In this article we review the Sony ZX300 Portable player.
Disclaimer: I purchased this unit from e-Earphone‘s used department at about 30% off the retail price. e-Earphone rocks. You can find out all about the ZX300 here: Walkman® with High-Resolution Audio | ZX300.
RMAA: Sony NW-WM1Z 24-bit
RMAA: Sony NW-ZX2 24-bit
RMAA: GloveAudio A1 24-bit
RMAA: MST Audio Chord Mojo-Kai (balanced) 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-S1 rubato 24-bit
RMAA: Astell & Kern AK70 Kai (Ryuzoh mod) 24-bit
RMAA: iPhone SE 24-bit
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RMAA: Apple iPhone 6 24-bit
RMAA: Chord Mojo 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-X1 24-bit single-ended and balanced
There’s no way to crap on the ZX300. It is great in the hand. It’s got water seals around or plugged into every one of its ports. Even its SD-card interface is gasketed against moisture and dust ingress. Its buttons are made for adult fingers. And classic Sony metal work flourishes such as brushed aluminium and striated logo mix in for a real, if atavistic premium feel. Finally, Sony’s software interfaces are second to none. The ZX300 is great.
For audiophiles, Sony’s Hi-Res badge – meaning the ZX300 plugs and plays with the Sony TA-ZH1ES, as well as 24-bit and DSD files – may be of greater import. The ZX300 runs with with every of Sony’s most modern technologies. It does DSD, works as a USB-DAC, spits balanced out of a sturdy 4,4mm port, and when set to high gain, gets pretty damn loud from the balanced headphone port.
Grumbling that the ZX300’s screen doesn’t stretch from top to bottom, and leaves a largish chin at the bottom isn’t out of place, but generally it doesn’t wash. The ZX300’s chin is big, and, its screen is dwarfed by its body. But apart from navigation buttons which can be hard tap, its screen, and navigation UI and haptics are good. A swipe to the right from the playback screen takes you to the parent folder/album. A swipe to the left takes you to the bookmark list. A swipe down brings up the main navigation list: album, genre, artist, release year, playlist, hi-res audio, composer, folder, recently imported songs, and a hands-off menu that’ll mix your music according to a few criteria. A swipe up brings you to the audio adjustment screens: EQ, upsampling, phase lineariser, and dynamic normaliser.
I takes a little practice to get used to the swipe engine, but just like an excellent camera interface, it works, is repeatable, and gets you in and out of all the most important functions without hitch, and in a flash. It’s a great design.
Its button array is the ZX300’s mixiest of bags. Located on the upper right hand side, the power button fall perfectly under the thumb. Beneath that are large and easy to press volume buttons. A raised nipple indicates volume up; volume down is nipple-less. Below the volume controls and separated by about 8mm are the tracking forward/back and play/pause buttons. Logically, and unlike the confusing hardware interface in Cowon’s Plenue J, track forward is slaved to the up command, and track back is slaved to the down command. It is natural and easy to use.
My problem with this otherwise excellent layout is theoretical. Volume functions and track functions should be split to opposite sides. I’d rather the ZX300’s tracking functions to hug the ZX300’s right and volume to hug the left. Below tracking controls would come the hold slider. Speaking of which, this bad boy is a good boy. It’s thick, grippy, and travels around 3mm to reach one stop or another. HOLD is indicated at the top of the screen in bright yellow. When not set, and even when the screen is off, both volume and tracking/play/pause functions can be tripped.
Another theoretical problem I have with the ZX300 is the placement of its headphone ports. Ideally, they should be arrayed across the bottom. The reason for this is that when a player is pulled out of a pocket, all the controls are forced up-side down, and you must re-arrange the player in your hand prior to using it. If the headphone ports were on the bottom, you could whip the ZX300 out of your jeans and use it as is. Flipping it introduces greater chance of droppage. Also, in hand, the cable then dangles away from the top of the device and especially in heavy traffic areas such as a morning train, can easily tangle with other passengers. Of course, because I now use wireless earphones and headphones more than ever before, this issue is of small import. Countless people are fine with dangling, top-heavy cables sprouting from the tops of their digital audio players, turning this serious misgiving of mine into something to moot.
More haptics after the jump on PAGE TWO: