Sony last announced its flagship DAP, the WM1A and WM1Z, in IFA 2016. After years of development, Sony has finally released its Mark-2 NW-WM1ZM2 and NW-WM1AM2 respectively. When I saw the press images during the announcement in Feb 2022, I thought the size would be similar. When I received it for review, I was stunned to see how massive it is. A larger unit is definitely better to allow space to isolate the components and reduce potential interference. After all, this is one the biggest reasons for encasing the WM1Z in a solid copper block.
NW-WM1ZM2 list of improvements from previous
- 99.99% Oxygen-Free Copper Chassis (increased from 99.96%) – enhanced acoustic clarity
- Lower ground resistance
- Large Solid High Polymer Capacitor – Stronger power supply heightens acoustic expressiveness
- 4 wire braided thick KIMBER KABLE cables connects to the balanced headphone jack
- High Quality Sound Solder Containing Gold – improves sound localisation and wider sound space
- Optimised Circuit Board Layout with OFC milled block – covers the digital block to strengthen digital ground and improve noise shielding
- 256GB internal storage
- Android 11 OS
- Wi-Fi enabled
- USB-C data and charging connector
- S-Master HX digital amp technology, DSD Remastering Engine, DSEE Ultimate
- Up to 40 hours playback with 96kHz FLAC files
Running on stock Android 11, a clean reset unit would require you to go through the usual process of accepting the privacy preferences, setting up screen password, entering Google login, firmware update for security patches. The overall UI feels lethargic, compared to flagship smartphones which I am used to. Even after all the set up is completed, a reboot cycle will set you back by almost 3 minutes as you wait for the OS to boot and the main Sony music player app to load.
There are clear advantages of running in Android. The biggest advantage is the accessibility to all the music streaming platforms and cloud storage to enjoy high-resolution files without limited to the internal storage or microSD card slot. But one should refrain from installing too many Android apps and cause battery drainage. It is rather irritating to receive Gmail notifications after I signed in to my Google account, and I had to manually disable the sync from the app settings. But generally, I did not uncover any annoying bugs. After all, this is not the first Sony Walkman running on Android OS.
Let us not be distracted by the Android OS and focus on the main draw of the WM1ZM2. The Sony music player app retains the UI that I am familiar with on all previous Sony digital Walkmans, including my personal ZX300. From the playback screen, you access all other screens by swiping up, down, left and right. Functions like playback controls and sound adjustments can be quickly accessed from the homescreen.
All the physical buttons are located at similar positions from previous models. I find it hard to identify the playback control buttons without looking at them. Sony should place the volume buttons further apart from the playback controls, or change the size. The “HOLD” switch the left only work on the hardware buttons and does not lock the touch screen controls. The USB-C port is located at the bottom against the left. This universal port makes connecting to other accessories like external DAC easier without the need for converters.
One of the coolest retro feature the Sony included in previous Digital Walkmans is the cassette tape UI screen. I accidentally found out that the 5-inch screen can display a life-size cassette! Is it a coincidence or did Sony deliver fan service! I suppose there will soon be casings styled with the TPS-L2 Walkman design, just like what Sony did in their 40th anniversary NW-A100TPS.
When you have a premium music player, you need to test it with premium headphones to showcase the capability. It so happens that I have the Sennheiser IE 600 review unit, as well as the Chord Mojo 2. I conducted some listening comparison in addition to my personal Sennheiser HD 800 S, and needless to say, I have a great time listening my reference tracks over them. If I put it in layman terms, the WM1ZM2 offers excellent prowess to bring out the capability of the premium headphones like the HD800S who demand high power current.
What I experienced on the WM1ZM2 is the improved spatial information which opens up the music much more than standard audio players. I can hear the reverbs of the instruments better, yet they exist subtly and do not outshine the main content. Switching to the ZX300, the ZX300 sounds (relatively) more cluttered, lacks the musical breath and spatial comfort that the WM1ZM2 offers, even though both of them sounds largely similar in the sound staging.
Compared to the Mojo 2, the WM1ZM2 sounds warmer (relatively), less harsh, while at the same time, presents the highs with excellent details. The Mojo 2 offers the listener much more transparency and sparkle but when paired with Sennheiser IE 600, proves too much to showcase. On the WM1ZM2, the IE 600 sounds better as it emphasises the treble which the WM1ZM2 does not boast. But my favourite pairing has got to be with the HD800S, because the HD800S is capable of accommodating the massive space neatly and delivering all the details that comes off with ease. There is no congestion, no shouting, music just flows out to my ears.
And since the WM1ZM2 can also be used as a DAC, I again compared with the Chord Mojo 2, and found similar sound traits. The Mojo 2 sounds a little more “dead” in the acoustics while the WM1ZM2 offers a more roomy acoustics to soften the performance. I find the WM1Z M2 more enjoyable to listen to but if you prefer a more clean and precise sound, the Mojo 2 is better at that.
With the new WM1ZM2, Sony continues to evolve the Digital Walkman to cater to the small but picky audiophile market. There is a certain appeal to the Sony Signature tuning which I feel works for me. The sound is less clinical, the instruments sound more organic and layered and alive. The subtle reverbs offer intricate layering and the cohesive imaging offers me total immersion of the listening experience.
The Sony WM1ZM2 is a solid – pun intended – investment to music lovers with a generous collection of high-res audio files. Its sound improvement will be appreciated by those who can hear the difference. For the rest of us, we could settle for a more affordable player and try to imagine how glorious the 1Z series would sound like. After all, imaginations are free of charge.
Retailing at S$4,999 in Singapore, visit the official website here for details.