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Product Description ★ Bring up feelings that are put in the "sound". Oxygen-free copper cutting...

SONY digital audio player Walkman NW-WM1Z N (Gold)

Rating:
4.625/5,
  • Product Description ★ Bring up feelings that are put in the "sound". Oxygen-free copper cutting housing model to reproduce until the acoustic area in the natural ★ Walkman is bringing together the full digital amplifier technology that has been developed over many years. WM1 series was thoroughly pursue the true high-quality sound ● From the majestic sound of the orchestra until the amount of heat outpouring of live, the music there is a space that you want to share with feelings that I want to tell artists respectively. The moment the performance begins, up to the perfect silence last note from the sign of out sing Kieiri music. The air, the expressive power of the higher the temperature and humidity is felt, even very small sound when off of sound was the pursuit of sound quality that can be reproduced. Then, to enhance the sense of scale and dynamism of the time of a large volume with to pursue the reproducibility of micro-sound, further accentuated the contrast of sound, you should be able to feel the dynamism of music. WM1 series, the best music experience can be considered now by the headphone, and we aim to deliver the very best impression of the music. ◆ Oxygen-free copper cutting housing model to reproduce until the acoustic area in the natural ◆ Full digital amplifier, which evolved significantly "S-Master HX" ◆ Corresponding to the balance connection. Adopt a high connection stability Φ4.4mm
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Recent Reviews

  1. twister6
    Reach for the Gold!
    Written by twister6
    Published Dec 19, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - solid build, desktop quality audio performance, simple & efficient interface, 4.4mm balanced HO, incredible battery life, wireless sound quality, S-Master HX digital amp.
    Cons - price, weight, proprietary WM port, no USB DAC, no WiFi.


    The product was loaned to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion (Thank You Sony Japan!!!). The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on head-fi.

    Manufacturer website: Sony


    Intro.

    In the last few years I have been focusing mostly on reviews of the latest audio gear. Especially when it comes to DAPs, they can feel outdated within 3-4 months after the release due to availability of new DACs, Android updates, or just compatibility with 3rd party apps. It's no surprise that DAPs are becoming bloated with smartphone features, and just like a smartphone we have an urge to upgrade it within a year. As a result, some manufacturers lose a focus that DAP stands for a Digital Audio Player, not a Digital Smart Device Player.

    Realizing this problem, getting back to the roots of pure audio quality was the main goal behind Sony's Signature Series release with their latest Walkman WM1A/WM1Z Digital Audio Players. WM1Z is not a new release, WM1 DAPs were announced over a year ago, and due to a huge review demand, I was finally able to spend some time with their TOTL flagship. And guess what? A year later, it's still a flagship, still going strong with fw updates, still very relevant, and still highly regarded among audiophiles because it's a pure audio player with Sony's own proprietary hardware design and OS.

    Might sounds cliché, but Sony is one of the companies that doesn't need any introduction because so many people grew up on their products. Though I don't use it anymore, I still have a few Cassette Walkmans, CD Discman, Sony Multi-disc CD/DVD changer with A/V receiver and 5.1 Surround speakers, and until a few years ago had an ancient 40" Trinitron TV and even Sony 4-head Hi-Fi VCR. I had a hard time getting rid of that TV, and my kids didn't understand why I was so attached to it because their PlayStation graphics looked not as appealing on it. Well, you get the point.

    Surprisingly, when it comes to audio gear, this is my first Sony DAP, though I have been using the same pair of MDR-7506 cans for over a decade; after earpads replacement they look like new and still sound great. That's another thing I always associate with Sony brand, putting quality and durability ahead of everything else. And they continue keeping the bar high with a Signature Series, including WM1Z DAP. As I mentioned already, though it's not a brand-new product, it still feels like a new release to me, and I would like to share with you about my experience using WM1Z DAP in this extended review.

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    Unboxing.

    The unboxing experience of WM1Z was relatively generic. It has a modest packaging sleeve with a partial color picture of NW-WM1Z model, showcasing its distinct golden chassis. Since my package arrived from Japan, the back of the packaging box had a few design highlights in Japanese, including supported lossless formats. And that's about it.

    The actual box inside the packaging sleeve is all black with a silver "SONY" logo on top. I thought it would have been neat to have that logo in gold, to go along with WM1Z dress code. Once you open the box, you will find 1Z sitting securely inside of the foam cutout to protect its golden jewel. The only comment here, 1Z arrived with a case in a separate bag, while there was plenty of room inside the main box under the top cover. If the protection case comes standard with WM1Z, maybe it’s a good idea to include it inside of the packaging box.

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    Accessories.

    Here, besides the included case and a wrist strap, you will also find a quality usb cable with WM port and dust plugs for headphone ports and WM port. Perhaps adding a screen protector film would have been a nice accessory to include, but other than that - DAPs usually don't come with too many accessories.

    I’m sure many will be surprised by wrist strap as one of the included accessories, but due to a heavy weight of 1Z it only makes sense to add extra security when handling this DAP. The included leather case is reinforced with a hard-plastic back plate and a front flip cover protection. It wraps securely around the DAP, and keeps left/right sides open for a full access to controls. The front flip cover makes sense for those who enjoy listening to long playlists and only occasionally use touch screen while mostly relying on hw control buttons.

    For me personally, I’m attached to a touch screen, thus upgraded to a case with an open display. Another issue is not having the access to WM port when Sony stock leather case is closed. But this issue is easy to resolve by a quick DIY where you make a cutout for a cable access. And while I do switch between Dignis leather case and Benks TPU case for 1Z, I still find the original Sony leather case to have the most secure protection.

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    Sony case:

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    Aftermarket accessories.

    If you are like me and need to access the touch screen all the time, having a case with a flip cover can get annoying. There are a few alternatives where I recommend looking into either Dignis leather cases (reviewed here) or Benks TPU transparent case (reviewed here). Depending on the case selection, either with original Sony or Benks, you can add extra protection to the display with a tempered glass screen protector from Garmas. With Dignis case where you need to slide 1Z in/out, there is a chance of lifting the edges of tempered glass protector, so better look for a regular film protector in that case.

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    One accessory which is a must-have if you are planning to use your WM1 DAP as a digital transport going into external DAC/amp is WMC-NWH10 usb conversion cable. Due to proprietary nature of WM port, you can’t use the charging cable for that, and instead need to use that special USB OTG conversion cable. I also heard, people have success using 1Z/1A with a docking station cradle for ZX2. Also, if you are traveling and afraid to lose or to forget your charging cable, it’s good to have handy WMP-NWM10 micro USB converter adapter so you can charge WM1 using standard micro USB cable/charger.

    Last, but not least, is 4.4mm adapter. I will talk more about 4.4mm in general in the Design section of the review, but I’m sure many have a collection of balanced cables with 2.5mm termination and not ready to convert everything to 4.4mm yet. Or perhaps you have different DAPs in your collection, both with 2.5mm and 4.4mm ports, so using 2.5mm with 4.4mm adapter is the most efficient solution. While doing my testing, I found that such converter can degrade the sound quality of 1Z balanced output port. Some of this sound degradation is not as obvious and rather subtle, especially with less resolving headphones. But with more resolving/analytical headphones, I noticed Effect Audio adapter to have the highest level of transparency. I haven’t tested PWA adapter yet, but have been told it’s on the same level as EA adapter. Fidue pigtail converter is convenient since it extends the cable, rather than sticks out from the jack. That Fidue adapter, along with other budget oriented adapters from MEE Audio and Penon, soften the sound and take some sparkle off the top end. One surprise I found was iBasso CA02 adapter, only $15 and sounding better than other budget adapters twice its price.

    Bottom line, when you are dealing with custom cable manufacturers, Effect Audio, PWA, Whiplash, Plussound, you will get a much higher quality products because they pay attention to every detail, including brand name connectors, lead-free audio quality solder, and higher purity interconnect wires. With an exception of CA02 adapter, other budget stuff you find on amazon, eBay, or aliexpress will do the job, but don’t expect the same level of sound transparency.

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    Design.

    A Signature Series Sony WM1 DAPs were introduced in 2 flavors, WM1A and WM1Z. While overall design is similar, each one has its unique elements. With 1Z having a more premium cost-no-object design, it has 256GB of internal memory (vs 128GB offered in 1A), 1Z has more premium internal components (newly developed high polymer FT CAPs and surface mounted Fine Sound Registers), and the four-wire braided Kimber Kable connecting circuit board to headphone jack. But the biggest, and I mean the “biggest” difference is with a chassis material and its corresponding weight.

    Sony starts by milling chassis from a solid block of pure oxygen free copper (OFC) material, using copper due to its higher density and lower resistance when compared to aluminum material used in 1A chassis. Then, copper material is gold plated to prevent the oxidation. As a result, the chassis of 1Z serve as an extension to the circuit board ground. Since I don’t have access to 1A, I can't tell you exactly how these DAPs compare, especially due to a difference in selection of internal components and headphone jack wiring. Certainly, aluminum has different electrical properties, including the reduced conductivity. In theory, the ground plane serves as a return path for a power to all the devices on the board, and the higher conductivity of the return path should result in cleaner power and lower noise floor. At the same time, pure copper adds to the weight and the cost when comparing 1A vs 1Z. Thus, you have to consider a trade-off, especially when we are talking about 455g of weight.

    With chassis discussion out of the way, the next thing that grabbed my attention was the all glass top display where the visible screen area is 4” with FWVGA 854x480 pixels resolution. It’s a deep color display with black and white high contrast scheme. Besides being able to display rich colors of the embedded artwork (depending on the picture size, since some of the graphics wasn’t displayed), everything else is black’n’white, with an exception of a few labels in yellow. WM1Z has a touch screen with a very responsive display, no lags what to ever in fw 1.2/2.0.

    Looking around the chassis, you will find a Hold slider on the left side, to lock the touch screen functionality. On the right side, you have 6 multi-sized hw buttons, with smaller Power button all the way at the top and charging pinhole LED next to it, two larger Volume +/- buttons below it with a distinct bump on the + button for a blind id, and below it 3 transport control buttons with larger Play/Pause in the middle and smaller skip/forward on either side. Play/Pause button also has a bump for a blind id, just slide your finger without looking at the controls and you will be able to easily feel Volume Up and Play/Pause buttons.

    These buttons itself are all metal and gold plated, very durable, no shaking or rattling, with a tactile feedback when pressed, and overall solid feel like they are part of the chassis, stamped right into the gold-plated copper. The ergonomics of the design is very impressive. Due to the weight distribution of the 1Z, my thumb was comfortable controlling the Power (for screen on/off) and adjusting the Volume. For transport control buttons toward the bottom of the right side, I had to slide my right hand down and use both hands, with left one for support to make sure I don’t drop the DAP.

    Lower left corner of the 1Z bottom has an opening to loop wrist strap, and also a little notch for securing Sony’s leather case. In the middle, you have 22-pin WM port which is proprietary to Sony, and used for charging the DAP, connecting to computer to transfer the files, and also for digital out. No analog Line Out is available, only the digital transport output to drive external DAC/amp. Next to it, in the right corner at the bottom, is the dust cover for uSD port which can accommodate 256GB card and probably the latest 400GB as well. Next to it, you will also find another notch for Sony’s leather case to latch to. The back of 1Z has a leather-textured rubbery non-slip material with NFC marker when pairing wireless headphones, if NFC is enabled.

    The top of 1Z has 3.5mm TRRS single ended stereo headphone jack on the right, rated at 60mW+60mW (at 16 ohms), while on the left you have 4.4mm TRRRS balanced stereo jack, rated at 250mW+250mW (at 16 ohms). 4.4mm is a new JEITA standard designed specifically for balanced headphone jacks. It has a number of advantages, such as being mechanically stronger and having a reduced resistance due to larger cross-sectional area of contact. WM1 uses a brand name Nippon DICS Pentaconn (named after 5 contacts) jack where each connection (L+/L-/R+/R-) has 2 points of contact, made into C shape with both sides of the plug engaged, leading to a larger area of contact which results in lower resistance. For additional failsafe, balanced port has a relay switch, making sure you connect headphones all the way in.

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    Under the hood.

    In my DAP reviews, the "under the hood" section usually starts with a discussion about which DAC is used in the design. And often the discussion continuous talking about using dual DACs in higher end models to separate L/R channels. WM1Z is different because Sony has a totally different approach to this design requirement - using their own digital S-Master HX amplifier.

    S-Master digital amp is not a brand-new concept, Sony has been using it in a lot of their high-end desktop audio systems throughout years. But they continue to perfect it, to optimize it, and to adapt it for a portable use with their latest in-house developed S-Master HX semiconductor digital amplifier - model CXD-3778GF. This new evolution of S-Master HX digital amp wasn't only optimized for efficient battery use, but also developed to be compatible with native DSD decoding, Balanced output, and High-Power output. Keep it mind, other entry and mid-fi Sony DAPs, like A40 and NX300, also use CXD-3778GF model, but they have a different implementation of LPF circuit where, for example, A40 uses switching FET inside of CXD-3778GF, while WM1 has high voltage FET outside of the digital amp.

    I already mentioned "digital amp" a few times, and would like to talk more about its benefits. In a traditional design, decoded digital data stream is fed into D/A converter for digital signal to be converted into analog, then some Low Pass Filter (LPF), perhaps a volume control, and analog headphone amplifier section. Such traditional design generates "open-loop" distortion which is corrected with a Negative Feedback that has its own problems. Also, with a traditional off-the-shelf DAC architecture design, we see more dual DAC implementations to separate L/R channels in order to reduce the interference and crosstalk.

    The problem with this architecture is that majority of the signal goes through analog path which is more susceptible to noise coupling, interference, and crosstalk. Even with L/R channel separation, you are still dealing with a small printed wiring board (pwb) and close proximity of the signals. What S-Master digital amp does is to completely replace the analog amplification with a digital amp technology without a feedback. S-Master doesn't have D/A converter. Instead, the amp processes the digital signal until the final output stage where it uses LPF.

    In a digital domain, there is no need for a dual DAC since you don't have to worry about analog signal interference and crosstalk, and because this is a fully custom semiconductor design, Sony is in full control to optimize the audio performance (in this case supporting balanced output with DSD native playback in balanced mode only of up to 11.2MHz and Linear PCM playback up to 384kHz/32bit), and also to optimize battery life depending on the audio format playback. When it comes to audio formats, you have support of most of the lossy and lossless formats, such as MP3, WMA, FLAC, Linear PCM (wav), AAC, HE-AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and DSD. CUE files playback is read as a single file. Also, although there is no menu selection to enable gapless, I tested it with one of my gapless MP3 albums and it worked flawless.

    Battery life is truly phenomenal, Sony was able to optimize the performance, depending on the file format, to have a playback of over 30hrs. I ran multiple tests with MP3 and FLAC files, using balanced output, and with direct sound on (no DSP effects) and off. On average, my best-case scenario of playing 320kbps MP3 from 4.4mm HO with direct sound yielded 32 hours of continuous playback. Switching to FLAC, playing continuously from 4.4mm HO with DSP effects enabled – lasted 19 hours.

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    GUI.

    With 1Z being my first Sony DAP, I wasn't sure what to expect, but ended up being pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of its very efficient interface. One thing to mention before getting into GUI, how responsive and fast the navigation of its touch screen is. I never experienced any lag between swiping, and the only complained I had turned out to be due to my unfamiliarity with Sony interface. In order to swipe forward/back through the song, you have to tap and hold the bar for a second and then swipe it to a new position. Instead, I was swiping without tapping first, and couldn't understand why I was switching between the screens. Tap'n'swipe is actually a good idea, to prevent accidental song forwarding. And of course, you can always use hw control buttons on the right side.

    Now, about the GUI. The main Playback screen has a very simple and efficient layout. At the top you have a volume bar, representing 120 steps. You tap on it, and it brings up a large circular volume adjustment in a window where you can tap -/+ or swipe the volume around the dial. Underneath the volume bar at the top, you have file format and bit depth of the file you're listening to, along with a numeric volume value to the right of it. Just below it you can also find play/pause icon on the left side and the battery indicator on the right side. Underneath of it, half of the screen is occupied by a cover art (if embedded picture is available and valid), which can also be replaced with either Spectrum Analyzer or Analog Level Meter.

    In the lower half of the screen you have a swipe bar to fast forward/back through the song with a total song time, current song marker, and a song number in queue. The song name is underneath of it, then below it you have Playback touch controls, with Play/Pause in the middle, Skip Next/Prev (multi-functional with fast forward/back when press'n'hold), and Play Mode controls which have been added in fw 2.0. All the way to the left you have Shuffle Playback select, and all the way to the right you have Repeat off, Repeat all, and Repeat 1 song touch control. These Play Mode controls were already available under Setting, but now they're conveniently located on top without a need to dig through Settings menu.

    From the main Playback screen, you swipe to get to the screen on the right which has 10 Bookmark Lists, or swipe to the screen on the left which has a Play Queue (where you can also choose to view more song details or add it to Playlist or Bookmark List). When you swipe to the screen at the top, you will have a choice of file sorting to view All Songs, Playlist, Hi-Res files, Album, Artist, Genre, Release Year, Composer, Recent Transfers, Folder, or SensMe Channels. This sorting list is easy to customize when you click toolbox icon at the bottom and choose Select Items to Display. As a matter of fact, this toolbox menu icon, will always have a link to the main Settings menu, and also separate settings applicable to that specific screen.

    Swiping to the bottom screen brings up a selection of DSP effects which can also been disabled at once by selecting Direct Source On. I will talk in more details about these DSP Effects in the next section of the review. One thing I found very useful is that no matter which screen you go to, except for Settings menu, you always have access to the bottom playback touch controls. And below it, you have a Return back button on the left, and toolbox button on the right. In the middle, you have return to Playback screen button and File sorting screen button.

    It does take a few minutes to figure out and get used to this window arrangement, but then it becomes a second nature, very intuitive. The idea is to have everything under your fingertips with a main focus around Playback screen, and everything else within a swipe away.

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    Settings menu is very simple as well. You start off with Brightness icon (tap to get into the setting) and Bluetooth on/off icon. Next, Basic Settings with Playback, Output, and Device settings. In Playback, you have Play Mode with shuffle and repeat modes, Playback Range, Sleep Timer, Artist list sorting display, and Lyrics display with an option to keep the screen on. In Output setting you have AVLS volume limit enable, High Gain output enable (individually set for either 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm BAL outputs), L/R balance, USB output for DSP (auto or DoP), and DSD Playback setting options.

    Device Setting has more generic options such as beep setting, touch panel handling with Hold switch, USB connection options, Auto Power off, Battery care, Clock setting, language setting, Text Input, and Reset/Format where you can reset all the settings, format either internal storage or uSD card, rebuild database, or restore to factory config.

    The top main Setting menu also has Bluetooth setting menu to connect to and to add new devices, enable NFC, Bluetooth info, and under Other the unit info where you can confirm FW setting, available storage space, and total hours of audio playback.

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    DSP Effects.

    When Direct Sound is turned off, you are enabling the EQ and DSP effects which can be individually turned on or off. I will talk in more details about each effect below.

    Paragraphic EQ (fixed Q)/ Tone Control - In this window you have access to either 10 Band EQ with a fixed frequency bands (31Hz, 62Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, 8kHz, 16kHz) or a simplified Tone Control adjustment with only three bands for Bass, Middle, and Treble. Each of these bands, either EQ or Tone, could be adjusted in steps from +10 to -10. In general, adjustment was smooth and natural, no artificial aliasing. You switch between EQ and Tone adjustment by tapping tool box, which also has an option to Save a sound setting.

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    DSEE HX - upscales the original compressed or CD quality audio to the equivalent of high-res audio. Here you have 5 different settings from a drop-down menu:

    Standard - to my ears it expands soundstage width/depth/height, and improves some of the dynamics/transparency, and it feels like you have a little more air between the layers of the sound.

    Female Voice / Male Voice / Percussion / Strings - across these 4 settings, I hear that we start with Standard dynamics expansion as a baseline, and then vary compression of the sound, focusing specifically on frequency band occupied by either vocals, percussions, or string instruments. It's a subtle effect which is hard to describe, but I'm hearing it as a sound compression effect with a focus on a bandwidth occupied by specific vocals/sounds.

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    DC Phase Linerarizer - the effect which makes the low frequency phase characteristics of the player closer to a traditional analog amplifier. It's like trying different solid-state amplifiers with a focus on low end emphasis. This effect has its own presets with Type A and B, with each having Low and High variations.

    Type A Standard - tightens the bass, adds some coloration to low end, has more emphasis on sub-bass, and some lower mids (a little more body).

    - Low/High variation - low gives it a little warmer tonality variation with more rumble, while high shifts this tonality variation closer to mid-bass/lower mids.

    Type B Standard - tightens the bass, adds some coloration to low end, has more emphasis on mid-bass, while keeping lower mids more neutral.

    - Low/High variation - low gives it a little warmer tonality with a shift that's a little more toward the sub-bass, while high relaxes sub-bass while still keeping lower mids neutral.

    These adjustments can really finetune the low end of your song, but to hear the effect of it you need higher res headphones with a good low-end extension.

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    Dynamic Normalizer - It's quite an effective hardware type of normalize which first compresses and then raises the volume of the track to match the loudness going from one song to the other. Sony refers to this effect as it minimizes the volume differences between the songs, but at the expense of the compression which raises the volume and kills the dynamics in many tracks I tested. I personally wouldn't use this effect.

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    Sound Analysis.

    I'm glad I waited for fw 2.0 update before starting my critical sound analysis of 1Z because in my opinion the new firmware scaled up the sound performance to be less colored, more neutral, still leaning toward a smoother, organic tonality, but with an improved transparency. I prefer DAP sound to be close to neutral, otherwise your headphones sound signature will be colored. But I was also pleased that after the update, 1Z kept its unique sound characteristics without losing that smooth analog sound texture.

    Our brain often plays a trick on us, where after a period of extended listening we get adjusted to the sound, what is called a brain burn in. When analyzing 1Z, I was constantly switching between different DAPs to keep my sound reference in check for a relative comparison. I was impressed how natural 1Z made every pair of headphones sound. Regardless if it's a dynamic driver bass with a deep visceral rumble or a BA bass with a fast, articulate impact, or if it's a lean neutral lower mids or a thicker one with additional body, or if we are talking about a smoother natural upper mids or cold analytical revealing ones, or if a treble has elevated vivid tonality or a reduced sparkle with a more natural definition - 1Z makes everything sound more natural, yet still revealing; warmer, yet not congested; smoother, yet still layered; intimate, yet still multi-dimensional with holographic imaging. Also, it refines the bass quality without affecting too much the quantity.

    Another distinct characteristic of 1Z is the black background, especially from balanced output, making the sound more dynamic with a faster transient response when notes are triggered on/off. At the same time, 1Z wouldn't be my first choice to analyze the sound under microscope when I'm looking for a more analytical source. 1Z is great when you want to enjoy listening to your music without too much of a revealing edge that going to make the sound more fatigue.

    Since I don't like to use EQ, I prefer to pair up brighter tuned headphones with warmer sources, and vise verse - warmer tuned headphones with more neutral-revealing sources. Here, I was able to pair up and to enjoy everything, regardless of the sound signature.

    Additional thing worth mentioning, even so I'm not a big collector of DSD tracks and only have about a dozen I use for testing, when I started to listen and to compare playback of these tracks across my other DAPs, WM1Z stood above them all with the most transparent, layered, and expanded (soundstage) sound.

    3.5mm vs 4.4mm

    Before fw 2.0, there was a bigger gap in sound quality between SE and BAL, where 3.5mm output was warmer, smoother, and more congested. After the fw 2.0 upgrade, the sound quality of 3.5mm SE output really scaled up, with a very noticeable improvement in soundstage expansion, more transparency in sound, brighter tonality, and darker background.

    But even with these improvements, 4.4mm BAL output is still ahead of 3.5mm SE. BAL output soundstage is wider, more holographic, with an improvement in imaging and separation. The background is blacker, making overall sound tighter, more transparent, and with a faster/sharper transient of notes.

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    Comparison.

    Here are my observations while comparing 1Z to other DAPs using multiple IEMs, all volume matched. Obviously, the sound is described from a perspective of how I hear it through those IEMs where the actual sound is the result of their pair up synergy.

    1Z vs iBasso DX200 w/amp4 - both have a very wide soundstage, though 1Z is just a little bit wider, but when it comes to soundstage depth 1Z is deeper which makes its soundstage to be more elliptical while DX200 soundstage has relatively less depth which makes its soundstage to be more stretched left-to-right with a shallower depth. Both have a deep black background with a similar retrieval of details, a very similar sound dynamics, but a different tonality. 1Z has a fuller body, smoother, slightly warmer sound which is more analog, like it's coming from a hardware amplifier. DX200 w/amp4 tonality is brighter, with a more neutral body, more revealing sound, and also colder tonality in comparison to 1Z.

    1Z vs Lotoo PAW Gold (LPG) - very similar soundstage where 1Z is just a little wider, while both have the same depth. In terms of tonality, LPG is brighter, colder, especially when it comes to treble where you have more energy and more sparkle - in comparison, 1Z treble is smoother and more relaxed, being slightly laid back. Another noticeable difference is in the bass where 1Z has a deeper sub-bass extension while LPG has more emphasis on mid-bass impact. Both have a dynamic sound with a black background and fast transient of notes on/off. Also, both are the prime example of pure-audio playback devices.

    1Z vs Cowon Plenue 2 - 1Z soundstage has more width, while soundstage depth is similar. Here, the first thing that stands out is how neutral and colder P2 sounds in comparison to a fuller body smoother 1Z. Starting with a low end, 1Z has more textured sub-bass extension while P2 has stronger and faster mid-bass punch, lower mids are leaner and more neutral when listening with P2 while 1Z has more body, and treble is brighter in P2 as well, while 1Z is smoother and more organic. Both have a dynamic sound with a black background, and nice layering and separation, but in this example I typically use P2 for more analytical listening while 1Z is used to enjoy the music.

    1Z vs theBit Opus#2 - here, while soundstage depth is similar, 1Z is wider in staging. Another noticeable difference is 1Z having a blacker background. Both have a similarly expanded dynamic sound, though 1Z sounds tighter and with a better layering and separation. When it comes to low end, both have a similar emphasis on sub-bass with a similar mid-bass impact. With lower mids, both are a little north of neutral with more body, though despite similar natural tonality - upper mids are more detailed and more transparent in 1Z. With treble. Opus#2 is closer, but still has a little more sparkle in lower treble vs smoother 1Z.

    1Z vs FiiO X7ii - 1Z soundstage is wider and deeper, where width difference is more noticeable. Also, 1Z has a blacker background, and a better dynamic expansion. X7ii sound is leaner and more neutral in comparison to a fuller body smoother sound of 1Z. They both have a nice sub-bass rumble, while X7ii has a little stronger mid-bass punch. Lower mids are leaner and upper mids are thinner in X7ii, while 1Z has more body and more organic in comparison. Treble is also thinner and brighter in X7ii.

    1Z certainly has its own unique smoother fuller body sound with a warmer tonality in comparison to many other DAPs. I know many are probably curious how 1Z compares to 1A, but unfortunately I don't have access to it. The same with A&K latest SP1000 which I have zero experience with, thus not being able to compare.

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    Pair up.

    In the following pair up tests I made sure to note either BAL or SE connection, as well as the gain setting and the Volume level (out of max 120).

    VE Zen (BAL, v80 high gain) - in this pair up I was going back'n'forth between low and high gain, and kept coming back to high gain where these 320 ohms earbuds benefit more from a more natural tonality, improved bass texture, neutral body in lower mids, more organic upper mids, and a little more energy in treble.

    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (SE, v100 high gain) - since I don't have a balanced cable for these 470 ohms open back cans, I was using SE output and had to switch to high gain because in low gain the sound was too neutral, lacking any excitement. In high gain, I hear more sub-bass rumble, mids have more body, there is improved layering, better retrieval of details, and treble has more sparkle. Soundstage is very open, expanded, with a great imaging. Overall sound is very dynamic and more balanced; makes me wonder how it would scale up from balanced output if I ever get the cable.

    Audeze EL8C (SE, v102 low gain) - very interesting how these closed back planars actually sounded better in low gain. Though the sound was tighter with a sharper definition at high gain, the treble sheen was causing ear fatigue. Switching to low gain softened the sound a little, relaxing it, and smoothing out the treble which was a lot more tolerable now. This pair up has a decent bass punch, leaner lower mids, more revealing micro-detailed upper mids, and crisp airy treble. The soundstage width was impressive, but depth was even better, holographic and out of my head.

    Oppo PM3 (BAL, v95, low gain) - these Oppo planars are usually sensitive to pair up where in many cases sound is too smooth, somewhat congested, and just too laid back with less resolution. In this pair up, the sound is more detailed, more open, more resolving. It's still lacking when it comes to layering and separation and overall, the sound is not as dynamic, but there is no congestion, bass is tighter, lower mids are more neutral, and retrieval of details in upper mids scales up. I tried it in high gain as well, but the only improvement was a deeper, more textured sub-bass.

    Beyerdynamic T5p v2 (BAL, v90, low gain) - another example of me enjoying these Tesla drivers more at low gain where treble sounds a little more natural to my ears. Overall, bass is tight, articulate with a deep, textured sub-bass rumble. Lower mids are neutral, more toward the leaner side, and upper mids are very detailed, layered, nicely separated, and still natural, and treble being crisp and well defined, and smoother in low gain in comparison to a more overwhelming sparkle in high gain.

    With the following IEMs, everything was tested in Low Gain from BAL output, thus I will just note a corresponding volume level.

    Sennheiser IE800S (v75) - expanded soundstage, very impressive width and nice depth. Overall sound sig is relative balanced with a deep punchy bass, neutral lower mids with a nice body, very resolving layered upper mids with a natural tonality, treble with a nice crunch, a little splashy in some poorly recorded tracks but not fatigue. In this pair up 10k peak is definitely under control.

    HiFiMAN RE2000 (v84) - super wide holographic soundstage, balanced sound sig with a little mid-forward push. Bass goes deep, has a nice rumble, but not as much quantity, mid-bass is tight and punchy, lower mids are lean, upper mids micro detailed, a little thinner, and with a more forward presentation, treble is crisp airy, bright. Overall sound is brighter, leaner, and a little colder. This is probably a case where going back to fw 1.2 would have benefited this pair up.

    64 Audio TIA Fourte (v64) - super wide holographic soundstage, balanced lean sound signature. Deep sub-bass extension and tight punchy mid-bass, but overall low end is closer to neutral. Lean lower mids, brighter revealing micro-detailed upper mids, crisp airy treble with a lot of energy, a little on a thinner side. I think this is another example where a warmer fuller body sound of fw 1.2 could improve this pair up because overall sound could benefit from some warmer tonality.

    Campfire Audio VEGA (v65) - wide expanded soundstage. a little more v-shaped sound sig. Bass is very powerful, coming at you with a full swing of textured sub-bass rumble and slower mid-bass which definitely has an elevated quantity. Lower mids are north of neutral, thick and full of body, upper mids are smooth, detailed, natural, while treble is a little elevated, with a nice crunch and airiness. In some pair ups VEGA could be more L-shaped and treble could get fatigue, but not in this case.

    64 Audio U18t (v65) - very expanded 3D soundstage, balanced sound sig with a natural revealing tonality. Deep sub-bass rumble with a slightly elevated quantity, punchy mid-bass with overall bass being tight and articulate, neutral lower mids, very natural revealing upper mids with a nice layering and sound separation, crisp airy well-defined treble with a perfect balance of energy. This was a very impressive pair up with natural organic tonality without being too smooth or laidback, instead being very transparent and highly resolving.

    AAW W900 (v70) - very nice 3D soundstage with a good balance between width and depth, and a nicely balanced sound signature. Bass has a deep sub-bass extension with a noticeable quantity, and a softer mid-bass punch where overall bass has a little slower attack and longer decay, but it's still well controlled. Lower mids have more body, definitely a little north of neutral, upper mids are smooth and detailed, but not very layered or separated, and pushed a little forward out of your head; treble is crisp, airy, and extended.

    Beyerdynamic Xelento (v68) - very nicely expanded 3D soundstage, and overall nice balanced signature, though with an elevated sub-bass. Starting with a bass, the sub-bass rumble goes deep, very textured and noticeably elevated, while mid-bass is tight, punchy, and overall bass is very articulate and well controlled. Lower mids are neutral with a nice body, upper mids are natural, revealing, layered, and with an excellent retrieval of details. Treble is crisp, airy, very well defined, not fatigue, and very energetic. This is an excellent pair up, except some might find sub-bass to be a little overwhelming, though when I switched from BAL to SE, I noticed sub-bass quantity going down a little bit - probably a better pair up in this case.

    Westone ES80 (v80) - very nice 3D soundstage expansion, and a balanced-neutral signature with a very natural tonality. Bass has a great extension down to a sub-bass rumble and a fast mid-bass punch, overall bass is very tight and articulate, great quality with a closer to neutral quantity. The same with lower mids, very neutral and clean, while upper mids are very natural, detailed, layered, with a great resolution. Treble is crisp, airy, very extended. This pair up yielded a very natural and detailed tonality.

    64 Audio TIA Trio (v71) - expanded 3D soundstage with a balanced energetic sound signature. Bass is very tight and articulate, lifted, with a strong punch and textured deep sub-bass extension, neutral lower mids with a nice body, very detailed resolving upper mids that have a perfect balance of micro-detail retrieval, while still sounding natural and not analytical. Crisp airy treble with an energetic sparkle. Great pair up, especially in how it brings up the energy in bass and treble.

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    Wireless connection.

    WM1Z comes with Bluetooth 4.2, supporting aptX and aptX HD codecs (added in fw 2.0), and A2DP and AVRCP profiles. Sony also developed their own highly regarded low compression LDAC wireless codec, supported by WM1Z. Since I don't have any headphones with LDAC, I decided to compare 1Z against my smartphone using Senns Momentum Over-ear Wireless and B&W P7 Wireless. In both cases, volume control, play/pause and skip worked flawless, and I noted a consistent 60ft wireless distance coverage in open space with 1Z vs 50ft under the same conditions with my Note 4 smartphone.

    Using B&W P7W.

    w/1Z - The sound is very crisp, detailed, transparent, very resolving, balanced sound sig with a powerful bass impact and extension, clear detailed mids, and crisp airy treble. Probably the best I heard P7W in wireless.

    w/Note 4 - The sound is more v-shaped with more emphasis on bass and lower treble. Bass is a little more bloated, very powerful, yet a bit overwhelming, mids are detailed but not as transparent or resolving like with 1Z, maybe even a touch veiled in comparison, treble is a little thinner.

    Using Sennheiser Momentum Wireless.

    w/1Z - Very crisp transparent sound with an excellent retrieval of details, deeper fuller bass, detailed mids, well defined treble.

    w/Note 4 - Sound is also crisp and transparent, but thinner and bass doesn't have the same extension and slam, a little less rumble, and mid-bass sounds hollower in comparison to 1Z pair up. Mids and treble were similar to 1Z wireless pair up.

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    Conclusion.

    Lately, it seems that different manufacturers are competing to include a lot of functionality with every new DAP release because they feel like some people judge DAP value based on quantity of included features, instead of quality. As a result, there are DAPs with balanced output that offers little power increase and not much SNR change, dual brand-name DACs without noticeable sound improvement, wifi support where apps have to be side-loaded, and wireless Bluetooth connections without aptX support. Sony decided to approach their WM1Z DAP design by starting a New chapter with a Fresh page, by making this Signature Series release to stand out from the crowd.

    1Z is not trying to be trendy with the latest popular DAC used by others. Instead, Sony implemented their own new S-Master HX digital amp that was designed from the ground up. And as a result, they don't even have to worry about dual DAC because digital amp design keeps L/R channels already isolated. Sony had enough confidence to release their flagship DAP with LDAC support first, and only later added flexibility of aptX and aptX HD. Sony went against the mainstream 2.5mm BAL jack, and were the first to introduce 4.4mm BAL. They used a hefty chunk of OFC material for the chassis because Sony did enough testing to recognize its benefits, despite almost doubling the weight (in comparison to aluminum 1A) and increasing the price (due to material cost). Battery life is also one of the best in comparison to other comparable DAPs.

    But the most important thing, Sony kept audio quality as their top priority, without any compromises. WM1Z sounds like a piece of a desktop gear which adds an extra analog dimension to the sound, making other portable sources sound thinner, colder, and more digital in comparison. I'm not saying 1Z will be everyone's cup of tea since I do recognize that many people actually look for a more reference, more revealing, and more neutral sources, relying later on pair ups with external portable amps or driving DAC/amps to color the sound. Also keep in mind, WM1Z is not the only choice if you want to get all this proprietary Sony technology since WM1A is a great alternative at a much lower price and weight, plus you should consider their latest ZX300 as well. But even a year later after its release, WM1Z is still at the top of the DAP food chain, still relevant, still a flagship, and still sounds great, especially after the latest fw update.
  2. ejong7
    The Categorical Statement: Sony Walkman NW-WM1Z
    Written by ejong7
    Published Oct 25, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Class defining sound quality. Top notch build quality.
    Cons - Godly expensive. Lack of Wi-Fi streaming capabilities.
    DISCLAIMER
    The Sony NW-WM1Z (and NW-WM1A) was loaned by Sony Malaysia in collaboration with Sony Japan to me for a month, in which it was promptly returned on the agreed date. Many thanks to Masayuki-san and Tomoaki-san from Sony Japan, along with Bryan, Danny and Diane from Sony Malaysia for both giving the green light for the project and expediting it.

    The reviews and writing processes for the two units were done concurrently and as such the two will have certain sections that are carbon copies of itself in delivery, such as the introduction. The review for the WM1Z will be released first, with the release of WM1A review after.

    INTRODUCTION
    In late 2001, the release of Apple’s iPod arguably revolutionized what we know of the portable audio industry, bringing forth the ability to store and play digitally stored music files into a pocket friendly form factor with an intuitive control scheme. As significant as that may be, the impact of iPod’s release, in my opinion, pales in comparison to the influence of a product that was released 22 years prior to it – the Sony Walkman. Perhaps the most influential product ever to be released in the history of the industry, it made music on the go accessible to the masses, and inspired a host of products that were released after it, including its eventual successor the Discman, the aforementioned iPod and the since discontinued Zune, among others.

    But that was more than two decades ago. A lot have changed since then: the World Wide Web was invented, computers are now common in every household, and mobile phones have evolved from a single task unit into a multipurpose device. With the rise and subsequent fall in popularity of both cassette tapes and compact discs as standard music mediums, in line with the surging acceptance of digital formats as the way forward, the Walkman, along with any music player that utilizes physical music mediums, have since been driven to near extinction. What’s left of the Walkman legacy is a branding that is a shell of its former self, releasing solid performing portable players like the NWZ-ZX1 and ZX2, none of them made a huge statement like the original Walkman did.

    That is, until now. At IFA 2016, Sony announced its brand new flagship music player – the NW-WM1Z (1Z). Designed as no frills, cost no object unit, the 1Z is Sony’s answer in its quest to combine sophisticated sound technology with beautifully crafted, high-grade materials and class-leading usability. If all that sound like marketing jargon to you, it kind of is since I plucked it from Sony’s product page. In my interpretation, basically what Sony is promising with the unit that fuses high build quality, software and hardware that has both functionality and ease of use, and finally but most importantly standard defining sound quality. Adding on to that, Sony also released (at the same time) another player within the same line – the NW-WM1A (1A), which shares the same design its sibling the 1Z, yet still delivers a package that is more affordable to the masses than the 1Z, at the cost of less premium build materials and storage capacity.

    So has Sony Walkman line reclaimed its former glory with the release of the 1Z and 1A? Read on to find out.

    *As the title suggest, this review’s main point of focus is the WM1Z. A separate review for the WM1A will be published in the near future.


    INFO + SPECIFICATIONS
    The 1Z is a Hi-Res Audio certified audio player, its outputs consisting of a single ended output and a balanced output. What needs to be highlighted is the balanced output, specifically the type of it. It does not accept the conventional 2.5mm connector employed by the likes of the A&K players, nor does it accept the less used 3.5mm TRRS connector that is favoured by HiFiMAN players. Instead, it plays with the newer Pentaconn standard by Jeita which uses a 4.4mm balanced connector, a first at least for me. From what I know, the 4.4mm was designed to improve in insertion durability and the uniformity of the resistance value across the connector. I have not tested out any 4.4mm connectors repeatedly to confirm this but by the looks of it, it does look sturdier than the older standards, so they are moving in a good direction for me.

    The single ended output is rated at 60mW + 60mW (non CEW, High Gain) and 1.6-4.2mW (CEW), whereas the balanced output is rated at 250mW + 250mW (non CEW,High Gain) and 1.6-4.2mW (CEW). To be honest I’m not entirely sure what CEW stand for. Still, from what I understand, it represents the region in which the unit was made for. The reason for a different unit made for the CEW region (certain European countries) is to comply with volume limit laws set within them, so these CEW units are fixed to output lower power. The sample I tested with was a non CEW unit, and easily drove all of my headphones and IEMs to a comfortable listening level and it feels like it has gobs of power to drive most headphones on the market. My guess would be that it is able to drive notoriously hard to drive headphones to the volume level that I normally listen to (low if not moderate) at high gain.

    Additionally, the 1Z is equipped for playback through version 4.2 Bluetooth technology at the 2.4 GHz band, but does not support apt-X codec (unless a firmware revision changed that). The player however is able to support LDAC, which promises 3X the date transmitted, providing enhanced wireless listening experience at near Hi-Res quality. It is also equipped with NFC capabilities; however there is a glaring omission in terms of wireless capability: Wi-Fi. With that omission, it was obvious that the device was designed for music purists, not those who prefer complete digital files compared to streaming on the go with applications like Spotify and Tidal. I don’t use all these streaming services so it ended up perfectly fine for me, still it was surprising to see the absence of Wi-Fi as that has been the way many of us listen to our music nowadays. Perhaps it was a conscious choice to eliminate the function in hopes of providing better sonic performance? That would probably be my guess.

    It has a frequency response between 20 to 40,000 Hz when playing a data file, and is capable of playing files ranging from the typical 16 bit/44.1 Hz up to DSD 256. The types of file formats available for playback on 1Z includes WAV, AIFF, WMA, AAC, HE-ACC, FLAC, ALAC and DSD, with the noticeable name left out being APE. Native DSD is available for playback yet it is only accessible when the balanced output is used. DSD playback using the single ended output is through regular PCM conversion, which is a shame as I feel Native DSD should be applicable for both outputs. If you’re going to offer the option, you might as well cover all fronts. The files can be played back ‘raw’, or without any enhancements, through the Direct Source function. It can also be adjusted to possibly improve the overall presentation through various functions such as DSEE HX upscaling, DC Phase Linearizer, Dynamic Normalizer and a 10 band equalizer. Effects from all these sound options will be explained in a later section.

    Furthermore, the 1Z has a built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery neither the sizing nor the power rating publically declared. However, it was stated to have a battery life for 33 hours of continuous playback when 128kbps MP3 files are concerned, and 11 hours when DSD 256 are used, with a full charge completed in approximately 7 hours. In my experience, the quoted charging time holds true and I have been able to consistently reach about 25 to 30 hours’ worth of playback when utilizing my playlist consisting of FLAC, ALAC and DSD; which I found impressive. The battery life can easily last me a one way flight to almost anywhere on the planet! To complement the long battery life, the 1Z itself has 256GB storage on board, effectively about 230GB of user memory capacity, and is expandable through a microSD slot to a (current) total maximum of 518GB of storage. Unless, all your files are in DSD format, most if not your entire library can follow you around with the unit.

    Finally, the 1Z have multiple languages on device for its user interface, including English, Spanish and Chinese to name a few. This is a nice touch to make the user interface accessible to a larger portion of the masses. All that, at a whopping retail price of $3199.99. Yes, $3200 for this. I’ll let that sink in for a while.

    ACCESSORIES & OPTIONS
    The unit I had was a product sample from Sony so I did not receive it in its product packaging. From what I gather, the unit comes in a paperboard box similar to that found in most smartphone packaging nowadays like the iPhone and Galaxy S8. I must say I am unimpressed since I assumed that a product such as the 1Z would be presented in a packaging more befitting of its status, though I know some would argue that the product cost should be concentrated on the product itself rather than its soon to be useless packaging. Needless to say, I did not spend $3200 for a package box; still the least I would expect from Sony is for it to be nicely wrapped.

    Inside the packaging, you’ll find your 1Z, a USB cable, a wrist strap for your unit, a Startup Guide and an Instruction Manual. Specifically for the 1Z, a leather case is included as well. For this review, I received the player, the USB cable and the leather case. Both the Startup Guide and the Instruction Manual can also be located online through Sony’s product page.

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    This is an
    example of a USB cable with a ‘WM connector’ on one end.


    The USB cable used with the 1Z, which is standard across all Sony music players, is fitted with what is to be known as the ‘WM connector’. Personally I would have hoped that Sony changed the standard of connectors to the more common micro USB or USB C, as those cables are more readily available. I find the fact that I have to bring an extra cable for the 1Z when I’m on the go just a tad inconvenient since I am already carrying a micro USB and a USB C cable every day for all my other portable source gear. Nonetheless, it’s more of a suggestion for future products than an actual design flaw that has to be corrected immediately.

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    Above are a few snapshots of the case that comes with WM1Z. The same case can be used with WM1A as well.

    I found the leather case, built akin to some of the flip cases available for phones, to be made of high quality leather. It’s not completely made of leather, as there are plastic guides strategically positioned to nestle your 1Z into the case. While it is without a doubt nicely built, I felt that the case was unwieldy, particularly the fact that I have to flip open the case just to get to the front screen or the compartments at the bottom such as the charging port. I much preferred the other cases made by 3rd party manufacturers on the market as it allows simple access to the screen and charge the 1Z without opening the case, though some may appreciate and prefer the Sony case which allows the user to directly press the side buttons, unlike the other cases which cover most of the buttons except the power button.


    BUILD QUALITY

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    Here are my less professional shots of the beautiful WM1Z.

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    This is a step by step view of the manufacturing process of WM1Z, from its original solid block of oxygen-free copper till its completion. Picture credits due to Sony Japan.

    The 1Z never stops to astonish me with its good looks; it’s truly a sight to behold. The main chassis is made with oxygen-free copper (OFC), milled from a solid block then gold plated, which was selected as material of choice due to its better grounding capabilities. However, it does come at a price as the player weighs almost 455g, not something to scoff at, and certainly not something you would put inside your pocket daily even if your pocket fit the dimensions.

    Speaking of dimensions, the 1Z is sized at 72.9 x 124.2 x 19.9mm, so it’s fairly large in size even when compared to the other DAPs available on the market. I could comfortably fit it in my medium sized hand but one handed operation would be a stretch (no pun intended). At the front of the unit, a 4’’ TFT colour video display panel with a display resolution of 854x480 (FWVGA) and (of course) touchscreen capability serves as your main and only screen. The back of the unit features a textured faux leather piece etched with the Walkman logo at the bottom, as if to lay your electronic goodness with an extra touch of class. I loved the leather back addition as it grants some extra grip to the unit that is highly welcomed. Surely you would not want to risk it dropping or slipping from your hand. You probably want to avoid exposing it to water or liquids in general as it is not waterproof nor water resistant, something we see being implemented more and more of in the mobile phone market but less so in the DAP industry.


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    These shots are of the bottom, top, left and right side of the WM1Z respectively. As seen from the sticker on the left side, the units are made in Malaysia, a thing of note for a Malaysian like me.


    The bottom of 1Z houses the microSD card slot, the charging/data transfer cable slot and a strap hole to tie your wrist strap at. At the top of 1Z, you can find your balanced 4.4mm output on the left with the single ended 3.5mm output on the right. Judging by the looks and feel of it, all these connectors and compartments have been solidly built, thus one will feel confident that the parts won’t fail on them unless excessively abused. On the left, you can find the hold switch while all the other buttons are on the right, including the power button, both volume up and down buttons, skip, play and finally rewind buttons. The buttons and switch has a nice tactile feel to them, so pressing the buttons by mistake can be easily detected and significantly reduced if not completely remedied.

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    This is an exploded view of the WM1ZZ, followed by a view on the separated analog and digital section of the player. Picture credits due to Sony Japan.


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    This picture shows the top of the line internal components used in the player, wired with wiring specifically designed by Kimber Kable. Picture credits due to Sony Japan.


    A unit priced at a premium like the 1Z should not hold off in its selection of material, and it truly deliver in that regard by bringing the best of the best in terms of internal components. First off, 1Z continues the on-going usage of Sony’s own S-Master HX full digital amplifier that keeps the audio signal processing entirely in the digital domain to accurately process massive audio data while minimising noise and distortion. Secondly, the entire circuitry within the unit was connected with four wire braided cables specifically designed by Kimber Kable. It doesn’t surprise me at all since Ray Kimber, founder of Kimber Kable and a legend in his own, shares a close bond with the people in Sony.

    In addition, the 1Z is equipped with high performance resistors known as ‘Fine Sound Register’ and high polymer capacitors known as “FT CAP”, in lieu of achieving their aim at producing the best music player currently available. To further enhance the design, the segment directly involved in the audio playback has been segregated from the rest of the board, specifically done to reduce the S/N ratio. I am not 100% sure how those electrical components factor in since I’m not an electrical engineer myself. Regardless, I have previously experienced a jump in sound quality when I swapped my stock cables to cables from Kimber on my headphones, so I have no doubt that these small details are important and directly affect the performance of 1Z.

    USERABILITY
    Just to be clear, the 1Z does not use Android for its operating system, opting for an in-house operating system instead. It’s not open source like an Android OS, thus the option of downloading 3rd party applications are removed. I still believe Sony had come up with a solid if not awe inspiring OS, not overreaching, and only functioning as needed.

    Starting the unit itself was simple enough; one holds the power button for about 3 seconds which is actually the same procedure to initiate the shutdown sequence. The boot up time was average, coming up to about the same time as my QP1R if not slightly longer. At every boot up, the player will scan for all the songs available on its physical memory and equipped memory card to load up its music library. The load up time feels similar to the time taken for a new memory card to be loaded so I assume that it loads up the entire library each time. It’s slightly unnecessary for me since I do not switch up my cards every day but I didn’t mind it too much as the load up time is pretty short considering the amount of songs I have on each card.


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    The pictures above show the home menu, screen for all songs and screen for artists respectively.
    A combination of the simple interface and a responsive touch screen made operating the 1Z was pretty straight forward for me. The home menu shows how all your files are sorted by: songs, albums, artists, genres, release year, composers, playlists and Hi-Res certified files. A simple tap will bring up a sub menu of each category, listing the folders or files clearly in alphabetical order. At the bottom, 4 capacitive buttons allows navigation to the previous screen, the playback screen, the library screen (based on the previously accessed sorting method) and settings screen.


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    The pictures above show playback screen then overlaid with the volume control screen. The volume control can also be used through the capacitive buttons on the side.

    On the playback screen, you’ll find a straight forward layout that maintains the simplicity found on other screens. Three main buttons, rewind, play and forward, lace the screen. Pressing on either volume button will bring up the volume screen, also accessible by tapping on the volume bar that is at the top of the screen, which can then be used to adjust the volume at larger increments.

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    The photos above show the settings menu, the playback settings screen, output settings screen and device setting screen respectively.

    On the settings screen, 3 smaller round buttons are displayed near the top, which from left to right is for brightness adjustment, Bluetooth connection for headphones and Bluetooth connection for remotes. Below that, there are 3 basic setting screens, one for playback, one for output and one for the device itself. Scrolling down reveals access to more screens for the sound settings and Bluetooth settings.

    Through the playback settings screen, you gain access to the play mode, playback range, the sleep timer and options for artist list display and lyrics display. Here is where you adjust your preferred way for music playback, including shuffling and repeating.

    With the output settings screen, you are able to control the headphone output, the USB output for DSD and DSD playback settings. Interesting to note is the options held within the headphone output settings, which allows for channel balancing and high gain output, but most importantly the AVLS limit, which restricts the device to a set volume limit when switched on.

    Diving into the device settings screen, you can adjust a host of general usage based configurations, such as the beep settings; screen off timer, USB connection settings, clock settings and language settings among others. You are also able to disable the touch panel when the hold button is active on the side in this page.

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    The photos above show the sound settings screen, then shows all the functions available within said screen, including a 10 band equalizer, DSEE HX upscaling, DC Phase Linearizer and Dynamic Normalizer.

    As previously mentioned, there are 4 sound tuning options available from the sound settings page: a 10 band equalizer, DSEE HX upscaling, DC Phase Linearizer and Dynamic Normalizer. The 10 band equalizer functions like any other equalizer you can find on most devices, providing attenuation or suppression to its designated frequency band. For the 1Z, it’s specifically at 31 Hz, 62 Hz, 125 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz and 16 kHz. It’s interesting to note that the frequency band resides well within the typical hearing range of 20 to 20 kHz, while most other players usually start at 20 and end at 20 kHz if not higher. The equalizer works like a charm, with each attenuation step obvious and easily distinguished, yet not sounding artificial or overworked. I still prefer to use Direct Source on almost every listening occasion but the option to tweak the 1Z’s sound to further improve the listening sensation is highly welcomed.

    The DSEE HX upscaling is devised to allow compressed quality and even audio CD quality tracks sound similar to High-Resolution Audio tracks. While it didn’t seem to bring much to the table when I use my lossless files (tracks ripped straight from the CD, to prevent any ‘digital’ dispute), it sorta, kinda worked with the 320kbps or less quality MP3/AAC files. Tracks become a tad clearer, though I would still highly recommend you use higher quality files as I found that using my lossless files still sound better than the same track but lower quality file being dusted with the function’s magic.

    The DC Phase Linearizer aims at adjusting low-frequency phase shifts to reproduce the audio characteristics of analog amplifiers, which to me is just fancy audiophile language for making your tracks a touch warmer and richer, and that it has achieved. When the focus is solely on this function, tracks would be presented with an extra layer of richness and lushness, though often I found that it felt forcefully imposed onto some of my tracks that are already full of it to begin with, so I end up not using this function more often than not. Of the 3 non-typical sound setting, I found this to be the one that showcase its functionality best.

    Last but certainly not least is the Dynamic Normalizer, which aims at moderating the change in volume between tracks to minimize differences in volume level. The performance of this setting was iffy. When it worked, you can notice it immediately. When it didn’t, you’re left wondering if the function had any use for it. It’ll perform better if the volume difference between tracks is more drastic than normal. It functions well if you have a plethora of tracks with drastic volume level difference so you could save a few seconds that you would normally use to slowly adjust your volume.


    SOUND QUAITY
    Evaluation Process

    The WM1Z that loaned to me was previously used in shows, so it already was used for more than the 200 hours duration that I burn in my review units with before any critical listening were made on the unit. The tracks used for my listening sessions are files that are either FLAC/ALAC from a wide variety of genres except metal. I had included a couple of DSD files to test out WM1Z’s direct DSD capability among other things but was not able to prepare a 4.4mm balanced connector cable for any of my gear before my loan period ended. Alas, I will make sure to try it out with my own gear the next time I have the chance.

    The following is a list of headphones and IEMs that I used to evaluate the WM1Z:

    · Mr.Speakers Ether C

    · Sennheiser HD 25 I-II (Modified)

    · NAD Viso HP50

    · Empire Ears Zeus-R (Custom)

    · Noble Audio Katana (Custom)

    · Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (Custom)

    · Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro (Universal)

    · JH Audio Roxanne Universals (Generation 1)


    The following is a list of source gear that I used to compare and evaluate the WM1Z:

    · Chord Mojo

    · iBasso DX90

    · Questyle QP1R

    · Calyx M player

    · Sony WM1A (Loaner)

    All listening sessions were made only with the single ended output as I could not procure a balanced cable for my gear in time during the loan period. I could only compare the single ended and balance output of the device through Sony’s own MDR-Z1R demo headphone that had two different cables for the respective outputs readily available.


    Initial Impressions
    Often we are impressed by the plethora of gear available in the market, whether it’s a piece with sonic performance that is more than capable to compete with units that are placed at a higher price bracket, or a TOTL gear that provides a listening experience so realistic, so ‘right’ sounding that we can’t help but fall in love with it. I myself could probably conjure up a list of recommendations for various price ranges that fits the bill for many different sound signature preferences, and I am sure many of us in the same line of interest could do the same.

    However, when it comes to units that convey music so magically it manages to speak to one’s soul, distorting your perception of what’s real and what’s a piece of recorded art, those are few and far between, and for me, the WM1Z definitely rank within this category. If the previous description is too long, too overdressed for you, then let me summarize the WM1Z in one word: transcendent. Exceptional and peerless, I personally think that the unit ranks as numero uno on my personal list of DAPs that I have ever got the honour of listening to, even at first listen.

    (What I would like to point out is that I am yet to hear the A&Ultima SP1000, but I thought the WM1Z sounded slightly better than the AK380 in any variation.)

    Bass to my ears come across smooth and detailed, yet impactful, but never overbearing. The mids are textured heavenly, with its lushness only outmatched by, again, the detail in it. The treble felt like the gentle kiss from an angel: silky, airy and expansive. Everything just tie up together wonderfully to produce absolute sonic bliss in my ears. It took my breath away, literally, well almost literally.

    Sound Signature
    WM1Z is an analog work of art. Its sound signature is best described as highly, nay, immensely organic, with superior resolution and amazing imagery to complement its outstanding tonality. Further dissection of the sound reveals an enticing warm sound which envelops the soundstage, creating this illusion of myself sitting on a cosy chair in my favourite pub listening to the best tunes playing out from the jukebox. The lift on the bass and mids which brings out the warmish tone is done tastefully, and while obvious in presence it never feels obtrusive, rather it sounds even handed throughout. The word ‘balanced’ almost left my mouth when describing it, and although it’s not (and never paraded itself as) neutral, the ‘balance’ in sound presentation is nothing short of remarkable.

    The bass of 1Z was simply the most euphonic experience I’ve ever come across from a source I can easily put into my backpack. It is extremely lush, with a richness that would make Bill Gate’s bank account look like a small piggy bank. Adding to that is a superb bass extension and resolution that pulls out all the details, elevating the bass experience. The thing that amazes me the most is how the bass just come and go, where its presentation is almost chameleon like. The bass comes full and punchy when I listen to bass heavy genres while the bass will present itself warm and tight when the 1Z plays tracks that focus on other regions of the frequency response. There is never a doubt that the bass region is emphasized more than any other region, yet it doesn’t feel the least bit boomy, and will leave you craving for more. Arguably, the bass performs its best when I’m listening to more jazz or classical style tunes, though that might not be the same for everyone, and I love that.

    Like the lower regions, the mids are lifted, not to the same extent as the bass, but definitely enough for it to be declared as ‘forward’. The mids has, in my opinion, unrivalled smoothness in the mids from any DAP that I’ve crossed paths with, and like the bass it is lacquered with lushness all over. Vocals come off organically like never before, with the raw emotion poured into each lyric leaving the vocalist’s lips clearly felt from body to soul. The amount of detail that can be found from 1Z’s mids is beyond comparison, even down to the minor details; from the way a vocalist annunciate the track’s lyrics to the way an instrument within the region was played. That last bit was most evident when I’m listening to studio recorded acoustic guitar driven tracks, where I could clearly hear and feel the strings being plucked and reverb upon it, a sensation hard to replicate even through the better desktop systems available now on the market.

    The treble region is the closest to neutral for me, with a resolution and detail that is on par with 1Z’s bass and mids, if not even better. Like the bass, it’s well extended; no hints of strident or sibilant sound from any of my listening sessions, which serves to produce a crisp yet delicate upper region. For that matter, the treble maintains sweet throughout, yet comes with a smoothness that ensures it’s non-fatiguing to listen to even in longer listening sessions. At the same time, the treble is presented in an airy and breathy manner, again being able to seamlessly outline the skill involved in instrument playing that focus on the upper registers, registering every note from instruments like flute and sax with unmatched naturalism. 1Z’s treble does no try to upstage its other two main regions with sparkly highs, though it succeeds in reaching a high level of quality that would ensure that its performance is more than capable to stand its ground when compared to the best DAPs on the market. It’s not the bona fide showstopper, but it sure does put on hell of a show.

    As highlighted upon multiple times in the review, the 1Z manage to pair it’s off the charts musicality with a resolving ability throughout its frequency range that, as of now, still knows no equal. The music is always clear and transparent; fully capitalising on 1Z’s soundstage which is both deep and wide, creating an illusion that you’re listening to the entire studio or live performance at an airy and spacious arena, standing/sitting at the best spot of the house. The 1Z also did not forget about the importance of its imaging capabilities, where instruments and vocals could be placed at its location with ease, bringing forth an even greater sense of naturalism in our music. Together with impeccable PRaT acting as the icing on our proverbial sound ‘cake’, it’s hard to pin point anything negative sound wise. I found that I hardly needed to use any of the equalizer or any of the sound functions to have the 1Z sounding at its best. Having the option to tweak its presentation to suit our personal preference is akin to coming with a gift for the host at a party, highly welcomed but never necessary. If it’s right on the money, why fix it?


    COMPARISONS
    For the comparisons below, I compared the 1Z to my own Questyle QP1R player and the loaned 1A. The QP1R is in my view the best performing standalone player within my arsenal, and we certainly can’t have enough comparisons made on the fight for internal supremacy between the 1A and the 1Z.

    I deliberately avoided comparing the 1Z with the Mojo as I wanted to make the comparisons solely based on standalone players rather than external DAC/Amps added to other sources. If you do wish to know more on what I think of the two, please let me know in the comments below or better yet send me a PM.

    Sony NW-WM1A (1A)
    Whenever a conversation about the 1Z start, especially to someone who has yet to encounter and listen to the unit first hand, this question would surely come to mind: How does it’s less fancy, lower priced sibling the 1A compare to it? Having the good fortune of holding both units in possession to listen at a more in-depth level at various environments, particularly quiet surroundings that can showcase both units performing at their best, let me share with you my thoughts on how the two compare to each other.

    First off, let’s talk about the non-sonic related differences between the two. Immediately, the first detail that will jump to you is the price, with the 1Z priced at $3199.99 (again, let that sink in) and the 1A at a relatively moderate price of $1199.99, or $3200 and $1200 because really at this price range $0.01 don’t look significant to me. For almost 3 times the price, the 1Z, compared to the 1A, brings to the table what Sony identified as better quality materials for certain components and a memory capacity upgrade, but nothing else. There are no key functions, applications or components left out when transitioning from one unit to the other, which was for me an excellent move on Sony’s part.

    So what are the components that are different between 1Z and 1A? It’s the chassis, internal wiring and resistors used at the sound part of the circuit board. 1Z’s chassis is milled from a solid block of OFC that is gold-plated, while the 1A’s uses a chassis that is milled from a solid block of aluminium, hence an immediate weight difference with the 1A being almost half as light even at the same dimensions. For the internal wiring, 1Z utilizes 4 wire braided cable made by Kimber Kable while the 1A uses ‘regular’ OFC cable from an unnamed source. In terms of the resistors, 1Z is equipped with what is known as ‘Fine Sound Register’ resistors while 1A is equipped with more commonly found ‘MELF Register’ resistors. The use of different materials for these 3 components is the cause that led to a difference in sound between the two units. Finally, the 1Z has 256GB in internal memory compared to the 1A which has 128GB, though that difference will be less felt as both have an external memory slot readily available. So unless your entire collection revolves around DSD tracks, the capacity supplied (including the slot) should more than cover your needs for memory space.

    Now, to the most important comparison: the sound. Both share a similar sound signature, where they both exude a sound that is warm, detailed and highly musical. Regardless, when compared to each other, the 1Z feels like it has a little more body to the overall sound, while the 1A just feels like the less coloured of the two. If the 1Z was the apex of analogue sound reproduction, the 1A is a more ‘digital sounding’ take of the 1Z’s presentation.

    From the bass, 1Z’s emphasis on the region is more pronounced than that found on the 1A. As mentioned previously, there is some extra body coming through from the 1Z, creating a sense that the 1Z is more natural and musical. Even with the added body, the level of detail is similar, if not better, on the 1Z. Nonetheless, both share a healthy level of bass boost, so if you prefer a closer to neutral, yet still elevated bass presence the 1A might be more in line with your preference, while someone who prefer a more fun sound through the added weight in the lower end will prefer the 1Z.

    The same can be said with the mids, where it is lusher and more euphonic with the 1Z. There’s a sense that an extra level of emotion is layered onto the 1Z’s mids, with the 1A’s mids coming off colder and more analytical. Having said that, the 1A’s midrange would still qualify in most people is still rich and smooth, and to me it is not on par with the 1Z, but would easily produce a vocal performance that would sway you off your feet. Again, the resolving ability of the two units is similar in this region, so there’s a choice to be made based off its tonality.

    Treble is where the 1Z triumphs over the 1A. There is definitely some added quantity in the region for the 1Z compared to the 1A, and it feels slightly more extended and more resolving within these upper registers. The 1Z is able to carry the added detail without sounding harsh at all, with a tonality that is easier on the ears. In comparison, the 1A felt like it brought a knife to the gun fight, coming across more mellow and closed-in. The 1Z also has added depth and width into its soundstage to weave around, so there’s a better sense of separation and imaging than the 1A.

    For me, the 1Z no doubt is a step up in sound from the 1A, and while the differences are not immediately apparent through quick A/B comparisons, a longer listening session will slowly uncover its added prowess over its cheaper sibling. The key is whether that added 5-10% increase in performance (if it’s even measurable) is worth paying over double the money you required for the 1Z. For most cases, I would recommend going for the 1A and using the rest of money from a 1Z budget to invest in better transducers: headphones or earphones, as I truly believe that the transducer quality should be of priority followed by the source. If money was no issue though, the 1Z would more often than not come out tops through its superior sound quality.

    Questyle QP1R (QP1R)
    At the point of its release, the QP1R was a solid high performance DAP, sold at a relatively reasonable price of $999, considering it was announced then subsequently released around the same time where a few DAPs above the $1500 mark was the rage of town (I’m looking at your highly attractive, out of my price range DAPs A&K). It has since been superseded by the upcoming QP2R. I have yet listen to the QP2R so I will refrain from making any comparisons based on the comments I’ve read and heard about it.

    Back to the QP1R, at less than a third the price of a $3199.99 (really, sink that in) 1Z, it comes in a machined aluminium body merged with a Gorilla glass front and back, with a volume knob that resembles a crown knob of a luxury watch and a click wheel obviously inspired by the timeless iPod click wheel design. In fact, I found the knob to be the most well designed volume control that I have tried till date, every satisfying click letting me know that I’ve increased it a step without looking at the screen.

    The build quality of the QP1R is similar to any of the other electronics coming out from Foxconn’s factory: spot on for most of the time, with a few misses here and there on a handful of units. Its click wheel is notorious for being one of the most unresponsive, hard to control physical mechanism on a well-known DAP. On the other hand, the 1Z with its copper body is more solid in the hand, the controls buttons provide a more tactile feedback, and overall exudes better build quality. I won’t recommend dropping either of the units, but the 1Z would probably fare better upon a fall from height than the QP1R.

    Moving on to functionality, both units focus on being a purist driven player, where there are no net capabilities to support any streaming services. Both units have the basic functions: 10 band equalizer, gain change, search through categories among others. Nonetheless, the 1Z is the more function pack of the two, capable of Bluetooth based playback, balanced output playback and extra sound tuning functions just to name a few.

    The software is also more accessible on the 1Z for me. It’s hard to compare as one uses only physical controls while the other mainly use a capacitive touchscreen, so it’ll provide a different feel from the units. Still, it’s easy for me to see that I have an easier time to search through my songs and folders on the 1Z, where as an extra amount of effort and time will be needed to navigate through the menus on the QP1R. Had the QP1R been a breeze to go through like the old classic iPod, I would call this category a wash, or perhaps even a slight edge due to its more common familiarity.

    To clarify (if you have skipped the top part of this review), both units were compared through their single ended output. QP1R does not feel dissimilar in the direction of its sound tuning, leaning towards an overall warm sounding tonality. When comparing the two, I felt that the QP1R was darker, where the added quantity in bass compared to the lift in the mids is more apparent than the 1Z. The darker personality is extra imposed due to a more subdued treble on the QP1R than the 1Z.

    In the bass department, both have emphasized bass; with the QP1R making an impression that it is further north of neutral than the 1Z. The QP1R is relatively less detailed and less extended in these lower register, which may have contributed into conjuring itself with an image of overemphasized bass during the comparison. This is certainly not the case as the QP1R is a DAP focusing on musicality that has a tasteful lift in the bass, never overwhelming rest of the frequency response. I also feel that the 1Z has an overall more attractive tonality with the bass, whereas the QP1R is a touch punchier and more hard hitting. If I had to choose, I would go with the 1Z’s bass, as the amount of detail that it brings to the table is difficult to ignore when you switch sources.

    Diving into the midrange, the QP1R has a lightly lifted midrange while the 1Z’s mids are lifted a little more. Once again, the tonality is richer and more appealing on the 1Z to my taste, as the more seductive presentation especially in the vocals bring out the best of my favourite tracks. Furthermore, like the bass, I felt that the 1Z is more resolving in this area, so you don’t miss out on even the slightest of detail, and is carried through with a smoothness level like no other. The 1Z is a clear winner in this region for me, it’s simply too hard to compete in what has been arguably my favourite midrange presentation of any portable source yet.

    The treble range has a larger difference between the two units than any other region, where the QP1R is just a hair less than neutral while the 1Z has a subtle boost to it. Both units do not have any sharpness or strident features in its playback, yet the 1Z is smoother hence easier on the ears. It also is better extended, paired with better resolution between the two; it plays well with my treble focused preference. The soundstage is wider and deeper for the 1Z, so there is a better sense of airiness in the tracks, whereas the QP1R felt more constricted. There is also better separation and imaging coming from the 1Z, therefore it creates a more ‘visible’ and realistic image. Yet again, 1Z has to be my preferred presentation of the two units.

    I hate to paint the QP1R in such a light. It’s a highly capable unit that combines TOTL level sound quality in a welcomed form factor at an acceptable price range. The comparison process taught me a lot, and while the QP1R is no slouch at all, it just comes to show that the 1Z is just that good at what it does; or rather it plays better to my personal taste. If price was not a factor, I would choose the 1Z any day of the week. Here’s to hoping that the QP2R brought enough improvements to the foray to compete with the 1Z.


    CONCLUSION
    When Sony first announced the 1Z, I have to admit I was pretty surprised by that decision. While more and more companies are focused on delivering units that perform amazingly for a good price point, akin to what Sony did with the 1A, Sony manage to thicken the plot as well by releasing the 1Z. It promises only the best performance that money can buy in a compact form, and for me it has certainly delivered on it. I’m not one for strapping 10 units to form a ‘portable’ ecosystem of a gear, so for 1Z to deliver in such great proportion was a good ‘ear opening’ experience.

    In the 1Z, Sony sought out to reproduce your music in the most natural and organic manner they thought possible. It’s warm and smooth attracts you in, its detail and extension throughout keeps you asking for more, and its lushness and richness ensures that you’ll never want to leave its soundstage. Combine that with sublime build quality, superb battery life, a control system that is intuitive and fast to learn, plus a host of functional tuning applications to tweak the sound signature further for one’s preference, the 1Z is without a doubt one of the most complete packages for a portable player in the market right now.

    Does it have any downsides? I know a fair few who would appreciate Wi-Fi capabilities designed into it, as streaming services are in a boom right now for portable player. Secondly, I for one do not like that Sony decided to maintain on the Walkman connector standard, and much prefer if they move to the more common Micro USB or even the flavour of the month USB C. It’s also not something you can just fit into your pocket, seeing that it weighs half a kilo (I’m British standard educated).Those are small quirks, and should be pretty acceptable for most people. What would alienate most to turn to other competitors is the price. I don’t know about you but $3200 is a pretty hefty amount of dough for me, and it’s not every day that someone would be willing to splash a nice chunk of their hard earned cash onto, well a unit that essentially plays music, and does little to nothing else.

    Do I want a 1Z? Yes, I do. Do I have the money to afford it? No, I don’t, and that’s the sad part. Having spent the greater part of a month with such a magnificent player, I initially had a hard time transitioning back to my other players; such was its impact to my ears. Don’t get me wrong, my other players and stacks sound superb, still nothing could make me forget the allure of 1Z, and that shouldn’t change for a while. Every time I listen to my own sources, I’ll always remind myself of a few things: Remember when this track was presented with even more vigour? Remember when it was much easier to search for particular tracks? Remember when my player wouldn’t die on me on the train after a day’s worth of playback?

    So, if you are able to afford it, and already have invested in high performance transducers, I highly recommended you go for a listen then get one. If you’re like me, I recommended you dig deep and work harder to earn one.

    And if you haven’t listened to one, and can’t afford it, I totally recommended you to refrain from an audition, as your wallet might just regret. Seriously, it’s just that good.
  3. Whitigir
    New Sony Flagship that has some Unique Build and performances
    Written by Whitigir
    Published Jan 22, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Meaty Timbres, Unique soundstage, smooth and analouge feels, powerful balanced out, Native DSD(Digital or Analouge)
    Cons - Price!!! No Adapter! Stock leather casing is only acceptable, no Wifi
    IMG_7817.jpg
    The introduction

    Sony has recently just started to get back at the game to create portable players, and so they too wants something to stand for their Summit of inventions, technologies. NW-WM1Z is the result of this, a flagship that has everything fancy about it, from materials to the technology.


    The build

    1Z was made with the chassis being the most exquisite materials, Oxygen free pure copper with gold plated. The ideas were brought to productions due to the engineers observations of great sonic quality out of this chassis, and together with many other premium components that Sony is not afraid to disclose. We can find the information about it almost everywhere on google search, such as Fine sound Resistors, FT Capacitors, Kimber wires...etc. The idea was to have a device that recreate music in the most musical way with smoothness and details that does not become harsh or offensive.

    Blue-tooth and NFC is the only wireless technology that it has. As ATM the Bluetooth and NFC dan only be used to access remote control and or music playback only.

    Holding the 1Z in my hand, feeling it weight (almost 1lb). Yes, it is weighty like a small brick, and so many people had been calling it the Sony Golden Brick. It actually feel very upscale and high-end to me, just because it doesn't have that smartphone like or toy like feather weight. It entire body is Deep gold color and with the Matted appearance, the gold color is much darker in person than in pictures. I actually appreciate it more in real life than looking at it in the pictures. I have no problem walking around the house with it and having Z1R or other headphones on. Unless I try to jog, or run with it, then it would prove to be problematic. It is definitely not recommended for workout and in the gym situation. Why would anyone want that though ? Navigating on the touch screen feel more secured with 2 hands because I do not want to drop this precious brick. However to operate with the button, it can be 1 handed. The wrist strap that comes in the box also help to securely holding it in your hand without accidentally dropping it. The casing on the WM1Z is very special, I have seen plugs that is so expensive just because it uses OFC copper as base materials and gold plated rather than the typical brass or steel base materials.
    IMG_7827.jpg
    WM1Z comes with a genuine black leather case to cover the entire player. It flips open, and closes with magnetic onto the case itself, there is nothing magnetic about the player or the chassis itself. If closed, the case cover the WM port and the memory slot and can only be accessed by flipping it open. It is useful as you have these port kept out away from dirt, a bit of inconvenience when you have to open it up to charge because it take a bit of space, a little inconvenience

    On the right, there is a Led at the power button indicate charging.

    The sound quality

    Out of the box and the 1Z sounds with deep and strong bass, vocal is ways too upfront and the soundstage is just narrow with a strange images and too warmth of trebles with almost unimpressive extensions and resolutions. Sony states to allow the burn-in time of 200 hours for maturity of FT Capacitors. So it really began to open up here and there as the burn-in takes place. Drastically so, I would like to notice you to not be disappointed by it out of the box performances. It is fun to listen to it as the burn-in process goes, it is very fun and a unique experience that can only come when you purchase a new unit. If you are not too fond of the process, used market is better to save some bucks as well. I experienced both a burn-in unit and an out of the box unit as well, and can totally confirm it. It took so long until I could not tell any further improvements from the player, so I lost track, but it is approximately around 500 hours mark is when the player no longer show changes.

    *Notice* WM1Z best performances is from 4.4mm balanced as it can only do Native DSD up to 11.2 MHz by using this socket only, and on top of that, upgraded cables will be a great benefit to explore the WM1Z potential and performances. The WM1Z is also excellent with EQ and effect. My favorite effects so far is DSEE HX (string) and D.C. Phase linearizer type A - high

    *Notice* I tried to stick around with stock Z1R 4.4mm cables and was fairly disappointed by the combination. The bass was lacking some degree of controls at places, this makes it appear to be much warmer than it actually is. Then the subtle details are suppressed so the soundstage is more narrow and projected closer to me in the mean while the vertical rendering was still having some heights, it is a rather strange field of rendering, kind of like spherical on horizontal plane and yet oval in the vertical and 3D plane. I can not tell how many time I looked at it and "yuck, a 3K brick ?" I had no choice, but was patiently waiting until I could upgrade my cables, the soundstage opened up, the suppressed microscopic details are vividly showing, soundstage becomes super-spherical. This Super-Spherical soundstage is observed throughout the whole signature line "trio" that I have, WM1Z, MDR-Z1R, TA-ZH1ES. Please, take this in serious manner, do not judge the WM-1Z performances from stock 4.4mm cables if you happen to have come from other upgraded system such as AK380+Amp+upgraded cables. This impressions were done through upgraded 4.4mm cables and my SA5000 and Z1R.

    IMG_7825.jpg

    Sound signatures: it is a very organic sounding device with deep and weighty bass with very smooth and detailed lower trebles and trebles extensions, expressive in Analog signature, warmth, and vertical rendering. *at first I thought it was a bit warm before the burn-in, but in the end, this warmth is from the tonal body that is just very realistic.

    Distortions: this is the best devices that I have heard with the lowest micro-distortions and digital errors, like almost not noticeable if you have never realized that it is there in the first place. Surprisingly, I observed this many times from other devices even with portable amplifier and other players as well. I have to deem the WM1Z to be extraordinary clean in micro-distortions alone.

    Soundstage is very spherical in all dimensions with a very impressive height or vertical images of rendering. The overall warmth gives off a lush experiences and is excellent for people who loves trebles but can not stand the glares or is trebles sensitive. It is there with full body, details and extensions but only so smooth and of great density. Some upper trebles micro details and extensions may be suppressed if you use stock cables. I learn that the wires inside these devices are 22 Awg in size, so if you don't believe in cables, at least buy some cables for your headphones that matches with this size.

    A very special thing about WM1Z is the ability to render the holo-spherical imagines. It is the combination of both the 2D spherical and the 3rd D Holo-graphical due to the rendering ability of vivid and clean vertical plane. It gives me the feeling of being suspended within this holo-graphical field of music while music are flying in all directions. The bass comes down and ripples away down there, the cymbal crash comes down and splashing away down there, the singer remains in the same frontal images...etc....very special.

    IMG_7826.jpg
    Bass: very impactful, deep with strong dynamic, blooming sub bass and vivid density in each layering and separations. It is very textured, detailed, smooth, very analog feeling with longer decay and even the decay reverberate can be observed. It brings the emotions and expression into the bass itself as if it is telling the story of the track as when, why, how, where, what inspired the artist to write it. It feel like the composers, the people behind the studio is expressing the tracks to the best that they can. Simply put, the bass is Impactful, fun, Deep, enjoyable and very musical that can sing you to bed.

    Mid: vocal is intimidating and more forward, very detailed with the flow and lush and linearity delivered. The singer seems to totally expressing the art in his voices and the lyrics itself. I would call the vocal to be A "very touching and expressive". String instruments is very expressive with beautiful body and timbres, micro energies delivery is excellent with long decay. It results in a very detailed layering with distinctive tones per each instruments even if there are multiple of the same type. It is very easy to follow each of the instrument that you would want to. There is always Souls and heats in the music, depends on the genres, and the WM1Z has the ability to express it very obviously in the mid spectrum.

    Trebles: Great details and resolutions into the lower trebles and good extensions with thick and dense body and airy but very smooth extensions. If you are trebles sensitive folks, you have found a perfect devices where trebles is so detailed, so expressive, but just easier on the ears. Again, with that special dimension and air of the vertical feels. I can always observe this special heights rendering on the WM1Z from headphones or connecting to my home large stereo.

    IMG_7831.jpg
    The WM1Z does no longer offer Analog line-out from the WM Port like the previous models. It was removed to better achieve sound quality, and as the result, the headphones ports are very quiet from both 3.5mm or 4.4mm Balanced. I tried using them as line-out into my large home system and it is excellent. It now only offer Digital out from WM port natively up to 5.8 MHz, and can be used with Zx2 Digital out Cradle that further improve the performances and charging it together. WMC-NWH10 is a dongles that can also improves and help to digital out to other devices as well, and the cradle is BCR-NWH10.

    IMG_7816.jpg
    In the end, the WM1Z has great super-spherical soundstage, timbres that is emphasis toward analog, warmth and remind people of the great tubes setup. The WM1Z is totally going all out for that Meaty and expressions of main instruments especially strings and wind, while it does not lack any upper frequency details or extensions, some of it could be said to be a tad warmth and the feeling of missing or lacking details when you come from a more balanced and neutral devices or cheap cables.

    How do I take this from here ? Yeah, it is priced for $3,200. But it is made of expensive materials and premium parts. It is so beautiful to listen to on Organic Ballads, and I literally meant anything with real instruments. It has the best build from the power supply circuitry to everything else that set it up to be the best Digital transport in my experiences. In my case, having to set up a personal listening set up with TA-ZH1ES, I can not turn away from the real performances that WM1Z can be as a digital transport. In comparison to my Zx2, the WM1Z clearly showed as a superior transport with better details and finesses with 256 Gb internal and potentially expanded to 516gb , native DSD out. Beside that, the beautiful warmth and analog appearances from it as a player which does excellent and expressive on instruments, organic instruments, vocals.

    *Uniquely featured* to the WM1Z and WM1A is this D.C. Phase linearizer. I had been playing around with it for a while and out of all observations it came out that this is more like filters setting on my DAC which is using ES9038Pro. However, the sound performances and it improvements are more pronounced on WM1Z. Not using any adjustments on EQ setting, The "Type B Low" is excellent for more tube like fluidity in the bass while gaining more soundstage with nuances improvements across the board. In combination with DSEEHX "String" setting, the trebles and it extensions also have a better touch of details and the whole board has more separations. These 2 is currently my favorited setting out of my Utopia and balanced connection
    IMG_7829.jpg

    Finally, if you love and prefer the analog, the smoothness, the meaty, the organic timbres ? If you ever get bothered by the micro-distortions here and there ? The WM1Z is unique in this category of performances with the meaty body and yet tight, the smoothness and that very clean plays.

    The best Sony had released up until now is the TA-ZH1ES. It is a device that combine The goods of both worlds, the analog and it smoothness, the details, the bites, and extensions of solid states, the speed of both tubes speed in the bass and the SS airy speed in upper spectrum. You will need to check out my review on TA-ZH1ES. Being a piece and most expensive piece of equipment in the "signature" line up, the Wm1z offers some very unique aspects for a Portable player. I will say that the pricing is very "premium and luxury" but it is not only the pricing and luxurious that cost you, it is the unique attributes, the build, and the unique tonal timbres with the performances that such a Portable player can bring into your experiences On the Go, a very impressive Portable Player that can drive full size headphones.
    IMG_7830.jpg
    Thank you Sony for still having so much heart and love for the music, the enthusiasms to make such a unique portable player as WM1Z from physical materials to unique performances.

    Please follow this link for the Review of MDR-Z1R headphones

    http://www.head-fi.org/products/sony-mdr-z1r/reviews/17806










    Also, I bought my unit from an Authorized dealer in the US, ThesourceAV, Thank You!
      Aslshark, endlesswaves, Tawek and 9 others like this.
    1. turbo87
      Nice review. Interesting that the digital out can only support up to 5.8 instead of 11.2. Has this been confirmed?
      turbo87, Jan 22, 2017
    2. Whitigir
      No, it support 5.8 into Ta Walkman port, and the Ta can only take that much input in the Walkman port. The WM1Z with the dock cradle may be able to do more, but I don't have any 11.2 MHz DSD to try
      Whitigir, Jan 22, 2017
  4. thatonenoob
    [PMR Reviews] Sony NW-WM1Z/ NW-WM1A
    Written by thatonenoob
    Published Nov 24, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Good Sound, Uncluttered UI, Excellent Design, Battery Life
    Cons - DSD on Balanced Only, 1 microSD, Slow OS
    Sony NW-WM1Z/ NW-WM1A

    Young Guns In The Wild West




    _D702859.jpg
     
    INTRODUCTION​


    Black And Yellow (A Modern Homage To Pittsburgh)
    There is a certain streak of insanity to the new Sony players –an undeniable gold fever that makes even the most seasoned of audioholics slightly uneasy.  The glint in their eyes reveals that a few are already feeling the disturbing onset of possible upgrade anxiety.  What if this was indeed better?  Could it be the chosen one? As for myself –no such wonderment.  The shock and awe of the NW-WM1Z had quickly worn off by the second day, when I was more shocked than awed by the general weight of the device.  Yes, it is an inconvenient 455 grams.  That’s exactly 1.00 pound, if you take three significant figures.  It’ll turn heads when you bring it out on public transport, and more likely than not have the uninitiated questioning your sanity.  Perhaps it is indicative of a trend these days for audio to bath in the glory of sheer excess, or maybe it is simply an early indication of where the industry is headed. Neither explanation would be particularly surprising anymore.  Did I also mention that the NW-WM1Z is gold?
     ​
    Currently priced at $3,999 SGD and $1,599 SGD (Singapore), the NW-WM1Z and the NW-WM1A are expensive devices even by audiophile standards, with the former existing in a super rarefied niche of high-end audio products.  According to a recently revamped audio philosophy, Sony has intended for its new audio products to be “for ‘and by’ [sic] music lovers”.  The WM1A and WM1Z is specifically marketed as being able to elevate the “high-resolution sound experience from one you listen to, to one you can feel.”  In what could only be considered an unavoidable result of its astronomical pricing, the WM1Z simply has a lot of expectations to live up to.  As part of the review process, I spoke to fellow enthusiasts of varying budgets in an attempt to understand the kind of considerations and performance needs that could potentially lead someone to purchase either one of these players.  Representing the concerns of varying enthusiast audiences was quite important, and I have tried my best to interject meaningful commentary into this review.  If it seems like I am nitpicking, it probably is because I am.  Then again, at its current price -it better be close to perfect.
     ​
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    Disclaimer
    You can also find this review here on my blog.  Sony provided the NW-WM1Z/NW-WM1A for the purposes of this review.  As with the MDR-Z1R, I have been loaned the players for three weeks.  As always, I am neither a paid affiliate nor an employee of Sony.  As I mentioned earlier, it is a great privilege to cover Sony’s newest players.  It’s been quite the journey since I first found out about the Signature Series a couple of months back, and since then I’ve come to have a much better understanding of the considerations, challenges, and beliefs that went into shaping the various components of the Signature series.  I do reserve the rights to the media in this review, so if you would like to use the photography/ videos please do drop me a line (at the very least please provide attribution).  I dislike watermarks on photos and would rather not use them.  As always, I do hope you enjoy this review!  
     ​
    Also, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below.  However, I’m slow with checking the comments section, especially on older reviews.  In these situations, please just shoot me a PM.  I really do try my best to answer all the PMs I get.  
     ​
    PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES​


    The package received for this review is not representative of how final production units will look like, so a bit of additional research had to be done to confirm its contents.  As with the MDR-Z1R, both players come in a nice matte box with large photos of the device shown on the front.  Opening the outer box up reveals another hard cardboard box with the player inside.  A medium density EVA style foam surrounds the device.  There’s a separate compartment with all the accessories included.  In summary, the following accessories are included with the player:
     ​
    1. Wrist Strap
    2. USB-Cable
    3. Product literature
    4. Leather Carrying Case (NW-WM1Z)
     ​
    One is not merely paying for good sound at the WM1Z's current price, but also for a complete product experience. Compared to the MDR-Z1R unboxing, the NW-WM1Z unboxing was bland at best. A cardboard box with paper inserts doesn’t quite cut it. At the very least, the box should’ve been a derivative of the Z1R’s full-leather case (with the solid metal clasp). The WM1A’s packaging scrapes by in this regard, but the absence of a carrying case is similarly mystifying.   At this pricepoint, it would be nice to see more manufacturers move to include carrying cases with their DAPs.
     ​
    _D702877.jpg
     
    The case for the WM1Z is well built, but lacking in terms of practicality.  It clamps to the top of the player and also has two clips on the bottom for better securement.  The flip case design closes magnetically at the top of the DAP.  This implementation of the flip case (vertical) is impractical and reduces the already strained ergonomics of the device, especially for the heavy WM1Z.  With the top flap hanging, the bulky player is even more difficult to handle, and also brings up yet another point regarding the NW-WM1Z’s design.  In what can only be described as a rather egregious design error, there is a cutout at the bottom of the case for the wrist strap, but none for the charging port. Having to flip open the case to charge the player occupies a lot of desk real estate, and is annoying.  In general, a form-fitting case with a couple of screen protectors would’ve been the far more elegant solution.
     ​
    BUILD AND DESIGN

    The build quality on the NW-WM1Z and the NW-WM1A is excellent.  The metal chassis is solid, and with the NW-WM1Z there is a very real sense of holding a brick –at a price, of course (no pun intended).  The weight of the WM1Z poses a challenge, and will test the dedication of even the most serious enthusiasts. The screen quality for both players is decent DAP-wise, though it is far from being a high quality LCD.  Contrast ratio, while not published, is average at best and backlighting definitely shows through in darker conditions.  Use in direct sunlight is suboptimal but survivable.
     ​
    As far as industrial design goes the NW-WM1Z/A has a fairly coherent sense of what it wants to achieve.  Apart from the weight of the NW-WM1Z (sorry, it is just very apparent in daily use), the DAP strikes an excellent mix of functionality and aesthetics. Invoking Occam’s Razor as a general guideline to solving the apparently complex issue of modern DAP design, one could comfortably arrive at the NW-WM1Z/A.  Abandoning sharp and complex edges favored by other competitors, or the multitude of buttons that come plastered on yet others, the NW-WM1Z provides a balanced layout of tactile physical buttons and touch screen functionality.  Examination of the initially perplexing number of buttons on the right side of the player quickly reveals that there is indeed order in its chaos.  The power button is conveniently located at the top corner directly under the curved edge, making it impossible to miss.  Beneath it are the volume control buttons, which can be quickly located via a raised dot on the + button. Further below is a second set of playback buttons, which can be located via another raised dot on the play/pause.  This system of tactile identification makes for very quick navigation with a little bit of corresponding muscle memory.  To make things even easier, the flip case does come with notches above the buttons with the raised dots.
     ​
    _D702954.jpg
     
    As mentioned before, the device is very pleasant in the hand, and the chamfered edges are a welcome change from the edgy designs favored by many higher-end DAP manufacturers.  The metal finish is a nice satin polish on the WM1Z.  However, the WM1A trades this nice finish for a somewhat rough looking brushed metal one on the flat panels of the player. The textured faux-leather glued to the back of the player works surprisingly well, and is also indicative of the player’s ability to run at fairly cool temperatures. The only time that the player did approach being slightly warm was when it was played during a charge.  Despite a lot of things being done right on the WM1A/Z, there are definitely some shortcomings as well. Once again, both players feature the frustrating Walkman proprietary connection –which complicates everyday use, and makes a spare proprietary cable a necessity.  The inclusion of only a single microSD expansion slot is likewise a missed opportunity. With the WM1Z and a single 200 GB microSD, a total of 456 GB of storage can be achieved.  Similarly, maximum current storage for the WM1A is 328 GB.  Understanding that this will be a primary playback source for some (especially in the portable community), and acknowledging the rapid development of microSD cards (and their increasing affordability), it would seem that the WM1Z/WM1A could soon be outclassed storage wise.  This will be especially true for those whose libraries are comprised largely of DSD content.
     ​
    There are several small differences between the two players.  As stated above, the WM1Z features 256 GB of internal storage, while the WM1A only has 128 GB of internal storage.  Perhaps the most distinct difference between the two is a gold-plated OFC chassis on the WM1Z, which stands in stark contrast to the black aluminum chassis on the WM1A. Internally,  headphone jack wiring on the WM1Z features a braided Kimber cable, whereas the WM1A employs a more standard OFC.  The WM1Z also features just a couple more “Fine Sound Register” resistors than the WM1A.
     ​
    At the time of writing, I was equipped with firmware version 1.00. Despite initial confusion regarding the nature of the OS, Sony’s official webpage now states that the OS found on both players is a Sony Original OS. Overall, the UI feels slow, with a half-second to second delay between simple touch gestures and a broken “smooth” scroll. On the positive side, the UI is fairly uncluttered, free from the odd functionalities of the cheaper Sony players (noise cancelling, radio, etc.)  One of the obvious drawbacks to the non-Android OS is the lack of wi-fi support.  This severely limits the flexibility and development options for the players, precluding any form of streaming and even DLNA-based activity.
     ​
    Untitled-2.jpg
    From Left To Right: Home Screen, Volume Control
    The volume dial can be accessed by clicking the volume bar.
     
    Untitled-3.jpg
    From Left To Right: Various Available Playback Screens
    Album Art, Spectrum Analyzer, Analog Meter​
     ​
    Both players are equipped with a wide range of DSP functionalities, but unlike the NW-ZX2, they can be disabled fairly quickly via the enabling of Direct Sound mode.  This is indeed a very positive thing, as there were many users and long-time fans of the ZX2 who did not appreciate the "hard" implementation of DSP into the player .  A 10-band equalizer provides decent EQ capability, though AK's implementation of equalization is by far more comprehensive and customizable.  DSEE HX returns, performing general upscaling, with five variations on the theme: standard, female, male, strings, and percussion.  DC Phase Linearizer was originally introduced in Sony's hifi systems to handle phase linearity issues in the lower frequencies (30-50 Hz) caused by amp-speaker interactions.  It now finds itself in the WM1Z/A, though its necessity as a correction method as opposed to a means of sound flavoring is debatable.  Dynamic normalizer minimizes volume differences between tracks.  I personally turned most of these special effects off in day-to-day use.
     ​
    Untitled-4.jpg
    From Left To Right: DSP Screens 
    Equalizer, DSEE HX, DC Phase Linearizer, Dynamic Normalizer
     ​
    TECH AND SPECIFICATIONS

    This time around, Sony has put in a fair bit of effort into creating a well-performing player with good specifications.  Though they were tight-lipped about the output impedance on the two players, I've measured both devices and found that the output impedances for the WM1Z and the WM1A are 0.94 ohms and 0.92 ohms respectively -excellent news for regular IEM users.  Power output has also been increased, making the WM1Z/WM1A far more competitive and versatile  in comparison to their underpowered predecessor, the NW-ZX2.  In high gain mode, the player output close to 1.926 V into 15 ohms per channel via its balanced output (measured with 1 kHz signal), providing a output power of close 247 mW into 15 ohms.  This is slightly less than the published 250 mW into 15 ohms.  In high gain mode, the player output 0.937 V into 15 ohms per channel via its single ended output, providing a output power of 58.5 mW into 15 ohms (once again, 1 kHz signal).
     ​
    Battery life is certainly commendable, varying between 20-22+ hours for 24/192 playback @ 100 mV into a 16 ohm load.  However, regular screen usage can severely reduce this lifespan.  Thus far, I have encountered no significant issues with formatting, though all files needs to be stored in the a folder labelled “music” in the microSD's root directory in order to be read by the player.  Reformatting can be carried out on the player, but unlike the Supermini's built-in reformatting does not corrupt microSD cards (good news). Most high resolution formats are supported, with the sole exception being .ape.  Native DSD support is also finally available, though it is frustratingly limited to the balanced output only!  This simply doesn't make sense for such an expensive player, and generally speaking a user should have full access to the functionalities within the player without being limited in such a blatant manner.  Read speeds are fast, and USB mass storage functionality is available.  For Mac users, this will come as a huge relief seeing that Android File Transfer will not be involved for file transfers.  For the record, I hate Android File Transfer -it is a sad excuse of a program.  
     ​
    cce3305d_ScreenShot2016-10-13at1.32.33AM1.png
     
     
    WAV
    FLAC
    ALAC
    AIFF
    APE
    16/44.1




    X
    16/48




    X
    16/88.2




    X
    16/96




    X
    16/176.4




    X
    16/192




    X
    24/44.1




      X
    24/48




    X
    24/88.2




    X
    24/96




    X
    24/176.4




    X
    24/192




    X
    DSD 64

    DSD 128

    DSD 256


    *In fact, the WM1Z/A have no issues with 32/384 playback, but I've got to fix the table (aka lazy).
     ​
    @earfonia recently acquired a new audio analyzer, and we've had the chance to examine the inner workings of the player in greater depth.  Thanks!  Fortunately, both players came through fairly well, and do have good SNR and THD measurements.  It's really very interesting to be able to gauge performance in such solid metrics, and is definitely something worth taking a closer look at.
     ​
    ScreenShot2016-11-24at10.04.14PM.png
    WM1Z, Silent Track, 33 Ohms, dBa Weighted, Output Via Single Ended Output​

     
    ScreenShot2016-11-24at10.04.17PM.png
    WM1Z, 1 kHz, 33 Ohms, Max Output Via Single Ended Output
     ​
    SOUND​


    At A Glance
    The difference between the two players frankly isn’t huge –the NW-WM1Z sound wise is not so much a direct upgrade as it is a variation on the NW-WM1A’s existing signature.  This may perhaps be cause for consternation, so I will attempt to explain this in greater detail.  To start, we begin with a baseline examination of the sonic characteristics of the WM1A.  Of the two, the WM1A is the more balanced player, with a good mix of detail retrieval, dynamics, and staging.  The NW1A’s reproduction of bass is fast and punchy with good extension.  It is cleaner and the perceived decay is spot on. Midrange has a clarity of sound and upper end is articulate and pristine.  However, there is a subjective grain in this frequency band that provides a slight edge to the player's otherwise smooth presentation of sound.  Overall, it is a transparent player with slight forwardness.
     ​
    The WM1Z features a richer signature with an enhanced bass section.  I hesitate to make this comparison –but the WM1Z is sort of like a MDR-Z1R in DAP form (also one of the reasons why I do indeed prefer the WM1A-Z1R pairing). The bass is fuller with more body and a slightly slower decay, and once again the ever so subtle diffuseness makes a return.  Midrange sounds marginally more recessed, and doesn't have the same certainty as that of the WM1A.  It's just not as clear nor as powerful.  Upper end extension is more or less on equal footing, with similar levels of articulation and a generally crisp texture.  In some ways, the diffuseness that is sometimes present on the WM1Z weakens the textural quality of the DAP’s sound, and reduces perceived detail retrieval at times. Both players feature good soundstage and spectacular imaging, with the latter easily being among the top in its class. 
     
    Untitled_Panorama1.jpg
     
    Now, to root ourselves in reality and to provide context to the above statements –to perceive a lot of the differences described above, a concentrated listening effort was required.  As I have mentioned in the past, the differences between DAPs when described in reviews may seem rather significant.  However, I can assure you that the differences are several orders of magnitude smaller than the differences brought about by a change in transducers.   While I do recognize that there are instances where a huge difference can be perceived –Sony NW-A25 I’m looking at you, the gap between most decently performing players is easily closed by environmental conditions.  Between ToTL players, these differences are even less obvious, and we are really nitpicking in certain situations.  Then again, at $3,999 SGD, nitpicking is most certainly in order for a product like the NW-WM1Z.  Because I feel that there is certainly more to a flagship DAP purchase than pure sonic qualities (and yes, I acknowledge that for some sonics will be all), I will also examine the feature set found on these players in order to provide a more holistic assessment of these devices.
     
    Astell & Kern AK380
    The AK 380 is the first serious competitor to be put against the NW-WM1Z.  Sonically, both players err towards a “softer” sound.  Of the two, the WM1Z sounds more present and features better dynamics.  Lower frequencies are less tight on the WM1Z, but there is still good impact and an overall sense of being far more involving.  Mids are clearer on the AK380, and upper-end extension and articulation are more or less on par for the two devices.  Soundstage is similar, but the imaging on the NW-WM1Z is better.   I would say that the AK380 for those who enjoy a more “disinterested” source with better air and general clarity.  While this may not be a particularly elegant description -the AK380 feels rather detached in its presentation at times.  As a final note, I personally preferred the WM1A to both the WM1Z and AK380 on the account that it was sonically crisper and more impactful, with slightly better inflection overall. 
     
    Design wise, both players excel at the integration of physical and touch functions, though one has far too many buttons on the side and the other far too many edges.  I guess this is truly a case of picking your poison.  Of the two, the WM1Z/A can claim to be pocketable, whereas the oddly shaped shadow-inspired silhouette of sharp edges (aka the AK380) isn’t.  Anyways, there are no major flaws in this regard.  Both UI’s were generally slow (see thebit’s DAPs), but the WM1Z definitely felt more sluggish, especially when it came to “smooth” scrolling.  In terms of functionality, the AK380 features extensive networking and server support, and its ability to handle Wi-Fi certainly increases its flexibility as a system component greatly.  EQ is also more extensively implemented on the AK380, though fans of Sony's DSP would be hard-pressed to find something similar.  Battery life is most certainly better on the Sony players than on the AK380.
     
    The final count will ultimately fall on whether the user requires a device that focuses more or less entirely on music playback, or a one that can act as a integrated system component with flexibility in the form of wi-fi features. However, while sonics is more or less on par (and will fall on personal preference), the potential functionality of the DAPs is not, and its hard not to feel that the lack of wi-fi support was indeed a bit of a missed opportunity for the WM1Z/WM1A.
     
     
     
    Lotoo Paw Gold
    The Lotoo Paw Gold is a rather different device when compared to the NW-WM1Z.  Form factor is the first and most obvious difference.  Whereas the WM1Z is a fairly sleek device, the LPG looks like it came straight out of a H.R. Geiger concept sketch.  However, upon closer examination, both devices do have a heavy focus on pure music playback and sonics.  Of the two, the LPG has better sound quality, and the difference is apparent.  The nuances and microdetail retrieval levels on the LPG exceed that on both the WM1Z and the WM1A.  On track’s like Daft Punk’s Fragments of Time, you can hear the fingers contacting the fingerboard clearly, and it is brought out in a very in-your-face manner.  I like the brisk presentation of the LPG, and this would be my choice if cost was no object.  In the WM1Z/WM1A's defense, both players have better soundstage and imaging than the LPG, and are less forward (dare I say aggressive) in their portrayal of sound.  I do find the LPG could potentially be just a bit fatiguing especially with the wrong pairings.
     
    The Lotoo Paw Gold has much better output power, but once again comes down in terms of battery life.  I feel that if one's focus is only on pure sonics, the LPG would be the way to go.  However, it is hard to deny the immense convenience of the WM1Z/WM1A as an overall music delivery package, and if we consider a player's overall usability into the balance of this comparison, I would still say that the WM1Z/ WM1A is the better of the two options. 
     
    Fiio X7
    I had the opportunity to test the Fiio X7 with the AM1 module in the course of this review.  I'm personally not a big fan of the Fiio signature, and so you may consider me to be somewhat more biased in this sense.  Generally speaking, the X7 doesn't sound as smooth as either of the two players, and on certain tracks did come off as a little thin. Sonically, it doesn't sound as refined, and while it excels in soundstage and detail retrieval, it almost feels slightly forced.  Also, there seems to be a slight grain to the sound.  In comparison, the WM1A traverses most of these points with ease, and it does indeed come off as being a "next" level DAP.
     
    With the various amp modules now being rolled out, the X7 does have huge potential for improvement.  It also lends the player a whole lot more flexibility, and in this sense those interested in modifying their sound will be may find themselves rewarded.  Furthermore, the wifi support on the X7 once again comes into play, and it also features other functionalities such as USB-DAC and the like.  For those concerned with DSD playback, the X7 will only support up to DSD128.  For myself, I feel that the X7 is an excellent all around device, but the sonic qualities of the Sony players easily win me over.
     
    Thebit Opus#2
    The Opus#2 was not exactly the most standout comparison in this review.  Of all the players, it sounded rather thin, and while this did give it a greater sense of air and separation, it came at the cost of weaker performance in the bass section, and it simply did not strike me as particularly impressive.  Part of the reason why the Opus#2 finds itself in this position is because of its significantly increased pricing when compared to the Opus#1.  It is no longer a value proposition, and a reimplementation of the Opus#1's signature with slight improvements is not going to make the cut, especially not when considering the rather large corresponding increase in price.  
     
    FINAL THOUGHTS​

    The new Sony players are very complete packages, and as far as DAPs go, are well-thought through.  The UI is still rough around the edges, but this could potentially change with future software support from Sony.  While it does lack in terms of connectivity and networking features, the WM1Z and the WM1A are certainly extremely solid offerings as music playback devices.  They sound great, and with increased output power and good specs, are definitely highly competitive in today's DAP market.  For me, the greatest take away was the NW-WM1A, which offers a good bang for the buck as far as being reasonably priced and sounding good goes.  The elusive NW-WM1Z on the other hand will remain a holy grail for most, but it is comforting to know that there is an "endgame" option available for those willing to go the ends of the world for sonic performance.  
     
    Thanks for reading,
    Thatonenoob
     
     
    1. View previous replies...
    2. emrelights1973
      i think they are a huge missed opportunity without Streaming and EU Cap:frowning2:
      emrelights1973, Dec 1, 2016
    3. Bastianpp
      NW-WM1Z/ NW-WM1AYou making a copy paste of this two daps review
      Bastianpp, Dec 11, 2016
    4. mrtim6
      Thanks thatonenoob for a well written, balanced & informative report.

      I wonder is there much of a difference single ended between the original Sony NWZ-ZX1 anniversary Walkman - and these 2 models in terms of sound quality. I own a Sony NWZ-ZX1 still and as a portable dap it's a quality device. It doesn't seem that long ago that the NWZ-ZX1 & 2 were released, so I'm guessing evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade in sonic ability?
      mrtim6, Feb 10, 2017

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