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.

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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.