For those who don’t know the beast, a sound review of the Sony...
Let’s put the last 2 pages aside now, and go for the real thing. It all comes down to this. All the effort from Project Leaders and Sound Engineers was to achieve the best sound reproduction possible. And in the end, ladies and gentlemen, you’re facing a true sounding, very special DAP here. Believe me, there’s no other way to tell it: it’s simply remarkable.
This easily is the best audio player I’ve experienced, in terms of producing the sound in a musical and joyful way. And it’s also the most special one for me, because it merges the musicality and technical prowess at once, which is so rare to find. I’ve experienced many top-tier DAPs and honestly, none of them give this kind of emotion. It evokes that we’re all here for listening to music, not listening to “sounds” over and over again. In the end, what you want is to sit back and enjoy your high quality music and just relax. If you want to experience that in the highest level, then I can’t recommend this player enough.
It leans towards the full bodied sound which is a little warm and meaty. Mids are magical and trebles are well extended and detailed, together with a great soundstage. One shouldn’t think that it lacks the technical prowess because of the sound signature. No, WM1Z proves that a TOTL DAP can sound highly musical and highly technical at the same time.
The Sony WM1Z gives the fullest and most complete bass I’ve heard from a DAP. It’s a huge bass response but neither midbass or subbass stands out in the recordings, unless the recording has such a trait in itself. It has a wonderful bass control and balance in terms of that, while continuously giving the body. Lows feel so complete all the time and that way you hear an atmospheric sound, especially with live recordings.
The deep notes of instruments are WM1Z’s specialty and generally the sound has a delicious weight, without overly doing so. This DAP offers incredible quality of bass constantly and quantity-wise it’s quite generous. When it’s needed, the bass hits hard and slam can be literally felt with a basshead can. But don’t interpret this like a too bassy source. I don’t think this is a “fun” type of bass character as I don’t think it exaggerates anything in low region. It feels very natural and true to the recording.
When the guitarist hits the string, you will feel it, especially if it’s a bass guitar. This success on bass tonality, texture and layering is absolutely amazing to hear and this makes WM1Z so special. This is not easy to describe if you haven’t listened to it, but imagine that the deep tones don’t just reach in your ear, but in your body and soul. And while doing that, it never feels unnatural or excessive. Also, the separation from mid region is another strong point, since nothing gets in the way of vocals and instruments to shine and show their emotion and emphasis.
Like I said, there’s no midbass problem, there’s no deficiency or excess. Great extension, great control, great decay and slam when needed. Everything is wonderful and in line in terms of bass presentation of WM1Z.
Regarding mid resolution, this is one of the best you can find in the market but as a plus, you have the emotion, musicality and tonal accuracy throughout. If we have friends here who have listened to FitEar TG 334, just think about that incredible mid range. Much like a DAP form of it, WM1Z has the definition and emphasis that can make you a happy listener all the time. Heart-touching vocals, great instrument resolution and such a great tonality.
Mids contain tremendous musicality and technical achievement. Listening to instrumental music is incredibly enjoyable. I can say that the resolution is very high and the micro detail level is fantastic. And one thing that should not be missed here is that the sound is so pleasant and delicious, that at one point you could easily ignore the technical success of the device. But that is not the case because the WM1A, for example, has a more flat character so it can make you feel like it’s more detailed. But in reality WM1Z is technically more successful and superior to WM1A.
Again, the warmth and organic way of sound is not an obstacle for the WM1Z to show the technical capabilities. The mids are very transparent, have great resolution and micro detail-level, unlike the ZX2 which had a little laid back and just slightly veiled mid presentation. I think besides the bass, the mids are one of the prominent advancements from the previous generation. The WM1A is also better than ZX2 on the mid range.
The realism and naturalism across the mids are fantastic to listen too, especially if you have something like Noble K10 or Oriolus V2 laying around.
The treble is surprising. In proportion to the warm sound I was expecting them to be far back in the stage. But no, while giving a non-fatiguing treble response, it again prevails to sound technical with high resolution and extension. In fact the treble is more pronounced than on the WM1A and again it is technically better. Therefore, it would be extremely wrong if we evaluate this device with a classical approach. If it is approached in this style of thinking it would be very wrong: “I like sound that is clear and crisp and I like my treble, so if this DAP gives a warm sound – and costs big time – than I’m going to pass”.
No way. I strongly recommend you to listen to the WM1Z before making any judgement. I’m sure it’ll surprise you and you’ll ask yourself how it can be this musical and technically so strong? I think treble lovers can hear the success of this DAP in every possible way. Articulation and extension are at a really high level so it deserves praise for giving this quality despite generally sounding warm and analogue-like. And just like the bass and mid regions, it extracts the tiniest bit of micro information in the recording for you.
Highs are very rich and detailed but very controlled. I can’t say bright, but they’re surely quite apparent when it’s in the recording and there’s enough airiness when needed. That can be said as a general quality of WM1Z across the spectrum. If something’s in there, you’re going to hear it like it’s supposed to. Nothing is excessive, digital sounding or artificial, but nothing is laid back either.
The strongest and best sound of WM1Z is from the 4.4mm balanced output. Also you have Native DSD from there. Note that DSP settings are disabled while running DSD songs from balanced.
With going balanced you have a wider stage, better separation and better imaging, it’s as simple as that. It’s not a night and day difference but it’s noticeable. Also, the difference between the WM1Z’s balanced output and that from other DAPs is that, the bass or any other frequency range does not change in terms of quantity. Usually when you switch to a balanced output on many DAPs, you hear the bass is trimmed and mids somewhat change and treble is better extended etc. That’s not the case with the Sony WM1Z. Everything is the same frequency-wise, but you do get better imaging and separation with a little wider staging.
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.