I have a soft spot for the old Walkman brand. I carried one of the originals pretty much everywhere when I was a kid, and echoes of those painful, turbulent and largely destructive times echo cheerfully around when I think about Sony’s latest adventures in this space.
The new ZX2 “High Resolution Walkman” is supposed to hit at around $1,200 for what is, essentially, a digital audio player. As in, it’s an iPod. Without most of the non-audio flexibility that the iPod actually has. Hmm.
The DAP market, for reasons that aren’t terribly mysterious (thanks, Pono), has taken a few healthy steps forward this past year and the new ZX2 is Sony’s top-shelf offer for those looking to carry high-res audio around in their pocket. I got some time with it, courtesy of a pair of Sony MDR-Z7 ($699). The ZX2, which is supposed to hit the US at some point early this year, supports Bluetooth and NFC for streaming, apparently can play video as well as audio files, and carries up to 128G of storage, thanks to the MicroSD slot. And unlike the tiny A17 Walkman, this one supports DSD file playback.
I’ll offer this — this thing has a really nice feel to it. Unlike the Pono, which kinda feels like air-filled hunk of junk in the hand, the new Walkman feels like it’s purpose-built. Not sure that’s worth the huge price premium, but at least that extra money isn’t going to nothing. The screen is large, easy to read, and the controls are simple, responsive and intuitive.
As for sound quality … well, I was impressed. I didn’t have any other headphones to play with, but what I heard was pretty damn good.
The ZX2 offers quite a bit more flexibility than the portable headphone amp/DAC unit Sony is also introducing — the PHA-3 ($999). This unit also supports all the latest file formats that the Walkman does, but scarifies that sweet screen and the wireless options. I’ll offer that it may sound better, however. More testing is, sadly, required … but I have happily volunteered for such arduous work. Maybe Sony will even take me up on that.