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NW-HD1

(2004)

NW-HD1, picture by Nick Jarman

The NW-HD1 was Sony’s first Network Walkman to use a hard disc drive as the storage medium. Various other hard disc music players had been available on the market for some time and Sony themselves had made a few flash memory digital music players by the time the NW-HD1 appeared but when the market leader in personal audio entered the hard disc market it generated a lot of interest. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Although fairly conventional in construction and appearance the NW-HD1 offered an advantage over all other hard disc players: it used the ATRAC encoding system rather than the MP3 standard which everyone else used. Based on MiniDisc technology, ATRAC offered better sound quality than MP3 and therefore could be used at lower bit-rates whilst still providing acceptable results. This meant that the NW-HD1’s 20 GB hard disc could hold a lot of music, especially if the 64Kb/s mode was used. The player also offered a comprehensive backlit LCD display and all the usual features to sort and locate the stored tracks quickly. It came supplied with Sony’s “Sonic Stage” software which evolved from a shaky start to become a really excellent and usable package. Reviews at the time praised both the sound and build quality and the NW-HD1 retains to this day the reputation of being one of the best sounding digital music players. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

NW-HD1 in its dock, picture by Nick Jarman
NW-HD1 in its dock

The combination of of high quality and Sony’s reputation for excellence should have meant that the NW-HD1 couldn’t fail. Things didn’t work out that way though, firstly because ATRAC was only really used by Sony, changing from an MP3 player to the NW-HD1 would have required a tedious process of translation of the user’s music library. Secondly, Sony, as the owner of a lot of recorded work through its acquisition of record labels and recording studios, was paranoid that a hard disc music player could be used to distribute copyrighted material quickly and easily. To prevent this the NW-HD1 and “Sonic Stage” were both hamstrung by obtrusive “DRM” (Digital Rights Management) limitations which in practice could make both cumbersome to use. Other manufacturers, who did not own any recorded works, were less worried about such things and therefore did not burden their products to such an extent. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Sadly, the NW-HD1 never became a best seller like the TPS-L2 and WM-2 had been. Sony’s later digital music players became bland and derivative, the latest models have even abandoned ATRAC in favour of MP3. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.