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Sony Walkman MP3 NWZ-W262 Review

Sony Walkman MP3 NWZ-W262 in use by cyclist Matthew Steinhoff

I’m a complete sucker for free stuff so when my Klout score was high enough for Sony to offer me a Sony Walkman NWZ-W262 for review, I said ‘yes, please’.

Then, I got the Sony Walkman MP3 player in the mail and it just sat on the dining room table for weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to break open the package. When I’m cycling, I typically don’t have anything in my ears. When I do choose to engage in audio, it is with SanDisk Sansa because it is cheap (as low as $25 from Woot), has physical buttons, long battery life and seems indestructible having been dropped and rained on several times.

Finally I got to feeling guilty and was doing a solo ride so I gave the Sony Walkman a shot.

Sony-Walkman-NWZ-W262 Unboxing

 

It was just as easy to load music on the Sony Walkman as it was the Sansa. This is great news. Other companies (I’m looking at you, Apple), make you load proprietary software. Not the Sony. All I did was plug it into a USB port and my computer saw it as a drive. I dragged and dropped my usual music selection and some podcasts onto the Walkman and it was good to go. Nice.

Sony Walkman: Comfortable, Secure Fit

The Sony Walkman fit like a glove. The earpieces were secure in my ears and very comfortable. Best of all, I didn’t pick up any wind noise like I do with normal ear buds. These things were great at keeping out ambient noise. (Which, at best is illegal in my state and, at worse, is likely to get me killed in traffic. But, hey, that isn’t Sony’s fault. (Unless I get killed in traffic in which case I’m suing them for creating a faulty and clearly negligent product.))

I had never really noticed how annoying earbud wires were until I rode with the Sony Walkman. No wires snaked down my jersey to the player was a big improvement. I was worried that the Walkman would fall off when I removed one ear so I could still hear traffic but it fits snugly enough that I’m not worried about losing the device.

Good Button Placement, Easy to Use With Gloves

The buttons were easy to find and use with full-fingered cycling gloves. Unlike a touch screen which is iffy in gloves (see also: iPod), the physical buttons worked like a charm. I had no trouble skipping tracks and adjusting the volume while in motion.

Battery life was good. On a half-hour charge right out of the box, I was able to do a two-hour ride and still have a few hours of juice later in the week.

What’s Not to Like?

There is no visual track indicator nor is it possible to queue tracks.

I listen to a lot of podcasts while on the road and most of them have the same audio intro. Sometimes I have to get two or three minutes in to be able to tell if I have heard the podcast already. If I had a screen, I could easily see that I’ve already listened to the May 7 podcast and go onto the next. Still, I’m willing to forgo the visual track indicator because there simply isn’t room for it nor would it help this product with its target audience.

The audio cueing, however, is a problem. Let’s say I started listening to a two-hour podcast at work on my computer and am 30-minutes in before I hop on my bike. I’d really like the ability to press and hold the ‘track forward’ button and have it fast-forward in the track. That would allow me to guestimate my way into the track to the unlistened to part. This should be an easy software change for Sony. I realize I’m probably in the minority for this feature but I don’t see how adding this minor software tweak would negatively impact the Walkman’s core audience.

Sony Walkman MP3 Player Review Summary

I really didn’t expect to like the Sony Walkman: too much overlap with known-good product (Sandisk Sansa), a smartphone (Motorola Droid) and in an untested (for me) form factor. After a couple rides worth of testing, it may have replaced the Sansa. I really like the lack of cables and that it really blocks out the wind noise. I’ve tried a number of earbuds ranging in price from $4 to $45 and none have as good of fit as the Sony Walkman. All signs point to long-term durability similar to the SanDisk.

Nice job, Sony and thanks to Klout for hooking me up.

I’m a Newbie Again

I’ve done less than a handful of rides this year. I had a crash in February that resulted in road rash and a broken rib; I’ve been working on some deadline projects that have had me out of town; then there’s the usual excuses: it’s too hot, it’s too rainy, it’s too windy…

So, when riding partner Osa said she was ready for a ride, I started rooting through my equipment, changing batteries, checking tire pressure and the like. About 45 minutes before I was going to roll out, I discovered that my Cateye Strada Cadence bike computer battery was dead.

I usually make a practice of changing the battery a New Year’s Day ritual, but I skipped it this year. That meant a quick trip to Radio Shack and 15 minutes of futzing around trying to figure out how to program it.

Legs went to mush

The heat index was somewhere between 87 and 90 and the winds were 9-11 out of the east, so we picked a north-south route. It didn’t take long to figure out we had a variable headwind on the way south. Lack of riding caught up to me in a hurry. My heart rate wasn’t all that higher than normal, but my legs went to mush pretty quickly.

Oh, yeah, I’ve written lots of words about how my Brooks Champion Flyer saddle is sooooo comfortable. In fact, I wrote once that I almost killed my saddle by making it TOO soft. Trust me, when you haven’t been riding a lot of miles, I don’t think ANY saddle is going to feel soft. I’m going to give a little more sympathy to newbies I pick up along the road in the future.

Osa wanted to go over the tall Lake Worth Bridge to soak in some salt air on the beach. I figured I’d salvage what little dignity I had left and head home. I wished her well. That variable headwind we had going south turned into a variable headwind going north, too.

Watched Hurricane Isaac flow by

About two-thirds of the way home, I felt my calves send me a message: “If you don’t stop what you’re doing, we’re going to give you a hurtin’.” I listened to my calves and took a walk down to see the floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac flowing down the the canal between Lake Worth and West Palm Beach.

This canal runs all the way from Lake Okeechobee and is helping drain the water from my kid’s yard. He lives in a rural neighborhood west of town that has been underwater. His house was built on a pad that put him about three feet above the water, but it was like living on an island for several days., he said.

I’m not going to tell you what my total mileage and average speed was. I’d have been happier if I hadn’t replaced the battery in my bike computer. By the way, you can click on any photo to make it larger.

 

Jam-Pac Premium MP3 Player Handlebar Bag

When I was first approached with an offer to review Audible Rush’s Jam-Pac Premium handlebar bag and music dock, I turned the request down. I thought the product was overpriced for the casual user – $159.50 – and not something the serious bike tourist would be interested in. You can click on any photo to make it larger. For the record, the type in yellow in the photo above isn’t on the product. I added it as a title.

Marc Nussbaum, CEO of Audible Rush, made some compelling arguments:

  1. Our system has by far the best sound quality of any production bicycle music system. You will be very surprised when you hear it. We use a full digital 12 volt amplifier and a Lithium Ion rechargeable power source.
  2. It is hidden inside a handlebar bag and the bag can also carry your valuables.  Use the quick release to carry everything during your lunch break- it is virtually theft proof since you take it all with you.
  3. Jam-Pac is a full-featured smartphone dock. It works with all players; MP3 players, iPhones, Android phones, Etc.
  4. The player is held in front so the user has full access to all controls.
  5. Our high end model can recharge some model smartphones (iPhones and others) from its internal lithium ion rechargeable batteries. This allows users to stream internet radio (Pandora, Etc.) or use GPS navigation or bicycle computer/fitness applications without running out of phone battery time. This can be very handy in situations where the user needs to make an emergency call.

Despite my reservations, I told them to go ahead and send me one on a loaner basis to check out.

First reactions to Jam-Pac Premium?

It’s not really aimed at me. I already have a heavy-duty Arkel Small Handlebar Bag mounted on a second stem on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. It’s a perfect size to carry my camera gear without being so large I’d be tempted to overload it. The Jam-Pac is a nice size to hold a spare tube and a few tools, your wallet and cell phone, but it’s not big enough for my needs.

I like music for those days when I’m riding alone and I want something to take my mind off a boring stretch of road or the headwind that won’t let up. I don’t like earbuds (plus they are illegal) and I don’t necessarily want to rattle windows.

A good compromise for me has been the BoomBotix BB1 that I clip to the strap of my Camelbak hydration pack. Here’s my review of the BoomBotix.

I thought I’d stick the Jam-Pac Premium on riding partner Anne’s bike, but even her cockpit was too busy. I relocated a headlight, moved a front reflector and started to mount the bracket, but I was going to have to start cutting nylon ties to slide her bike computer out of the way and that was more trouble than I wanted to go through for a review. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have fit her bike and that she wouldn’t have been happy with it, it was just a hassle for a temporary installation.

I’m convinced that it will mount fine on most bikes if you don’t mind moving some things around (the same as you’d have to do for ANY handlebar bag. You can see some photos of the bag mounted on bicycles on the Audible Rush website.

Things I like

It has an quick release bracket that allows you to take it with you. I use that feature a lot with my Arkel bag. In fact, I use it as a camera bag when I’m not using my Domke shooting vest.

Will adapt to about anything

It has lots of different foam inserts that will adapt to just about any MP3 player or phone you might be carrying.

Handy storage space

Has room for wallet, cell phone, spare tube, small tools

Protects MP3 player

  • It produces lots of sound. (See below.) If you go on “party” rides where you want to entertain all your friends, it’ll do that.
  • MP3 player controls are accessible, but the unit is protected.

Price isn’t out of line

I figured Son Matt, a go-fast weight wienie like his Uncle Mark, would poo-poo all over it. Surprisingly, he thought some of his friends might be interested in it, particularly if you start adding up the costs of all the pieces.

Audible Rush Products

These are Amazon prices. (If you order through one of these links, I get a piece of the action without it costing you anything additional.)

Jam-Lite Essential: the minimalist lightweight stem or bar mount speaker system. Lists for $39.95; has 3 volt amplifier and runs up to 12 hours on two AA alkaline batteries. I find this the most tempting replacement for my BoomBotix BB1.

Jam-Pac Essential: described as the budget handlebar speaker system. Has a 3-volt amp that runs on two AA batteries and a quick-release weather resistant handlebar bag. It lists for $114.85.

Jam-Pac Premium: The big difference between the Premium and the Essential is that the former has a 12-volt amplifier and runs for up to six hours on a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It lists for $159.50.

Jam-Pac Premium Plus: has everything the Premium does, plus it has a USB connection to charge your phone or GPS. It costs $209.95.

You can get more information and find out about accessories from the Audible Rush website.

Watts the deal with volts?

I had a question about how the speakers were rated and sent CEO Marc Nussbaum a question on a Friday night. He responded Saturday morning. That’s pretty good. Here was my question:

“When I look at the comparisons of your various products, I see that some amps are 3 volt and others are 12-volt. Speakers are usually rated in watts. Did you really mean “volts” on your website?”

Marc’s explanation:

The quick answer: The amp in the Jam-Pac is specified to deliver 6 watts per channel, as compared to the amp used in the Jam-Lite and most other bicycle stereo speaker systems we’ve seen which are specified to deliver 2.0 or 2.2 watts per channel, however, watt rating of amplifiers don’t tell the whole story.

What’s important to the sound quality as far as the amplifier goes, is its ability to drive dynamic changes in the music and especially to be able to do this at the lower mid-range and bass frequencies where it takes the most power. 3 volt amplifiers don’t have nearly the dynamic range to drive a decent pair of speakers fast enough and far enough to reproduce high quality. So this is no mistake on our part as far as the spec goes. The voltage is more important in this application and adds both design complexity and cost to the product.

The amplifier in the Jam-Pac is very sophisticated and runs on 12 volts like the stereo in your car. If you only had a 3 volt battery in your car, even if your speakers in the car were as large as they are now, it would still sound pretty bad, muddy, without punch. This is the ‘secret’ behind the great sound of the Jam-Pac… Good quality speakers (that cost about 15 times as much as the standard portable speakers used in most products) and the full voltage swing of a 12 volt amplifier to more accurately reproduce music dynamics.

 Also, let’s talk speakers. Speakers are usually rated at the max wattage they can be driven before distortion and/or damage. The Jam-Pac speakers are specified at 6 watts maximum (that’s for each speaker) and are quite large for this type of product; 2″ (51mm) in diameter. Our smaller product, the Jam-Lite (similar to most other competitors) use speakers rated at 2 watts each and are 1.4 inches (36mm) in diameter.

By the way, the kid on the trike can rock the road, even if he’s not using a Jam-Pac. I hate to think how many batteries THAT puppy takes.

HERO Wounded Warrior 1,200-Mile Ride

Jeff Masters takes a moment of silence, having finished the 1,200-plus-mile Wounded Warrior Charity Bike Ride.

A year or so ago, Jeff Masters was telling me about a 1,200-plus-mile bike ride he was planning. I nodded in all the right places and wished him the best. You see, every cyclist has an epic ride in the works the same same way every writer has a great novel in the typewriter. The difference, of course, is that Jeff made it happen.

Funny thing is, Jeff didn’t just plan and execute a bike ride, he created an organization and mission at the same time.

HERO Charity Bike Ride

HERO Charity Bike Ride From the HERO Charity Ride web site…

The HERO Charity Bike Ride is a 28-day bike ride from New York City to West Palm Beach, Florida, to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. United States military personnel serve to defend and protect us every day, putting themselves in perilous situations for our freedom. They make the ultimate sacrifice day in and day out. The Wounded Warrior Project was created to help support, rehabilitate and reacclimate wounded service members after they return home from combat.

The founder of the HERO Charity Bike Ride, Jeff Master, understands how great the sacrifice is for these warriors’ after losing his father in the Vietnam War just four months before he was born. He and his team are compelled to do their part to support our military veterans and their families by riding their bikes to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Daily Blog from the Cyclist

Jeff did a darn good job of keep folks up to date on his progress. Be sure and check out Jeff’s HERO Charity Bike Ride blog. Lots of pictures, maps and videos from the trip.

Sponsors and Supporters Open Wallets

Supporters of the HERO Charity Bike RideWhen Jeff started the project, he hoped that it would raise a couple thousand dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. Last I heard, his efforts had raised more than $8,000. You can still make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project. I’m pleased that my local bike shop, On Your Mark, was one of the sponsors and the associated club sent riders out for the last leg.

Jeff and On Your Mark finish the 1,200-mile bike ride.

Photos from the Memorial Day Ride Finish

Jeff traveled 1,200 miles and still managed to hit the finish line right on time. You gotta admire that military-like precision.

Jeff Masters arrives at the Memorial Day Picnic after the 1,200-mile Wounded Warrior Charity Bike Ride
Jeff Masters speaks at the Memorial Day Picnic after the 1,200-mile Wounded Warrior Charity Bike Ride
Jeff Masters speaks to Channel 25 at the Memorial Day Picnic after the 1,200-mile Wounded Warrior Charity Bike Ride

Memorial Day 2012

Jeff made it back. No matter what sort of shape you’re in, 1,200 miles in 28 days ain’t easy. Please, take a moment today, between picnics and car shopping, to give thanks to those who gave their lives while in military service, for those that didn’t make it back from whatever distance they traveled.

Jeff Masters and Matt Goforth of On Your Mark

Mark Cuban’s 288-Foot Yacht Fountainhead

Mark Cuban's 88-Meter Yacht Fountainhead from Palm Beach 01-18-2012Anne, Osa and I were cruising along the Palm Beach Lake Trail when Osa shouted “Stopping” and locked down her brakes. Osa spent years crewing on yachts, so she has a keen eye for things that float. She had spotted a yacht that was so big that it had a tug in the front pulling it and another smaller boat riding drag at the stern because it was too large to maneuver in the Intracoastal Waterway. Click on the photos to make them larger.

Osa estimated that it was 250 feet long. While we were gawking, a guy rolled up and started doing some searches on his smartphone. “It’s 88 meters long,” he said. “That’s about 270 feet (288.713911, to be exact). Mark Cuban owns it. He and Mark Ellison of Oracle fame bought twin yachts from the Dutch luxury yacht company, Feadship, at the same time.” Ain’t the Internet wonderful?

Mark Ellison downsized his yacht

The sister to this ship is a downsized version of Mark Ellison’s previous yacht, the Associated Press reported it was 452 feet long, was five stories tall, had 82 rooms, “a wine cellar the size of most beach bungalows, a dozen yacht-length tenders, and a generator capable of providing enough electricity for a small town in Idaho or Maine… Final cost: $377 million.” He got rid of the larger yacht because he didn’t travel with that many people and it was hard to find mooring for something that big.

How do you afford a yacht like this?

Mark Cuban's 88-Meter Yacht Fountainhead from Palm Beach 01-18-2012From Agent4Stars.com:

In 1995, Cuban and fellow Indiana University alumnus Todd Wagner started Audionet, combining their mutual interest in college basketball and webcasting. With a single server and an ISDN line, Audionet became Broadcast.com in 1998. By 1999, Broadcast.com had grown to 330 employees and $13.5 million in revenue for the second quarter.In 1999, during the dot com boom, Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock.

After the sale, Cuban diversified his wealth to avoid exposure to a market crash. As of 2011, Cuban is No.459 on Forbes’ “World’s Richest People” list, with a net worth of $2.5 billion. The Guinness Book of Records credits Cuban with the “largest single e-commerce transaction,” after paying $40 million for his Gulfstream V jet in October 1999.

What was that strike thing all about?

I’m sure some of you were wondering what that strike thing was all about yesterday. Thousands of websites, some as large as Wikipedia, others as small as my two blogs, went dark for 24 hours to protest two bills that are making their way through Congress. They are ostensibly to stop Internet piracy, but have the potential of crippling the Internet as we know it today.

I’ve experienced the chilling effect of what’s already on the books. I posted a video of a night lightning with a public domain audio of Beethoven’s Fifth playing in the background.

YouTube sent me a notice that they had removed the audio because of copyright concerns. It took 24 hours to get it back up after I provided evidence that the performance was in the public domain. Guilty until proven innocent.

Under the new laws, my whole site could have been taken down and I could have been subject to fines and jail had I been found to have been using copyrighted material. I have a video on my bike blog where I’m passing a slower rider. You can hear my MP3 player in the background. Conceivably, that could be a violation of the law.

If you don’t think they’ll fool with “the little guy,” consider this: we didn’t invade Russia nor China; we went after Granada.