Ever since the rise of the smartphone, it’s strictly MP3 playing predecessor has fallen out of favor. In the last couple of years, however, some companies and audio purists have decried the need to lessen the sound quality of recordings in order to play in this format. In short, it works something like this: the actual size of song files as recorded by artists and put on CD’s can be large. In the age of our modern MP3 players and phones, we want as many songs to fit on as possible, combined with the ease of quick download and upload times. The only way to achieve these two aims is to lessen the sound quality. In the process of shrinking file sizes, the sound of the files themselves are degraded to a noticeable point for those who care to hear it. The truth is that 99% of people will neither notice nor care, but for that 1% who does, there have been an increasing number of solutions as of late.
Recently, companies like Pono and Astell & Kern have shown there is an appetite for enthusiast-level audio on the go. They sell high-end music players that are meant to retain the larger – and thus richer sounding – files. The latest to jump in this arena is the inventor of portable audio technology all together with their Walkman line that was big in the 80’s, Sony. While Sony has taken numerous stabs at making players for a modern user, it appears the new ZX2 is the closest to hitting the mark yet.
Most music purists take pride in their ability to notice the difference between the super compressed files and their bigger brethren, and will often use the latest technology to help pronounce those differences as clearly as possible. Whether that is in the form of accepting nothing but the highest quality audio files or a pair of headphones with a monstrous price tag, they’ll do everything they can. And now they have another crazy purchase to consider. The Sony Walkman ZX2 costs about USD 1,200 (KD 350), and promises to deliver the sort of hardware audio processing that good music deserves.
Though we have yet to receive one ourselves, the stats on these are pretty impressive: Loaded up software-wise is Android 4.2 (an iteration not terribly impressive on its own, but works well in context). Behind the glossy Google exterior beats Sony’s S-Master HX digital amplifier, which offers “ultra-low” distortion. The player will playback digital files up to 24-bit/192 kHz (MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, ALAC and importantly DSD).
But if you like that it supports high-quality audio formats such as DSD, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless and more, and its ability to connect to wireless headphones and speakers through Bluetooth and NFC – AND you have KD 350 that you just don’t have anything better to do with – then this is the one for you.
The problem with some high-end players in the market, like the Cowon Plenue 1, a device made by Cowon Global, is that they’re unable to access streaming services, especially high-quality ones like Tidal. As the Walkman uses Android 4.2 it means you can load streaming apps onto the device and enjoy them in higher quality than you’d expect from your typical phone. As the ZX2 is dual-band Wi-Fi, you’ll need to be connected to a hotspot or use offline mode to stream music on the go.
In order to fit all of your hi-res music on it, the ZX2 comes with 128GB of built-in memory, and is expandable via a micro SD card slot. Sony says the onboard Lithium-ion battery provides up to 60-hours of MP3 or 33 hours of hi-res per charge.
The Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 will be available in Spring 2015.