The original Sony Walkman was introduced over 35 years ago, and has since been supplanted in popular culture by first the iPod and more recently, by iPhones and other smartphones. But Sony isn't giving up on its original portable music brand that easily – the company introduced a new high resolution digital Walkman at CES 2015 and Gizmag had the chance to test it out.
If you're paying close attention, you'll notice that the "return of the Walkman" is a near annual occurrence with Sony. There were CD and ill-conceived MiniDisc versions of the device in the 1990s, and as far back as 2003 Gizmag was covering an odd new solid state Network Walkman from the company. A few years later it tried out its first Walkman phone, then there was a strange pace-sensing Sports Walkman, the Walkman response to the iPod, an Android Walkman and even a Walkman built in to waterproof earbuds.
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Having tried just about everything else, it seems, to catapult the Walkman back to relevance, Sony's latest gambit is to go super high-end with the Walkman NW-ZX2, which it claims can "reproduce master quality recordings just as the artists originally intended."
Sony has baked a bunch of proprietary technologies with unfamiliar acronyms like its S-Master HX digital amplifier and DSEE HX tech that supposedly "upscales" non-high resolution sound to higher quality. Much of this will be familiar to those who have had the opportunity to plug their ears into the ZX1 version of this Walkman, the last generation that was available in Japan but not released in North America.
I was able to listen to a few songs with the new Walkman using a few different pairs of high-quality headphones, and while it delivers high levels of clarity and impressive deep bass, it wasn't quite the mind-blowing experience I'd expect for what is rumored to be a US $1,000-plus device. I could detect a bit of distortion in one of the tracks, but it's tough to say if that was the fault of the device, the headphones, or perhaps the insane levels of interference with my headphones' Bluetooth connection coming from everything else on the CES show floor. I'd put my money on the latter, but still.
The ZX2 is a little bigger and clunkier than you might expect, but it certainly feels solid, like the components inside are well protected and your listening experience won't eventually degrade due to a loose connection somewhere, which inevitably seemed to happen with well-worn cassette Walkmans.
As far as specs go, this Walkman is running off Android Jelly Bean with Wi-Fi, and you could technically download apps to it, but you won't find it to be the best experience for that kind of use, as it's really geared for audiophiles. It supports digital files up to 192 kHz/24 bit in formats including MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV and ALAC. There's 128 GB of storage built-in and a microSD card slot, providing plenty of room for all your audio in most cases. Part of the bulk of this device is given over to a battery big enough to deliver up to 60 hours of listening per charge.
This Walkman will be available in the northern spring of this year, where it could be competing with the likes of Neil Young's Pono player, a device taking pre-orders now for a retail price that could be 65 percent lower and deliver the same sound quality.
Don't fear, though, Walkman fans, if this latest version doesn't catch fire, history tells us the next iteration is probably just a year or so away.
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