Reach for the Gold!
PROS: solid build, desktop quality audio performance, simple & efficient interface, 4.4mm balanced HO, incredible battery life, wireless sound quality, S-Master HX digital amp.
CONS: price, weight, proprietary WM port, no USB DAC, no WiFi.
The product was loaned to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank You Sony Japan!!!
In the last few years I have been focusing mostly on reviews of the latest audio gear. Especially when it comes to DAPs, they can feel outdated within 3-4 months after the release due to availability of new DACs, Android updates, or just compatibility with 3rd party apps. It’s no surprise that DAPs are becoming bloated with smartphone features, and just like a smartphone we have an urge to upgrade it within a year. As a result, some manufacturers lose a focus that DAP stands for a Digital Audio Player, not a Digital Smart Device Player.
Realizing this problem, getting back to the roots of pure audio quality was the main goal behind Sony’s Signature Series release with their latest Walkman WM1A/WM1Z Digital Audio Players. WM1Z is not a new release, WM1 DAPs were announced over a year ago, and due to a huge review demand, I was finally able to spend some time with their TOTL flagship. And guess what? A year later, it’s still a flagship, still going strong with fw updates, still very relevant, and still highly regarded among audiophiles because it’s a pure audio player with Sony’s own proprietary hardware design and OS.
Might sounds cliché, but Sony is one of the companies that doesn’t need any introduction because so many people grew up on their products. Though I don’t use it anymore, I still have a few Cassette Walkmans, CD Discman, Sony Multi-disc CD/DVD changer with A/V receiver and 5.1 Surround speakers, and until a few years ago had an ancient 40″ Trinitron TV and even Sony 4-head Hi-Fi VCR. I had a hard time getting rid of that TV, and my kids didn’t understand why I was so attached to it because their PlayStation graphics looked not as appealing on it. Well, you get the point.
Surprisingly, when it comes to audio gear, this is my first Sony DAP, though I have been using the same pair of MDR-7506 cans for over a decade; after earpads replacement they look like new and still sound great. That’s another thing I always associate with Sony brand, putting quality and durability ahead of everything else. And they continue keeping the bar high with a Signature Series, including WM1Z DAP. As I mentioned already, though it’s not a brand-new product, it still feels like a new release to me, and I would like to share with you about my experience using WM1Z DAP in this extended review.
The unboxing experience of WM1Z was relatively generic. It has a modest packaging sleeve with a partial color picture of NW-WM1Z model, showcasing its distinct golden chassis. Since my package arrived from Japan, the back of the packaging box had a few design highlights in Japanese, including supported lossless formats. And that’s about it.
The actual box inside the packaging sleeve is all black with a silver “SONY” logo on top. I thought it would have been neat to have that logo in gold, to go along with WM1Z dress code. Once you open the box, you will find 1Z sitting securely inside of the foam cutout to protect its golden jewel. The only comment here, 1Z arrived with a case in a separate bag, while there was plenty of room inside the main box under the top cover. If the protection case comes standard with WM1Z, maybe it’s a good idea to include it inside of the packaging box.
Here, besides the included case and a wrist strap, you will also find a quality usb cable with WM port and dust plugs for headphone ports and WM port. Perhaps adding a screen protector film would have been a nice accessory to include, but other than that – DAPs usually don’t come with too many accessories.
I’m sure many will be surprised by wrist strap as one of the included accessories, but due to a heavy weight of 1Z it only makes sense to add extra security when handling this DAP. The included leather case is reinforced with a hard-plastic back plate and a front flip cover protection. It wraps securely around the DAP, and keeps left/right sides open for a full access to controls. The front flip cover makes sense for those who enjoy listening to long playlists and only occasionally use touch screen while mostly relying on hw control buttons.
For me personally, I’m attached to a touch screen, thus upgraded to a case with an open display. Another issue is not having the access to WM port when Sony stock leather case is closed. But this issue is easy to resolve by a quick DIY where you make a cutout for a cable access. And while I do switch between Dignis leather case and Benks TPU case for 1Z, I still find the original Sony leather case to have the most secure protection.
If you are like me and need to access the touch screen all the time, having a case with a flip cover can get annoying. There are a few alternatives where I recommend looking into either Dignis leather cases (reviewed here) or Benks TPU transparent case (available here, reviewed here). Depending on the case selection, either with original Sony or Benks, you can add extra protection to the display with a tempered glass screen protector from Garmas (available here). With Dignis case where you need to slide 1Z in/out, there is a chance of lifting the edges of tempered glass protector, so better look for a regular film protector in that case.
One accessory which is a must-have if you are planning to use your WM1 DAP as a digital transport going into external DAC/amp is WMC-NWH10 usb conversion cable (available here). Due to proprietary nature of WM port, you can’t use the charging cable for that, and instead need to use that special USB OTG conversion cable. I also heard, people have success using 1Z/1A with a docking station cradle for ZX2. Also, if you are traveling and afraid to lose or to forget your charging cable, it’s good to have handy WMP-NWM10 (available here) micro USB converter adapter so you can charge WM1 using standard micro USB cable/charger.
Last, but not least, is 4.4mm adapter. I will talk more about 4.4mm in general in the Design section of the review, but I’m sure many have a collection of balanced cables with 2.5mm termination and not ready to convert everything to 4.4mm yet. Or perhaps you have different DAPs in your collection, both with 2.5mm and 4.4mm ports, so using 2.5mm with 4.4mm adapter is the most efficient solution. While doing my testing, I found that such converter can degrade the sound quality of 1Z balanced output port. Some of this sound degradation is not as obvious and rather subtle, especially with less resolving headphones. But with more resolving/analytical headphones, I noticed Effect Audio adapter to have the highest level of transparency. I haven’t tested PWA adapter yet, but have been told it’s on the same level as EA adapter. Fidue pigtail converter is convenient since it extends the cable, rather than sticks out from the jack. That Fidue adapter, along with other budget oriented adapters from MEE Audio and Penon, soften the sound and take some sparkle off the top end. One surprise I found was iBasso CA02 adapter, only $15 and sounding better than other budget adapters twice its price.
Bottom line, when you are dealing with custom cable manufacturers, Effect Audio, PWA, Whiplash, Plussound, you will get a much higher quality products because they pay attention to every detail, including brand name connectors, lead-free audio quality solder, and higher purity interconnect wires. With an exception of CA02 adapter, other budget stuff you find on amazon, eBay, or aliexpress will do the job, but don’t expect the same level of sound transparency.