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.
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.
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.