Review: Sony WM1Z Walkman – Splendid!

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

With all those qualities, the WM1Z also has a big sound stage. It’s not super wide but it’s very deep and creates a great ambiance for concert recordings, thanks to the amazing bass. As you probably know, Sony’s been producing DAPs that have great staging and imaging performances lately and of course the new flagship wasn’t going to be an exception to that.

The background is fully black and there’s no hiss. Separation and imaging-wise you can easily pinpoint each instrument in the stage. There’s great control on the congestion side, as it manages to present the sound separated at all times, even in the complex passages. You can also pick one instrument and focus on that during the song, because if you focus nothing gets in the way and distracts you, as all elements have their own space. Despite having a big bass and warm-organic character, the sound is very clean and crisp. It’s not crisp to the extent to be clinical or cold sounding of course, but it’s surely very very clear. The dynamism of the WM1Z is also fabulous as it gives a great bass and crisp treble with an emotional accented mids.

In terms of power, the EU versions have a sound limit and they don’t have a gain option in the software. This unit is sent me from Sony Japan so it’s the uncapped version. For giving you an example, I tried the HD800S from the single ended output on high gain, and it managed to drive it to a very good volume level. Of course it’s not the most ideal setup for a headphone like HD800S, but since the balanced output is better I assume you can drive many headphones with 4.4mm connections. I strongly recommend you to uncap your device though. It’s very easy and you can search the web to find out how to do it. The output power is much much better that way.

There’s no need to talk about the battery life to be honest, because it’s simply unmatched by any other manufacturer. I never switch the device off (a habit from ZX2), because it’s extremely efficient and it doesn’t lose any power when it sits idle. I get around 20 hours with Hi-Res files (DSD and 24bit) and this can get longer if you don’t use the screen too much and you just listen FLAC files. Also, DSP settings has an affect on battery time, as it lasts longer when Direct Sound is on.

COMPARISONS

For A&Ultima SP1000, AK380 and AK380cu comparison, please check out this article.

vs. Lotoo Paw Gold: Paw Gold has an intimate and narrower sound stage. It gives closer treble, mid-bass oriented lows with a studio-kind of sound. The Sony WM1Z has a better stage and better imaging, more relaxed and warm character, with more complete feeling bass which has a better slam, because of the more pronounced subbass compared to Paw Gold. Paw Gold has very clean mids but WM1Z gives a “magical touch” to them which I haven’t heard on other DAPs. Paw Gold’s general resolution still amazes me though.

vs. ZX2: The flagship of the ZX series has a very good stage dimensions but 1Z has more realism and much better imaging overall. Midbass is weaker and overall bass presentation is lighter than the bigger and complete bass on 1Z.  1Z’s resolution, separation and micro details are much better. Mids are just incomparable here, as WM1Z is miles ahead. So basically everything’s much better with 1Z, but the character of these 2 DAPs are close because both are warm and non-fatiguing. Except the treble, which 1Z’s highs are truer, better extending and not that thick.

vs. WM1A: Now everybody’s asking me if it’s worth spending the huge extra cash for 1Z. Well it’s not easy to answer. Just like every audio purchase, the best way is to listen to it and decide yourself . If you want to know my opinion, I’ll say it depends. If you want it to be more portable, 1A is much lighter. But if you’re going to spend your listening time at home in your couch, and if you also have top-tier IEMs in your possession, I would say go and get the best. Why not?

On the other hand, these 2 DAPs maybe are the same in terms of size and design; but they’re quite different in terms of sound character. In the beginning I mentioned that Sony wanted to have two WM1’s to offer two different sound choices. 1A is flatter, faster and feels more roomy. Thanks to that it sounds a little wider and airy. But 1Z has better mids, better resolution, bigger bass and despite it’s warmer character, it has better extending trebles to me.

So yes, 1Z is the best Walkman by a margin, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it or not, because there are more factors than just sound. Also, in terms of sonic factors, they have different approaches. Of course it’s logical to say the 1A has a better price/performance ratio, but the 1Z is so magical and special, it’s hard to deny the amazing cohesive sound.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, Sony produced a masterpiece with this DAP. I really appreciate their R&D, because they develop their own technologies. Sony has their own S-Master amp technology and Pulse Width Modulation system, which creates unrivaled battery life time in the market. The biggest criticism was on the S-Master but they seem to have solved its weak points now, with a much better noise floor and power. It’s a shame some units still have capped volumes but thankfully it’s easy to get around that limitation.

This is the very best audio player I’ve experienced together with the AK SP1000. I personally would choose the Sony, because of its heart-warming sound and long lasting battery. This DAP immediately makes it to our recommendations list, and I strongly recommend it if you’re thinking about getting a TOTL DAP.

I would like to give special thanks to Sony Turkey team for arranging the delivery of the sample in person.

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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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