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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Sony NW-ZX507 Walkman® Review

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Goh Beng Yeow
Goh Beng Yeow, the Founder / Editor at Porta-Fi™, is a recipient of the IT Youth Award in Singapore. Twice nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Beng Yeow has previously founded startups such as PDALive.com, Coded Pixels Consultants and was a Tech writer for TODAY, a national daily newspaper under MediaCorp. Since 2017, he has been writing, editing and producing commentaries, interviews, news and reviews on Porta-Fi™. In 2019, Beng Yeow was appointed Advisor to LHDC™, the industry's latest low latency and high-definition Bluetooth audio codec.

Usability

The Sony NW-ZX507 is a mid-tier DAP that builds onto the success of the NW-ZX300 effectively filling the gap between the A-series and the WM-series. Physically, the new rounded edge bottom design enhances the ergonomics and the overall feel of the device. I have to admit; the NW-ZX507 is the most comfortable DAP to hold in the market today.

The return to Android is perhaps the most exciting change offered by the NW-ZX507. Switching away from Sony’s proprietary Linux platform, the implementation of Android 9.0 coupled with WiFi allows one to enjoy music via third-party audio media player apps such as USB Audio Player Pro and Onkyo HF Player as well as stream music via music streaming apps such as Spotify and Tidal. One could even enjoy their music collection, which is resident on their NAS via WiFi. Do note that currently, due to limitations of the 1.8GHz quad-core SoC, the output from 3rd party apps with a resolution higher than 48kHz/16-bit will be downscaled for playback at 48kHz/16-bit.

Update (2 April 2020): The Sony team has just shared with me that a new firmware is currently in beta, this firmware release will address the 48kHz/16-bit bottleneck and allow both music streaming and music playback apps to output at a resolution of 192kHz/24-bit on the NW-ZX507.

Update (28 May 2020): Sony has today released the firmware update which addresses the 48 kHz/16-bit bottleneck and allows both music streaming and music playback apps to output at a resolution of 192 kHz/32-bit on the NW-ZX507. More details at Sony updates NW-ZX500 series and NW-A100 to support High-Resolution streaming playback.

Sony NW-ZX507 Platform Screenshots

So if you are one who streams music or prefers to use third-party Android applications over what’s available on Sony’s proprietary Linux platform, this would be a great reason why you should consider an upgrade to the NW-ZX507 from the NW-ZX300.

Sony NW-ZX507 - Spotify and Tidal app on Android 9.0

The Sony team has also successfully ported almost all the functionalities of its touch-enabled Walkman to the Sony W.Music Player on the Android Platform; this assures users of existing Sony DAPs a familiar UI when using the NW-ZX507. Even the Vinyl Processor option that was most recently added to the Sound Quality settings is available on the Android version. Bluetooth receiver mode, digital Peak Meter, L/R channel balance and USB-DAC are the functionalities that have not been migrated to the current version of Sony W.Music Player.

Sony NW-ZX507 Sony Music Player - Android OS

The Sony W.Music Player on the NW-ZX507, like the version on the NW-A100 series, has a new “cassette tape screensaver” function where a cassette tape will appear after a short period of inactivity, just like a screensaver. The design of the cassette tape varies depending on the playback quality, offering one a visual treat while listening through the music collection.

Sony NW-ZX507 - Cassette Tape Screensaver

On the Bluetooth end, the team has implemented Bluetooth 5.0. It will not function as a Bluetooth receiver which makes sense as the functionality was previously created to allow reception of digital audio signals via Bluetooth from devices running music streaming apps. As a Bluetooth transmitter, the NW-ZX507 supports codecs AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, and SBC.

Next, I would like to share about the volume control on the NW-ZX507; the implementation of Android 9.0 has made the Walkman an Android device. In all Android applications, volume control on the platform level is breakdown into Media, Ring, and Alarm. All apps will have an internal volume control which corresponds to the Media volume control on the platform level.

In the Sony W.Music Player app, the team bypassed the internal volume control, setting it at maximum to allow the 120-step volume control at the physical volume controls buttons to control the volume to provide the highest sound quality. Like-wise if you are using a third-party app be it an audio player or a music streaming app, it is advisable to maximise the volume on the internal volume control.

NW-ZX507 - Single-ended and Balanced connections

The company has cited a battery life of up to 20 hours of 128 kbps MP3 playback, or up to 18 hours of 96 kHz FLAC High-Resolution Audio playback. During the review process at the Porta-Fi Experience Lab, we were able to achieve an average of 15 hours and 43 mins on a single-ended connection and an average of 14 hours and 21 mins on a balanced connection. Overall, the NW-ZX507 has a weaker battery life compared to the NW-ZX300, attributable to the higher resolution display as well as the implementation of Android. A full charge was averaging about 6.5 hours, 1 hour longer than the NW-ZX300.

In terms of storage, the device has a built-in memory of 64GB and external storage of up to 2TB via microSD.

Part 1: Introduction, Design and Build
Part 2: Usability
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 4: Product Specifications
Part 5: Review Ratings, Summary

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48 COMMENTS

    • Hi Fran, yes, in fact, the Sony team has just shared with me that a new firmware is currently in beta, this firmware release will address the 48kHz/16-bit bottleneck and allow both music streaming and music playback apps to output at a resolution of 192kHz/24-bit on the NW-ZX507. It will be addressed soon.

      • > due to limitations of the 1.8GHz quad-core SoC, the output from 3rd party apps with a resolution higher than 48kHz/16-bit will be downscaled for playback at 48kHz/16-bit

        If this is a hardware limitation, how can it be fixed with a firmware update?

  1. Not seeing this 16/48 fix being discussed anywhere other than here. I want to buy one but only if this fix is coming. Can you point to anywhere else that can conform this, ideal Sony themselves ?

    • Hi Andrew, unfortunately, not all media shares the same ideals of being the bridge to connect people from enthusiasts to manufacturers, and yes, you are right to point out, we are the only one that reported the update. Unfortunately, Sony will only publish the update after the release. In my last exchange with them, they were beta-testing it, and likely something came up during the testing. Let me reach out to them again and see if I can get more updates. You can be assured our sharing is accurate, and we are a media that is not funded by advertising or sponsorship. Every cent comes from our own pockets.

      • Thanks. I’m already having to look at importing one due to stupid EC volume cap so only 16/48 when I want this as mch for Tidal streaming is very important. Would be great if you can get further update.

        • Dear Andrew, I am pending updates from the Walkman team. I have written to them, am awaiting updates.

          I appreciate your patience.

  2. CONFIRMED, ALL STREAMING SERVICES NOW SUPPOR THIGH RESS!

    This changes everything for this player!!!

    Than you Goh for the early rumor news, you were the first and only one that knew this!

    congrats!

  3. Actually no, all they have done is switched from a 16/48 baseline to an option for 32/192 baseline. We have already check on head-fi and if using Tidal for example which could have 16/48, 24/24, 24/96 tracks they are all upscaled to 32/192. We wanted bit-perfect playback as per the track like many other Android DAP makers can now do. Its a cheap con trick.

    Its still only the Walkman app that does bit-perfect playback with no scaling.

    “By applying the update, the contents of streaming services such as Amazon Music HD and mora qualitas can be played in high resolution without being down-converted. Up to now, it was down-converted to 48kHz / 16bit, but it is now possible to output uniformly at 192kHz / 32bit. Even if the original music is 96kHz / 24bit, it will be output at 192kHz / 32bit uniformly. If DSEE HX is on, interpolation is also done.”

    • Track analysis of a normal 16/48 FLAC in Tidal

      This is the ADB dumpsys media.audio_flinger
      It seems to confirm up-conversion has occurred.

      Output thread 0xeab03800, name AudioOut_C5, tid 14059, type 2 (DUPLICATING):
      I/O handle: 197
      Standby: yes
      Sample rate: 192000 Hz <<<<< ****** Now upscaled ******
      HAL frame count: 2048
      HAL format: 0x3 (AUDIO_FORMAT_PCM_32_BIT)
      HAL buffer size: 16384 bytes
      Channel count: 2
      Channel mask: 0x00000003 (front-left, front-right)
      Processing format: 0x5 (AUDIO_FORMAT_PCM_FLOAT)
      Processing frame size: 8 bytes
      Pending config events: none
      Output device: 0x8 (AUDIO_DEVICE_OUT_WIRED_HEADPHONE)
      Input device: 0 (AUDIO_DEVICE_NONE)
      Audio source: 0 (default)
      Normal frame count: 2048
      Last write occurred (msecs): 9529818
      Total writes: 0
      Delayed writes: 0
      Blocked in write: no
      Suspend count: 0
      Sink buffer : 0xeae4f000
      Mixer buffer: 0xeae2d000
      Effect buffer: 0xeb9ce000
      Fast track availMask=0xfe
      Standby delay ns=3000000000
      AudioStreamOut: 0xec5514d0 flags 0x2 (AUDIO_OUTPUT_FLAG_PRIMARY)
      Frames written: 0
      Suspended frames: 0
      Hal stream dump:
      Thread throttle time (msecs): 0
      AudioMixer tracks:
      Master mono: off
      No FastMixer
      2 OutputTracks: (0 : 0xebd03c80, 13) (0 : 0xea80ba00, 189)
      Stream volumes in dB: 0:-5.9, 1:-inf, 2:-inf, 3:0, 4:-36, 5:-inf, 6:-inf, 7:-inf, 8:-6, 9:0, 10:0, 11:0, 12:0
      Normal mixer raw underrun counters: partial=0 empty=0
      0 Tracks
      0 Effect Chains
      Local log:

      • Dear Andrew, I do agree on the expectations of a bit-perfect reproduction from the streaming apps, thank you for pointing out, I have forwarded this to the design team.

  4. Yea, seems that a lot of people are disappointed at Head-Fi.

    I think it was a step in the right direction, hopefully they will fix this with another future update

    Lets see if they get back to you Goh!

    Thank you!!!

  5. Hi Goh,

    This is an excellent review and very good information as to the firmware updates to get high-res audio from streaming apps. As someone new to this and with no high-res music library, I am inclining into hi-res streaming services. I own the high end Sony Z1R headphones that I use with my computer. Will it make a difference of getting this Sony walkman over lets say over a high-end Sony smartphone just for streaming high-res music? Does any of the internals of this walkman make the audio from streaming services sound better than over a Sony smartphone?

    Thank you for the insight. Cheers!

    • Hi Dom, thank you for your kind words. Yes, there would be a difference having an NW-ZX507 over a high-end Sony smartphone even if its the current Flagship Xperia 1 II. Yes, as shared in the review, the Sony NW-ZX507 has a dedicated S-Master HX digital amplifier that converts the Digital signal to Analogue after amplification, not forgetting the design which separates the digital and analogue component of the device as well as the added capacitors. Not ignoring the lack of mobile interference, a dedicated Digital Audio Player would outperform any Smartphone. I hope this helps.

  6. Hi Goh,

    Thank you very much for your great review,

    I mainly stream hifi music from Tidal and I currently use my iphoneX with a dragonfly cobalt.
    Do you think this latest sony NW-ZX507 would be an upgrade to my current setup?
    Also can one use the dragonfly cobalt on the ZX507 ? or would it not be much of an improvement compared to the internal Sony DAC ?

    Many thanks,

    Tom

    • Hi Tom, thanks for your kind words.

      The NW-ZX507 from Sony is a very capable Walkman, aka Digital Audio Player, and arguably Sony’s best music streaming device. It is, in my opinion, that it is an upgrade to your current setup. Yes, you can use the Dragonfly Cobalt on the ZX507; however, why would you want to do that? The S-Master HX™ digital amp would outperform the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip AudioQuest implemented on the Cobalt. As always, we all have different ear canals and sensitivity to different frequencies. It is still good to have a listen yourself to hear, which is your preference.

    • Hi Eduard, thank you for your kind words. You will find the stability of the OS a plus, SQ wise I prefer the ZX507. Do you stream music, if not, the WM1A is something to consider, if you are looking at SQ.

    • Hi Sebastian, unfortunately, at this current time, Sony has not worked with Roon to make the ZX507 a certified Roon device, and attempts to install the Roon APK has confirmed that it does not work with the ZX507.

  7. My buddy uses streaming apps like, Amazon HD, Deazer etc. He’s got a high quality BT5 tube DAC…NO HEADPHONES! Right now He uses his LG-g6 phone for this but, he wants to find another solution. so, did you test the BT signal quality of this DAB? Does Android 9 on this DAB lock in the BT APTX HD or, LDAC quality as default? Or, will he need to change the default every time he wants to transmit via BT to his DAC? You know, like Android on smart phones force you to do etc. Nice review and thanks for your time…Rocker

    • Hi Rocker, thanks for your kind words. The BT performance of the NW-ZX507 is well implemented. By default, Android 9 will select the best performing BT codec, however, it can also be specified and it will be reconnected as defined so I do not see any issues on that front.

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