The Sony Vaio F15 attempts to please audio enthusiasts on a budget

Other than being named after a McDonnell Douglas twin-engine tactical fighter aircraft, Sony’s F15 series of Vaio laptops have another claim to fame: they sport sound systems featuring a dedicated subwoofer and “big box” speakers, with an aim to please the audio enthusiast in all of us. The higher end models (the line ranges from Rs.35,990 to Rs.59,990) feature full-HD touch screens and Intel Core i5 processors, while the lower end versions (which sport Intel Core i3 processors) aren’t exactly slouches in the audio department.

Does ‘louder’ mean ‘better’?

If loudness is your main criterion, the Sony Vaio Fit F15E does not disappoint. The hardware is complemented by Sony’s signal processing tech and several EQ presets including “Bollywood”, “ClearAudio+ for Music” and “ClearAudio+ for Video”, as well as a custom option. While the Bollywood preset just made everything louder to the point of distortion in our tests at higher volume levels, the music preset did have a noticeably positive impact. The video preset accentuated lows and highs — great for scenes of wanton destruction in the trailer of Pacific Rim, but not so great for the voiceover or dialogue. In a head-to-head comparison, the Vaio’s speakers were louder than the JBL-powered Lenovo Y500 and a 2011 MacBook Pro, but not quite as clear (there was distortion at higher volumes). Remember, however, that base model of the F15 (our demo unit) costs half of what the Lenovo costs, and less than a third of the MacBook Pro.

JIVE

All iterations of the Vaio F15 come pre-loaded with Sony Music’s JIVE music app, which offers free streaming and MP3 downloads of what seems like Sony Music’s entire catalogue — the marketing material claims that the service offers free streaming and downloads of 1.5 million songs (for three months). Expectedly, JIVE sports an extensive collection of Bollywood and other Indian film music (full albums) including Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag as well as A.R. Rahman’s Raanjhanaa/Ambikapathy and Maryan soundtracks, in addition to international hits from Sony Music. There’s no catch here — you can stream and download all this for free without losing any sleep. It’s just that finding music you’re looking for can be quite the pain, given that there’s no effective way of searching for content — you’re at the mercy of the interface, which lets you filter song, artist or album content (only) alphabetically. The inclusion of a search tab would have been nice, and quite useful.

While closer scrutiny could reveal differences in audio quality (JIVE offers 128Kbps MP3 downloads), there’s not much in the way of a noticeable disparity in audio fidelity to the untrained ear — true audiophiles will not settle for compressed MP3s anyway. Australian alternative/progressive rock group Karnivool’s latest single ‘We Are’ (from their album Asymmetry, a Sony Music release) served as the test track for the purpose of comparison. In the past, I’ve compared tracks purchased on Flipkart’s now-defunct Flyte music service to those purchased on iTunes, and Apple’s storefront had, almost always, come out the clear winner. But JIVE’s seemingly low bit-rate MP3 of ‘We Are’ sounded almost as good as its iTunes counterpart (Asymmetry is a “Mastered For iTunes” album). For the record, the test was entirely unscientific, performed using stock Nokia Lumia earphones, Apple ear-pods, laptop and computer speakers.

Verdict

Laptop speakers can never replace standalone 2.1 speaker systems or good headphones. Having said that, Sony’s F15 series of Vaio laptops are loud, thanks to the dedicated subwoofer and patented signal processing technology that does enhance your music and movie experience at a reasonable cost (for the low-end models). If you’re looking for something that doubles as a media consumption device in addition to a portable work companion, the F15 is definitely worth considering. For the optimum Windows 8 experience, however, look at the highest end model which features an Intel Core i5 Processor and full-HD touch screen.