I got hooked to Sony digital players after Sony provided an extended loan unit of the NW-WM1Z, easily recognised with the golden body made of gold-plated copper and weighs like a gold bar too. When Sony requested for its return, I scrambled to find a replacement, and eventually settled for the ZX300, its cheaper but worthy new relative. The 64GB version only comes in black colour, while the 16GB ZX300A comes in both black and silver (but not available in Singapore). Both versions support micro SD storage with no known size limitations.
The ZX300 is the latest premium Sony Walkman for the mass market, retailed at S$799. Together with this is the lower-end A40 series, which is the same A-series line of which I still owned the first-gen A15.. The ZX300 replaces the ZX100 and while it’s somewhat a lower-end model of the ZX2, the features are better because it’s newer.
Its design is also a mix of the ZX series and the A-series, resulting in the smallest ZX series Walkman, with the iconic gold connectors, leather back, and large round side buttons. Don’t be fooled by the front glass panel, though. Unlike the WM1Z, the ZX300 does not have a full-screen display. And given its compact size, the display is somewhat less imposing. Interesting, though, is the use of a matt glass instead of gloss, providing a sleek touchscreen experience.
Functionally, the latest ZX300 offers the most comprehensive DAP features in a Sony Walkman. Besides the usual ability to play the full spectrum of the usual audio formats – from MP3 to DSD – it supports MQA, a new audio format that promises lossless quality in compressed file size. For wireless, the ZX300 supports all Bluetooth audio formats, from the basic SBC to the hi-quality aptX HD as well as Sony’s proprietary LDAC. To top it off, the ZX300 can act as a USB DAC to replace the computer audio hardware by using the ZX300 to process audio signals. This instantly upgrades your current computer to support premium audio hardware. Not forgetting, playing audio through balanced connection instantly elevates the audio quality to deliver even more transparent
Besides buying for the above premium reasons, the ZX300 produces better audio than normal music players. If people are having doubts whether one should get a dedicated “MP3 Player”, well, these people are not the target audience. The “better” is not detectable to the casual listeners, nor would you achieve immediate mind-blown results from dedicated audio players compared to smartphones. But there are quality differences, much like comparing various smartphone screen displays, where some presents the same content but visually more appealing.
How is it different? For a start, the same piece of music will sound more powerful and amplified, the musical elements and instruments will have more space among one another, less crowded, allowing the listener to appreciate every tone and expression. Yet the delivery of the tones does not turn out harsh and forceful. It’s a balance that many audio processors attempt to handle with extreme care.
The ZX300 is able to handle these musical intricacies, albeit not as supreme as the WM1A and the WM1Z, naturally. But only the trained ear will discern, and for me, the ZX300 is good enough. I could settle for the LG smartphones’ quad-DAC, but the Sony DAP are even better. One of my audiophile friends consider the ZX300 to be “very musical”, which is the opposite of “analytical”. He ended up buying one unit himself after I let him audition the ZX300, because sometimes in life we want to enjoy music rather than analysing all the peaks and troughs of sound.
Another big reason for choosing Sony over other DAP brands is the OS, which I find very intuitive. This OS was around for about 2 years and so it has matured enough to be stable. From the player screen, I move to different screens by swiping up, down, left or right. Swipe down, and I access the music folders. Swipe up, and I go into audio settings, where I bypass the audio effects or I enable DSEE HX or equalizer. Swipe right to access the play queue, and swipe left to access bookmarks. 4 additional buttons below the screen gets you directly to the specific screens in case you are not at the main screen. Play controls can further be accessed using the large buttons, so you don’t have to wake up the screen too often. On-screen sensitivity is improved over the years, but certainly not as precise and immediate as the smartphones that we are used to.
If you are in the process of getting one yourself, I recommend getting adequate protection. I ordered the Benks transparent case with good quality silicone mould and fits perfectly. Or you can just order an original Sony leather case. Also, you are highly advised to upgrade your headphones to run on balanced cables. It is going to further improve the audio quality. No fluff, it’s real stuff!