Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!

SOUND

Let’s put the last 2 pages aside now, and go for the real thing. It all comes down to this. All the effort from Project Leaders and Sound Engineers was to achieve the best sound reproduction possible. And in the end, ladies and gentlemen, you’re facing a true sounding, very special DAP here. Believe me, there’s no other way to tell it: it’s simply remarkable.

This easily is the best audio player I’ve experienced, in terms of producing the sound in a musical and joyful way. And it’s also the most special one for me, because it merges the musicality and technical prowess at once, which is so rare to find. I’ve experienced many top-tier DAPs and honestly, none of them give this kind of emotion. It evokes that we’re all here for listening to music, not listening to “sounds” over and over again. In the end, what you want is to sit back and enjoy your high quality music and just relax. If you want to experience that in the highest level, then I can’t recommend this player enough.

It leans towards the full bodied sound which is a little warm and meaty. Mids are magical and trebles are well extended and detailed, together with a great soundstage. One shouldn’t think that it lacks the technical prowess because of the sound signature. No, WM1Z proves that a TOTL DAP can sound highly musical and highly technical at the same time.

BASS

The Sony WM1Z gives the fullest and most complete bass I’ve heard from a DAP. It’s a huge bass response but neither midbass or subbass stands out in the recordings, unless the recording has such a trait in itself. It has a wonderful bass control and balance in terms of that, while continuously giving the body. Lows feel so complete all the time and that way you hear an atmospheric sound, especially with live recordings.

The deep notes of instruments are WM1Z’s specialty and generally the sound has a delicious weight, without overly doing so. This DAP offers incredible quality of bass constantly and quantity-wise it’s quite generous. When it’s needed, the bass hits hard and slam can be literally felt with a basshead can. But don’t interpret this like a too bassy source. I don’t think this is a “fun” type of bass character as I don’t think it exaggerates anything in low region. It feels very natural and true to the recording.

When the guitarist hits the string, you will feel it, especially if it’s a bass guitar. This success on bass tonality, texture and layering is absolutely amazing to hear and this makes WM1Z so special. This is not easy to describe if you haven’t listened to it, but imagine that the deep tones don’t just reach in your ear, but in your body and soul. And while doing that, it never feels unnatural or excessive. Also, the separation from mid region is another strong point, since nothing gets in the way of vocals and instruments to shine and show their emotion and emphasis.

Like I said, there’s no midbass problem, there’s no deficiency or excess. Great extension, great control, great decay and slam when needed. Everything is wonderful and in line in terms of bass presentation of WM1Z.

MIDS

Regarding mid resolution, this is one of the best you can find in the market but as a plus, you have the emotion, musicality and tonal accuracy throughout. If we have friends here who have listened to FitEar TG 334, just think about that incredible mid range. Much like a DAP form of it, WM1Z has the definition and emphasis that can make you a happy listener all the time. Heart-touching vocals, great instrument resolution and such a great tonality.

Mids contain tremendous musicality and technical achievement. Listening to instrumental music is incredibly enjoyable. I can say that the resolution is very high and the micro detail level is fantastic. And one thing that should not be missed here is that the sound is so pleasant and delicious, that at one point you could easily ignore the technical success of the device. But that is not the case because the WM1A, for example, has a more flat character so it can make you feel like it’s more detailed. But in reality WM1Z is technically more successful and superior to WM1A.

Again, the warmth and organic way of sound is not an obstacle for the WM1Z to show the technical capabilities. The mids are very transparent,  have great resolution and micro detail-level, unlike the ZX2 which had a little laid back and just slightly veiled mid presentation. I think besides the bass, the mids are one of the prominent advancements from the previous generation. The WM1A is also better than ZX2 on the mid range.

The realism and naturalism across the mids are fantastic to listen too, especially if you have something like Noble K10 or Oriolus V2 laying around.

TREBLE

The treble is surprising. In proportion to the warm sound I was expecting them to be far back in the stage. But no, while giving a non-fatiguing treble response, it again prevails to sound technical with high resolution and extension. In fact the treble is more pronounced than on the WM1A and again it is technically better. Therefore, it would be extremely wrong if we evaluate this device with a classical approach. If it is approached in this style of thinking it would be very wrong: “I like sound that is clear and crisp and I like my treble, so if this DAP gives a warm sound – and costs big time – than I’m going to pass”.

No way. I strongly recommend you to listen to the WM1Z before making any judgement. I’m sure it’ll surprise you and you’ll ask  yourself how it can be this musical and technically so strong? I think treble lovers can hear the success of this DAP in every possible way. Articulation and extension are at a really high level so it deserves praise for giving this quality despite generally sounding warm and analogue-like. And just like the bass and mid regions, it extracts the tiniest bit of micro information in the recording for you.

Highs are very rich and detailed but very controlled. I can’t say bright, but they’re surely quite apparent when it’s in the recording and there’s enough airiness when needed. That can be said as a general quality of WM1Z across the spectrum. If something’s in there, you’re going to hear it like it’s supposed to. Nothing is excessive, digital sounding or artificial, but nothing is laid back either.

BALANCED

The strongest and best sound of WM1Z is from the 4.4mm balanced output. Also you have Native DSD from there. Note that DSP settings are disabled while running DSD songs from balanced.

With going balanced you have a wider stage, better separation and better imaging, it’s as simple as that. It’s not a night and day difference but it’s noticeable. Also, the difference between the WM1Z’s balanced output and that from other DAPs is that, the bass or any other frequency range does not change in terms of quantity. Usually when you switch to a balanced output on many DAPs, you hear the bass is trimmed and mids somewhat change and treble is better extended etc. That’s not the case with the Sony WM1Z. Everything is the same frequency-wise, but you do get better imaging and separation with a little wider staging.

Go on with the technical comments, comparisons and conclusion here

Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!
4.6 (91.37%) 95 vote[s]

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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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