In the 1980s and early 90s, portable music players were synonymous with analogue cassette players clipped to your belt. They were all popularly called a wallman, even though Sony made the original and copyrighted the word Walkman (with a capital W).
The Walkman name lives on
Today, such cassette players are long dead and buried (though nostalgics can buy them on eBay for a few hundred dollars), but the Walkman name lives on. It has just changed format to digital music players (DAPs). They are of course more compact and portable than the analogue players of yesteryear, and the best of them are also many times more expensive.
Such as the top model we’re looking at here, the NW-WM1ZM2. The name seems more cryptic than it really is; the ‘M2’ at the end means that this is the second generation of this particular player.
Twice as expensive as you’d think
If I say that this portable music player costs the same as the most expensive iPhone, many will shake their heads in disbelief. But it doesn’t. It costs twice as much!
But before you shout “scam!” at the top of your lungs, know this: The NW-WM1ZM2 is not for everyone. Rather, for connoisseurs who shun wireless headphones like the plague and would rather spend all their savings on insanely expensive high-end headphones. Or almost all their savings. After all, there has to be something left for a music player …
Perfection at your fingertips
The NW-WM1ZM2 has been given a top-class interior. Top quality. From the very top shelf. Every circuit is carefully designed and made with top quality components, and you’ll find no coincidences inside. The digital as well as the analogue audio signal has been carefully taken care of to achieve the absolute best sound.
The amplifier part is Sony’s own fully digital S-Master HX Digital Amp technology. And Sony says select capacitors and lead-free solder are used. The connection between the amp section and the headphone outputs is made with thick Kimber Kable. Otherwise, there are two headphone outputs: A 3.5 mm unbalanced and a 4.4 mm balanced.
But it’s not just inside that Sony has used expensive and thoughtful materials. The cabinet itself is made of gold-plated OFC copper with a purity of 99.99 percent. According to Sony, this makes for a more stable construction with higher rigidity.
With its touch screen and Android interface, the Sony NW-WM1ZM2 is as easy to use as an Android phone. You can install apps on it and it does everything an Android phone can do, except make phone calls and take photos. Sony has included its own music player as standard, which opens all downloaded music files.
For both PC and Mac
To import your own music to the device (almost all file types are supported), use the Music Center application on a Windows PC, with the device connected to your computer by USB cable.
Mac users must use Content Transfer instead. It’s intuitive and simple, but it’s still a miss that you can’t just pop the microSD memory card into the computer, drag the music straight onto the card and then feed the card into the player.
On the other hand, it’s easy to use Tidal and other music services that deliver music in CD quality or higher. So easy, in fact, that that’s primarily what I do. Although I do have some favorites that I load into and listen to a lot.
When Sony makes a new top model, you naturally pay attention. Their engineers know their stuff, so expectations are extra high when they come up with something in this price range.
And the sound is really good. Sony sent us the player along with their own closed MDR-Z1R, and the WM1ZM2 brings out the bass in the headphones really well, while opening up the sound more at the top than I’m used to with these earbuds. I actually have them in my own collection, so I know them really well.
And then there’s the Audeze LCD-5 … I don’t think I’ve ever heard a trumpet as lifelike as Till Brönner’s on the Cohen cover of “A Thousand Kisses Deep”? And that at a low volume. I wonder what happens when you turn it up …?
Nothing much, it turns out. Because even at maximum volume, the volume is so low that it has to be described as below what I would call “comfort level”. It’s so subdued and soft that I don’t really understand what the usage range should be.
Well, if you have a pair of really good earbuds like the Sennheiser IE 600 or the Beyerdynamic Xelento remote, you could get a lot of use out of this player. But not with Sony’s own IER-Z1R earbuds; they’re too heavily driven. So what’s the point?
If you’re investing €3,600 in a music player, of course you want to be able to use some serious headphones with it. But you just can’t!
However, there is a way around that. Because it’s only on the European version of the player that the sound level is muted. That’s to comply with European regulations on maximum sound pressure levels.
But Sony has apparently interpreted these rules more strictly than anyone else, because they have the lowest sound level of all DAP manufacturers. On the EU version, Sony has removed the High Gain function, which otherwise solves the problem of heavily driven headphones.
If you buy the Asian or US version, you’re safe. Except that if you try to return it for repair, you may run into warranty problems…
It’s very odd that Sony has chosen to offer us a perfectionist music player – or DAP – like the NW-WM1ZM2, when they interpret European sound level regulations so strictly that the player can’t drive heavily driven headphones. So what’s the point?
Well, it sounds a lot better than the mobile does with the same low output level. But when something sounds this good, you want to be able to crank it up. And when you can’t, it seems pointless to spend such an insane amount of money. After all, you do want to use those heavily driven, specially insured headphones that you keep in your safe!
The solution is to buy the player outside Europe; then you get it with full output level. This EU version, on the other hand, should never have been brought to market.