes); Clear Stereo, which keeps the left and right channels from leaking into one another (it did, but apparently I prefer my channels mixed); and a Dynamic Normalizer setting (which made songs louder, in a good way).

The fully manual five-band equalizer comes with four presets (Heavy, Pop, Jazz, and "Unique").

You can't make playlists within the player, but the NWZ-S738F does have some unique on-board features. One of them is the "SensMe" playlist generator, which analyzes your songs' beats-per-minute counts--and "moods," according to Sony-- and builds automatic playlists based on those parameters. In SensMe mode, the player assigns playlists names such as "Daytime," "Relax," "Energetic," and "Extreme" (the mood, not the band). In my informal tests, SensMe worked well enough to create "mood-based" playlists.

Other features include an FM radio, podcast sorting, an "Intelligent Shuffle" feature with a shuffle-by-year option named "Time Machine Shuffle," and photo and video playback. The 2-inch-diagonal, 240-by-320 screen is vibrant for photo and video viewing and bright enough to see in nearly any lighting condition, but it's a bit too small to enjoy watching videos. Already-small clips are shrunk down more if they're in wide-screen or 16:9 format. Plus, there's no way to zoom in on an area of a photo once it's displayed.

On the bright side, you can set your own photos as your home screen's background, change orientation of the photos and videos from vertical to horizontal via a menu option, and listen to music while you're browsing photos. All in all, the screen is great for navigating menus, but not for viewing photos or watching videos.

Navigating the player itself is as easy as it is intuitive. A ring consisting of four directional buttons surrounds the center play/pause button on the front of the NWZ-S738F, as well as dedicated Back and Option buttons on either side of the ring. The Back and Option buttons double as the Home button and power-off button, respectively, when pressed for a few seconds. A volume rocker and lock switch reside along the right side of the device, and the noise-cancellation on/off switch, proprietary charging/synching connector, and headphone jack are all on the bottom of the player.

The player feels well-constructed and solid in the hand, so this player seems built to last the daily wear-and-tear of being jammed into your pocket or thrown in your bag.

File support is fairly limited: on the audio end, the NWZ-S738F will play MP3s, protected and unprotected WMA, WAV, and DRM-free AAC files. On the video side, it supports MPEG-4 (H.264 codec) and M4V files, as well as JPEG still images.

The player supports dragging and dropping your media files onto it as a drive, but Sony also includes a mini-CD with the player to install Napster and Windows Media Player 11 (both of which the NWZ-S738F supports), a PDF of the user's manual, and a plug-in that lets you drag and drop files from iTunes. Also in the box are the USB-to-proprietary-connector charging and syncing cable, a proprietary-connector-to-headphone-jack audio-out cable, and troubleshooting and Quick Start guides. The player is designed well enough that it can be mastered without the documentation.

This is a great player for audiophiles: if you like your music tweakable, clean, delivered via some creative on-board features, and in a slick, durable chassis, the well-priced Walkman NWZ-S738F is a great option. You may want to look elsewhere, however, if video and photo playback and file support is a top priority.

--Tim Moynihan

This story, "Sony Walkman NWZ-S738F" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • The NWZ-S738F is an audiophile's player, with top-notch earbuds and great sound, but it isn't the best choice for video.

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