Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sony S-Series, Amazon and Apple Music Experience: It's the Software, Stupid.

I spent yesterday grappling with new things in digital music today. I bought a Sony S-Series Walkman (the memorably named NWZ-S638F) AND downloaded music from Amazon. Totally out of my iPod/iTunes comfort zone. And like anyone in new territory, I'm still navigating nervously.

I've been entirely loyal to the Apple iPod and iTunes
in all my dealings with digital music. Along with millions of others, the convenience of automatic sync and the familiarity of the interface have kept me in the Apple fold for years. However, there's one problem with the iPod.

It sounds shit.

I've tried various headphones, the different EQ settings, changing the quality of the music files and so on, but it still sounds tinny and thin. So, having read about the brilliant sound offered by Sony music players, I thought - fuck it - let's take a punt.

Does S-Series Stand For 'Software Sucks'?

First impressions weren't good. Sony supply no software for Macs, so you drag and drop the music you want from iTunes to the player on your desktop. It can't handle playlists (which is annoying, as I love my playlists) and there are naming issues with some files. Altogether pretty poor.

However, once the music is on the Walkman, the interface is simple enough and my music sounds bloody amazing. It's like going from mono to stereo. I wandered around WGC for an hour just listening and loving it. So, result for Sony there. It makes the crappy lack of sync worth putting up with - just about.

As a PS3 - and now Walkman - owner, it's clear to me why Sony are in trouble. It's software. Sony is woefully lagging in this area (hence this painfully on-target spoof by the Onion:

Up the Amazon MP3 Store Without a Paddle

My other experiment was buying digital music from Amazon. This wasn't frustrating like the Sony experience, just scary. You install a little download app and pay as usual, but then nothing appears to suggest that the music download is actually happening. After a brief moment of panic, I had to find the app in Finder and open it to see that - thank fuck - the music I bought is actually downloading and going into my iTunes library. And it seems to download the same tracks twice, which is odd (maybe back-up files?). Anyway, the lovely straightforwardness of iTunes wins out again - not sure I'll buy from Amazon again, frankly, despite some music being slightly cheaper.

So, in conclusion, it's easy to see why iTunes - the simplicity and seamlessness - makes Apple market leader, despite price and even sound quality. Time companies with superior hardware, like Sony, or pricing, like Amazon, developed the user experience to match.


Steve said...

All this muso tedh stuff is starting to leave me cold - I can't keep up with it. I have a bog standard mp3 player and haven't upgraded for 3 years. In fact I'm amazed it still works. I miss vinyl.


Brother Tobias said...

I loved the Onion spoof, and have made everyone come and watch it. Nice one.

Tristan said...

I remember my Amstrad record player with fond winsomness, Steve - but, let's face it, in the toddler play zones that we call homes, vinyl would be scratched to buggery in a week.

Bro. T - as usual the Onion are bang on the money with their satire...

riksta said...

I hate Sony software. But love my PS3 once I've set up apple media server, converted files, and done all kinds of shit no normal person would do.

So you're spot on with software/UI being Sony's problem.

But I love amazon music downloads - mostly for value. I won't buy another track from iTunes. Then again with spotify maybe I won't buy another track ever again, full stop.

Tristan said...

Rik - I think the PS3 is cool for its versatility, although I'm not as sophisticated in my use of it as you. However, the online experience is shite. It takes about 6 years for updates and demos to download. The first time I used it, I had to wait 20 minutes for an update to download and then 5 minutes for a game to install before I could actually play anything!