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!!!
Manufacturer website: Sony, available for sale on Amazon and Audio46.
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 Especially when it comes to DAPs, they can feel outdated within 3-4 months after the release due to availability of new DACs, Android updates, or just compatibility with 3rd party apps.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.
Page 2: Design and Under the hood.
Page 4: Sound analysis, Comparison.
21 thoughts on “Sony NW-WM1Z DAP”
Great review. While I think the 1z is crazy in price, from everything I’ve read the 1A sounds similar, with the same excellent soundstage but maybe slightly different color across the spectrum.
I had been wondering about the Cowon Plenue R as a good portable player with good battery life, but then started thinking of spending more for a DX200 (as I’d been impressed with the DX80). But after reading this and the available comparisons between the 1Z and 1A, it looks like the 1A is great value for money, with excellent sound, battery life and GUI.
you definitely have to take into consideration the “diminishing returns” factor. 1Z will have premium components which going to result in fine-tuned sound in comparison to 1A, but the sound quality improvement is not 3x better. A block of pure copper material is VERY expensive, and manufacturing/milling is additional cost… Plenue R I’m familiar with, but some told me ZX300 might be compatible and some say check out AK70mkII as well. Too many choices… I would recommend starting with figuring out your budget first. Then, if you need streaming apps, power requirements, 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced (depending on your headphones). That would help you to narrow down your selection.
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Completely agree – too many choices! You’ve been giving me some advice on the Plenue R thread at head-fi too, and I’m thinking I might just bite the bullet, spend more and avoid further upgrades. Thanks for your input and reviews, very helpful!
Your review of this DAP is really close of what i hear in the AK380, even in the balanced port….in the beggining some people compare it…even the idea of the body material as grounding effect to the sound…what I can’t believe too much, sony takes this thing of body material to a new high level with copper and gold (too much bling for my taste)…in my opinion maybe the difference in sound between 1z and 1a and between AK380 models are caused by different sound tunings and less caused by this premium materials, but i’ts only my opinion…
The Sony ZX2 was a really good sounding android DAP, maybe too analytical or digital, but sounds good (i have it in his time), then the warm-neutral sound leads the ears of the audiophile crowd and sony reacts with this WM1 series…
Your review was very good as always, maybe in the near future I think in a new sony DAP to my collection since the sound description is near to my tastes
You can’t really compare 1Z to 1A directly, assuming the sound change is due to different chassis material, they use different critical components that will influence the difference in sound. But i did confirm, the circiut ground is connected to the chassis, so you have a better conducting massive ground.
Mmm…you mean the kimber cable vs ofc cable of the internal wiring??….the circuit ground connected to the chasis are the same excuse for AK for the use of different materials (copper ot SS), of course you have better conductivness with this features….and this maybe increase the medible sound quality…
But the difference in sound described by users i think is more akin to sound tunning in both brands, even more with the Sony because it’s already have too much digital sound effects in his DAPs
But to me this is not a bad thing, the quality of the construction and the materials and the different sound tunning will obviously raise the price
no, the copper chassis itself are connected to internal ckt ground, you can check continuity from the ground of headphone jack to copper chassis.
Ok I understand… I don’t want to begin an Apple vs Samsung discussion, i don’t want to bite the hands of the brands that feed my ears…
I don’t want to discuss the internal features of this DAP, i only believe that the tunning of sound differences between WM1 series are more important than the physical differences when we talk about sound coloration and maybe even sound quality …but is only my opinion
Did you ever ask sony for wm1a for review?
Would be nice for comparisons with all the other daps you have.
Don’t think they care about 1A review since zx300 sounds very close. So, no with 1A. Plus, it’s getting old already, companies prefer to promote their new or newer releases.
I’m having a hard time hearing a difference between se and balanced to be honest. I was going to go out and get new cables terminated in 4.4 for my iems but i feel that probably not needed.
I mean you could argue the se is “burned in” and the balanced is not if you believe in that. I’ve only tried the balanced today. Maybe i just don’t have great hearing, shrug.
What is your iems/headphones? Do you have the latest 2.x fw? There was a much bigger difference in fw 1.2 between se and bal. Also, depends on how resolving your headphones too, and of course, we all have a different hearing level. Consider it as blessing if you can’t hear a difference, will save you on new cables lol!
I am in love with my Sony NW-WM1A. I use Sennheiser HD650 headphones in balance, as well as Shure SRH1540 headphones. As much as I love it, I’m getting the upgrade bug for the 1Z. I am blown away by how well it drives the 650s. It sounds better than off my Paw Gold Diana, which has much more power. Power alone doesn’t dictate how well a headphone sounds.
don’t have experience with any full size Senns cans, but I can imagine the tonality and the resolution will scale up with 1Z 🙂 I tested ZX300 at canjam, so using that as a baseline because many people tell me that ZX300 is 85-90% in sound quality of WM1A (just going by what others said). To me ZX300 was nice, but had this “digital” coloring. WM1Z sounds like an analog desktop piece of gear. I like SP1000 a lot as well, but 1Z still has this analog tonality like no other daps.
Thanks for the comparison with ZX300, that will probably seal the deal for me for a 1Z
I am thinking about the WM1Z, N8 or LPGT. Any thoughts on the three?
all 3 are good, in their own way. Read my reviews, figure out your own personal Cons and Pros, see which sound you would prefer (especially based on pair up with different earphones and headphones). I know, too many choices 😦
> In high gain, I hear more sub-bass rumble, mids have more body, there is improved layering, better retrieval of details, and treble has more sparkle.
Thank you for putting this in the Review.
That way i instantly new that nothing of this is wroth anything and i can easily forget what i read and look for a more serious review.
You are referring to an ancient 4+ year old review, back when I was getting my feet wet 🙂 But the key point there, wm1z is so underpowered by today’s standards. The balanced output in high gain at maximum volume only has 125mW of power, it is literally a joke by today’s standards. Now, drop it to low gain and depending on a specific pair up synergy with whatever used for testing, it could be night and day in comparison to when you switch to a high gain. Now, 4+ years later and dozens of daps I have tested, wm1z has been surpassed by many.