To get music on to the player, you have to use Sony's SonicStage software. This has had a number of facelifts over the years, but it is still so cumbersome to use that transferring tracks with it feels like trying to tie your shoelaces while wearing oven mitts. The Connect music store is integrated into SonicStage, and while it has a large library of two million tracks available for download, it's nowhere near as user-friendly as iTunes.
When you're bored of listening to your own tracks, you can always switch to the onboard FM tuner. This has generally good reception and allows you to program up to 30 preset stations.
Although the noise cancelling doesn't cut out every single bit of background noise, it does significantly cut down on the racket going on outside of the earbuds. For example, on a noisy Tube journey in central London with the noise cancelling turned off, we were still able to hear the rattle of the train with the volume at around the halfway mark. When we switched on the noise cancellation, however, the background noise was almost completely inaudible. Let's face it -- anything that makes a Tube journey more bearable has got to be worth its weight in gold.
One note of caution: the noise-cancelling system is reliant on tiny microphones mounted on the outer edge of the earbuds that come with the player, so if you try using a different set of cans, the noise-cancelling feature simply won't work.
If there are two things that Sony's music players have always excelled at, they are battery life and sound quality -- this model certainly doesn't let the side down.
Like a maths teacher caught up in explaining the intricacies of algebra, it just keeps on going, and going, and going. Sony quotes a battery life of 50 hours, and while ours didn't stretch quite that far it still managed a stellar 43 hours of playback. It means, for example, that most people will be able to use it everyday for their commute and only have to charge it at the weekend.
Sound quality was equally impressive. The likes of Bloc Party's Weekend in the City album manage to sound suitably spiky without ever becoming a mess of midrange frequencies. When we cranked up the bassboost setting, the bottom end from The Good, The Bad and the Queen's dubbier workouts really rattled the cranium.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield