The obvious shortcoming of the ZX2 was the mid presentation. Don’t get me wrong, I like the mids of ZX2 because they are really smooth and the tonality is very nice. But they’re just a little back in the sound stage almost all of the time. That made some people upset of course as they would’ve liked to hear more resolution and more upfront mids. The good news is that the Sony WM1A has those qualities with its beautiful mid range performance.
In fact, the mids are quite close to the 1Z’s in terms of energy and resolution. But the WM1Z is just so emotive with its mid character, bringing so much dynamism, incredible tonality and big note size altogether. So when you compare these two, the 1A gives a thinner and drier mid performance. But that impression comes from the unique performance of the 1Z. If you listen to the 1A alone and compare it to other DAPs in it’s class, you’ll find that the mids contain great tonality, realism and positioning.
To me, together with the bass improvement (quality-wise), the biggest development of the WM1A over the ZX2 is the mid performance. It’s great to hear that they have addressed the issue and improved the resolution and separation in that part. The mids are the strong suit of the Sony WM1A and if you match it with a good IEM, you’ll hear great results. A touch of warmth is still present, giving smooth delivery across all the songs that I’ve tried (good recordings of course).
The mids are very consistent and sound organic with true tones which feels very natural all of the time. There’s no sort of digital or metallic feeling that some DAPs give, instead it’s very smooth and without a fatiguing sharpness in the upper mids.
The ZX2 had some thick treble and they were a little vivid to mention. There’s also an improvement in this part, which supports the new WM1A’s more realistic and technically strong ways to reproduce the sound. The ZX2 had the trebles a little veiled and dark. While I can’t say that 1A positions them upfront, I can confidently say that it has better extending highs with more presence.
After switching from the ZX2, the WM1A can sound bright to your ears. After burn in, it balances the spectrum (just like with the bass) and produces a more evenly matched sound. When you listen to it out of the box, with laid back bass and a little bright treble it can pretty much surprise you, and you might question if it’s a Sony Walkman. When you start to get close to the 200 hour mark which Sony recommends to reach, you will feel the sound being more balanced and settled down.
If you love the warm and analog-like sound reproduction like myself, you’ll be in a little discomfort with the 1A straight out of the box. It’s not because that it’s bright or too thin sounding, but you don’t expect this flat and open sounding character from a Sony DAP. Because of burn in though, you eventually get the sound that you really like. And if you pair it with a coherent and organic sounding IEM, it doesn’t get any better than this, unless you spend more than double the price.
Highs are very detailed and well extending and they’re articulated. It copes with fast music very well and continues to give the separation that you require from many genres. The 1Z’s highs are really great but because of the general character you’ll feel a little more treble presence with the 1A. To me the 1Z has even better highs but sometimes with its outstanding lows and mids, you might not notice it.
Don’t interpret my words as it’s a bright sounding DAP or it’s a little harsh on the treble. I just want to pass on the correct description of the 1A’s treble performance. And the correct information is that, it’s not like the ZX2. It’s brighter and more open than that, but when you compare it with Paw Gold or QP1R for instance, they’re even more bright and in your face. So the 1A is no way harsh on your ears, it retains the smoothness of Sony DAPs and it has a great control over that area but it gives more treble in quantity, than ZX2, ZX100 and other Walkman DAPs.
Just like the other two areas of the spectrum, I think the Sony WM1A performs great with highs. Once again it doesn’t feel metallic, instead it’s very natural and life-like. I need to say again that the extension is very nice while retaining the non-fatiguing character.
The sound stage – which has been the strong part of the Walkmans – is good as ever with the 1A. Because of the fact that it has a more open sound, I felt it’s wider than the 1Z on a number of occasions. But the 1Z of course is nothing short of spectacular with deepness, it’s hard to deny it’s atmospheric staging which feels so special. I think the difference is the 1A gives a more spacious and airy sound while the 1Z always gives a full, dynamic sound. So as a result the 1A sounds wider to my ears. But that’s probably a delusion created by the difference between their character. I don’t think they’re that different in terms of stage dimensions.
It has a very good separation performance at all times, even in the complex passages. Thanks to the black background you can pick out the elements of the song clearly. To me, the 1Z has an even darker background so it has better micro dynamics. For it’s price class though, the 1A gives a great performance. Especially when you compare it with the ZX2, it blatantly comes out on top in terms of separation. For all these reasons, imaging is absolutely great.
Dynamism is not at the same level of 1Z of course, because 1Z has the transparency and note size that reaches to the pinnacle. But 1A also has a very good dynamism and transparency that can compete with a lot of high level DAPs out there.
I don’t have any complaints about the technical capabilities of 1A if you ask me. I already loved the ZX2 for it’s sound, but the WM1A takes it one step further to challenge the best players you can find in the market. Especially from the balanced output.