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Sony SA-Z1 and the Art of Near-Field Listening | RMAF 2019











The Sony SA-Z1 “desktop” system is poised to revolutionize near-field listening for a number of discerning audiophiles. The Sony SA-Z1, which will retail in the high four-figure range when it’s released, consist of two active speakers, a DAC and even room correction, and the folks at Sony are quite excited at the sonic capabilities of this very innovative and somewhat unusual system.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019 coverage sponsored by Core Power Technologies A/V

What type of discerning audiophiles will flock to the Sony SA-Z1? I suspect its appeal will be for audiophiles who are already fond of near-field listening, but also for audiophiles who may not have the room or even the abode for a decent two-channel system. I hear you, people…in my early days as an audiophile I lived in small apartments with fussy neighbors and landlords so I stuck with small BBC monitors and listened to a lot of string quartets and small, intimate jazz ensembles. I didn’t go down the serious headphone rig path because a) the quality back in the ’90s wasn’t an adequate substitute for good loudspeakers and b) I was really, really into such things as imaging and soundstaging. Not every audiophile digs headphones–even though I do now. That’s because the world of headphones and headphone amps has changed drastically in the last few years.

The demos for the Sony SA-Z1 were somewhat controlled–I sat in a big cozy chair in front of a dresser with the Sony SA-Z1 and a laptop sitting on top. The folks at Sony played the usual cuts, with “Too Much Rope” from Roger Waters’ Amused to Death being the grand finale. Remember when I marveled at the $54,000 BACCH-SP digital processor at last year’s Capital Audiofest and how the sleigh in the song moved diagonally through the room from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock? The Sony SA-Z1 accomplished the same trick.

I had a chance to select a song before I left, and I chose the title track from Tool’s new album Fear Inoculum streaming from Qobuz. This is the type of intimate slow-build epic of a song that adds layer upon layer of texture as it moves, and the Sony SA-Z1 did it proud. The delivery of this song was so impressive that the Sony people in the room were flabbergasted. As I exited into the outer room where Sony’s other portable audio products were displayed and another reviewer was let in for his appointment, I heard them immediately play it again. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the SA-Z1–if it’s a hit–is that it will inspire Sony to create more and more affordable ways to experience a new benchmark for near-field listening.