Review: Sony ZX300 – Hi Res for Walkmasses

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.

Relevant links:

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
RMAA: Apple iPhone 7 24-bit
RMAA: Apple iPhone 6 24-bit
RMAA: Chord Mojo 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-X1 24-bit single-ended and balanced

Not sound

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:

Review: Sony ZX300 – Hi Res for Walkmasses
4.5 (89.57%) 23 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

31 Comments

  • Reply March 6, 2018

    Albert

    nice review! can the zx300 compare to the mojo in terms of detail?

    • Reply March 6, 2018

      ohm image

      No, though the stereo feel in the bass is damn good and in my opinion, more detailed/textured than Mojo’s is.

  • Reply March 6, 2018

    Booker

    Thanks for this, been eagerly awaiting your review!

    I’ve been tossing back and forth between getting the Plenue R and this. I was leaning toward the R as I’m a long-time Cowon fan, love their UI, seamless gapless playback and reliability. Also, with JetEffect you can always get plenty of bass (not that I’m a crazy basshead, but I like some weight in the low end).

    So I was pleased to read the low end on the ZX300 is good. I’m in NZ and it’s only $100 NZD difference between the R and ZX300, so now I’m thinking the Sony it is!

  • Reply March 6, 2018

    Dmitri

    When I tried this player with iem Mee Pinnacle, 30 Om, through the 3.5 mm output, the volume level had to be set to 90, for acceptable volume, indoors. On the street, it will be impossible to play it after 3.5 mm on mid-impedance headphones

    • Reply March 6, 2018

      Berkhan

      Unlock it. It’s very easy to do.

    • Reply March 6, 2018

      ohm image

      Indeed, this must be a problem of the governing body in your country. It is LOUD here in Japan.

  • Reply March 6, 2018

    olegus

    Thank you very much for your review! Unfortunately, there is no direct comparison with other DAPs, I hope you’ll add it later.
    You guys highly appreciate Luxury & Precision L3PRO sound quality (at least L3PRO is in your buyer’s guide). If you take into account only the sound quality, what would you prefer/recommend – L3PRO or ZX300?

    • Reply March 6, 2018

      ohm image

      I think you’ll find direct comparisons to other DAPs, but in Nathan rather than industry style. I take very little stock in subjective opinions as regards sound on DAPs and amps and try to keep mine as brief as possible. It’s impossible to be really perfectly on target, so I default to quick and somewhat accurate rather than long and totally off. I hope you understand this.

  • Reply March 6, 2018

    Ben

    Hey Nathan
    Great review. As one of the people most responsible for my Flares Pro purchase, how well do they pair-up? Hiss or no hiss?! Good combo?
    Cheers
    Ben

    • Reply March 7, 2018

      ohm image

      They pair well, and the Flares Pro’s wireless down-reses (or whatnot) really well even with DSD files. The connection quality isn’t as good as with an iPhone, but it is good.

  • Reply March 7, 2018

    BlackWF

    ZX300 vs ZX2. I can buy a used ZX2 for about the same price as ZX300. Can you please provide an opinion? Tidal is a big plus for ZX2 but its interface is a bit sluggish I heard. Personally I care mostly about the sound quality.

    • Reply March 7, 2018

      ohm image

      Sorry man, I didn’t get enough time with the ZX2 to form much beyond actual performance-by-the-numbers opinions. And in that instance, the ZX2 isn’t as good as the ZX300. It also hisses more.

      • Reply March 9, 2018

        BlackWF

        Thank you so much for the response! Wish you a great weekend!!

  • Reply March 8, 2018

    Graeme

    Hi guys, looking for a bit of advice. A complete newby to hi res players and looking for first purchase under $1k. Seems to me theres not a lot between the AK70 mkii (what hi-fi cant say enough good things!), the Cowan Plenue R and the Sony zx300. I may be wrong!! Looking for something that will be happy in the gym (in ears) in my shorts pocket as well as traveling (over ears) and some home use via bluetooth. Can anyone make some suggestions.
    (also best source to get hi res files from)

    • Reply March 8, 2018

      ohm image

      What Hi-Fi know very little about DAPs. I hate to lead an article like this, but they don’t even mention the AK70ii’s hiss, which is higher than the ZX300’s, and its overall performance drop vis-a-vis the older AK70 (which I love). If you want to see that performance drop by the numbers, please check out my RMAA tests on both:

      AK70:
      http://ohm-image.net/data/audio/rmaa-astellkern-ak70-24-bit
      AK70ii:
      http://ohm-image.net/data/audio/rmaa-astellkern-ak70-mkii-24-bit

      In the second article, I show their results side by side. If you’re gyming, you’ll be sweating and thrashing around. A heavy player like the AK70 or ZX300 may not be your best bet, or if you’re happy still with that, then I’d vote for the ZX300. The reason is that it has a lot of environmental seals, and because its edges are less aggressive and less able to put wounds in your legs and arms when you bend at angles to reach weights or jog. Still, a small player like Onkyo’s DP-S1 is cheaper and just as capable as either, and actually measures better. It has some drawbacks, and overall I prefer the ZX300, but it is heavier and actually measures worse.

      • Reply March 8, 2018

        Ben

        This is so useful as I am in a very similar position to Graeme. Can I throw the Cayin n5ii into the debate? Everyone seems to love it (including you guys).
        Cheers

        • Reply March 9, 2018

          ohm image

          Ben,

          ‘You guys’ doesn’t include me. I’ve not even heard it! I hope to someday get the chance to listen to it.

          • Reply March 9, 2018

            Ben

            Hah. Fair! Looking forward to your thoughts one day….

    • Reply March 8, 2018

      Booker

      If you’re looking for something for the gym you might want to consider the Plenue D instead of the R – it’s tiny, and now that it’s a few years old there’s some going 2nd hand for good prices. I used to own one and the sound is impressive for such a small unit 🙂

  • Reply March 15, 2018

    Hawaiibadboy

    Grear review.
    Love the build of this a lot. Sound is very nice of course

    • Reply March 18, 2018

      Nathan

      It’s great from 0 to 10.

  • Reply March 24, 2018

    NewEve

    Looking for some help.

    I’m really interested in this DAP together with the balanced MDR-1AM2 but here’s the thing.

    I currently use a Cowon Plenue M2 and a Plenue D. Otherwise I use my iPhone 7 with the provided audio adapter (which essentially is a DAC–https://ifixit.org/blog/8448/apple-audio-adapter-teardown/).

    Now, I recently did some tests with my Grados (SR325e and GR8e) paired with the aforementioned DAPs & iPhone playing the same songs (Hi Res files on the Cowons with and without presets (BBE preset only) as well as downloaded CD-quality files via Qobuz on the iPhone).

    Here’s the thing: I can’t really tell them appart–if at all.
    I can tell that the sound signature is a tiny bit different but not by a significant margin (especially given the price difference).

    So here’s the question: is it even worth investing in the Sony? (I’m definitely selling the M2.)

    Alternatively: would something like the Cozoy Audio Takt Pro make sense?

    Thanks for your help

    • Reply March 25, 2018

      ohm image

      Pretty sure that no one at HFN will want my answer to this, but here goes: unless something has gone terribly wrong with current/voltage sound signatures between DAPs when driving earphones/headphones should be minimally different, if at all. There are EQs and other means of changing sound that can affect output, but in general, it’s not a huge difference.

    • Reply March 25, 2018

      ohm image

      That, and the iPhone DAC plugin thingy that came with your iPhone 7 is excellent.

      • Reply March 25, 2018

        NewEve

        Thank you for your reply.

        It’s nice to read that I am not completely crazy or, worse, deaf 😀

        May I just ask what drove you to buy the ZX300? I mean, reading your articles, you seem to rely mostly on your iPhone/iPad while on the move–you even keep your Plenue D in a drawer 😛

        What changed your mind?

        • Reply March 25, 2018

          ohm image

          Street cred, man, street cred. And, I love Sony.

  • Reply March 25, 2018

    Edmund

    Excellent review. Have you had a chance to pair this with the andromedas? Planning for that to be my bext big purchase..

    • Reply March 25, 2018

      ohm image

      It drives the Andromedas with little problem, but hiss (as is always the problem with such a sensitive earphone) may bother you. Great combination otherwise, especially balanced.

      • Reply April 9, 2018

        Returnity

        First of all thanks for the great review!

        How would you compare your experience with Andros from the balanced output of zx300 to that of WM1A?

  • Reply April 25, 2018

    Adam

    If the zx300 sounds identical to the wm1a like people are saying i wonder why its not getting more praise.

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