The Sony NWZ-A17 is a mid-fi Bluetooth-capable digital media player featuring BT connectivity and 24BIT/192kHz decoding capability. It is priced at $299.
Disclaimer: The Sony NWZ-A17 was purchased by me and not a sample. If you wish to read up on Sony and its latest product range you can click here.
To read more about Sony products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
As mentioned, the Sony NWZ-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 NWZ-A17.
Sony recently launched a whole plethora of DAPs to the market in 2014 and 2015 show no signs of changing despite the shocking news that they are pulling out of audio and video markets shortly.
The Sony NWZ-A17 is part of their smaller more budget-conscious range of DAP’s but as Mike finds out there is a lot more to this DAP than meets the eye.
At $299, Sony’s NWZ-A17 performs incredibly well considering the size and feature set jam-packed into this little thing. It’s so cute and tiny, but like my 9-year-old cat, it has a serious case of primal ferocity under its skin…and I mean that in a positive way.
The player is a minuscule 4.5 inches long, 1.75 inches wide, 0.3 inches thick, about half the size of the FiiO X series in all aspects. The player is also rock-solid, offering full aluminum housing. It really gives off a nice high-quality vibe, something that feels well built and weighted. No case though, which saddens me.
The NWZ-A17 cannot be used as a DAC with your computer, which is something some higher quality DAPs lately have been able to do. I was also unable to confirm what internal DAC Sony has tossed in there, but it is almost indistinguishable from FiiO’s X3 in sound quality.
It comes in stock with only one Micro SD card slot and 64GB of onboard storage. As of the moment, I have a TFTEC SD to Micro SD adapter with a 256GB SD card. Punch that into the calculator with that 64GB on board from the NWZ-A17’s internal memory and you get a happy face…my happy face. A solid 320GB of portable library goodness…yum.
While on the subject of scanning media, the NWZ-A17 handles 200GB or so of Flac files in about 5 minutes. By comparison, the FiiO DAPs require almost double that time period to fully update the media library. The player also uses a proprietary connector for charging and data transfer. The NWZ-A17 only offers a standard 3.5mm output, no fancy alternate output types, sadly.
From the Home screen, you can navigate to 12 different menus. Yes, 12 and by golly, they all are actually functional. Wudda’ ya know, a fully working product without a single defect, glitch, or serious problem in the UI. Mad props to Sony for making sure the NWZ-A17 was 100% from the get-go.
The menu set includes MySense Channels, FM Radio (You kids remember what Radio is, right?), Playlists, Pictures, Music, Video (Yes, this player does video as well), Bookmarks, Podcasts, Bluetooth settings, Settings Menu, SD Settings Menu and finally the Currently Playing Window. Phew.
I’ve found that the Playlist functions are not as easily accessible as the Bookmarks window, which is another subset inside the primary Music menu.
Below the screen lay two buttons, the Home/Back button, and the Power Off/Options button. While a song is in play, tapping the Options button will open a very complex subset of optional sound settings. One of these is called Bookmarks and funnily enough, there is no Add to a Playlist inside this menu.
Bookmarks come with a set of 5 folders, of which I’ve no idea what the max capacity could be. I have a lot of songs in there, so I am assuming the data storage for each bin is fairly large.
Anyway, simply selecting the Bookmarks option will place that song into Bookmarks 1-5, your choice. It works infinitely easier than Playlists, which I’ve yet to figure out and fully understand why it even exists if there is no way to actually add a song easily to “Playlists” on the home screen or in the Options menu.
For some reason, after the player updates my SD card, it generates a randomized Playlist inside that weird Playlist menu. No rhyme or reason to anything inside of that, I’d not touched anything in that area but the player decided to toss a ton of music into it against my will.
Stick to Bookmarks and consider that your “Playlists” function, instead of the actual Playlist menu that seems to be in a state of disrepair and in need of an update to fix it.
I had about 4,000 songs in total on my SD card and the NWZ-A17’s Internal Memory, but it was registering more than 8,000 available. I’d noticed that in the Albums window, some tracks on the device were listed twice.
I’ve not found a way to fix this. Tracks are not doubled up on the SD card, but they are doubled up once it plays through the NWZ-A17. Weird, because the storage size doesn’t alter. 200Gb on the SD card, 200Gb on the NWZ-A17, yet most of the songs are listed twice.
Once inside the Options menu, you have all of the following subsets: Play Mode, Playback Range, DSEE HX, Hi-Res Audio Effects, Clear Audio+, Sound Settings (EQ), Dance Karaoke/Lang, DPC (Speed Control), Display Lyrics, Detailed Info, Set An Alarm as Song, Send File, Remove from Bookmark.
Playback Range will loop a specified section of a track, which is awesome for musicians who want to learn an awesome guitar riff and don’t want to continuously fast forward and rewind the track to a certain spot. The rest of the basic functions are as expected, so I won’t detail them.
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 NWZ-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 wider than tall, more relaxed and smooth”. It is very impressive.
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 downsampling 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, deeper sound, 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 NWZ-A17 offers some of the best DSP 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.
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 crazier?
Pairing my Sony 950BT to the Sony NWZ-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 NWZ-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 NWZ-A17 to pair with most of their current headphone lineup, like the MDR-1R and Z7, both of which paired insanely well with the NWZ-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 NWZ-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.
Staging & Pairing
The NWZ-A17 is capable of achieving a widescreen 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 NWZ-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 NWZ-A17, leaving the portable amplifier out of it.
However, at the cost of sounding audibly less clean and with less power, the NWZ-A17 all by itself is not a portable powerhouse of a DAP. It will struggle for most full-size headphones beyond 70Ω or so, so I would avoid using any headphones that are moderate to intensely inefficient of course.
You’ll be fine with most portable headphones, no worries. Just make sure you selectively pair your NWZ-A17 and headphones with an amplifier that suits your sound preferences.
I say this because the NWZ-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 NWZ-A17 in your portable rig.
Some amps have recessed mids, so if you tailor your NWZ-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 NWZ-A17 as a source. It may require more research on the part of your amplifier if you need that extra power.
As mentioned, the NWZ-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 NWZ-A17.
But, the Sony NWZ-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 NWZ-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.