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Wednesday, May 12, 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.

Sound Quality

Sony DAPs have always exhibited a sound signature that is a bit on the warmer end; the NW-ZX507 is no different. Being someone who was never impressed with the NW-ZX300, the NW-ZX507 is a pleasant surprise. It was clear that significant efforts were put in to realise the device to achieve substantial improvements over the NW-ZX300.

It was during the autumn edition of the Tokyo Headphone Festival in 2019 that I first experience the NW-ZX507 when I met up with Sony Engineer Sato Tomoaki on a personal basis to catch up as Sony was not exhibiting. I did not get to experience it again until the review unit arrived at Porta-Fi Experience Lab in January 2020.

Sony NW-ZX507 - Side Profile

Apart from the division of the Audio/Analogue block and the Power/Digital block, the team also implemented four sets of newly developed FT CAP (high polymer capacitor) that are similar to the ones applied on Sony’s DMP-Z1 to strengthen the power supply to the Audio/Analogue block for the balanced output while also increased the capacity of the POSCAP capacitors from 47μF to 100μF to enhance the power supply to the Audio/Analogue block for the single-ended output.

The attention to detail for sound quality doesn’t stop here; efforts were made to strengthen the internal structure of the chassis to improve vibration resistance while a premium, audio-grade lead-free solder with a small amount of gold is used to connects the battery to Electric Double-Layer Capacitors (EDLCs) as well as the headphone jacks.

The Sony NW-ZX506 sports the S-Master HX which is uniquely developed for high-resolution Audio. The digital amplifier amplifies digital signals directly to reduce distortion and noise at wider frequency ranges before converting them into analogue signals which the company claims to maintain the purity of the original signal for more faithful reproduction. The S-Master HX is soldered onto the IC substrates using a high-quality solder specified by Sony.

Sony NW-ZX507 - Left Side Profile

For those who have non-high-resolution music files particularly MP3s in your collection, the device also features the company’s unique upscaling technology, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) HX that replaces lost high frequencies in real-time, providing near high-resolution sound quality. I am a fan of DSEE HX and have always kept DSEE HX on all my Sony devices.

The NW-ZX507 supports up to 320kHz/32bit PCM audio and Native DSD playback of up to DSD256 (12.288 MHz), formats supported include WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, and MQA.

I have had the luxury of having the NW-ZX507 for close to 4 weeks and was able to bring it with me for my family trip to the Kyushu region of Japan. It was also featured for an audition to Porta-Fiers during the 14th edition of AudioFriday by Porta-Fi in February 2020.

What impresses me the most about the NW-ZX507 is tonal quality, evident across the frequencies, from the low-end to the mids and the high-end, it is a quality that defines itself from its predecessor.

The low-end has been tuned to portray a character of liveliness with its dynamism coupled with tightness and authority, would win the hearts of many. It certainly provides an element of fun that is engaging, something different from the Sony NW-WM1Z which is my reference DAP at this point.

There is an element of richness in the mid-range. Coupled with the lush and layered details, these together provide character to the musical tones that contribute towards the tonal quality that is so evident in the signature. The NW-ZX507 does have a darker background than the NW-ZX300.

The high-end is free of sibilance and hiss, which is expected of Sony, the tuning is well executed and exhibits clarity with the presence of airiness; however, with a limited amount of sparkles. The improvement in sound quality which the NW-ZX507 has over the NW-ZX300 is significant, however, not substantial enough to eclipse the NW-WM1A and NW-WM1Z of the Signature Series. It has a soundstage that is above average, allowing for excellent imaging and precise instrument separation which is excellent at this price point.

I would recommend an audition on the NW-ZX507 if you are looking to upgrade from an entry-level DAP like the FiiO M7 and the Sony A-Series or an upgrade from the Sony NW-ZX300.

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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