Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!

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 you erase the Sony and Walkman logos, and you still would 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. You don’t have to look at them to identify which button is which. 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 and sits comfortably in one hand and it’s very easy to use. It’s shorter than the ZX2, 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.

WEIGHT

However, the combination of mono-block OFC and gold plating results the heaviest DAP I’ve ever used, a total of 455 grams by specs. This is almost half a kilo, so this in no way is an easily portable device. You don’t want to go outside and move around with it stashed in your pocket, unless you want to look like a gangsta-rapper with low-waist trousers. Besides, there’s no point using this DAP outdoors after all. You need to be at home or in a quiet environment to experience the sublime sound of it. Also this isn’t a cheap DAP. I personally wouldn’t go outside and hang around with it on me, as it can get stolen or something like that. It does draw attention.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, you can surely do it but I would prefer a mid-tier DAP to carry around with me. On the other hand it’s a great travel companion, because you carry one of the best portable sounds in the market with you. You need to have a good isolating phone of course, to appreciate the great sound. I had a 5 hours bus-ride with it, paired with Oriolus IEMs and it was a great trip. If you plan on using it while on the go though, I recommend getting a small bag to store the unit in.

There’s a leather flip case included for WM1Z, which has a great finish and quality. There are magnets on top so the cap sits nicely on the screen. Just as the device itself, the design of the case is a great piece of work. But of course there are more cases to choose from other manufacturers.

USER INTERFACE

I always liked the UI of Sony’s software in Walkman devices. So again, the general software experience of WM1Z is flawless and smooth. But be aware that you need to update your device to 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 WM1Z 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. This app is for organizing your database, changing your songs’ info and album art. There’s 256GB memory on board, compared to “only” 128GB on WM1A. This is very good of course since the user of this kind of a player would fill it up with many DSD and Lossless files. You can also mount a Micro SD up to 256GB capacity.

SOUND SETTINGS

The Sony WM1Z has more professional looking EQ and sound settings in the software, compared to 5 band EQ and Clear Bass feature of the previous flagship ZX2. What you have now is a 10 band EQ with which you can adjust each frequency by 0.5db margins. DSEE HX is again included, but you can choose between Standard, Female – Male Vocal, Percussion and Strings. This is only applied to CD quality or Lossy file types to increase their range and make them close to Hi-Res files. In practice, I didn’t really hear a difference to be honest.

There’s also a DC Phase Linearizer, which aims to give you an analog amplifier type of bass. There are 6 settings to choose from, each affecting the character of the lows. There’s Type A and Type B, and both have 3 settings each; low, standard and high. Low setting gives more subbass emphasis, standard gives a little more kick to both mid and subbass, and high gives more midbass emphasis. The difference between Type A and B is that in Type B positions the bass is a little further back and gives more focus to mids, while Type A bass is more intimate.

Dynamic normalizer is the last feature of the sound settings. This levels the volume between all songs you play.

Ultimately, if you don’t want any of these features and just want to listen to the player’s pure sound, you can switch on the Direct Source feature, which disables all DSP settings with one touch. This is a nice and quick way to compare your DSP settings with the original sound of the DAP, and it also adds a professional touch to the Sony WM1Z. Personally, I almost all the time listened to it with Direct Source on.

Continue to read the sound impressions here

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A lover of personal audio from Turkey, Berkhan always seeks the perfection. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside.

39 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 February 21, 2018

      sszorin

      How come the double amping is not an issue ?

  • Reply September 7, 2017

    Russ Myers

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

  • Reply November 5, 2017

    David de Lucena

    I think the dac section it’s better than hugo 2!!
    Just need a little more power!

    • Reply November 6, 2017

      Berkhan

      Maybe Lieven can say something about it, as I haven’t heard the new Hugo.

      • Reply November 7, 2017

        David de Lucena

        Maybe he can chime in and talk about this? I heard hugo for 2h and find the Sony 1z dac with external amp better

  • Reply February 21, 2018

    sszorin

    Is this player truly splendid ? Can I load into it exact audio copies of hundreds of CDs ? Does Sony have a special machine to do this like Astell & Kern has ? Can I bypass the internal amplifying circuit of NW Z1 and route the audio signal from this player into a portable amplifier ?

    • Reply February 21, 2018

      Berkhan

      Yes, it is. We’re talking about the digital audio player here, not about a standalone supportive device (CD Ripper). And you need to pay extra 400$ to have that feature.

      You can always burn your CDs into your PC and put them into the player anyway. AK’s solution can be more practical, but like I said, if you will to pay the extra amount. And in today’s world, CDs are getting more and more obsolete.

      Sony does not have a standard audio processing like the other brands. There are some pros and cons of this architecture. The biggest advantage is the battery life, which other brands just cannot reach anywhere near at the present time.

      I wouldn’t buy a very expensive DAP for using it as a source only. If you would, then you can go for another brand, that does not make this player less than splendid.

  • Reply April 13, 2018

    Paul Windels

    Thank you for this nice review.

    I have one question: I have seen that the DAP runs on Android 4.1.
    Is this version still young enough? Taking into account the considerable investment, will the product still be functioning on that plarform for instance in 5 to 7 years? Will or can the Android software be updated by Sony?

    Regards!

    • Reply April 13, 2018

      Winipou

      Could you please delete my name or replace my name with ‘winipou’?
      Thank you!

      • Reply April 13, 2018

        Berkhan

        Hi,

        It doesn’t run Android, it uses a custom Sony OS based on Linux.

        The last updated version of this DAP is 2.00, 2nd update in its life time.

  • Reply July 28, 2018

    Spitfire

    Fantastic and extensive review. I sent back my WM1A back to Amazon for refund with just one day before the returns date was up phew! This is all because of your review and I am not disappointed. I was extremely lucky as managed to get hold of a nearly new WM1Z from ebay for £1999 which is the Japanese version. It arrived with premium leather case not the sony one and glass protective screen cover. The device was also loaded with hi res music. So blown away am I. Just let you know I have had in my possession many Sony devices and all good at the time. Astell and Kern 120, 380, questyle and lotto paw gold which is currently up for auction on eBay as I write. The paw gold is excellent but just sounded a bit harsh at times.

    To my senses the WM1Z takes me to finer level musically. An example I have a recording of XTC, senses working overtime and on all the other devices it just sounded okay and just not loud enough. Not the case with Sony, the drums, guitar is just so clear and louder and the bass is to relish. It’s like you have a miniature beatles producer george martin inside the device tweeking every song.

    I cannot praise this device enough I have 30 hours on it so far. I am using the balanced port with my K10 Nobles with double helix cable, had to get them reterminated though which cost £16 to do this.

    I am in audio heaven.

    • Reply July 30, 2018

      Berkhan

      Much thanks for your detailed comment.

      A WM1Z for 2000EUR with the premium case, screen protector and Hi-Res files is a great deal.

      Right now the best DAPs in the world are Sony WM1Z, Cayin N8, Hifiman R2R2000, Paw Gold (yes it still is one of the best), AK SP1000cu and maybe the new Paw Gold Touch (but I haven’t listened to that one yet).

      WM1Z + K10 sounds like immense musicality. Enjoy!

  • Reply September 29, 2018

    raymond bradshaw

    How easy would it be to play it through my Naim power and preamp? And what would it sound like?

    • Reply October 4, 2018

      Berkhan

      How can I know? 🙂 You tell me.

  • Reply December 10, 2018

    Sanchez Diego

    Now it is up to me to find a proper headset to enjoy… I was wondering about the Focal Clear ; do you think about any better matches with low impedance over-hear headphones? Thks

    • Reply January 19, 2019

      Anand

      The Sony mdrz1r it’s a pretty nice one it can be driven well by the wm1a/z

  • Reply February 6, 2019

    Alex

    I own the Sony ZX2 and is considering upgrading to this Sony WM1Z. I used the Shure SE 846 with the zx2 and till now have no complaint.

    Anyone here uses the Shure SE846 with this WM1Z? How is the sound stage etc?

    • Reply February 8, 2019

      Berkhan

      Regardless of the IEM, you will hear a great difference if you switch to the 1Z.

  • Reply February 6, 2019

    Juan

    Do you know how much hours of use in the unit you reviewed?

    Thanks!

    • Reply February 8, 2019

      Berkhan

      Actually I don’t remember, it’s been a long time. But it was a demo product so it had been many hours under its belt when I reviewed it.

      • Reply February 12, 2019

        Juan

        Thanks Berkhan!

        Cheers

  • Reply June 30, 2019

    adam

    Just picked up a wm1z and pair of Solaris sounds unbelievable even compared to mojo poly…just picked up a kimber 8core cable for my iems balanced new for 79 bucks. Cant wait to compare balanced sound. I dont see it being much better bit cheap option for balanced cable without spending even more dough. The z I picked up w dignis case for 1900. Solaris have been rocking hard and i have no complaints single ended…

  • Reply August 11, 2019

    Joseph

    Hi, wanna seek you opionions, I saw a mint wm1z for 2400 sgd, but the owner bought it from sony malaysia, warranty is already over as it was already over 18 months. is it still worth it?

    Currently using zx2 with the pha3 amp, if i change to wm1z can i still use it with the pha3 amp?

    • Reply August 11, 2019

      Berkhan

      Yes, 2400sgd is not bad for the WM1Z. But do ask a little price decrease.

      You won’t need your PHA-3 after you switch to 1Z. But yeah, I think you can use with it.

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