Sony’s newest Walkman is far from cheap but, judging from an extended listen at the company’s enormous IFA 2017 stand, it could be one of its very best.
The new player follows in the footsteps of the £250/$375 NW-A25HN, the £500 NW-ZX100HN and the £900 NW-ZX2, which launched over the last couple of years.
And, in terms of design, spec and performance, it looks to largely follow in similar footsteps.
Design and build
The NW-ZX300 is an unremarkable looker. It’s beautifully made, naturally, with a smoothly finished body – and there’s great tactility in the nicely proportioned frame. But it doesn’t look anything special, in much the same way a premium smartphone doesn’t look all that remarkable.
It’s surprisingly lightweight, which ultimately is a good thing, we suppose, but it doesn’t go far towards making this feel like a £600/$900 device.
Power it up, though, and the 3.1in matte glass touchscreen display is bright, high contrast and high resolution. It operates slickly, rapidly and without fuss. There’s no arguing with the user experience in this respect.
Aside from the controls along one side of the body and the microSD card slot on the other, all interaction with the NW-ZX300 happens via the touchscreen. But in a product like this, it’s what’s inside that counts.
And there’s plenty going on inside. Sony’s S-Master HX digital amp is incorporated, there’s aptX HD Bluetooth compatibility, file support runs all the way to 32-bit/384kHz and 11.2mHz DSD, and it’s MQA compatible. There’s a balanced headphone output, 64GB of internal memory and the ability for the Walkman to function as a DAC if used as part of a desktop system.
With Sony MDR-1A headphones securely attached, we listen to MQA files of Fleetwood Mac’s Never Going Back Again and Led Zeppelin’s In My Time Of Dying – because sometimes classic rock is the only way forward.
The first impressions are of spaciousness, prodigious levels of detail and splendidly balanced tonality. The midrange is wide open and communicative, low frequencies have substance and texture, and the top of the frequency range shines brightly without spilling into coarseness or overenthusiasm.
Timing is effortless, and the plodding mid-tempo rhythms are handled unfussily. As an advert for hi-res audio in general and MQA in particular, there appears very little to criticise here.
Shifting downwards in audio quality (just a little) with FLAC files of Miles Davis’ So What and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky (this is a hi-fi demonstration stand, after all) means the Sony gives away a little of its previously wide-screen presentation, and there’s a slight drop in detail levels too. But it remains an engaging and enjoyable listen.
Today is the first day IFA 2017 is open to the public, and during our listen to the NW-ZX300 the Sony stand is, frankly, a zoo.
But even in this most unhelpful of environments, this new Walkman sounds like it has every chance of justifying its lofty price tag. We can’t wait to give one a full and thorough listen.