Sound Impressions

I will detail the numerous and extensive sound enhancement settings that actually function as described.  My god, I cannot believe how well they work.  To date, no other DAP that I have ever used actually provided a preset of functions like this that actually altered the sound for the better, yet in multiple layers for yet more of an improved sound.  Cowon got close, but even those DAPs only offered EQ presets, whereas Sony’s functions inside this A17 upscale and clean up some of the source material.   DSEE HX is a function that upscales the source to Hifi audio quality, the difference after enabling this feature is immensely apparent.

Bass quality is significantly better, smoother and more refined, far less boomy and the entire shape of the stereo image is altered into more of a widescreen effect.  From here, some other sound settings automatically disable, some of the other settings are not functional so long as this mode is active, and vice-versa.  I am positively shocked at the level of improvement that this function adds to my listening experience.  With very bassy headphones like my Sony 950BT, the low end is altered for the better into a smoother and more linear experience, that rumble vanishes, which may be a bad thing if you want to retain that massive low end of your headphone.

However, the entire spectrum feels more “hifi” to me with regard to the shape it usually takes on, even with different headphones that I’d tested with, the general shape of the stage tends to go from ” whatever the headphone normally sounds like ” to ” something more wide than tall, more relaxed and smooth”.  It is very impressive.

1

Hi-Res Audio Effects

Hi-Res Audio Effects is a function that toggles the Hi Res sound effects on and off.  This mode cannot be used while DSEE HX is enabled.   With the mode actively down sampling the source track, the experience is cleaner and more refined, but once disabled you hear the track in its raw form.  Unclean by comparison most of the time with normal quality tracks.  I cannot hear much of a difference in quality here with this mode disabled when I am also using the best tracks I have access to.

Clear Audio+ takes it another step beyond the other two, actively optimizing the source track with Sony’s “unique signal processing”.  With the track enabled, the experience is louder, more deep sounding and less grainy than if the function were disabled.  This function might act like the combination of DSEE HX and the Hi Res Audio Effect combined, but toggled through just one function instead of two.

If you don’t like any of these things and want to use your own EQ, you can do that as well in the Sound Settings menu.  From there, you get a nice EQ set that actually works (unlike Astell and Kern and FiiO’s players, where you cannot hear much of a difference when altering their EQ functions ). Really nice stuff here, Sony.  High five!

I’ve got to say, this A17 offers some of the best sound tailoring that I’ve ever seen, shocking all of it is extremely audible with some functions on and off.  Personally, I’ve found that keeping DSEE HX and Clear Audio+ both enabled offers the best and most smooth presentation.   It is very linear and “reference” sounding, whereas with these functions disabled, the entire imaging experience is boosted forward, the bass retains its normal quantity as per what the headphone may normally offer on a neutral EQ setup, lastly the sense of clarity is audibly inferior.  Keep these settings on, they really do a great job in cleaning up the track quality.   I can go into extreme detail just with regard to these core sound setting functions and offer a 10 page report of comparisons with those functions both off and on, but I can’t do that.  Summed up, these functions actually improve the sound for the better, so use them.

Bluetooth

As if having all those sound setting options wasn’t good enough, Sony went ahead and tossed a great sounding Bluetooth experience into this salad bowl.  Why not, things are already crazy enough, why not make it more crazy?  Pairing my Sony 950BT to the Sony A17 was a breeze and I’ve never once experienced a single cutout through the entire duration of my time with the DAP.  Not once.  Even in BT mode, the A17 is faster than the FiiO X1 and X3 UI when cycling through tracks, although I have encountered some lag now and then with larger track size files.  Sometimes, the player would get sluggish and not respond normally when cycling through tracks in Shuffle mode.  I cannot complain, the player has not needed to be reset a single time since I’ve had it.



Bluetooth quality on this device does my 950BT justice and the pairing seems like a match made in heaven ( Sony’s labs ).    It really feels like Sony tuned their A17 to pair with most of their current headphone lineup, like the MDR-1R and Z7, both of which paired insanely well with the A17 with regard to physical presentation qualities.   True, I’d likely want to use a more clear DAP with the Z7, but pretty much everything else in Sony’s lineup seems geared for usage with this DAP.   I am beyond elated to report that Sony has made sure all the Bluetooth functions on my 950BT’s ear cups are able to control the A17 core functions.  I can wirelessly fast forward, pause, skip track and toggle volume as I please without touching the DAP.  Words cannot do justice to how happy that makes me.

4

Staging and Pairing

The A17 is capable of achieving a wide screen effect, so you can pair the player with pretty much any type of sound signature your headphone offers.  It doesn’t matter if you’d want a linear and smooth physical presence, or a boosted one. The A17’s complex sound setting structures will probably match up with your headphone.  Your problem in the chain of your portable rig would be your amplifier, which will ruin your tailored sound in most cases.  I’ve found that my RSA SR71B for example destroys those great pairings with certain headphones I own that simply sound better when connected directly to the A17, leaving the portable amplifier out of it.  However, at the cost of sounding audibly less clean and with less power, the A17 all by itself is not a portable power house of a DAP.  It will struggle for most full size headphones beyond 70ohm or so, so I would avoid using any headphones that are moderately to intensely inefficient of course.  You’ll be fine with most portable headphones, no worries.  Just make sure you selectively pair your A17 and headphones with an amplifier that suits your sound preferences.

I say this because the A17 is very user friendly and can be set up to your preferences more than most DAPs can be, so tossing a portable amplifier that cannot be altered in sound type will not justify the usage of the A17 in your portable rig.  Some amps have recessed mids, so if you tailor your A17 to boost the midrange with a forward sounding headphone, you’ve just rendered the entire portable rig pairing useless for your needs.  That portable amp with recessed mids will negate the tailoring you’ve done inside the A17 as a source.  It may require more research on the part of your amplifier if you need that extra power.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned, the A17 is extremely user friendly and jam packed with a wide variety of settings for your listening pleasure.  I don’t want to use my Fiio DAPs anymore, not to knock them or anything, they sound almost identical in quality to this A17.  But, the Sony A17 here has so much more to offer.  I’ve gotten a chance to hear the ZX1 by Sony, which has audible noise and hiss when there is no track playing.  I am happy to report that the A17 is actually is nearly silent in that regard.   The A17 is a winner, nuff’ said.

I would like to see a new v2.0 minus the video, radio and images options though, as I don’t want nor need them.  The video functions are still very low res and the photo image quality for album art and browsing really aren’t at all special, so Sony…kick them to the curb.  Nobody wants those features in the audiophile world.  I’d rather save the cash with a lower price point, minus those features, than pay more for features that I’ll never use.

Sony has done a great job, but I worry now about the potential split up of the company which was only just recently reported.  It seems Sony is going to branch off into divisions and might no longer support itself as one entity, Sony-Audio could become a different company than what it is now, run by different people.  If that is the case, I fear the worst.  If the same people are going to remain on board for the duration of the companies branching off into separate divisions, then I have no worries at all for the future of Sony’s audio production line.  These guys clearly care about their products and I am extremely excited to see what they dish out in the near future.

FYI:  The A17+ SR71B+ Sennheiser Adidas HD25-ii is one of my favorite portable setups I’ve ever heard.  I highly recommend you try to pair the A17 with a neutral or forward sounding amplifier and a similarly setup headphone.

Price: $299

Links: http://store.sony.com/64-gb-hi-res-walkman-digital-music-player-zid27-NWZA17SLV/cat-27-catid-All-MP3-Players

Sony A17 Technical Specifications

Audio

  • Audio Modes : ClearAudio+/DSEE HX/5-band EQ/VPT/Dynamic Normalizer/DPC
  • Station Preset(s) : Up to 30
  • Audio Power Output : 10 + 10 mW
  • Tuner : FM Tuner
  • Tuner Frequency Range : 87.5 – 108.0 mHz
  • Frequency Response : 20 to 40,000 Hz (when playing data file, single signal measurement)

Audio Format(s) Supported :

  • MP3: 32-320 kbps (incl. VBR) at 32, 44.1, and 48 kHz
  • WMA: 32-192 kbps (incl. VBR) at 44.1 kHz
  • FLAC: at 8, 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 kHz
  • L-PCM: at 8, 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 kHz
  • AAC: 16-320 kbps (incl. VBR) at 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, and 48 kHz
  • HE-AAC: 32-144 kbps at 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, and 48 kHz
  • ALAC: 16-24 bit at 8, 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 kHz
  • AIFF: 16-24 bit at 8, 11.025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 kHz

Audio Features

  • Play Mode : Normal / Repeat / Shuffle / Shuffle & Repeat / Repeat 1 Song / SensMeTM channels
  • Bluetooth Feature & Device Bluetooth Audio
  • Audio Codec : SBC, aptX codecs

Display

  • Display Technology : TFT display with white-LED backlight
  • Screen Size : 2.2 inch (5.6 cm) QVGA (320×240 pixels) 262,144 colors

General

  • Backlit Color : White
  • Music Storage Capacity (Approx) : 64 GB (expandable via optional microSD to 192 GB)

Hardware

  • Display : 2.2 in. QVGA TFT display (320 x 240 pixels) 262,144 colors
  • System Requirements : IBM PC/AT compatible computer preinstalled with the following Windows operating systems1:
  • Interface : Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0 compliant)

Inputs and Outputs

  • Digital Audio Input(s) : WM-Port (22 pin)
  • USB Port(s) : High-speed USB 2.0 compliant
  • Headphone Output : Stereo mini-jack

Memory

  • User Memory Capacity (Approx.) : microSD (up to 2 GB) microSDHC (up to 32 GB) microSDXC (64 GB and more up to 128 GB)
  • Memory Size : 64 GB

Power

  • Power Type : Built-in Rechargeable Li-ion Battery (weight 20 g separately)
  • Battery Indicator : LED Battery Life Indicator (Green/Orange/Red)
  • Battery Charging (Approx) : USB-based:
  • 4 Hrs (full charge)
  • Battery Capacity : 960 mA/h
  • Output Power : 10 + 10 mW
  • Recharging Time : Approx. 4 hours
4.0
03
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12 Responses

  1. Jsilver

    Hello. I’m almost set on buying the A17 but I do have one question. It is very important to me that the player can store all my music library (currently 155 GB and always expanding) and I was pleased to read about your use of an SD card with an adapter and thus expanding the final capacity to 320GB (!). However, the player specs say that it can accomodate a microSD card up to 128GB. If it is possible to go beyond that, why wouldn’t Sony use that information to their advantage?

    My concern is this: would it be a problem if I tried to expand the player’s memory beyond the advertised 192GB? You seem to have done it with no quarrels but I just wanted to make sure. Thank you for the amazing reviews.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      200gb micro SD cards are now available, I’ve a Sandisk 200gb micro sd and it works perfectly as it normally would. Most companies were more than likely aware a 200gb micro sd was on the way but probably didn’t want to tell people it could handle 200gb. Companies that large dont care about rewriting specs to keep current or up to date, once that box and label art is done, its done and the odds of them editing their products descriptions are extremely low.

      Currently, the 200gb micro sd’s are actually around what you’ve stated, more like 192gb or something. So that combined with the internal A17 memory would give you closer to 250gb total. With a full size to micro sd adapter, the track listing limit is really the only potential thing that could limit how many songs the player will let be read. Some players actually have a pre built in track quantity limit, but I am not sure if Sony’s would be low enough to matter.

      As mentioned if you can get creative and get the full size sd to micro sd adapter to stick ( I literally taped mine to the body of the A17 ) then you can achieve 560gb or so right now. Sandisk has a 512gb full size sd, so that + the internal A17 memory puts out half a terabyte or so of storage. The problem is the time it takes for the player to read that amount. Some players are sucky with it and take forever to load up, some are fast.

      Also, the sd to micro sd adapter has no locking mechanism on the micro sd end, where real micro sd cards will click into place and hold in there. The sd to micro sd adapter cannot do that and it can slip right out. So, you need to get more creative and find a way to not only strap the entire adapter to the player, but also wrap something around the cable to keep the micro sd end wedged into the player ( I used a rubber band ).

      Reply
      • Jsilver

        Thank you for the quick reply. I will definitely reconsider now, based on what you’ve said, since I really don’t care much for the “superficial” aspects of a device. I’ll check it out and probably come back with more questions, this time for the DX90. Cheers!

      • 24bit

        Absolutely, always around to help. Subjectively, I can’t get over the DX90. It is the best all arounder I’ve come across for portable music players. Even with the stock firmware, the experience is lovely. Rockbox will permanently stay on the player and I’ve never been able to remove it. Once added, you’ll be able to choose which firmware you want to load, either the stock OS or Rockbox. When the player is off, flipping the lock screen button up and pressing the power button will boot the player on and take you to a screen that shows a picture of the stock OS and the Rockbox OS. You simply touch which you want to load and use. I really only use the stock OS for USB DAC usage, so when I am not using it as a portable device and want to use it as my computers USB DAC instead, I load up the stock OS, as rockbox doesn’t allow the USB Dac function on the DX90 to be used.

        For portable needs, Rockbox is just so god damned great and there are so many options to play with, that it might seem scary and daunting. But, I’ll help with that if you do decide to try it. Just know that if you do it, you can’t remove it and it will absolutely void your DX90 warranty. But, it really isn’t a big deal because as mentioned if you don’t like it, just don’t choose Rockbox’s OS when you boot on the player. The DX90 will remember the last OS you’ve chosen, so you can avoid Rockbox indefinitely if you prefer. If you boot to the stock OS and use it, then power off the player, it will auto boot to the stock OS the next time you turn it on. So long as you don’t flip the lock screen switch up while the device is off, and then press the power button, you’ll boot up automatically to whichever OS you were using the last time before you shut it off.

  2. Flint

    Nice review. Can you advise how you search for particular music e.g. can you find an artist and play just their songs? Other search functions? Thank you!

    Reply
    • 24bit

      You can only search via standard lists like Album, Song and Artist. This dap doesn’t support a text based search function or anything like that sadly.

      Reply
      • Flint

        Thank you for replying…despite this ‘limited search ability’ (for me at least) your review regarding the sound quality has convinced me to go for it… ;o)

  3. sh

    Hi,

    I’m looking for a dap, but not able to audition them side by side. I am looking to the Ibasso 50 or this sony. The thing is, I will use it to with a grado allesandro ms1. Is the extra money for an Ibasso worth the cost with this headphone? I really like the sony for usability, and the Ibasso for its digital out and form factor. Any advice would be appreciated. Great site by the way!

    regards

    sh

    Reply
  4. 24bit

    I’ve just discovered a truly terrible thing about the A17 today. To get a playlist, you need to download Media Go, which is Sony’s media manager software. I’d noticed that when you remove the sd card from the A17, you lose all the bookmarks. The only way to get Playlists is to import your entire library to the Media Go software and make sure your A17 is set to SD card mode in settings. If not, the SD card will not appear when you plug it into your pc.

    Problem is, you need a separate hard drive if you don’t have enough space to double up your entire library. IE: You have a 256 gb SSD with 210 GB of music and all your operating system and programs. You’ll have to install Media Go to another hard drive, it cannot be the same one that already has all your music on it. Why? Because Media Go requires you to import the entire library and in doing so will duplicate each file. You’ll have your normal music folder that you might use with Foobar2000, and now you will have an exact opposite just for Media Go. Awful, but its mandatory.

    To avoid that, you’ll need an entirely different hard drive, install Media Go on that instead of your primary drive. Users with small hard drive space will need a second hard drive. I have a 256GD SSD. I have 210gb of music stored on my SSD along with my Windows 7 programs. So, I will have to get a new HDD. If you have a large Hard drive, you won’t have to worry if you can double your music collection and not worry about space.

    After that, you can import your entire library to the hard drive Media Go is stored on. After that, you can create playlists. Jeez…

    Reply
  5. George Lai

    I use my A15 a lot more than my ZX-1. Great review, Michael.

    By the way, where can I buy the TFTEC SD to Micro SD adapter? Can you provide some links?

    Reply

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