Review: Sony ZX300 – Hi Res for Walkmasses

 

Fully astern are Sony’s proprietary data/audio port and a receptacle for a wrist strap. If you’re worried about sweat, or just have to listen in the rain, the former can be plugged up with a rubber stopper, as can both headphone ports. As mentioned up top and seen in this Headfonia video, the SD card port is environmentally sealed with an o-ring.

 

These seals raise a few questions:

  1. Are interface buttons, screen laminate, and other typically permeable parts similarly sealed?
  2. If so, do Sony intend for the ZX300 to go with you into the storm?
  3. Does plugging in a headphone ‘seal’ the headphone port?
  4. If not, is this just posturing to the ‘weather-sealed’ worshipping camera crowd?
  5. If none of the above, isn’t it just awesome?

Whatever the answers to any and all of those questions, this attention to detail is freakishly good. And, it makes the ZX300’s asking price that much more palatable. I mean, what other company pays so much attention to detail that plausible or not, they can posture weather resistance in a DAO? Certainly not iRiver. Certainly not Onkyo. Certainly not Cowon. Certainly not Fiio. And on and on and on.

Finally, the non-slip back is great. The ZX300 is perfectly flat. Lay it down on any surface and its rubber back will keep it from sliding off a table, even if the attached cable is thick and weighty.

With a mix of MP3, AAC, lossless files, and DSD, I get around 20 hours of battery life. With all auto-offs turned off, at medium brightness and with every audio tweak known to man enabled I get a bit less than that. 30 hours of MP3 is probably optimistic, but in endless loop, and without touching the ZX300 it may be possible. 15-20 hours is damn good for a balanced-out hi-res player of such power. Also, it transfers files pretty fast. 26 gigabytes of data transferred to a fast 200GB MIcro SD card in just under 20 minutes, whereas with the Cowon Plenue J, the same takes close to an hour. Also, the ZX300 works as a DAC, and as well as it does anything playing music internally.

The ZX300 is freakishly well designed.

(By the way, I don’t think this thing streams anything. Neither do I. So, whatever.)

Sound

It’s hard to complain about the ZX300. It sounds good, sometimes really good; at times it sounds god-like. Where it doesn’t is where many DAPs fail, though not many at this price point. That is, it hisses. No, not like a 5th-generation iPod. No, not like a first-generation AK100. But certainly enough that you’ll not unhear it if your earphones are as sensitive as Shure’s SE846 or Ultrasone’s IQ. Both Onkyo’s Rubato DP-S1 (DP-S1 RMAA), which costs half what the Sony does, and an iPhone SE – a smartphone with no pretensions toward audiophilia -, do not, or do so little as to be effectively inaudible. At bedtime listening levels, I notice hiss through Grado’s GR8e, which is less sensitive than either the Shure or Ultrasone.

Hiss aside, I have few, to no complaints. One, at high gain, especially in balanced, the ZX300 packs a punch, getting well louder than an iPhone 6, and, even through the DAP-eating Audio Technica ES7, approaches the volume Astell & Kern’s AK380 (RMAA AK380) pushes from its balanced 2,5mm port, minus like 2500$. I should note that my favourite headphone to pair with the ZX300 is Grado’s GH-2. The combination of that headphone’s tight and close mids with the Sony’s meaty bass is heaven. It’s a close heaven though as the ZX300’s mids aren’t as open as some other DAPs. But it works wonders.

Even under the load of an Earsonics SM2, its balanced output can push -106dB stereo crosstalk, and dynamic range of 110dB and noise of -110dB. Neither THD nor IMD/jitter rise above unloaded levels of ~0,1% and ~0,3%, which, though relatively high, are inaudible. In short, its balanced output is load agnostic.

Even more on Sound after the jump on PAGE THREE:

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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.

46 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 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 August 25, 2018

            Simon

            I’m worried this answers my comment below.. or would balanced sort my issue?

            • Reply August 26, 2018

              ohm image

              Balanced isn’t a necessity, but the ZX300 is markedly better (both measurably and audibly) when used balanced. I still don’t think it necessarily better balanced than a good iPhone, but it’s better than single ended. Its upstreaming stuff and the like are good to great. And it has decent power.

  • 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.

  • Reply June 23, 2018

    Kagez

    Hi,

    Do you think etymotic er4xr will pair well with zx300 ?

    Which IEM would you recommend for zx300 (budget between $600 to < $1000) ?

    Thanks

  • Reply July 9, 2018

    Jonathan

    Hi Nathan, thanks for the great review! I was wondering if you had a chance to measure the output impedance of the zx300. I am using it with Campfire Andromeda and I was wondering if the dap has too high an output impedance for it. I have read that Andromeda can sound too bassy with daps that have higher than 2 ohm.

  • Reply July 27, 2018

    Steven Zore

    What DAC chip does the Z300 use?

  • Reply August 25, 2018

    Simon

    Great review Nathan! It made me get the ZX300… although I have a question for you / others…

    I’ve got the Shure SE535’s (had them for 7 years ish now) and have been using it on my iPhone 7 plus with the cable adapter and mainly use Musicloud (which has plenty of my FLAC, WAV and MP3’s on with a great equaliser) or I just use Spotify at I hope 320kbs.

    I’ve been listening to the ZX300 with my Shure’s for the past 5 days or so now and played around a lot with all the sound settings and honestly can’t tell a huge difference (well – to justify the £475 price mark that goes with it).

    I’ve noticed 2 main improvements – the detail and clarity and how the sound stays so crisp at really high volumes.
    Detail and clarity – this is generally noticeable on my DSDs and good quality FLACs. The soundstage is a bit wider and the mids and highs seem more separate. However, I don’t notice a big difference.

    High volumes – when I say high volume I mean above 100 (on low gain) and above 80 (on high gain). I don’t know if anyone else uses the ZX300 with the SE535s but those kind of levels are high (I’d get tinnitus in no time am sure) but the sound at these levels are really impressive. To me they sound the most complete – bass, mids and high come together.

    If I were to do a blind test with the ZX300 v iPhone I’m not sure the ZX300 would win every time which to me doesn’t justify its price tag. What I want to ask you guys is – am I missing something? Should I not be waiting for a moment of ‘wow’ these are amazing – have I already mentioned the reasons why these are so good already or do I need to wait further into the burn in period? Should I get the balanced cable for the Shure’s? It’s only been around 9 hours, but I’m struggling! Any help would be much appreciated!

    • Reply August 26, 2018

      ohm image

      I hope you enjoy the ZX300. The improvements you noticed are part of it, but I must be clear, and I wish more audiophiles were, where we are even talking about improvements, or just subjective bits that we like, the differences between good sources (the iPhone being a great source) and ones purporting to be better often comes down to filters, implementation of balanced, and the like, rather than actual, objective audible improvements.

      Personally, I like the Sony’s shinier upper midrange, but in no way do I think it is a better source than the iPhone.

    • Reply December 31, 2018

      Sapi

      Jesus Christ, i can tell difference between ZX300 and iPhone 7 with only using 1 ear, are you deaf or what

      • Reply May 12, 2019

        Frankie

        Completely agree with Sapi here. With the balanced connection you get that extra “oomph” (or “juice”,call it whatever you like) that results in more dynamics. More dynamics means more details. I listened to some albums that I knew for life and found some little subtle details i’ve never heard before…

  • Reply October 5, 2018

    Han

    Hi Ohm Image, thanks for the ZX300 review. I got a DP-S1 thanks to your detailed review in the past.

    Any chance you will be doing a iBasso measurement/review soon? The DX120 has great specs on paper but I’m very interested to see how it measures up in your testing. I have since moved away from the DP-S1 to a V20, but am on the lookout for the next affordable DP-S1 successor.

    Cheers!

  • Reply December 8, 2018

    Jeffrey Coleman

    I’m a bit shocked how the internet is light on audio comparisons between the ZX300, and its biggest brother the WM1A (Or the WM1Z if you are elite). Both seem to have their own upside, but there doesn’t seem to be many people talking about these two, head to head.

    If anyone knows of trusted ears that did just that, please share a link.

    Thanks

  • Reply January 24, 2019

    Nounou

    Thank you very much for this review. I consult francophone forums and specialized sites like whathifi, hcfr … and I must admit that these are your reviews that are most useful to me. I took the hp-3 and the klipsch heritage amp after trying them, and it’s your article that comes closest to what I felt. So, for me, your blog has become a reference.

  • Reply May 11, 2019

    xaudox

    Great review, but you got me at “hiss”. It’s like telling a foodie that a restaurant is great except for some bad “taste” in the food.

    At this price point no excuses for hiss, period.

    Sony, do better please.

    • Reply May 12, 2019

      Frankie

      I’m using ZX-300 with a pair of Sony MDR1Am2 and i’ve never noticed a single hiss. Never. This thing is absolutely subjective and the hardware (meaning the cans) you’re using may affect this.

  • Reply January 16, 2020

    Michael

    are your website using ads? several times before and now before i visiting headfonia.com it always directed to unknown site (it looks like phising ads site or something like that) , im coming from google.com. never had this problem on others sites and im pretty sure my PC is clean from malware etc.. so i want to confirm about this.

    now i want to ask a question , how do you charge your zx300? are you using charger wall adapter or charging through usb port on pc? which one do you recommend it?

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