Sony's Entry-Level Walkman Delivers At This Price Point
Sony proves to us that when we think a product can't be revolutionized any more — it is. Yet another milestone in the evolution of the Walkman, the NW-A306 digital music player is the newest iteration of the NW-A300 series. A tiny DAP that's packed with features, it can literally fit in the palm of your hand. These days when portable devices need a separate bag to tote them around in, Sony's size for the A306 is a welcome one. Let's check out what this tiny DAP can do...
Sony NW-A306 Music Player Review: A Wireless Powerhouse
Sony proves to us that when we think the Walkman can't be revolutionized any more — it is! Yet another milestone in the evolution of the Walkman, the NW-A306 digital music player is the newest iteration of the NW-300 series.
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- Amazing portable size
- Great battery life
- Great Sony Hi-Res audio quality
- A306 + XM5 = one of our favorite affordable portable setups
- 32GB internal storage (18GB usable storage)
- Very little analog output power
Features at a Glance
- Wi-Fi® compatible for direct download and streaming
- Made with a rigid aluminum frame and gold solder inside a precisely engineered chassis
- Up to 36 hours of 44.1KHz FLAC playback
- Supported by Android™
- Connect to a PC to access your music collection
- Lightweight and designed for pockets
- NW-A300 series high-quality PCM conversion
- DSD audio formats up to 11.2MHz
- The NW-A306 lets you enjoy 360 Reality Audio.
- Rigid aluminum milled frame for improved sound quality
Odds are you've probably heard of Sony before: a name synonymous with home entertainment, gaming, and Hi-Fi audio. Established in Japan in 1946, Sony has oftentimes been the innovator in revolutionizing the way we listen to music. The Japanese company has produced world-renowned audio products including headphones, earphones, Walkmans, digital audio players, and headphone amps.
Sony's headphones, earphones, and digital music players are acclaimed for their technology, quality construction, and robust, musical sound. Since its introduction to the U.S. market in 1980, the Sony Walkman has undergone quite a transformation. What was once a cassette player then became a CD player, mini disc, MP3, and now what we all crave the most — a high-resolution digital audio player, or DAP.
Materials & Quality
Think back to the very first iteration of the Sony Walkman in 1979 — effortlessly portable, it was a handheld device made for anyone craving music on the go. If it was a challenge to see just how small and portable the Walkman could get, Sony has won first place. Right off the bat, the size of the A306 is something to get excited about. Small enough to fit into your back pocket, and can be easily grasped in one hand with a coffee in the other. The A306 is the smallest Walkman to date — And we say to date with anticipation that Sony will outdo itself once more in the future.
It's relatively lightweight at around four ounces and has pretty much all the functionality you need in a portable music player. Given the overall size of the A306, the screen is quite small (only 3.6 inches) so it can pose an issue for anyone who may use the keyboard frequently. With that being said, there is a functionality to auto-rotate the screen to allow for a better viewing experience. It has a sleek matte black backing with subtle ridging that can help with the overall grip of the DAP.
For the nostalgic, Sony has thrown in a Cassette tape UI as a playful nod to the portable music revolution. The NW-A300 series features a cassette tape user interface and screensaver. Note, the visual display varies depending on the codec of the music you're listening to.
I/O (Inputs & Outputs)
On the right side of the A306 music player, Sony has managed to pack seven functionality buttons. In order from top to bottom, the power on/off button, volume controls, pause and play with track skipping, and a HOLD switch. The HOLD switch comes especially in handy when toting around the DAP in one hand. There's nothing worse than accidentally skipping a song right when it gets to the best part. On the bottom, you'll find the mini headphone jack, USB-C type charging port, and MicroSD slot. The A306 comes with 32 gigs of internal storage with an option to add an SD card. It supports all major file formats including MQA.
Sony likes to keep the specs of their internals under wraps, so where we might not know the exact chipsets inside, that's okay. What we do know is that Sony implements a number of sound enhancements with their music players. The NW-A306 player itself is natural sounding enough - I wouldn't classify it as warm like its other higher-end siblings. The real charm of the portable music player comes out when paired with extremely efficient IEMs or headphones, and the wireless connection is a huge component of this music player since that's where a lot of Sony's proprietary sound enhancements really take full effect.
Sony is packing in features for users to choose how they want their music to sound. The A306 gives you the option to turn on various sound settings such as AI-powered DSEE Ultimate upscaling, Vinyl Processor, Clear Audio+ and more.. For those who love the warmth and character of vinyl, the Vinyl Processor function strives to subtly reproduce the low-frequency resonance, tone-arm resistance, and surface noise of vinyl. DSEE actually does a great job at perceivably upscaling the audio - I dare say I preferred it most of the time I was listening to rock. Clear Audio+ is another interesting sound enhancement from Sony, offing more space and detail with the track, though I found varying effectiveness of this based on what I was listening to.
Most of the time I didn't use these enhancements, and I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything - which I consider the highest praise for a device. I feel like a lot of these features and sound "enhancements" are aimed at the typical consumer audio lover, right? Give me some bass boost, some upscaling, blah, blah. Okay, in the right context, these "enhancements" can sound pretty good. But don't expect them to magically make your 92kbps MP3s sound like DSD files.
For the testing setup, we paired the A306 with three headphones for both wired and wireless setups: the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones with a Black Dragon cable, the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones (via Bluetooth connection or Black Dragon Portable headphone cable for wired connection), and the Meze ADVAR IEMs. The A306 performs its best in a wireless setup via Bluetooth connection. When paired with the XM5s, the bass was visceral yet punchy. It leans to the warmer side of things for the most part, but still picks up details and has good instrument representation.
When the A306 was used in a wired setup, there was a noticeable change in the volume output. The A306 drove the MDR-Z1Rs but not very well. The bass was low and turning up the volume didn't make much of a difference. Because of the limitations in volume, some quiet parts of the music were lost. Tiny details that many analytical listeners look for were glossed over.
When initially plugged in, the A306 defaulted to a volume level of 50 and once raised to 80, a message on the screen appeared that read "Check the volume level," and reverted it back to 50 and stopped the music. After the initial volume level warning, there were no additional messages. Within the settings, the A306 has an automatic volume limiter system (AVLS) that can be turned on and off — But it doesn't default to being turned on.
American singer, songwriter, and producer Charlie Puth is known for his falsettos. It's something he incorporates in almost every song, and unfortunately was something that was lackluster and almost lost in the A306 when used wired. Right after the breakdown in his song "The Way I Am," Puth adds an energetic electric sound to throw some punch in there before he throws you right back into the chorus. As one of the tiniest details in the song, it can be easy to miss if you're not listening for it — But in the case of listening to this song on both the MDR-Z1R and WH-1000XM5's, it was ever-so-present in the XM5's but compressed and hidden in the Z1R's.
The A306 really shined with naturally warmer songs. "Somewhere with You," by Kenny Chesney is on the slower side compared to some of his other Country hits. The song features the same four chords played throughout with Chesney going back and forth between slightly rapping the verses and singing the emotionally-charged chorus. With the MDR-Z1R and XM5's Chesney's rather monotone delivery is lively and engaging. There's a nice representation of all instruments as a piano nestled in the back isn't lost among the electric guitar and drums.
The A306 was powerful enough to efficiently drive the Meze ADVAR IEMs without needing to crank the volume past 70. The bass is pleasant but lacked some of the heft and "oomph" bass lovers may crave. A naturally dynamic-sounding IEM, the ADVAR's paired great with the A306, making warm and musical songs sound lively and energetic. During my listening session, "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer came on and immediately lit up my ears. The A306 peeled back the layers of this synth-heavy, disco melody, creating space for every detail while still keeping the song fun.
The critical factor here is whether the A306 can effectively power your headphones if you choose to use it via the analog out. You'll find lots to love about the A306's natural sound and how it works well with pretty much every genre out there. Country, Classical, and Rock were particular favorites, but if you're using the A306 wirelessly, you won't have any trouble with anything you throw at it. Power is really the only drawback for analog users wishing to use some full-size headphones.
Love Is Found
(The Ultimate Collection)
I Can't Stand the Rain
by Tina Turner
The Way I Am
by Charlie Puth
Somewhere With You
by Kenny Chesney
The NW-A306 is supported by Android and compatible with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Simply log in and create a Google Play account to begin downloading music, apps, and games. Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth is made easy with the ability to connect wireless headphones in the music player's settings or through Sony's Headphones Connect app. For music streaming, the A306 has wired and wireless connectivity. It can be connected with a mini headphone jack and via Bluetooth connection with six codecs: SBC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, and AAC. LDAC is the preferred Bluetooth codec for the A306.
The battery life of the A306 is relatively long, influenced by Bluetooth and what's being run. From a dead battery it took roughly three and a half hours to fully charge the A306. To help conserve battery life, Sony has an auto power off and screen timeout functionality. When used in Bluetooth mode, Sony estimates up to 11 hours of playback in FLAC/LDAC and up to 22 hours in Mp3 and SBC. You can stretch the battery life a bit farther in a wired connection, getting up to 36 hours of playback depending on the music service app and file type.
The initial setup of the NW-A306 is fairly painless. Once signed into your Google account, it grants you the option to transfer over all apps and data associated with your account. You can upload songs to the music library and listen to music without a Google account, but you won't be able to download any music streaming apps. Similar to an Android and iPhone's quick settings pull-down menu, the A306 allows you to pull down a menu with various controls like volume, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and auto-rotate for quick access.
The SR35 is the natural consideration when comparing two under $1K music players. Like Sony, Astell&Kern is premium and offers a lot of sound customization options for the user. The styling is futuristic, sleek, and heavier than the smaller and lighter A306. The SR35 is still a very portable product compared to other hi-res music players on the market. Astell&Kern packs a whopping 6Vrms in balanced output into this tiny music player, which by all means blows the A306 out of the water if you're needing portable power. The SR35 is capable of juicing your power-hungry headphones on the go, and that's a big plus for those that like to travel with larger headphones or just need more power requirements in general. For those who like to travel with planar magnetics - the SR35 should be a serious consideration. The more power you can throw at planars, the better.
Astell&Kern equips the SR35 with a Quad-DAC setup, and the real star of the music player is the ability to turn off two of the DACs, allowing the DAP to run in dual-DAC mode for better efficiency and longer battery life. Also, the music player has 3 different headphone outputs as opposed to the Sony NW-A306's single unbalanced 3.5mm. The SR35 has a 3.5mm unbalanced, 4.4mm balanced, and 2.5mm balanced headphone output for varied cable compatibility.
Where the A306 shines, however, is the wireless connection, especially if you are pairing the music player with another Sony headphone, like the XM5. It's more portable, convenient, and Sony's proprietary wireless sound enhancements sound great for on the go travel. The SR35 can also do LDAC, so be sure you have a compatible headphone in these scenarios. You'll really get the most out of your wireless listening experience and overall quality this way. Check out our review of the SR35 for more information.
The Sony NW-ZX707 is an excellent upgrade over the previous generation NW-ZX507. Not only has the styling been changed to black with gold accents, but the screen is bigger and the sound is bigger. What isn't much bigger is the price tag, which has only increased by $70, to $898. With a 5-inch screen, up to 25 hours of playback, USB DAC function, and next-generation upscaling, the upgrades are apparent. The Sony ZX707 has a warm, rich, and wonderfully clear sound that is especially good for rock, classical, jazz, blues, and vocals. If you're basing your decision purely on sound quality, go ahead and look at the ZX707.
Especially if you like Sony and want to spend a little more for better sound, better features, then the upgrade is a no-brainer. The 707 is a more than capable music player. The A306 is to be used more like a wireless music player if you're comparing the two. If wireless functionality and streaming is all you need then the A306 is going to have no trouble doing what you want. However, if you're wanting more power for your full sized headphones, much better sound quality, a warmer and richer musical presentation, then the ZX707 music is going to be your best bet. But, if you want a pretty darn awesome-sounding digital music player in a smaller, lighter chassis, you're going to love the WM-A306. Check out more information on the Sony NW-ZX707 DAP in our review below.
For our testing setup, we used the Sony NW-A306 DAP with the Sony MDR-Z1R full-size headphones and a Black Dragon Premium Headphone Cable. We also tested the DAP with the Meze Advar IEMs. We also tested the wireless connection of the A306 DAP with the Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones and used a Bronze Dragon Portable cable for wired connection.
Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.
Why Dragon Cables?
You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand-new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. Why is the cable always an afterthought, when it’s just as important as the rest of your system? At Moon Audio, we use the best raw materials in our cables to unveil your music. We believe the materials matter and your audio cables should have the same care and craftsmanship that manufacturers put into their audio components and headphones. Audio cables are ultimately the connection to your music. The fact remains that cabling is often considered the last priority to that of the main product and a means to cut down the overall production costs. It’s as simple as that.
Sony hasn't skimped on the NW-A306 DAP. Despite its entry-level price, the A306 is a premium product that excels particularly as a wireless streaming hi-res device with compatible Sony headphones or earbuds. You'll certainly get the most from the little player through their proprietary wireless tech, and it's a perfect pairing with the popular XM5 ANC headphones. While it might not have the power to cut it with some full-size headphones, it will work well with your IEMs or easy-to-drive headphones. The MDR's worked, but we had little headroom to work with in the end. Thankfully the expandable microSD slot helps to overlook the 18-usable-gigs of internal storage. Apart from that, the A306 is a capable streaming player, especially if that's your primary source of daily listening.
When it comes to genres, if you're using the NW-A306 wirelessly with a pair of headphones that is compatible with the LDAC codec, there's really nothing holding you back. The A306 will handle every genre with ease as long as you're streaming hi-res. If you're limited to the internal power of the DAP for your headphones and IEMs, then Rock, EDM, and R&B were some of our favorites, with most other genre recommendations determined by the headphone and/or cable pairing.
Sony has made the perfect portable DAP for anyone looking to listen to music hassle-free on the go. With its Bluetooth connectivity, you'll benefit from the ease of pairing your favorite wireless headphones or IEMs and enjoying high-resolution audio. As an entry-level DAP, it's a great choice for those wanting to take their first step into the world of audiophiles and enjoy audiophile-grade sound.
What's in the Box
- Sony A306 DAP Music Player
- USB-A to USB-C cable
- Quick start guide
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 12
Playback & Display
- DISPLAY RESOLUTION : Size: 9.1 cm (3.6-inch), Resolution: HD (1280 x 720 Pixels)
- DISPLAY TYPE: TFT color display with white LED-backlight
- Touch Panel: Supported
- MUSIC PLAY MODE: Shuffle Playback, Repeat Off, Repeat 1 Song, Repart All, All Range, Selected Range
- MUSIC SEARCHING METHODS: All Songs, Artist, Release Year, Playlists, Album, Genre, Composer, Hi-Res, Recent Transfers, Folder, Cue sheet
- SOUND EFFECTS: Direct Source (Direct), 10 Band equalizer, DC Phase Linearizer, Dynamic Normalizer, ClearAudio+, Vinyl Processor
- AUDIO PLAYBACK: MP3 ( .mp3): 32 - 320kbps (supports VBR) / 32, 44.1, 48kHz, WMA ( .wma): 32-320kbps(supports variable bit rate(VBR)/44.1kHz(STEREO) 32-48kbps/44.1kHz(MONO), FLAC ( .flac): 16, 24bit / 8-384kHz, WAV ( .wav): 16, 24, 32bit (Float/Integer) / 8-384kHz, AAC ( .mp4, .m4a, .3gp): 16-320kbps / 8-48kHz, HE-AAC ( .mp4, .m4a, .3gp): 32-144kbps / 8-48kHz, Apple Lossless ( .mp4, .m4a): 16, 24bit / 8-384kHz, AIFF ( .aif, .aiff, .afc, .aifc): 16, 24, 32bit / 8-384kHz, DSD ( .dsf, .dff): 1bit / 2.8224, 5.6448, 11.2896 MHz, APE ( .ape): 8, 16, 24bit / 8-192kHz (Fast, Normal, High), MQA ( .mqa.flac): Supported
(W X H X D): Approx. 56.5 mm x 98.4 mm x 11.8 mm Approx. 2.23 inchs x 3.88 inchs x 0.47 inchs
Approx. 113 g 3.99 Oz
- TERMINALS: USB: Type-C (USB3.2 Gen1 compliant), Headphone: Stereo mini-jack, External Memory: microSD microSDHC microSDXC
- WIRELESS CAPABILITIES: Communication system: Bluetooth Specification Version 5.0, Supported Bluetooth profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, SPP, OPP, DID, Supported Codecs (Transmission): SBC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, AAC
Headphone Out (Stereo mini-jack)
- FREQUENCY: Frequency response: 20-40,000 Hz
- MAXIMUM POWER OUTPUT (JEITA 16Ω/MW): 0.4-1.1mW (32Ω)
USB DAC Mode
- Built-in Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion Battery
- Charging and Power Supply: USB Power (from a computer via a USB)
- BATTERY LIFE - Bluetooth (Transmitter mode): MP3 (128kbps) / SBC-Connection pref: Approx. 22 hour, FLAC (96kHz/24bit) / LDAC Connection Preferred(Auto): Approx. 11 hour
- BATTERY LIFE - Bluetooth (Transmitter mode) Notes : ・A Bluetooth connection will shorten the battery life by up to 50% depending on the following conditions. -Format of the content. -Settings of the connected device.
- BATTERY LIFE - CONTINUOUS PLAYBACK MUSIC NOTES: ・The values shown in this topic indicate the approximate battery life when the player is playing continuously with the default settings. ・Even if the player is turned off for an extended period, a small amount of battery power is still consumed. ・Battery life may vary depending on volume setting, conditions of use and ambient temperature. ・The battery is consumed considerably when the screen is on. ・The battery life may become about 40% shorter when some of the sound adjustments are active. ・The battery life may become about 30% shorter when the [High-Res streaming] function is active.
- BATTERY LIFE - CONTINUOUS PLAYBACK MUSIC: MP3 (128kbps) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 36 hours AAC (256kbps) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 36 hours WAV (44.1kHz/16bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 36 hours FLAC (44.1kHz/16bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 36 hours FLAC (96kHz/24bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 32 hours FLAC (192kHz/24bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 32 hours DSD (2.8224MHz/1bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 28 hours DSD (5.6448MHz/1bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 22 hours DSD (11.2896MHz/1bit) / Stereo mini-jack: Approx. 14 hours