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.

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 (85.81%) 31 votes

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As a lover of personal audio, Berkhan always seeks perfection in his reviews. He’s a good hobby photographer and a reviewer; using those eyes and ears. Warm sounding equipment, a good Scotch and smooth Jazz music are “his favorite things”.

20 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 September 19, 2017

    Jogibaer

    Nice review, thank you very much. 🙂

  • 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.

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