To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

The Walkman resurrected: Hands on with the Sony Walkman NW-ZX2

Sony's second generation flagship Hi-Res Audio Walkman gets the hands- (and ears-) on treatment

Sony’s push for high quality music, otherwise known as Hi-Resolution Audio, got another boost at the company’s CES 2015 press conference, in the form of the gorgeous Walkman NW-ZX2. It’s a worthy successor to last year’s ZX1, which divided opinions with its chunky retro styling, replacing the bulky integrated headphone amplifier with a more streamlined design that should better slip in a pocket. We got the chance to put one to the test, in order to bring you some first impressions.

With rounded sides, a matte black finish, textured rear and oversized, gold-plated headphone jack, the NW-ZX2 is as sleek as media players come. It’s certainly thicker than the average smartphone, but not so much that you’ll struggle to fit it in a trouser pocket. It’s also heavier than you might expect, but reassuringly so; there’s clearly a lot of audio hardware hidden behind the 4in screen. The battery is suitably hefty too, capable of up to 60 hours of playback on a single charge or 30 hours when playing back Hi-Res Audio tracks.

Physical buttons on the side of the device are perfectly positioned for your hands, so your fingers fall instantly onto the play, pause and rewind keys. You also get volume controls and a power button, meaning you can skip tracks and adjust the volume without having to pull the player out of a pocket when on the move.

The screen is something of a disappointment for such a high-end device, with a lowly 854×480 resolution. Admittedly this is designed to be heard rather than seen, but we would still have liked to see a 720p or greater display for the money.

Inside, the NW-ZX2 is built purely for the highest possible sound quality. The S-Master HX Digital Amplifier is paired with Sony’s proprietary DSEE HC processing, which the company claims can restore details lost in low quality MP3 encoding, although we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve got a retail model in for review.

You also get a whopping 128GB of internal storage, which will easily be enough for a full library of music. If you make the jump to Hi-Res Audio, however, you might find it filling up sooner than you would have expected; thankfully Sony has added a microSD card slot for later expansion.

Sound quality was unsurprisingly fantastic; we played several of Sony’s demo tracks and were impressed with the clarity, especially the snares and cymbals in Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. The CES show floor isn’t the best environment to judge audio products, even with a pair of Sony’s flagship headphones isolating the sound, so again we’ll wait until we get a model in for review to give a final verdict.

The NW-ZX2 isn’t perfect. It still uses a proprietary charging cable, and it’s a shame Sony has stuck with the same outdated version of Google’s Android as previous Walkman models; Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is now several versions behind 5.0 Lollipop, and could become an issue if third party apps are updated without support for older versions of Google’s operating system. There’s currently no indication if a Lollipop update is in the works either.

Otherwise, you get the same pre-installed apps as previous Android-powered Walkman models, including a media player with support for DSD, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and Apple Lossless file formats, among others. You also get Bluetooth for wireless playback and NFC for quick pairing.

The NW-ZX2 supports Sony’s new LDAC codec, which transmits three times more data than standard Bluetooth streaming across compatible devices. Every Hi-Res device announced at this year’s CES supports the codec, meaning you’ll be able to send music around the home without having to connect the NW-ZX2 with a cable. It also supports the newly announced Google Cast for Audio, transmitting tracks to compatible speakers and sound bars with a single button.

The NW-ZX2 appears to have everything a music fan could want from a media player, wrapped up in a beautifully designed chassis that should slip comfortably into a pocket for on-the-go listening. There are a few issues, like the mediocre screen and outdated version of Android, but 

Sony has pledged to launch the Walkman NW-ZX2 across Europe in the coming months, although only serious audiophiles will be able to justify buying one; we’re still waiting for an official UK price, but US customers will be expected to part with a whopping $1,119.99 in order to take one home. That’s around £800 before Tax and VAT, and then you need a pair of high quality headphones and some Hi-Res Audio tracks in order to get the best from it. 

It’s a massive investment, yes, but we can’t wait to get one into the labs and give it a thorough review.

Read more