Review: Sony WM1A Walkman – Reform

Disclaimer: I purchased the Sony WM1A for myself couple of months ago. The price of it varies from country to country, but the official price on release was $1200 USD. I think it has dropped down a little lately, to around 1000.

Design & Ergonomics, User Interface, Sound Settings and WM1Z Comparison sections are the same from WM1Z review with few small changes.

The EU models of WM1A has limited volume levels, but this device is an uncapped version. To get info about how to uncap your device, take a look at HERE.

INTRO

This review took quite a while and I know people have been waiting for it. Unfortunately what happened was I broke the screen of my WM1A somehow. I’ve sent the unit for a screen replacement and it finally has returned in my hands recently.

How I met with the Sony WM1A? Here’s the story from WM1Z Review:

“When the new Signature Series from Sony was revealed, my attention was on the new Sony WM1A. It looked like an obvious replacement to my lovely ZX2, but on the other hand the engineers went with a “pure” approach with these new models, not including Wi-Fi and Android. So streaming was gone and that gave me a little hesitancy about getting one.

I’m not a streaming freak, I have a big music archive to listen to, just as any audiophile I guess. So I just waited for the unit to arrive in my country, to give it a chance. I searched many Sony stores but only one of them had a demo unit to try. But it was a little far from my location. Still, I wasn’t going to pass on the chance to try it. After an almost 1 hour drive, I arrived to the store.

And boom. WM1A was clearly a step up from the ZX2 in my eyes, and that with just a short listening time. Within 10 minutes I figured out it was better and then I spent the remaining 30 minutes just listening for pure enjoyment.”

As I’ve posted on its Picture SundaySony has made quite an evolution with the new WM1 line of Walkmans (sound-wise). This is clearly a reform, since they changed the whole philosophy of their design. In the WM1Z review I mentioned the process of developing these new models in detail. I tried to provide an insight of what Sony engineers intended to do. So for those matters, I strongly recommend you to read that article since Sony put so much effort in R&D. I think there’s no need to bring up the same information again, so I’ll go straight to the point.

WHAT’s THE DIFFERENCE?

While I won’t give the same details about the development here, I of course should  mention the differences between Sony WM1A & Z. The most obvious difference of course is that; 1Z has a gold plated copper monoblock chassis, whilst 1A has a full aluminum body. But there are more and invisible differences under the hood too. The 1Z is wired with 4-wire braided cable which engineered with Kimber Kable, compared to standard OFC cable in 1A.

While the WM1Z has “Fine Sound Registers”, the WM1A has “MELF Registers”. This is about distributing the power into the circuitry and to the signal path with a good consistency. As far as we can guess 1Z has a better overall electronics performance in terms of that. So of course all those technical differences have an effect on sound between those two, and I myself can confirm that by my listening sessions.

Apart from the sound performance, the storage on the 1A is 128 GB versus 256 on the 1Z and both have Micro SD slots as well. And, the WM1Z weighs a whopping 455g, while the Sony WM1A comes in at 267g, making it more comfortable to use on the go.

DESIGN & ERGONOMICS

Sony knows how to create a good consumer product. As usual, the device has a distinctive look which stands out from other brands. Imagine erasing the Sony and Walkman logos, and I’m sure you would still identify it as a Sony. They always have their own design choices when developing a product and you can see this trait in almost every Sony creation.

So if we speak about the convenience and shape of the device, I can say it’s really well thought of. Side buttons still continue to serve the user well, just like they were with the ZX2. You can feel the buttons because they’re different from each other. Also, the play/pause and volume up buttons have a small dot, so that’s another detail for user for identification. These small details are important for the ease of use.

The device feels great, sits comfortably in one hand and it’s very easy to use. (Much more portable and easier to carry around than 1Z because it’s 1,7 times lighter) It’s shorter than the ZX2 too, so operating it is a little bit better on the screen. However the device is thicker but I can’t say it has a big negative effect on usage. In conclusion, the ergonomics are very good. I expected no less from Sony though.

USER INTERFACE

I always liked the UI of Sony’s software in Walkman devices. So again, the general software experience of Sony WM1A is flawless and smooth. But be aware that you need to update your device to the 1.20 version. The original software version was a little laggy, especially for what scrolling was concerned. Thankfully Sony sorted it out with a quick update.

The ZX2 had the Android OS, but the music player UI was great in itself and it’s not very different with the WM1A as the UI feels reminiscent to the ZX2’s music player app. From the very first minute, it was very easy for me to operate the device. When on the playing screen, you can swipe in 4 different directions for easy operation and to reach everything you need. I also like the Spectrum Analyzer and Analog Level Meter screens. Overall I haven’t encountered any lag whatsoever.

There’s no need to go into the tiniest bit of detail as the software has everything you need and expect from a premium player. This is a fully reliable device regarding the software and the experience is very complete and user friendly. There’s also a Media Go software for PC that you can extract from the player’s onboard memory (Sony just released another application called “Music Center” but pulled it back soon after). This app is for organizing your database, changing your songs’ info and album art.

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Review: Sony WM1A Walkman – Reform
4.3 (85.16%) 62 votes

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As a lover of personal audio, Berkhan always seeks perfection in his reviews. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to maintain his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes the photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside. Either way, he will always do his best.

35 Comments

  • Reply September 19, 2017

    Quokka

    Thanks Berkhan for your excellent review. I’ve recently upgraded from the ibasso DX90 to the Sony WM1a and couldn’t be happier. One area I’m keen to explore is find how well it matches with various headphones. I’ve listened with Oppo PM-2 and it sounds great but would like to know what other headphones/earphones you recommend. What phones did you use in your review?

    • Reply September 19, 2017

      Berkhan

      Thank you.

      It matches with warm headphones and IEMs really well and I recommend to pair it with those types of phones.

      I used Audeze EL-8 and Oriolus MK2 mostly for the review.

    • Reply April 7, 2018

      Fkrbormes

      This review is total b…This SONY NW-WM1A is unable to drive any high quality headphone to a suitable level.It seems that SONY has deliberately bridled this device for european markets.
      I can’t get a correct output level with my high impedance headphones (Sennheiser hd-xx Beyer dynamic amiron or Shure 1840) & it’s barely adequate with my Beoplay H6.
      I have a Hifiman h901 a Askell & Kern a Onkyo Dp-x1 & all of them drive my headphones to correct levels.
      What’s wrong with SONY?

      • Reply April 7, 2018

        Berkhan

        Well, first of all before calling a review bullshit, I suggest you to think about the amount of effort we put in here. Secondly, if you didn’t like the review, you can always share your opinions in your own reviews in platforms like Head – Fi.

        Sony DAPs give an enormous battery life to its users thanks to the totally different architecture to other DAPs in the market. Search Class D Amplification and Pulse Width Modulation methods.

        The sound limit is a shame and I criticize it, but you can uncap the device easily and after that, the balanced output gives very good power. I listened to the HD660s and HD800s headphones from Sennheiser with high enough volume levels.

        Although I really liked the 901s’ sound, it’s absolutely no match to the WM1A in terms of battery life, user experience and software quality. DP-X1 sounds mediocre, it’s not high quality, and it has a terrible hiss with streaming apps. Balanced output doesn’t change that also.

        Nothing’s wrong with Sony. If you like to have a DAP that can drive your full size, high impedance headphones, than you can always choose another DAP, nobody’s forcing you to buy this one.

        And that doesn’t make my review bullshit.

    • Reply April 8, 2018

      Fkrbormes

      I have finally managed to uncapp my SONY NWWM1A using the scsitool (I had already found it but was reluctant to use it because I was afraid of ruining the device and the guarantee) and now my Sennheiser HD-660S sounds great at half the volume level.
      It’s a shame SONY doesn’t provide its customers with correct information and the tool to restore the walkman to its original status because the difference between the two statuses is really huge.
      Besides the logic behind it is rather irrelevant the sound pressure level being a function of the headphone as well.
      Now I can appreciate your review although a small preamble making it clear that it applies to an uncapped version only and how to do it would probably save many people a lot of troubles.
      Best greetings.

      • Reply April 8, 2018

        Berkhan

        That tool is not official. So we can’t expect Sony to share that kind of information. Actually they weren’t even aware of this method when I talked to a Sony officer via e-mail.

        OK. I’ll add a small note to the beginning of the review.

  • Reply September 19, 2017

    Jogibaer

    Nice review, thank you very much. 🙂

    • Reply September 19, 2017

      Berkhan

      You’re welcome 🙂

    • Reply April 8, 2018

      Fkrbormes

      What I don’t appreciate is that you and SONY don’t mention that the NWWM1A sold in Europe is capped and as such is unusable with high quality headphones.It also seems that the capping affects the sound quality.Using a Sennheiser HD-660S both outputs sound identical although the balanced one should provide a higher volume but that’s not the case.After hours spent on Internet I have not been able to find an easy way to uncap my walkman.I bought it after reading your review and I have the feeling I have been cheated.
      If you really know how to easily uncap that walkman I would appreciate if you shared that knowledge with our community.
      While I don’t totally agree with your answer I appreciate that you did it.

      • Reply April 8, 2018

        Berkhan

        I already mentioned the volume cap on WM1Z review and ZX2 Picture Sunday post. I think everybody who are into this niche market have or should have the knowledge about this volume cap.

  • Reply September 19, 2017

    Tom

    This is a suburb review, thank you. I’ve been waiting for a thorough review for this device. When it was first announced, I was disappointed that it didn’t have Android on board. I love my ZX2, but I mainly use it to play my own files. In all actuality, I rarely use the Android features. After reading this, I’m seriously considered selling my ZX2 to get the WM1A. Is the difference in sound really significant? The inclusion of a pentagon out, really puts this above all other competitors for me. Does this do a better job of driving high end headphones? The ZX2 doesn’t do well in this area.

    • Reply September 19, 2017

      Berkhan

      Much thanks for your compliment.

      Yes, in my opinion the difference is really significant. If you have the chance to try it out somewhere, go with your ZX2 and take an SD Card to put the exact same files to WM1A to compare directly with ZX2. That was what I did to decide if it’s worth to get the WM1A. And yes, it’s worth it.

      It has quite a powerful output from balanced but you need to get an uncapped version or uncap it yourself. Then when you set it to high gain, it can drive HD800S from single ended. I imagine it would be even better from balanced out but I coudn’t try since the HD800S doesn’t have a 4.4mm jack.

      Definitely way more power than ZX2 (uncapped).

      • Reply September 20, 2017

        Tom

        What do you mean uncapped version? How can you tell if the version is uncapped? I own the HD800 S, and would get a pentagon attachment for those if this can drive it from the balanced output.

        • Reply September 20, 2017

          Berkhan

          The ones that are sold in Europe for example have volume limits. Because of the EU regulations. But it’s not hard to convert the device’s software version to another region. So when you change the region of the software you simply unlock the sound limit.

          Where are you from? If you’re in Europe then you’ll get an EU version which has the sound limit. But like I said it’s easy to unlock it.

  • Reply September 20, 2017

    Tom

    I’m in the US (New York), so I should be safe from the capping. I think the ZX2 had a issue with volume cap in Europe as well. Thanks for the feedback, I’m going to take your advice and try this out at the Sony store.

  • Reply September 20, 2017

    Choi

    Nice review, been contemplating between this and Onkyo dpx1… any suggestions?

    • Reply September 20, 2017

      Berkhan

      WM1A is way beyond DP-X1 in terms of sound quality.

  • Reply September 22, 2017

    Alfy

    Thanks for a great review. I already own an AK70, and I’m looking for an upgrade, sound-wise but also in terms of autonomy: would the WMA1A be that?

    • Reply September 23, 2017

      The Answer

      Yeah much better than AK70. But you’re going to lose the streaming.

  • Reply September 25, 2017

    otoko_oidon

    Thanks for the review Berkhan. How do Mojo compares to WM1A? I’m planning to replace my Mojo with something like that one from Sony or a DX200+AMP3. I will only use some IEM (IT03, Angie) with that player.

    • Reply September 25, 2017

      Berkhan O.

      You’re welcome.

      DX200 and WM1A both nice players but as I said in the review, WM1A is superior from balanced output, and the sound stage is much wider even from SE output. But if you’re looking a DAP for streaming, DX200 is the best choice IMO.

      For Mojo, I think WM1A is much much better.

  • Reply October 20, 2017

    Sang Yhee

    Was the comparison with the ZX2 done with all the sound adjustment apps turned off? With it turned off, the ZX2 sounds more neutral. There are still things that I like better from the ZX2 than the WM1A. Also driver grip and impact on sensitive iems such as a Andromeda is better on the ZX2. I found the andromedas inferior from the SE of the WM1A and only better on bal with high gain engaged. Still its quite close with the WM1A winning in lower noise and hiss.

    • Reply October 20, 2017

      Berkhan

      The ZX2 is warmer and WM1A is more neutral of the two in my opinion. If you look into them in a technical way, WM1A is superior.

      But, the ZX2 is already a legendary DAP to me.

      And yes, the comparison had been made with all DSPs off.

  • Reply November 17, 2017

    Brian Fu

    Great review, Berkhan. By chance have you compared the WM1A to A&K KANN?

    • Reply November 17, 2017

      Berkhan

      Thanks!

      They’re somewhat similar in terms of non-fatiguing sound, but WM1A is technically better in my opinion. KANN is much powerful though, and I really liked it’s smooth and beautiful sound.

  • Reply December 31, 2017

    sulabh

    How is the driving power of WM1A compared to fiio x5iii?

    • Reply December 31, 2017

      Berkhan

      If you unlock the WM1A, they’re similar. From Balanced WM1A is pretty strong (unlocked).

  • Reply April 9, 2018

    Ricky M.

    Great detail review. Because of your review, I ended up purchasing the 1A(US model) a week after reading your review. There is are a lack of reviews(and detail reviews) of the 1A online.

    I own a ZX2 for almost 3 years. I identify some of the weakness and strengths of the player that you were talking about. Despite the flaws of the ZX2, it is still a great player hands down. Great sounding DAP. Still keeping mines because of what it can do and for what it is.

    As far as the 1A, that DAP perform magic to my music library. Hearing details that I never heard before. Blacker background, tighter bass and the highs are so detail and yummy. I am only at 65 hour of burn in. And that is on the unbalanced end. Working on the purchasing a 4.4 mm cable asap.

    Thank you for the great review!!! Keep that s@%t up!!!

    P.S. When will folks learn to just use low impedance headphones/earphones to utilize the output on today’s DAP? Especially the Sony Walkmans.

    • Reply April 10, 2018

      Berkhan

      Thanks Ricky.

      I still own the ZX2 as well. Can’t replace it with anything at the moment. Such a unique player.

      Get the 4.4mm cable and hear the difference buddy.

      These devices are not designed to drive full size cans properly in the first place, so I don’T understand the complaints either. If you want to get the best performance from those headphones you have to have a nice desktop setup anyway. And uncapped WM1 devices can drive those headphones from balanced (although not at their full performance), and Sennheiser includes 4.4mm cables in their new models.

  • Reply April 13, 2018

    Winipou

    Thank you for this nice review.

    One question: This DAP stills runs on Android 4.1.
    Taking into account the considerable investment, what is the expected lifetime of this software and the DAP? Does Sony foresee software updates or when necessary an upgrade to a newer software?

    Regards!

  • Reply April 25, 2018

    Adam

    How does the wm1a compare to the zx300 in sound?

    • Reply April 26, 2018

      Berkhan

      I can’t find the ZX300 to listen here. So no idea.

  • Reply May 21, 2018

    Steven

    Thanks for the review Berkhan. Been considering to upgrade my X5iii to the wm1a and stop using streaming services, is it still worth it buying this after almost 2 years of its release date?

    Regards.

    • Reply May 21, 2018

      Berkhan

      In my opinion the WM1A is always worth it 🙂

      And most importantly, switching to it from the X5III will be a significant upgrade for you.

      But if you’d like to keep having streaming, you can look at the DX200 from iBasso.

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