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Old 05-24-2009, 04:49 PM
Pierre Pierre is offline
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Luxembourg
Posts: 240
Default A729 review, or how to chose an MP3 player...

Well it's been a few days now... But I finally now have an MP3 player worthy of the name!

I'm an avid user but not what you'd call an Audiophile. I keep that for my guitar gear . My headphones are Sennheiser PMX200 and I do not ever plan on spending more than £50 on ear/headphons unless I had the guarantee that they'd last me around 4 lifetimes, I could pass it on to my great-grandchildren and they'd cook me breakfast.
So far I've used:
Zen Stone 1GB (still works, I guess I'll use it as backup)
Samsung K3 (headphone jack broke after 6 months, nothing I could do, it was just after the warrantee wore out)
Creative Zen 4GB (replaced the Samsung)
And now the Sony A729

Now I've had the Zen since around December 2008. There are a few reasons why I wanted to replace it.
1) I love MP3 players and new gadgets
2) the player has a lot of bugs, crashes constantly and has other quirks, for instance, the card contents don't get integrated with the library. It should at least be a possibility (as some may prefer to not have it)

But
1) it's a fun wee thing
2) I can watch videos
3) it's VERY well suited to my needs which are player in pocket, put all tracks on random and just fast forward/backwards on tracks

So I wanted to keep those things which made the Zen fun, but in a bug free, and if possible with a better screen, player.
I set myself a budget (around £150), a clear list of what I wanted and off I went shopping, i.e. I just surfed Cnet, ABI, Amazon.co.uk and ebay

I came up with a few choices... D2, Clix2, Lplayer, iPod Nano, Sony S730, S630, E430, A730/830, Samsung Q1 and P3... But then I realised £150 was way too optimistic. Doh. So most of these went out of my shortlist and I restricted myself to £100.

So the Sonys were top choice... The A828 had bluetooth and was in my price range, but the 729 was cheaper. Both S7/6 were too expensive, and well, I could afford the A series so the E was out. Then on ebay I saw the A729 for a lowly £70 including shipping and just got it. Why? It's almost half the price of an iPod Nano. It was cheaper than the Samsung Q1, cheaper than the Cowon iAudio 7, cheaper than most 8GB Sonys... great deal!

FOR THE ACTUAL REVIEW START READING HERE!

I've had it for about a little less than a week now and here's what I got so far...

Player/interface
The player looks great. It's small enough to fit in any pockets and the headphone jack is well placed at the bottom, close to the buttons (so I place it upside down in the pocket and the jack is pointing up, and I can reach the controls easily).
The interface is brilliant. Easy to use, not particularly intuitive or 'fun', but it works, and it's quick. I've had no bugs anywhere so far. Just incredibly functional.
The instant on feature is quite impressive! But I do miss a 'random play' button like I have on the Zen. When I turn on an MP3 player, 99% of the time I'd want it to play all my songs in a totally random order. I don't do anything else with them. On the A7 I need to access the library manually and start from the first I want... It's not that annoying. But it's not perfect
However it redeems itself on the browsing: the Zen had an alphabet to the right of the song list, but you used the same controls to scroll through letters as you would use to scroll through songs. On the Sony, left/right select letters, up and down the songs. It's just one of those wee things that make you pretty happy The physical details AND firmware have clearly been well thought out.
I add all my songs to it by using it as an external drive. Not had any issue so far.
Battery life appears excellent so far but I've not been able to fully experience it yet. I've only had it for 5 days and the battery bar is still on full though.
Oh... one thing... it does take a little while to re-build the library when you plug it into the PC and add/delete anything. It's not that annoying, but it's just there.

Sound:
Well unfortunately I can't say much on this... I've been using cheap headphones so far because 1) you can't find expensive ones in the stores I've had access too and 2) well, I'm an incomeless student . So my Sennheiser PMX200 have served me since this summer and so far done a good deal of it.
However I will tell you this: there IS a noticeable increase in sound quality from the Zen to the Sony. And since the Sony is 4 times the capacity, and was the same price as I paid the Zen 5 months ago...

So all in all, music wise I'm pretty happy. All I wish was that I had a way of directly, from the front menu or as a seperate key, start randomly play all songs at a random starting point. But that's entirely specific to MY tastes and so I won't hold it against them.

Video:
Well that's where the issues starting arising... You need to pay to be able to convert your videos the right format. Thankfully ABI is a great ressource and a half hour search, note taking and researching had me downloading Handbrake, messing around with the features and...er... failing. Then another 5 minutes got me to a post which told me to use the iPod setting and just change, literally, 2 numbers. And it worked! So here's what I would advise to anyone planning on putting a video on there for travelling, bus trips, or even being on the bog : get Handbrake. A quick search on here will let you know all you need (I'll add the right links once I find them :s)
I'm adding the videos directly to the Sony's video folder and I've not run into any issues so far, all good.
I also really believe that the movie quality is better on the Sony than on the Zen.

Now keep this in mind... When the A7/820 series came out, they were Sony's flagship and expensive. I paid for mine what I consider to be quite a cheap price, but they've all gone much cheaper lately. Because of this I consider them better value, specs wise, to Cowon iAudio 7, Samsung Q1, Zen 16GB or similar. BUT do keep in mind the only one of these I have experience with is the Zen. For all I know, the others sound much better or may even be more suited to me personally... But they're usually 8GB at the closest price, which is more than what I paid for my Sony, so hopefully you get where I'm going...

Packaging/bundle:
It came with a troubleshooting manual in approximately all of Earth's languages and then some, a quick start leaflet, warrantee, EU regulations etc... Also with a CD with some softwares (including WMP11) and of course, the headphones... more on this right about now.

Headphones:
I've never used earphones before. Only neckbands. I like walking around with music, and if I need to talk I hit pause quickly in my pocket and let the neckband on my neck. Easy, comfy, and especially, safe.
With earphones I always wonder where I put them if I have to put them off. I always fear breaking them. And overall they just always felt cheap to me. Not to say they are, it's just how I felt about them: I'm way too clumsy to buy expensive earphones or IEM.
So I use the Sony with my PMX200.
I have however tried the supplied earphones with my PC, through my speakers (Logitech Z3) and WOW... the difference was really night and day. Much, much more of something which I can only describe as 'depth'. I could hear music like it was in the room, but panned allover me, not just ear right and ear left. It was a much different sensation and one that was quite impressive.
They are also very, very comfortable.
They come with 3 different sizes of those plastic bits. The smallest fit me better.
However some of the Sony player's enhancements/functions ONLY work with these headphones. They've really been designed to work together. And this to me isn't so great, though it's not bad either.
I MAY one day try the player with its supplied earphones, but I doubt. I just can't see myself leaving the house with something that looks so fragile and which I won't know where to put if I need to have a conversation at some point.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! I may add stuff as I use it more...
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