Sony Walkman NW-ZX1 High-resolution audio player review
Sony's high-resolution audio push continued at this year's CES show with the Walkman NW-ZX1 Hi-Res audio player, which is set to replace the Walkman NWZ-F886 as the company's flagship portable jukebox.
As soon as you pick up the NW-ZX1 you can tell it's a premium product. The outer frame and playback controls are machined from aluminium, while the front is made from glass and the back is covered in leather that not only looks and feels gorgeous, but helps create grip. The Walkman logo appears embossed, but is actually a tiny speaker; it's handy, but obviously won't do justice to your hi-res audio files. You'll need to supply your own pair of earphones or headphones for that, as Sony doesn't include any in the box.
It might be smartphone-thin at the top, but the ZX1 gets considerably chunkier towards the bottom to make room for a dedicated headphone amplifier and oversized 3.5mm audio jack, which apparently makes room for thicker internal cables for the best possible sound quality. It sits comfortably in your hand and still slides easily into a pocket. Once in there, the Play/pause, next, previous and volume buttons mean you don't have to take it out again just to change tracks.
The ZX1 is powered by a Sony-tweaked version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which could be used to play games or watch movies, but the 4in, 854x480 resolution display won't challenge the likes of Samsung's 1080p Galaxy S4 smartphone or even Sony's own Xperia Z1. Music is the main focus, with
128GB of onboard storage sounds like a massive amount for anyone used to listening to low bit rate MP3 files, but it doesn't stretch quite so far when holding uncompressed audio. Sony expects it to hold around 800 high-resolution tracks, but seeing how little hi-res content is currently available we doubt you'll be doing much file management for the forseeable future. ATRAC, AAC, FLAC, MP3, WMA, Wav and Apple Lossless file types are all supported, so you should be able to play any 24-bit/192kHz audio file regardless of where you purchased it.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC are all on board, meaning you can stream music to compatible speakers or headphones, but you'll need to connect an audio cable to enjoy each track in its uncompressed glory. With a pair of MDR-1R over-ears and Hi-res copies of the Eagles' Hotel California and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, the ZX1 produced incredibly precise audio with refined yet powerful bass in all the right places. There was a huge amount of detail in each track, with a well-balanced sound that didn't succumb to overpowered vocals or a dominating low-end. If you've got the content and the right pair of headphones, it should sound fantastic through this.
The NW-ZX1 is set to go on sale in the UK in February. It should cost around £550 for 128GB of internal storage, which is an awful lot to ask for what is essentially a high quality MP3 player - a 64GB iPod Touch costs significantly less. However, if you're already building a high-resolution audio library, this could be one of the best ways to take it with you on the move.