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The return of the king: the Walkman makes a comeback in the form of an audiophile digital music player.

During the 1980s, the Walkman ruled the gadget world, bringing to the masses the glorious analog sounds of cassette tapes and selling over 385 million units since it was launched in 1979.

Other companies like Toshiba, Aiwa, Panasonic and dozens more brands jumped in the portable cassette player war, but the Walkman remained the undisputed king of sales and quality. Through the 1990s, it kept up the pace by launching disc players, but by the mid-2000s, it was displaced in the music world by the ubiquitous iPod and other MP3 players as well as smartphones.

But now, on its 35th anniversary celebration, Sony has a lofty goal: make the Walkman return to its glory days. To do this, Sony launched the NWZ-A17SLV, a digital music player that is going back to the Walkman's roots and is offering what other MP3 players and phones just can't: crystal clear, high-resolution sound.

Of course, if you are from Generation X, like me, you can recall how despite the many limitations Walkman's of yore had with playing cassettes, the analog sound, especially when playing an original, quality tape, was often astonishing, being almost worlds apart from what you now hear in MP3 players that can bring you thousands of songs in a little gadget but have sounds that are, well, dreadful.

This is where the NWZ-A17 comes in. The Walkman, despite all of its technological advances that are head and shoulders above the competition, is doing something retro: being a dedicated music player.

Yes, it shows videos, it can play via Bluetooth and, thank God, it has an FM radio, but it concentrates on one thing: it does music well. Wow! What a concept! It's a dedicated gadget that wants to be the best at what it does!

The advantage the A17 has over your smartphone or MP3 player is these mostly play compressed files of your music. The most they can muster is 320 Kbps, which is OK. But they are nowhere near what you get from an original CD.

Dwell on this for a moment: original CDs offer about 15 percent of the master recordings. Most MP3 players--and to an even lesser extent, your smartphone--bring less than that.

Starting to get the picture?

The A17, on the other hand can play several audio formats in addition to MP3s, like WMA, WMA lossless, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV and ALAC. Translation: the A17 can play losseless master quality like it was recorded in the studio, and that means it just doesn't get much better.

From the moment you unbox it, the A17 looks and feels very different from that behemoth of the MP3 world, the iPod. It has buttons and its small screen is easy to use.

The 64 GB Walkman does not come with headphones, so I paired them with Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2 and the results were a match made in heaven. I can't think of a portable digital player and headphones that go together so well (please see our review of the P5's on this same issue).

The soundtrack from Streets of Fire, where Fire Inc (the impromptu band producer Jim Steinman created for that flick with the striking Diane Lane lip synching the song as "Ellen Aim") sounded as mean as it could get in a losseless digital recording burned from the original CD. On the Latin side, you could almost picture Juan Gabriel strutting in a 1970s discotheque as he belts the rhythmic Nadie baila como tu with those splendid choir backup singers.

If you lust for music, the A17 delivers it in spades. As MC Hammer used to say, "you can't touch this."

True, the Walkman lacks the brand recognition with the new generations who have been dumbed downed on horrible sound levels. Along with the PonoPlayer, the A17 is one of the few portable digital music players that offer true audiophile quality.

In 1979, the original Walkman went for $200, which is $579 in today's money. The A17 is $300, which makes it a bargain.

The A17 truly offers what the original Walkman did back in 1979: a portable music experience of the highest class. So yes, the A17 is a worthy successor to those early Walkmans.

The A17's only drawback is it risks turning your smartphone or MP3 player obsolete. As a Gillette commercial used to say in the '80s, "anything else would be uncivilized."

Let the music play.
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Title Annotation:TECH REVIEW
Author:Trevino, Joseph
Publication:Latino Leaders
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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