Sony Walkman Players Pack Noise Canceling

Sony is packing its new Walkman digital music players with noise canceling and other audio-enhancing technology in its latest attempt to challenge the dominance of Apple Computer’s iPod.

"The strongest point is audio quality," said Hiroshi Yoshioka, corporate senior vice president of Sony and head of its Walkman division, at a Tokyo news conference.

Front and center of Sony’s marketing will be built-in noise canceling. The system is tuned to cancel out background noise in the 100Hz to 1kHz range like that often present on trains, aircraft or cars.

Sony NS-S706F Walkman
Sony NS-S706F Walkman

To do that, the system uses a microphone to detect the noise to be canceled out. On the new Walkmans, that microphone is in the headphones, which means listeners must use the supplied headphones for the noise canceling to work. In a demonstration on Thursday, the headphones did a good job of canceling out simulated train noise.

The noise canceling is something that really has to be demonstrated to be understood, Sony said, so it is planning to offer such demonstrations in shops across Japan.

Two other features, both of which are headphone independent, include "clear stereo," a system that better separates the left and right channels and stops audio bleed between channels, and "clear base," which improves the bass response.

Sony Headquarters
Sony Headquarters

The players have a battery life of 50 hours, and can display album art on a small color organic light-emitting diode display panel. Listeners can search through their music by song name, album name or artist name.

The players are compatible with MP3, Windows Media, AAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless and Linear PCM audio files. However, they won’t play Windows Media or AAC tracks encoded with digital rights management (DRM); that limits downloads of DRM-protected tracks to stores using Sony’s ATRAC system.

The new players, which will appear in Japan later this month and in other markets later this year, draw on Sony’s rich history of audio engineering, and Sony is aiming the devices at music fans. As part of this plan, it will promote them through sponsorship of a series of events linked with Japanese cable TV music channels.

They measure 87 by 27 by 15 millimeters and weigh 47 grams.

The S700-series, which come with noise canceling and an FM radio, will come in versions with 4GB, 2GB or 1GB of memory. They will cost about 29,000 yen (US$242), 23,000 yen and 18,000 yen, respectively.

In comparison, the 4GB version of Apple Computer’s iPod Nano costs 23,800 yen in Japan, and the 8GB version is 29,800 yen. That might make the 4GB Walkman look expensive at first glance, but when the price of a pair of noise-canceling headphones is added to the iPod price, consumers might find Sony’s price more reasonable.

Sony will also sell two models without noise canceling or FM tuner. The S600 series will be available in 2GB and 1GB capacities and cost 20,000 yen and 15,000 yen, respectively.

-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)

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