As we all know, the Sony Walkman Z and A series are recently released, and what is the real difference between the two?
Unboxing and pictures of Z
Box of Z series
Box of A series
Size comparison of the two
Z1000 - Very, very premium packaging, however, it's only available in Japan and I believe other versions uses a cheaper looking packaging.
A860 - Cheap looking packaging with nothing to write home about, however, it is an outside Japan version. But it's the device that matters? Right?
Z1000 - The Z is overall more aesthetically pleasing than the A, however, the big size makes it overall not good for portable use. The Z also has a speaker at a back which is very good for an on-board speaker. I have seen people commenting that the speaker is not good, but that's simply not the case for me. I have heard ob-board speakers from the iPod Touch 4 and several phones, but none does it good as this. Build quality is excellent. 7.5/10
A860 - The A has an overall more ergonomic look and feel, and the size is very suitable for portable use. Build quality is excellent. 8/10
User Interface and operating system
Z1000 - As we all know, the Z is using Android which is an overall open-sourced operating system with many apps, usability and functionality. The user interface of the Z feels very premium as compared to many other user interfaces out there(pssst TouchWiz). However, Android is not the smoothest operating system around especially when compared to the likes of iOS. However, the Z's dual-core processor has allowed it to be speedy with minimal lag and overall smoothness. However, there are still times where it lags and apps crashing. 8/10
A860 - The A uses Sony's original Walkman operating system, it is overall very simple and easy to use, however, it lacks a lot of functionality and customization which may feel dull and boring as compared to the Z. It is also very smooth due to this.
Update: The A also has a wider range of volume compared to the android volume control of the Z. (For example, pressing one volume up on the A would not go up as much as one volume up on the Z.) 6.5/10
Z1000 - The Z comes with an USB cable and a noise cancelling earphone, however, I believe the EX300 is given in the outside Japan version and no noise cancellation is available. However, the noise cancelling earphone does tend to hiss even when the noise cancellation is turned off, and even more so when turned on. The accessories are quite limited, however. 5/10
A860 - The A comes with an USB cable and an EX300 earphone, the earphone does not hiss at all, however the same noise cancelling earphone given in the Z with noise cancellation is available in the Japanese version. The accessories are quite limited too. 5.5/10
Z1000 - The Z has a rated battery life of 20 hours for music, though not the best and not up to Sony's long battery life, it still is long enough seeing it has the S-Master MX and it's using Android which is not known to have good battery life. 7/10
A860 - The A has a rated battery life of 23 hours for music, which is longer than the Z series, however, seeing it is more than 2x less than the S750 and S760 with the same operating system, it is overall understandable due to it having the S-Master MX. 6.5/10
And now for the most anticipated!
Z1000 - The Z1000 has a overall very good sound, it no doubt sounds better than almost any phone or music phone out there.
Highs - The has really smooth highs and extends when nicely. It does not tend to sound harsh or fatiguing unlike Apple iPods I have listened so far (iPod Nano 4 and iPod Touch 4). However, with headphones/IEMs having harsh highs, the highs can still sound harsh, although not to a very high level.
Mids - I guess the mids depends a lot on the earphones, in fact, most of the sound overall does, but mids are wonderful with every earphone I have tried with so far.
Lows - The lows of the Walkman is often really good, it is warm and the signature altogether sounds dark. The bass is quick, punchy and also very strong. The bass can be paired with a bass-centric headphone which could be for any basshead, but using a non bassy or neutral headphone can allow the bass to be produced rather accurately with great punch. They certainly do not mud the sound at all. Therefore, in a way, they can be for both bassheads and non bassheads. (I'm not a basshead, in fact I can be sensitive to it)
Soundstage - Soundstage is overall very wide, with good placing and instrumental separation. Nothing to fault with the Z's soundstage.
Clarity - Nothing to say, just plain awesome.
Conclusion: The Z's sound is overall very good, with nothing to fault at all, volume is enough for me at about 3/4 or a bit less from the full volume. The sound is indeed very big and powerful, something that many MP3 players lack. 9.5/10
A860- The A860 shares the same signature from the Z, with slight differences, which can be totally up to the user's listening preferences.
Highs - Highs are quite similar to the Z, non-fatiguing and not harsh and can sound harsh with harsh sounding headphones/IEMs. However, the highs on the A appears to have a little more extension than the Z, while the Z may sound fuller in comparison.
Mids - Very similar to the Z, but more laid-back in comparison.
Lows - Here is where the differences starts to become more prominent, the Z's bass could be warmer and punchier with more impact, and the A's could appear darker and has less impact in comparison. However, both bass are good nonetheless.
Soundstage - Now, this is where I would want to talk about the most, as the biggest difference lie here. The A series has overall a wider soundstage, no doubt about it with the head-gear I'm using. the soundstage of the Z sounds overall more intimate in comparison, like if the A series was 10 seats from the stage in a concert hall, the Z would be 7-8 seats away. This could also be the cause of the Z's mids sounding more forward. However, I found myself liking the Z's soundstage since I prefer a more intimate, but not too intimate and not too wide sound. But to each his own.
Clarity - On par with Z.
Conclusion - The A and Z shares a similar sound, with the Z sounding more intimate and bass slightly different. Both are still good competitors, however. 9.5/10
Conclusion - Z1000 = 37/50. A860 = 36/50. The A and Z both have their qualities, but I would strongly recommend the A over the Z for portable use due to how much smaller it is. Also, both devices are made mainly for music and sound and you would not find as much functionality as you would with an iPod. E.g. Camera on an iPod touch. However, for the sound they can give, I would not see why I wouldn't recommend these. The clarity on these paired up with above average soundstage/excellent makes it very good sounding players with nothing to fault. However, the price is something to consider since it is pricey and most of it is going to the sound department. Build quality is also very good on both, and also being less prone to scratches compared to iPods.
UPDATE: After about a month of listening and comparing the two, I have felt that the Z has a slightly brighter sound compared to the A which is slightly darker. Not a big difference however, but worth noticing. As a result, using headphones with more prominent highs or bright headphones would sound slightly less fatiguing on the A than the Z.
Edited by Jeremypsp - 5/30/12 at 3:16am