Sony M-Series Review (NWZ-M504)
It has been just a little over a year since I purchased the M-Series and I will admit I have not used it as much as I thought I would. There are 2 reasons why, first shortly after I bought the M-Series, my A15 arrived and second, 8GB is just not enough space for my needs. Now this does not mean the M-Series is not worth purchasing, so read on to see if the M-Series is worth your money.
When the M-series first launched in Japan in 2013, I was perplexed why Sony did not launch it in other areas like Europe or other parts of Asia. I was very close to importing a Japanese model and dealing with the non-English menus once it showed up, but the appearance of the M-series on the European Sony website changed my mind. Of course Sony being Sony, they decided not to launch the same spec model as in Japan, gone were the 4 colour options and 16GB and in their place, 8GB and black (Europe). An unfortunate turn of events but we did get more language options for the menus and an FM tuner with full range.
The packaging for the European model was nothing to write home about. The Japanese packaging is superior in design and feel but that was to be expected, Sony Europe hardly put much effort into packaging of the lower end Walkmans. What is perplexing is that a little over a month later the new A-Series launched which featured a much more upscale packaging design, sure it cost more but when launching products so closely together, why not have similar packaging to tie in the Walkman brand as one? Mini rant over, the European packaging should be the standard packaging around the globe for the NWZ model. Inside, you will find the player, a USB to micro-USB cable, instruction manuals, headphones (MDR-NC31E) and various cushion sizes.
As for accessories, in Europe we never received any, meaning the only option would be importing from Japan via Ebay. Sony Europe rarely provides any accessories so I never expected to see any cases.
Build and Design
The M-series was priced at 149 Euros here in Europe when it launched in October 2014, I am sure it could be found at a cheaper price now (115 Euro here in Poland), although I fear that most stores will only have stock left from when it first launched and will probably not restock it. While the M is more expensive than the B-Series, it is of much higher build quality and provides a solid metal feel, comes with noise cancellation, S-Master MX amp and much higher end headphones. On top of this, it features Bluetooth with support for AptX, more on this later.
The top half of the M504 is made out of metal with a texture which does not show fingerprints as easily as one would expect. The bottom half is made out of plastic though, most likely to cut down on weight. A full metal device would have been nice but a similar design is featured in the A-Series. On the top of the device is the OLED screen along with the play/pause/telephone key. The rest of the controls are on one side, this includes reset, home/back, vol +/-, and hold. The next and previous controls are found in the jog dial near the headphone jack. If anyone has ever used the remote controls from the days of the Minidisc or Discman (ex RM-MC33E), then things will be familiar. The jog dial is all plastic, but feels firm and pulls out to cycle through folders on the device. The bottom of the M-series is where the NFC is located. It is usually covered by the clip but the NFC works with no issues. On the end opposite the 3.5mm jack, is the micro-USB port covered by a plastic flap.
My 2 complaints are, first, the clip which can only be attached in one direction and this can cause problems with positioning on clothing, bags or straps; second, the OLED screen while bright is sometimes useless in bright sunlight.
The M-series feature an assortment of enhancements with the most notable, the S-Master MX digital amp. In addition a 5 band equalizer, clear stereo and a dynamic normalizer are included. There is no DSEE like on the new A-series, but I never used DSEE so not an issue for me.
Compared to the rest of the Walkman line-up the M-series is able to hold its ground quite well in terms of sound quality. The S-Master MX amp helps and is worth the 100 Euro premium over the B-series in my opinion. Addition of the amp is not the only factor in the higher price, the built in noise cancellation and extra 4GB also play a factor.
I will compare the M-series to my E585 and A845 since both of these feature built in noise cancellation and the A840 also has an S-Master amp. Compared to the E585, the M-series sounds cleaner, but not louder, so perhaps the European volume cap is present here as well. The bass feels stronger and the mids and highs feel more balanced on the M-Series versus the E585. If 8GB is sufficient, then I would suggest the M over the E, not only for the sound quality, build quality but also because it features Bluetooth and AptX.
When comparing the M-series to the A840, they sound about the same, with almost no difference, volume levels and the quality are on par. So if you have used or own a European A840, then the M-series sound will be very close. Compared to the A840, the M-series is lacking DSEE, so if anyone who used DSEE on their A-Series, this might be a deal breaker. The A840 always had great sound quality but perhaps the similar volume levels may discourage some users, both Walkmans are European models so both feature the volume cap. I only own one non-capped Walkman, my A818 from the US, it is definitely one of my loudest Walkmans and unquestionably louder than both the A840 and M-Series.
That being said, I would have thought the lower volume would be an issue with larger headphones but trying out my MDR-10BTs with the M-series surprised me how loud the audio was. I was not expecting the little M-Series to be able to provide enough oomph to drive the larger headphones but surprisingly the volume at 17-18 was more than enough for my needs with no distortion and a clean sound. Perhaps the bass is not super deep but it is not lacking. While the M can be used as a headset, it cannot connect to my MDR-10BTs using Bluetooth, meaning the M can receive Bluetooth signals but cannot send them.
Day to day use
The M-series is a treat to use and I have used it with my Xperia Z1, Xperia Z3, A-Series and laptop. But any device that can send Bluetooth music should work technically. The battery life was adequate considering I was connected all the time via Bluetooth aptX and noise-cancellation on. Battery life is rated as follow:
- Digital noise-cancelling function is turned off: 15 hrs (MP3)
- Digital noise cancelling function on time: 12 hrs (MP3)
- Bluetooth® connection digital noise cancelling off: 10 hrs
- Bluetooth® connection digital noise cancelling on: 9 hrs
I had around 7-8 hours of battery life with 1 bar left, so 9 hours is definitely possible, but I have had times when the battery ran out and had to switch to regular headphones on my A-Series, meaning no noise-cancellation. This issue was solved with the new A20 series which includes built in noise-cancellation but features mediocre headphones.
When I used my E585, I used to create playlists using windows explorer, but it seems this does not work on Windows 8.1 anymore. When trying to create a playlist by right clicking, no options appear to create one. This means media go might be needed to make playlists, which is unfortunate. So I had no choice bu to install Media Go
I am sure playlists can be created using winamp but not everyone has that installed so here is a method using Windows Media player. The method works and nothing needs to be installed.
1. Plug in the player into the PC, browse the MUSIC folder on the device
2. Select the songs you want on the playlist
3. Right-click on the selected files and click “Add to Windows Media Player list”
4. Next click the little playlist icon
5. Select “Save list as…”
6. Choose a name for your playlist, browse to the MUSIC folder on the Walkman. Make sure to select – Any Playlist (*.wpl, *.asx, *.m3u), click save
This should create a playlist on the device which will become visible in the playlist menu. The playlist can be modified using WMP and re-saved.
After I bought the A-Series I did not use the M-Series much for a while since I mainly used the M as a Bluetooth headset. The sound quality over Bluetooth was not spectacular, re-encoding mp3s again is not the best method. However, having switched to AptX mode on both the A and M, the sound quality did improve quite a bit but still not at the same level as using wired headphones. Still the lack of NC in my A-Series was a nuisance and using the A on transit would sometimes require increasing the volume to hear the music. Once I received my MDR-A3s from Japan in February, I began using my A-Series more and more with the A3s rather than the M-Series. I missed the noise cancellation but the substantial improvement in sound quality was worth it.
The main advantage the M-Series has is the portability. Its small size factor along with pretty decent battery life is makes it a great audio player for working out, be that outdoors or at the gym. Of course once can buy the W or WS-Series which even comes with a remote control and both are water resistant, but with the M-Series, you can select your own headphones and it comes with an FM tuner. I have used the W-Series for a bit and while nice, it is not always the most comfortable to wear. If you exercise in the rain much, then the M-Series is probably not for you.
Apart from being a MP3 player, the M-Series can function as a wireless headset for your phone, the play button also functions as an answer key. When connected to a phone, you can answer calls and using the provided NC headphones, normally talk as with a Bluetooth headset. I never tested this feature since I have not been a fan of Bluetooth headsets personally but from speaking to others who used it, it functions fine.
Finally online streaming services, also work fine, with titles artist information appearing on the M-Series’ screen.
With the M-Series Sony created an enticing mp3 player, noise cancellation, S-Master MX amp, metal design and Bluetooth. Walkmans generally tend to have quite good battery life and the M is no exception, rated at 9-15 hours depending on settings, I easily achieved similar results with Bluetooth and NC on. But on the flipside, a few more hours would have been nice, 12 with NC and Bluetooth would have been ideal. The addition of AptX is plus, battery does take a hit but you have increased sound quality over Bluetooth, a trade-off I can live with. Of course nothing is perfect, the 8GB capacity is one detail which may turn some users away but if you are only using it for a few hours or exercising, then 8GB is plenty. Other issues are minor, for example connecting using NFC did not always work with my Z1 or A-Series, I would receive an error message or it would just keep connecting and connecting until I turned it off.
The other issue is the clip on the back, it only attaches in one position and while its build quality is generally above average, the actual clip does not attach with much force. There are 3 teeth/ridges in the clip and this is not enough with the clip sometimes unlatching from a strap or coat. There are other accessories available in Japan like the CKS-NWM500 but this was never available here in Europe as far as I can tell.
The M is a good solid little Walkman, I would recommend it to someone over the B-Series no questions asked but compared to the A-Series, A10/A20, I might reconsider, especially now that the A20 comes with NC and bundled mediocre NC headphones. The new A is priced significantly higher but it does feature expandable storage and Hi-Res support, along with better battery life. The M has been discontinued in Japan, so I would not expect a new model to take its place anytime soon, so if you are interested in the M, I would suggest grabbing one within the next 6-12 months, otherwise I feel it will be discontinued in Europe as well.