Mobile Technology

Ears on: Sony's new high resolution, high dollar Walkman

The new Walkman will launch in the first half of 2015
The new Walkman will launch in the first half of 2015
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The Walkman NW-ZX2 delivers master quality audio
1/7
The Walkman NW-ZX2 delivers master quality audio
Sony technology purports to "upsample" the quality of non-high resolution audio
2/7
Sony technology purports to "upsample" the quality of non-high resolution audio
The bulky audio player feels solid
3/7
The bulky audio player feels solid
This Walkman could cost upwards of US $1,000
4/7
This Walkman could cost upwards of US $1,000
Sony says it used top notch components throughout
5/7
Sony says it used top notch components throughout
Android Jelly Bean is the underlying OS
6/7
Android Jelly Bean is the underlying OS
The new Walkman will launch in the first half of 2015
7/7
The new Walkman will launch in the first half of 2015

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.

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.

The Walkman NW-ZX2 delivers master quality audio
The Walkman NW-ZX2 delivers master quality audio

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.

Sony says it used top notch components throughout
Sony says it used top notch components throughout

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.

Product page: Sony

6 comments
christopher
Since it does such a great job reproducing the audio spectrum, they should have called it the ZX Spectrum :-)
JweenyPwee
You...you tested the device's audio fidelity via Bluetooth...am I dreaming....is this a joke...did we really just read that high-fidelity 24-bit audio was reviewed via Bluetooth.... Do we really need to explain how counterproductive and backwards that is? Down sampling? Extra A/D conversions. Horrifically reduced bitrates via Bluetooth? Basically, what you're saying is, you tested 24-bit, 192khz uncompressed lossless audio by converting it to 16-bit, 44.1khz MP3 first...which is essentially exactly what Bluetooth does. This review WAS NOT a test of the device's DAC or high resolution audio capabilities. THIS was a test of the Bluetooth connection. How did this article make it to Gizmag? Sorry, but this article is a joke and VERY misleading to those who might not understand the Bluetooth audio codec and how unbelievably degrading it is to hi-fidelity audio. It's like witnessing the Mona Lisa via Skype and a webcam.
Tom Green
JweenyPwee you took the words right out of my mouth, and then added some extra ones to explain my confused outrage better than I ever could.
phissith
Well if its for the masses then it will take off and that mean easy access, convenience and cheap. Otherwise it will just be another niche item people don't want to bother with. How about just incorporate it into their cell phone!!
Mark Holmstrand
I agree completely with Tom Green & JweenyPwee. This article explores nothing about the Sony device and everything about the reviewer's lack of knowledge. Gizmag, please stop posting articles about audiophile devices written by non-audiophiles.
TheEar
I agree completely with Tom Green & JweenyPwee. This article explores nothing about the Sony device and everything about the reviewer's lack of knowledge. Gizmag, please stop posting articles about audiophile devices written by non-audiophiles.
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