NW-WM1Z Hi-Res Digital Music Player Review
The engineering team at Sony spared no expense with their latest iteration of the Walkman.
Company & Product Overview
If you love better sounding audio, you have probably been very happy to see the world of high-resolution audio becoming more popular over the last few years. Both downloads as well as streaming services that feature Hi-Res are becoming more widely available, and the selection is ever-expanding. With that has come new players capable of taking our Hi-Res files on the go while we travel.
Sony, who funny enough, invented the Walkman that let us carry around cassettes ages ago, has been making portable, value-oriented music players and headphones for years. When Sony announced that they would be releasing Signature Series, a premium line of products built from the ground up by the top audio engineers at Sony, we got pretty excited.
We were lucky to have some pre-production samples at Music Matters 2016. When we found out that Sony was going to loan Audio Advice these same samples for a week, a full month before the products hit our shelves, we were giddy!
The NW-WM1Z is Sony’s new flagship Walkman, a name that it does proud.
At Audio Advice we’ve had our hands on what might be some stiff competition for the new Sony Signature series. Both Astell&Kern, and HiFiMan make some very high-end portable audio players. However, we had to respect Sony’s heritage in the portable music player space. When we heard that Sony had given their team the green light to spare no expense, we knew they would come up with something special.
Design & Build Quality
From the first time you lift the NW-WM1Z out of the box, it’s clear that it’s something special.
The build quality of the player is as good as we’ve seen on a piece like this. While it is pretty hefty, there is a good reason for it. The entire outer shell is carved out from a piece of oxygen free copper! The back is embedded with a leather section which not only looks cool, but keeps it from sliding around. Inside Sony has put their most high-tech electronics and power supply technology. Just like a high-performance piece of audio separates, they suggest a 200-hour break-in time for the high-end polymer capacitors to properly form and stabilize.
The top of the player has two sets of headphone jacks. In addition to a standard headphone jack, the Walkman also features a proprietary balanced connection that separates left and right signals, minimizing transmission loss and sound deterioration. The balanced in one connection idea is a great one, minimizing cable clutter. It plugs in with a great tight fit.
Down the right side are buttons for power, volume, and transport control. The left side has a single “hold” switch which will lock out all the buttons and touch panel. The bottom has a slot for a micro SD card to increase storage beyond the built-in 256GB, a USB connection, and a hook for the carrying strap.
Also included in the box is a very nice carrying case. The unit snaps right in, and the case has a cool flip-down front cover. A USB cable is also included in the box so that you can connect the player to your computer. The unit starts recharging anytime you connect it to a computer via USB. One nice little touch is the fact the USB cable has the Sony Walkman logo on the top side, so you never have to wonder how to connect it to the unit.
The first thing you will want to do is connect the NW-WM1Z up to your computer so that you can unpack and read the help guide. Simply choose whether you are using a Mac or PC and follow the instructions to install the web-based help guide.
To transfer music, you will need to download the free Media Go for PC or Content Transfer app for Mac. With either one you can easily transfer content directly out of iTunes. We actually found Media Go pretty neat and deep. While it’s not a flashy interface, it has some pretty rich features. Transferring is as simple as just dragging the music you want to transfer over the top of the Sony Walkman section. Another nice little touch is any song you have imported into Media Go that you have already dragged over has a little check mark next to it. We timed a transfer of a full album of 12 songs done in 24/192. The whole thing got ported over to the player in less than 3 minutes. We did run into one glitch when we first tried to transfer. It was a Windows folder sharing issue we can help you through should you encounter this.
Once you get your music into the player, navigation is extremely well thought out. The display comes from Sony’s TV Triluminos technology, so it is very clear. The library appears in the typical tree view of all songs, album, artist, release year, genre, composer ( a neat touch for classical files), playlists, recent transfers, and Hi-Res only. Through the settings, it is super simple to hide any options you don’t think you use. This is a nice feature that helps to customize and further simplify the user experience.
We really loved the volume setup on the unit. Across the very top is a line displaying volume level, simply tap on it and a neat volume page opens up with a big volume wheel you can drag around. Having reviewed many products over the years, we’re used to running into finicky touchscreens that you have to touch just right in order for them to work properly. We’re pleased to announce that we never had any trouble with the NW-WM1Z. The touchscreen just works.
When you dive into the settings, you’ll find the most advanced audio section we have ever seen on a portable. You can do all kinds of things to enhance or change the sound. You get a 10 band graphic eq, DSEE HX, DC Phase Linearizer, and a Dynamic Normalizer. The DSEE HX is designed to upsample low bit rate audio files to get you closer to CD quality. We’re always a bit skeptical about any feature that creates information where it wasn’t already. In the case of a full res CD file, it attempts to take you to Hi-Res quality. More on this below. The DC Phase Linearizer gives you several options to shape the sound to be more “analog”, while the Dynamic Normalizer tries to “normalize,” or level out the volume across tracks. Our preference was to just turn these all off, except we did find the DSEE HX useful for some applications.
Finally, you can pair the player with any Bluetooth device to send its signal to the Walkman.
The NW-WM1Z is all about Hi-Res audio. It is capable of 32-bit 384Khz files and 11.2 DSD. Now that is Hi-Res! It’s as easy to use as any portable player we have ever seen, maybe more so than any so our testing was fun filled.
We tested all three Signature Series products over the course of a full day. Our music testing lineup was pretty extensive including:
- Adele, 21
- The Beatles
- Billy Joel’s, 52nd St
- Diana Krall
- Fleetwood Mac
- Jackson Browne’s, Running on Empty (this is a great remaster from HDTracks in 24/192)
- James Taylor
- Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert from 1975
- Miles Davis’, Kind of Blue
- Muddy Waters, Folk Singer
- and of course, some classic Rolling Stones remastered in 24/176.
Almost all of these were in some form of Hi-Res 96k and up or DSD. We tested the NW-WM1Z with Sony’s Signature Series headphones, the MDR-Z1R, the AudioQuest NightOwl, and one of our favorite in ears, the AudioFly AF180.
The first thing we did was transfer over a bunch of Hi-Res files purchased from HDTracks. To test out the DS-EEHX feature, we used Media Go to down convert some of them into 328kbs and even the dreaded 128kbs compressed MP3 files.
The first big surprise came with some rhythmic cuts. We have always felt that North American and European companies design the best electronics for reproducing that sense of timing in live music. We have to reconsider this general rule after listening to the new Sony Walkman. We were tapping our foot to “Get Back” before we even realized it.
For some of the electronic wizardry available in the NW-WM1Z we first tried the DS-EEHX feature. This was pretty easy with our down converted files. We used some of the Running on Empty album. As mentioned earlier, we’re not big fans of electronic manipulation, but this one actually works. With DS-EEHX on, the sound got closer to the full 24/192 sound. It did a better job with the 328kbs than the 128kbs files.
We then tried the DC Phase Linearizer. This one is probably more a matter of personal taste. In standard B-mode (there is a pile of them to choose from) the sound did feel warmer, but it lost some of the detail. This can be somewhat more pleasing on a harsh recording, and with their one button defeat of any processing, it’s super easy to compare and decide which you prefer.
All in all, the combo of the NW-WM1Z with any of the headphones was simply outstanding. Our favorite was when we paired it with the MDR-1ZR. Just down right amazing. It provides that same relaxed sense you get with some of the best high-performance audio gear out there. Gear that costs 10x its’ price. You hear deep into the music and just want to keep listening. The fact that there are now options that allow you to bring this type of sound on the road is really a revelation — and one that we’re truly grateful for.
Sony has proved with their Signature Series that if they put their firepower behind a project, it can turn out to be a true game changer. Granted, at $3199, this player is by no means inexpensive. However it does have the performance, fit and finish, and wonderful feel you would expect from a luxury product.
If you travel and want the best possible source for your sound in a form that is easy to use, we highly recommend the Sony NW-WM1Z. To top it off, it’s just got that cool factor that you can’t really put your finger on. Show it off to your friends and everyone will want one!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
The team at Sony packed the largest high performance components possible into its gold-plated, oxygen-free copper chassis that still fits in your pocket.
Designed for Life
This is the easiest to use portable music player we have ever encountered. Its display, which comes from Sony’s TV division is super clear. The layout of controls will only take few seconds to understand. Not only is it built for your lifestyle, it’s also made to last a lifetime.
Wizardry that Actually Works
Many times we see circuitry and features that actually degrade sound instead of improving them. Not so with the NW-WM1Z. The DS-EEHX really did improve the quality of lower res files, which is super impressive.