The Sony Walkman has been a beloved icon in the portable music industry for decades now. From its inception as a cassette player in the late 70s, the Walkman has evolved to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of audio technology. The newest budget Sony Walkman DAP (Digital Audio Player), the Sony NW-A306 Walkman, brings high-resolution audio to a portable, user-friendly device. This in-depth review aims to explore the Sony NW-A306’s design, build quality, sound performance, and features and assess its value proposition.
The Sony Walkman NW-A306 enters the audio market with a trifecta of attractive features: a compact design, high-resolution audio support, and an affordable price tag compared to other high-end models. The NW-A306 comes with the assurance of Sony’s signature sound quality and the convenience of Android 12, making it a contender for the best mid-range media player for audio enthusiasts.
Design & Build Quality
The Sony NW-A306 is a testament to Sony’s commitment to quality and user-friendly design. Its compact size and lightweight build make it an ideal portable music player, fitting comfortably in the palm of your hand or a small pocket.
Despite its compact size, the NW-A306 does not compromise on sturdiness. Its aluminum construction gives it a robust feel, and the textured back provides a firm grip. The device has shown resilience against scratches and knocks during regular use. However, care should still be taken to prevent accidental drops or exposure to water.
Buttons and Display
The NW-A306’s sides are adorned with an array of physical buttons for media and volume control, along with a ‘hold’ toggle to prevent accidental button presses. These controls are intuitively shaped, making it easy to operate the device without constantly looking at it. All buttons reside on the right side of the device, making it highly convenient for one-handed use.
The NW-A306 features a sleek glass front with a 3.6-inch HD (1280 x 720) TFT LCD touchscreen, the same as its predecessor, the NW-A105. The screen quality and resolution are perfectly fine for a device like this. However, at times the on-screen navigation feels cramped due to the small size of the display.
Connectivity and Ports
Regarding physical connections, the NW-A306 offers a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and a microSD card slot for memory expansion.
The 3.5mm headphone jack offers a little more power than the NW-A105 and supports higher impedance headphones (32ohms vs 16ohms). Despite this, the Sony NW-A306 is really meant for more efficient headphones and IEMs. It managed to drive my Meze 99 Neo just fine, but for my Focal Elegias, I really had to increase the volume on tracks with more dynamic range.
The NW-A306 features built-in wifi supporting 2.4/5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 5.0, providing diverse options for connectivity. Like the Sony NW-WM1AM2, I noticed the wifi speed maxes out at a connection speed of 433mbps, no matter what type of network connection I chose. This limitation is disappointing for a device where one of the key features is being able to download music from streaming apps for offline playback.
The NW-A306’s battery life varies depending on the type of file being played. Sony says users can expect up to 36 hours of playback when listening to FLAC files, but this drops to 14 hours for DSD256 files. When used with Bluetooth headphones, the battery life is approximately 20 hours. In my testing of listening to a mix of CD quality and Hi-Res FLAC files, I got 34 hours.
As I stated in our article comparing the NW-WM1AM2, NW-ZX707, and NW-A306, the overall sound of the Sony NW-A306 is clean and balanced.
Don’t expect punchy bass or for the highs to be accented in any way. Both ranges are still very clear and accurate sounding (given the power output of the NW-A306). The mids are where this device will draw you in, giving you an easy and pleasant listening experience. This sound profile makes sense, given that the Sony NW-A306 is being marketed toward the average music consumer. There is a noticeable lack of soundstage, though.
Like the Sony NW-WM1AM2 and Sony NW-ZX707, the NW-A306 features the S-Master HX digital amplifier chip. Sony engineers know what they are doing when it comes to outputting digital audio, and the S-Master HX chip helps to reduce distortion and noise across a wide range of frequencies for rich and full-bodied sound.
If you have efficient headphones, such as the Meze 99 Neo I used, then the NW-A306 will sound perfectly pleasant and do a great job immersing you in music, sounding natural enough not to be boring or flat. Don’t expect to use headphones that are harder to drive than your average pair, though. The Sony NW-A306 doesn’t have the power for it.
Note: To comply with regulations, Sony has removed the high gain setting from devices sold in the EU and North American markets, leading to lower volume output. In fact, it seems that only some countries, such as Japan and some South-East Asian countries, have the “uncapped” version. Please be aware of this when purchasing the Sony NW-A306.
Operating System and Android Apps
The NW-A306 runs on the Android 12 operating system, providing a user experience akin to a smartphone. This allows users to access the Google Play Store and download music apps like Tidal, Apple Music, and Qobuz for music streaming. However, the device’s interface can be sluggish, with occasional stutters and delays when switching between apps or selecting songs.
I’d suggest using this amazing optimization guide from the head-fi forums to make Android feel smoother and more responsive on the Sony NW-A306.
Built-in Sony Apps
The Sony Walkman lineup of the NW-A306, NW-ZX707, NW-WM1AM2, and NW-WM1ZM2 all feature the same built-in apps from Sony. While we covered these in our NW-WM1AM2 review, we will still review them here as each DAP has different feature sets.
Walkman Music Player
The built-in Walkman music app is the bread and butter of the experience on the Sony NW-A306. This built-in app is used to play local audio files on the internal storage and MicroSD card (if used). It will provide the highest playback quality as it has direct access to the hardware of the Sony NW-A306, including the S-Master HX chip.
Contrast this to apps you install through the Play Store, such as Neutron Music Player or Apple Music, which use Android’s own audio path. For apps other than the Walkman app Sony has implemented an option called High-Res streaming, located in the sound settings of the Sony NW-A306.
With High-Res streaming turned off, all audio from the non-Sony apps will be down-converted to 16-bit/48 kHz. With High-Res streaming enabled, all audio from the non-Sony apps will be up-converted to 32-bit/192 kHz. This is significant as purists who want bit-perfect playback for non-Sony apps will be out of luck. It’s unlikely that most people will be able to hear the difference or even care about this in the first place. However, the information is still relevant for those that do.
Like the Sony NW-WM1AM2, the NW-A306 can also be used as a USB DAC when connected to a Windows or Apple computer. The USB DAC functionality can be accessed from within the Walkman app. It’s a nice feature to have, though definitely optional. I noticed there was a delay between the audio and the video when watching videos on my Windows PC, so there may be better solutions in some use cases.
On the negative side, the Walkman app is fairly barebones regarding key features that we have come to expect from music playback software. You cannot edit metadata on the device, nor can you edit audio files at all from within the app. You also cannot sort by album year from within an artist, which is truly a crime, in my opinion.
Sony Headphones Connect
The Sony Headphones Connect app is also conveniently built-in and even updated through the Play Store. So if you have one of Sony’s great Bluetooth headphones, such as the WH-1000XM5 that we recently reviewed, connecting and setup is super easy. All of your settings can be imported as well by logging in with your profile. The app also works with wired Sony headphones, giving you some added functionality there too.
The Sound Adjustment app
Lastly, there’s Sound adjustment. The app does exactly as it sounds and provides additional options for adjusting the sound output of the Sony NW-A306. Some of these functions can be enabled with others, making for some interesting audio results.
From within the app, we have an option called “Direct Source.” Turning this on will mean that the player is doing no processing of any kind to the audio stream. Essentially this is the player’s stock sound.
Turning this off, though, gives us various options. The first of which is DC Phase Linearizer. This setting adjusts low-frequency phase shifts to reproduce the audio characteristics of analog amplifiers. You get various types to select from here as well.
Next is the Dynamic Normalizer. This minimizes the volume difference between songs. So, if you have one song that sounds loud with another being quiet, this feature adjusts the volume so that both songs will be at the same volume when you switch between them. It works in the same way as Apple’s Sound Check feature.
Moving onto the next screen, we have the Vinyl Processor. This feature produces a rich sound that is close to the playback from a vinyl record on a turntable and has various types to select as well. I actually really enjoy using this feature on certain albums, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.
Next is ClearAudio+, which is a filter that is supposed to enhance specific frequency ranges of the audio you are listening to. It enhanced the vocals a bit, but otherwise, the music did not sound any better to me.
The next function to look at is the Equalizer, which is fairly straightforward. I have two major concerns with Sony’s implementation here, though. First, it’s only a 10-band equalizer. I would have liked additional functionality, such as more bands or PEQ. Second, the frequencies cannot be changed, which makes the equalizer incredibly inflexible. For these reasons, the EQ function is useless for my use cases.
One sound setting that is not present here is DSD Remastering, which converts a PCM signal to a DSD signal to reproduce sound quality close to analog. The omission of DSD Remastering is likely due to how CPU intensive it is and how big of a hit on the battery it would be.
Lastly, we have what is maybe the most exciting feature of the device, DSEE Ultimate. DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) is an AI trained algorithm that upscales compressed audio files, such as MP3s, to CD quality audio. This might sound impossible, and in some cases, yes, you are right. I have an extensive MP3 and AAC collection still, and for some songs, DSEE Ultimate doesn’t do anything at all. In fact, sometimes, the song sounds hollow and flat. Some of the time, though, it sounds as if it doesn’t do anything at all. Still, then you’ll hit a series of songs that come alive and sound as if you had ripped them from the CD as a FLAC file instead of that crappy 128kbps MP3 that 20 years ago you thought would be enough forever. It really, genuinely works. Some of the time, anyways.
The very last feature I’d like to touch on is LDAC support. It makes perfect sense that Sony, the developers of LDAC, would include LDAC support on the Sony NW-A306. LDAC is a technology that allows near-lossless audio to be played via Bluetooth on supported Bluetooth headphones. Pairing the Sony NW-A306 with Sony’s WH-1000XM5, which is LDAC certified, provides the perfect synergy. The audio sounds great, and the connection never drops. There are built-in settings for prioritizing sound quality or connection quality for those situations where wireless interference may cause issues. I can verify that LDAC is perfectly implemented on the Sony NW-A306.
Also, thankfully, while the 3.5mm headphone jack may not have a high gain mode to drive more powerful headphones, the Bluetooth output is perfectly fine. I never once wished that the Bluetooth audio was louder. The volume output is exactly as it should be.
The Sony NW-A306 Walkman is a solid investment for audiophiles seeking a dedicated high-resolution audio player. Its compact design, high-quality sound, and user-friendly interface make it a reliable portable music companion.
The NW-A306 may not be a budget-friendly option, but it offers good value for its price, especially considering Sony’s reputation for quality and the device’s extensive feature set. For those willing to invest in a media player that prioritizes sound quality and convenience, the Sony NW-A306 Walkman is certainly worth considering.
We have an in-depth comparison of the NW-WM1AM2, NW-ZX707, and NW-A306, as well as dedicated reviews of the Sony NW-WM1AM2 and the Sony NW-ZX707.
HiFi Oasis Overall RatingHiFi Oasis Overall Rating
- Design & Build Quality7/10 Good
- Sound7/10 Good
- Features7/10 Good
- Great design and build quality
- Sound profile is clean and balanced
- Android OS allows for support for music streaming services
- Excellent features such as DSEE Ultimate and LDAC
- Good battery life for such a small device
- Small screen size creates formatting issues in some apps
- Built-in Music Player app lacks features
- Poor WiFi performance
- Poor equalizer implementation
- Doesn't have enough power to drive mid to high end headphones