Chris Pratt might have been the main character of this year's highest-grossing movie, "Guardians of the Galaxy," but the real star was the vintage Sony Walkman. The soundtrack inspired by old-school mixtapes was the number one album on the Billboard 200 and is still in the top five.
With all the attention on Sony's iconic gadget, it makes sense that the company would release a Walkman for today's generation. We've seen CD Walkmans, Minidisc Walkmans, MP3 Walkmans and even VHS Walkmans. But with more people just using their smartphones as mobile music players, what does Sony have left to offer?
Three words: high-definition audio.
Do you remember Neil Young's weird, triangular Pono music player? The Sony Walkman A17 is a lot like that, only less bulky. Like the Pono, the A17 has no touch screen, no Internet and no frills. It's a music player designed for audiophiles, and that means sound quality.
This new Walkman supports WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC lossless formats, as well as lower quality MP3, AAC and WMA. The first four are master-quality formats used by artists and producers in the studio.
On paper, lossless audio sounds like a great idea. MP3s and AACs really do lose a lot of information in compression. The upside is that you can fit thousands of them on a relatively small drive. The Walkman A17 has a 64GB hard drive and will hold about 900 songs in the FLAC format. The same sized iPod will hold more than 6,000 MP3s. But that's a small price to pay for the increase in quality, right?
Not so fast.
It turns out that most people can't hear the difference between MP3 and lossless formats. Even experts are no better than guessing when it comes to telling the difference between 16-bit CD quality and 24-bit HD audio files. At a $299.99 price tag, you're paying a lot of money for quality you probably can't hear.
On the other hand, some people swear they hear the difference. Neil Young raised more than $6 million on Kickstarter promising the best-ever audio fidelity. There's one more big problem however: speakers. You'll definitely need some pricey headphones to squeeze every drop of audio quality out of your new Walkman. Sony is releasing a set of headphones that will give it to you, but they cost as much as the player itself: $300.