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.
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.
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.
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.
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.