Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!

Disclaimer: The Sony WM1Z was delivered to us from Sony directly. Big thanks to Effect Audio and Masiyoki Morioka from Sony Japan for making this review possible.

 

INTRO

One of the most attractive and intriguing audio products, Sony WM1Z, is finally here for this review. I must say I’m very excited. I had no idea I would experience this marvelous player for this long time, but I guess when you want something so much it really happens in the end.

When the new Signature Series from Sony was revealed, my attention was on the new Walkman 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 out, and 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. When I was on the way back home, I was wondering how the Sony WM1Z would sound with a better chassis and components. At that moment, my curiosity (which is the very thing that drives all audiophiles I guess) was over the top.

By the way, I of course got the WM1A, and yes, it’s review will also be on Headfonia.

DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

The most arty Walkman ever, the Sony WM1Z is a work of huge R&D and engineering. According to the Sony Engineers and Project Leaders, they’ve had more opportunities for these new models as they were allowed to make the necessary developments to reach the best sound quality they could possibly achieve.

A lot of people expected a ZX3 model after the successful ZX2, which I’ve been using for more than 2 years now. According to Akihiko Urushihara (Product Planning), the ZX series had some restrictions in some areas to develop them further. There was much more potential at hand, but there had to be a change of route to unleash that. Therefore, they decided to turn the concept into a limitless and pure mindset. They started from scratch, with an unconstrained environment for engineers to make them pay attention to the details. As a result, the WM1 series was born as new flagship series of Walkman, which exceeds the previous ZX series in terms of technicity and overall performance.

This change in the concept is evident as it appears also in the naming scheme, which is not a continuation of ZX, instead it’s “WM1”. Mr. Urushihara also remarks that he wanted to have the Walkman name as “WM” for model naming.

Why 2 models? Why not just One Ultimate Walkman? Again according to Mr. Urushihara, it was intended to have more than 1 solution to the people’s needs in terms of sonics. Preference of sound is different from person to person; one can choose a sound that has a flatter signature with good attack and speed, while the others prefer a richer, warmer and organic sound (me, me, me). They realized they couldn’t reach those two poles in one device so that’s why there’s WM1A and WM1Z.

In the process of tuning the sound and advancing in development, the WM1Z eventually became the upper model for the engineers. It reproduces the sound even more natural, refined and with a deep realistic staging. WM1A is more like an evolution of ZX2, because in terms of basics it shares similar parts. However it’s quite a big evolution, with the fully new S-Master Digital Amplification and enclosure, so the step up in the sound department is quite apparent. For this reason, it could not be a ZX model.

As you know, there are 2 other products in the “Signature Series”. TA-ZH1ES Headphone DAC/AMP, and probably the most contradictive headphone of the year, the MDR-Z1R. Both will also be here on Headfonia, so be on the lookout!

WHAT’s NEW?

Since Sony Team decided to produce this player in the purest possible way, they ditched the Wi-Fi and Android OS. There’s a Linux based Sony custom interface, and Bluetooth with NFC. To cut off any possibility for a signal interference they decided not to include Wi-Fi. Correlatively, they didn’t include Android which somewhat has a negative effect on battery life. The screen is the same as in previous ZX2. It’s a 4 inch screen which has a 854 x 480 resolution. More than enough for this kind of a DAP, and it’s also good for the battery lifetime.

There’s a brand new S-Master amplification, which aims to silence continuing criticism on previous S-Master amps. This newly developed S-Master has a better noise floor and more output power, which is proven by the numbers. Overhauled FT Capacitors and new “Kimber Kable” to transfer the sound to the output female jacks are the other new additions to WM1Z.

Another development is the inclusion of a balanced output (first time from Sony), which has a 4.4mm standard. I’ve talked about this new balanced jack with Effect Audio’s Ares II cable so you can check that article. This output has more power to drive IEMs and headphones compared to SE output. And, it gives you the Native DSD playback which is awesome.

CHASSIS

Last but not least, the whole chassis of the WM1Z is made by an oxygen-free, high purity copper for conductivity. Because of the copper’s vulnerability and for protecting it from the environment, it is plated with gold material. The Sony WM1Z gets its final shape with that, and it gives the DAP a shiny prestigious look.

It’s actually not the first time their engineers tried this kind of a thing. Sony did try this before with the ZX2 models, which you can see in the photo below. These ZX2 prototypes have never been on the market though. The one on the left side is fully copper and doesn’t have a plating. So it eventually oxidated. The one in the middle is silver plated with a copper casing.

The one on the right side is gold plated over a silver intermediate plating, which was plated over the copper chassis. Because copper chassis was porous in the first place, they decided to plate it both silver and gold over it. But that didn’t work well for sound quality as it created some magnetism. After they tried a different alloy for copper which was directly plated with gold. So in terms of R&D they tried many different combinations. After finding out that oxygen-free copper helped the unit to sound great, they then got the go for making the next generation flagship with a copper chassis.

Many thanks to Head-Fi member “Nanaholic” for this picture and insight

Click here to read about general user experience.

Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!
4.8 (96.49%) 57 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".

15 Comments

  • Reply August 29, 2017

    Volker

    Well, the importance of the source is heavily overrated. Using copper for the chassis is pure nonsense. As if the housing material would make any difference. It is still a decent DAP though.

    • Reply August 29, 2017

      Audio Asian

      “Using copper for the chassis is pure nonsense” – you know that, I know that, anyone who did physics at even highschool level knows that, but “audiophiles” are easy prey. 😉 Go to head-fi and argue that, they will respond with “superior ground” when grounding is effectively binary, if you achieve a solid ground it will not affect the sound quality in any way. The superior sound, which does exist, is due to tuning the S-MASTER differently.

    • Reply August 30, 2017

      Leo

      I agree with you 100%. But to be frank I think Sony as a very liable legal entity is a lot more less likely to blatantly claim something like “this gold plated OFC USB cable will improve your sound”.

      They did put a lot of work into R&D their full digital amp circuitry and capacitors, which solves actual problems: industry leading battery life and thermals. And if the same people who did all that work say, copper chassis as ground sounds better (in Sony’s published interview), I intend to give them the benefit of the doubt. So I won’t outright call them liars, but see their effort as a whole. As a DAP, the WM1Z & 1A really is something remarkable.

      And I find Sony being extremely understanding when they state 1A and 1Z just have different tuning due to taste differences, and 1Z tuning is expensive due to material and R&D cost. Which means they don’t necessarily think 1Z is the “best sounding”. Maybe they’re winking at the more engineering oriented of us, or maybe not. But I find it intriguing.

  • Reply August 29, 2017

    Brandon

    1Z…my precious…its always on me. Love this thing so much.

  • Reply August 29, 2017

    Martin

    So glad to read the comments of Volker and Audio Asian. Finally people who know their stuff and that dont get lulled by this audiophile marketing bullshit.

  • Reply August 30, 2017

    ohm image

    If only it hissed less. Otherwise, it’s solid.

    • Reply August 30, 2017

      Berkhan

      I’ve never heard any hiss with it. Strange..

    • Reply September 3, 2017

      ohm image

      It depends on your ears and earphones. This is a pretty damn hissy source. Great design otherwise.

      • Reply September 3, 2017

        Berkhan

        Well, I can say that ZX2 has some amount of hiss which is not obvious unless you concentrate. But with WM1A&Z, I’ve never heard any. Maybe there is some hiss with extremely sensitive IEMs, but the IEMs that I listened with are surely not hard to drive by any means.

        Have you tried the balanced output?

      • Reply September 5, 2017

        ohm image

        Berkhan, I’ll be trying the balanced tomorrow, when an adapter from Bispa arrives. Until then, it’s all single-ended for me. I can’t wait.

  • Reply August 30, 2017

    Jason

    For $3200 it better sound great.

    It’s getting ridiculous the prices of portable audio gear and headphones. I know there’s the research and development costs, marketing and everything else that goes into making them but there is no reason a DAP should be over $3000. I mean unless you’re constantly on the go and away from home that money would be better spent on a nice home/desktop setup imo, for $3000 you can have a great setup.

  • Reply August 31, 2017

    Mark

    Wow, there is so much poison floating around when it comes to the 1Z. So few people seem to understand what Sony are trying to achieve with it. Put simply, they wanted to produce a DAP that in their opinion, is the best sounding DAP – period. Sound familiar? It should. Why do we not hear similar negativity when it comes to companies like Sennheiser producing products like the Orpheus I wonder? Sony have designed and developed their own silicon, capacitors and resistors – all with the one goal in mind. What other company goes to these extremes? They have chosen to use OFC copper for the chassis for a reason, and to be quite frank, I suspect their audio engineering teams might actually be quite good at what they do and probably know more about this stuff than the collective wisdom of all those who attend these sites. And their education doubtless extends beyond high school. They have listened to what they were told about the poor output power of the ZX2, and done something about it. This should all be celebrated, not ridiculed. A company pushing the boundaries and listening to criticism is a rare thing in this day and age. And don’t forget, nobody is being forced to buy this product. Oh, and let us not forget, there is a certain other DAP manufacturer that simply takes off the shelf components, puts them into a copper chassis, and charges similar amounts for their product. Come on people, celebrate this product for what it is – don’t denigrate it because it is expensive and because you don’t agree with the design philosophy & price. Finally, do not lose sight of the fact that this DAP is perfectly capable of feeding a full size amp/speaker setup – and no, the ‘double amping” is not an issue. This is a remarkable little box of tricks. Expensive? Yes, but then again, a Mercedes is more than a Toyota isn’t it?

    • Reply September 1, 2017

      Berkhan

      Great comment. Thank you.

    • Reply September 7, 2017

      Brando

      Yes! Thank you, Mark.

  • Reply September 7, 2017

    Russ Myers

    I love my Sony NW-WM1A in balanced with Audioquest Nighthawk headphones. Want to demo NW-WM1Z.

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