A big reason for the success of the Sony Walkman came from its being portable: what you used to have to listen at home could now be taken with you pretty much anywhere. Over time we’ve seen audio go from record LP to cassette to CD disc and now digital. This not only removed the “physical” content that had to be put into an audio player, but changed the player as well.
The Playaway LIGHT is a good example of that change. Designed for use by libraries for lending/playing audio books, it’s a preloaded (one-off) audio player that eschews the simplistic controls of a cassette player for more and better functionality. I
This durable digital player is made from plastic, with an overall weight that's negligible. By definition there’s no moving parts to be damaged should it be used at a gym or manhandled by younger listeners. A battery compartment at the bottom holds a single non-reusable “AA” battery which snaps into a compartment. One side has signage of the contents — in my case, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (a homage to P.G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster stories) — with the other having a small LCD panel surrounded by largish buttons for playback control (the center Play/Pause button being the largest of all), with fast forward/reverse buttons beneath. An orange power button on the upper right turns everything on, while a small “SPD” button at the upper left alternates the narration speed from slow to fast (5 speeds). Automatic bookmarking remembers where playback was left off -- this is really necessary since the player will turn itself off after a few minutes of it being left to itself. The screen is brightly lit, making reading the black and white English-Language text a simple matter (there is no alternate language menu options for the text). The light cuts out on its own after a few seconds but returns when any button is pressed. The display consists of showing the name of what is playing and the time involved in that section. A small battery icon in the corner shows battery life.
As there is no speaker, a pair of headphones or earbuds must be plugged into the mini-jack input. Those using earbuds with inline controls will find that this does not work — all control actions must be done using its own buttons. Playaway LIGHT can only access other technologies, such as Bluetooth, external speakers, etc. through this output.
I took the Playaway LIGHT with me on my weekly sojourn to water my wife’s plants which were in the backyard of her brother’s house (long story). I put on a pair of earbuds, pressed “Play” and stored the player in my pocket as I began to get soaked, as usual, filling up water bottles with a garden hose. I found the sound quality excellent — the audio book I was listening to had musical accompaniment for the voice and it all came through clearly and without a trace of hiss or distortion. I would recommend quality headphones, as opposed to super cheap earbuds when listening, as otherwise there will be a near-total lack of any bass response. This will inhibit true enjoyment of the voice actor’s performance. Of course the side-mounted volume rocker bar can be used to vary the overall response.
The Playaway LIGHT is a worthy successor to the original. It provides high-definition audio and, thanks to a reasonably sized backlit screen and easy controls, has almost no learning curve whatsoever.