Sony DMP-Z1 digital music player Page 2

In USB DAC mode, the DMP-Z1's display shows a bar-graph level meter for each channel, as well as the sample rate of the incoming data. With Roon performing the first or both unfoldings of MQA-encoded, 192kHz-sampled data, the Sony peculiarly displayed, respectively, "PCM 96kHz" or "PCM 48kHz." The display correctly showed the sample rate with linear PCM or DSD data in USB DAC mode, however. And MQA files played from the DMP-Z1's internal storage were identified as "MQA," with the unfolded sample rate displayed. With all files that have a bit depth greater than 16 or a sample rate higher than 48kHz, including MQA-encoded files, "HR" (for "Hi-Res") appeared at the top of the Sony's screen, to the right of the sample rate.

Sony provides a "Guide to High Quality Sound," accessible from the display's Settings page. The guide indicates that the DMP-Z1 uses polymer capacitors and Panasonic POSCAP capacitors in the amplifier circuit, and that these need 200 hours of break-in with music playing before they will produce the "highest quality sound." I didn't have the DMP-Z1 long enough to get to the 200-hour point, but I noticed no changes in the player's sound during the four weeks I listened to it.

I briefly played with the DMP-Z1's DSP functions, but other than DSD Remastering and the reconstruction-filter choices, I didn't spend significant time auditioning them. They are what they are. Nor did I audition the Bluetooth mode—regardless of the convenience, I'm no fan of Bluetooth—other than to check that it worked with my iPhone 6S. It did.

Listening to filters
As with some other processors and headphone amplifiers we've recently reviewed, the DMP-Z1's filter options complicated the auditioning. I echo Herb Reichert's question in the May 2019 issue: "Have filters become the digital equivalent of analog tone controls? . . . which one am I supposed to like? Most important, why am I being forced to choose?" Nevertheless, I spent the best part of a day auditioning the Sony's six reconstruction filters, in the process draining the DMP-Z1's battery from fully charged to 19%.

With CD-resolution music—eg, "Satellites," from Rickie Lee Jones's Flying Cowboys (16/44.1 AAC file, Geffen), an album produced by the late Walter Becker that has superb dynamic range but can sound a bit forward in the upper mids—the Short Delay Slow filter gave the most palpable imaging. But it was close between that filter and the Slow filter, both sounding less "shouty" than the Super Slow filter.

Differences between filters were more difficult to hear at higher sample rates. With a needle drop of violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg performing Beethoven's Violin Sonata 10 in G, Op.96 (24/192 ALAC from LP, Wilson Audiophile W-8315), the Short Delay Sharp filter sounded slightly more relaxed than the Slow filter, with a somewhat better sense of soundstage depth, even through headphones. Low Dispersion Short Delay produced a somewhat lighter-sounding piano in this recording, while Sharp emphasized the percussive noise of the piano's keys.

Robert Levine enthusiastically reviewed Japanese percussionist Kuniko's virtuosic performance of Steve Reich's Drumming (CD, Linn CKD 385) in the March 2019 issue (p.115). A fan of both Kuniko and Reich—a live performance in London of the composer's minimalist Music for 18 Musicians remains a vivid memory 35 years later—I purchased the 24/192 "Studio Master" FLAC files. The fourth and final part of Drumming features repetitive patterns on marimba and glockenspiel—the Super Slow filter emphasized the instrumental attacks, the glock sounding a touch "shiny." Short Delay Fast gave the best balance between the leading edges of notes and the body of the tone.

I used Short Delay Fast for most of my listening, checking out the other filters when I felt the sound of a familiar track wasn't quite what I'd expected. For classical orchestral music, I most often used Low Dispersion Short Delay.

What about DSD Remastering? When I streamed from Tidal Music for 18 Musicians, performed by the Steve Reich Ensemble in 1978 (16/44.1 FLAC, ECM), the complex musical threads were a little easier to unravel with the DMPZ1 transcoding the CD data to DSD128. Even a mono recording—"Please, Please, Please" from James Brown's 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (24/192 ALAC file, Polydor/PonoMusic)—sounded a touch smoother with DSD upsampling.

Listening to music
In a nostalgic mood, I began my serious listening by using Roon to bring up perhaps the best live album ever, Donny Hathaway's Live (24/192 FLAC, Atlantic/HDtracks). The version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" on this album, with its loping rhythm, is definitive, and the combination of the DMP-Z1 and AudioQuest NightHawks presented Hathaway's voice within the subtle club ambience to perfection. The sound was a touch too mellow—AudioQuest headphones are balanced on the dark side of neutral—so I switched to the Audeze LCD-Xes, connected with Nordost Heimdall cables, for "The Ghetto." The tremolo'd Wurlitzer electric piano in this track's intro floated even farther free of the audience's soul clapping, and the Sony propelled the song's iconic bass riff with hypnotic urgency.

The Hathaway album was released in 1972, as was another album that had a huge effect on me that year: Stevie Wonder's Music of My Mind. Streaming this album's opener, "Love Having You Around," from Qobuz (24/96 FLAC, Motown), I was reminded that on this album Wonder plays every instrument other than guitar and, on this track, trombone, the latter courtesy of ace trombonist Art Baron. The last trombone player Duke Ellington hired, Baron has a connection with this magazine: He plays on the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), which I recorded in 1998. Rendezvous is out of print, but one track from it, Duke Ellington's "The Mooche," appears on our Editor's Choice CD (STPH016-2). Baron's plunger-muted soloing in "The Mooche" was optimally reproduced by the Sony-Audeze-Nordost combination, with all its wah-wah rasp intact. When I'd mixed this track, I wanted to preserve the original sound's wide dynamic range, which meant that Harris's Taylor acoustic bass guitar is relatively low in level. Its subtle sound was clearly delineated, however, with excellent low-frequency weight.

But what about a track in which the low frequencies are big, bold, and magnificent? I cued up "#thatPower," by and Justin Bieber, from's #willpower (16/44.1 FLAC, Interscope). The Sony managed to hold on to this song's subterranean excesses without making the sound bloated or boomy.

Listening to MQA
It was time to try some MQA-encoded music. My current favorite performance of Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is by the Trondheim Soloists, on their Reflections (24/44.1 MQA FLAC unfolded by the DMP-Z1 to 24/352.8, 2L 2L-125). This work for string orchestra sounded simply glorious through the Sony with all three pairs of headphones: The Audezes presented a wealth of detail in the midrange and treble; despite their lift in the lows, the AudioQuests didn't sound over-rich; and the Sennheisers sounded neutral, if a little bass-shy, compared with the other two pairs of cans. The Sony simply stepped out of the way of the music.

As I write these words, I'm listening through the Sony-Sennheiser system to Radka Toneff's hauntingly beautiful performance of "Nature Boy," from the 2018 Original Master Edition reissue of her Fairytales (24/48 MQA file unfolded to 24/192, Odin CD9561), our Recording of the Month for April 2018. I have to keep lifting my fingers from the keyboard to revel in the glory of the sound and the song: musical gold to match the DMP-Z1's gold-plated volume control.

An unbalanced comparison
Until I began working exclusively from home, my constant companion on my daily commute was the PonoPlayer I'd bought after reviewing it in April 2015. It may seem absurd to compare the $8500 Sony with the Pono, which cost $399 when last available, but I've racked up more hours listening through headphones with the Pono than with any other product. With the Audeze LCD-Xes, which are more revealing than the AudioQuest NightHawks, the high frequencies in "The Mooche" had more top-octave air with the DMPZ1, letting me better hear the subtle acoustic of Blue Heaven Studios, in Salina, Kansas. At the other end of the spectrum, the double bass in James Brown's "Please, Please, Please" had a weightier body tone through the Sony, though this recording's rather rough mid-treble sounded a touch smoother through the Pono. A case of Authority (Sony) vs Acceptable (Pono).

Two high-end products with digital inputs and headphone outputs that I enjoyed for a while in my system were Ayre Acoustics' Codex ($1795) and QX-5 Twenty ($8950), both AC-powered. Other than lacking internal storage and an integral playback app, both are broadly equivalent to Sony's DMP-Z1. Both review samples were long ago returned to Ayre, but I have fond memories of using them with my Audeze LCD-X headphones, especially the QX-5 Twenty. When it comes to headphone sound quality, the Sony DMP-Z1 joins that distinguished company — and it's a Walkman! Kind of.

Sony Electronics Inc.
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127
(858) 942-2400

dc_bruce's picture

I guess for the audiophile who has everything, this is it. But, at this price, there are a lot of nice DACs available. Moreover, as always seems to be the case with Sony, they're a week late to the party. It seems that few people are playing files these days; they're streaming.

Finally, Mr. Atkinson's report on the sonic effects of the myriad of filters offered by this device permanently buries the notion that digital sound is perfect. If using two different filters to play back the same digital file through the same electronics yields two different sounds, then they both can't be "right." Maybe neither is. So, it seems with digital we have merely traded the imperfections of analog for a different set of imperfections; we may not have gotten "closer to the source," whatever that is.

I grant only that digital generally is more convenient than analog and, perhaps, less perishable.

Archimago's picture

It's not so much about "perfect" or "imperfect" digital. It is just that the company wants to give people choice.

The best technical filter with least imaging artifact, best frequency extension, and no phase shift is the linear phase "Sharp Filter". If people likes the sound of the others, so be it. Many companies are just playing around with giving people a choice... That's fine.

Having said this. Show me a blind test that these are significantly audible :-). I know audiophiles don't like the concept of blind tests, sadly.

ednazarko's picture

Everything that's technology is a bundle of tradeoffs and compromises. Price, weight, size, capacity, sure, but there are other tradeoffs that often the manufacturer decides for you - like filters, sound signature, DSP. I always like to have control over a few of the tradeoffs that affect how things sound, since speakers and headphones have their own set of tradeoffs.

The notion that there's some pure rendering of a recoding always makes me giggle a little. I've been in studios watching recording, where the whole goal is to get as pure and controlled capture of each instrument as possible. Sound baffles, soundproof rooms, close mics. When you listen to that in playback, it sounds truly terrible - artificial, almost like it came from an electronic instrument and not a saxophone or piano. "Dry" is the term of art. Then during the mixing and production, reverb and decay and other sound shaping things get tinkered with to try to get it to sound more realistic to normal ears that are used to hearing instruments playing in spaces that affect the sound.

Other than live albums recorded outside of studios, without close mic placement, anything you hear has a significant amount of tinkering added to the raw recording.

BillBrown's picture

I don't want to argue about blind testing (I largely agree with JA's oft-stated opinion), but you shouldn't assume that none of us are interested in it.

While acknowledging it as single-blind test and N = 1, I had listened to various filters open-mindedly and begun to form an impression. I was comparing in Audirvana a conventional steep, linear-phase one with a very shallow one that the designer of iZotope had described as quite similar to Ayre's.

I tested my acute-eared, music-loving 20 year-old to some of his favorite selections without telling him what I was comparing or what to listen for. He heard a difference and used adjectives similar to the ones I had been thinking. He didn't hear anything untoward, nothing to suggest artifacts.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

As an example ....... Look at the frequency response measurements of dCS Bartok DAC, recently reviewed by Hi-Fi News ...... The effects of various filters :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another recently reviewed Esoteric DAC, rolls-off -3.2 db at 20 KHz, by Hi-Fi News measurements :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One more ....... Pioneer UDP-LX800 universal player offers a 'slow roll- off' filter, which rolls off -5 db at 20 KHz, by Hi-Fi News :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... All the above are less expensive than the $43,000 Kalista DreamPlay, which rolls-off -5 db at 20 KHz :-) ........

Graham Luke's picture

blind tests are to audiophiles what crucifixes are to vampires.

Graham Luke's picture

...but maybe they have sold well in the Gulf States where they like their Rolls Royces gold-plated and their power absolute.

DH's picture

"rich sound that is close to the playback from a vinyl record on a turntable." As well as a standard setting, Vinyl Processor can be customized with adjustments for surface noise, tonearm resonance, and turntable resonance."

In other words, we designed an algorithm that recreates and adds in all the distortion produced by a typical TT during vinyl playback to your digital file, so that you can get that euphonic distortion you love. Hilarious.

Pity you didn't review this feature.

DH's picture

"With Roon performing the first or both unfoldings of MQA-encoded, 192kHz-sampled data, the Sony peculiarly displayed, respectively, "PCM 96kHz" or "PCM 48kHz."

Since when MQA encodes a 192k file it encodes only up to a 96k resolution (all material in the original above 48khz is discarded) this is not that peculiar. 192 MQA files are at best 96k files that are upsampled in the renderer to 192.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

So, trade-in your $200k turn-table and buy this Sony DAP? ....... Seems like a good deal :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ...... Can this Sony DAP make MQA files sound like vinyl play back? ....... That would be a major advancement in audio play back :-) .........

otaku's picture

I find it disappointing that an eight thousand dollar device cannot read an SD card that any cheapo cellphone or camera would be able to use.

ednazarko's picture

Glad that I'm not the only person who's had micro SD card compatibility issues. Every single player I've owned has been fussy about cards - and each had cards it preferred. Price of card or player isn't predictive, either. It's not cheap versus fancy cards or players - it has almost always come down to brand matching. Annoying.

I'm interested in the Sony's user interface, and how easy it is to find what you want to listen to if you've got 500GB of music loaded. I now only listen from computers, or iPhone, iPad or iPod, and have dumped most of my music players. Every one of them had a miserable UI and navigation experience, bad enough that I found myself never loading more than 100GB of music more or less (often less)... and then I'd still get frustrated trying to browse to find what I wanted to listen to.

I still have one player that plays high res files really well, and is very small. The UI ain't great, nor are the buttons and touch screens easy to work with. My solution - I've taken the 32GB and 64GB micro SD cards that accumulated over time, and loaded each card with a single playlist. The player and dozen cards travel with me in a coin purse. I pick the playlist that fits the mood, insert the card, and I can ignore the awful UI other than volume, and skipping cuts.

jeffhenning's picture

Given its size and weight, I'm somewhat perplexed as to where this fits into a person's music listening life.

I guess, most likely, your second or third condo where you enjoy laying in your bed listening to headphones?

It looks more fantastic than most Sony products and its performance is not in the least bit shabby, but I'm curious as to where they thought their buying audience for this was.

Unless, of course, this is a buyable prototype product. Companies of this size do make them so that they can then take that experience to scale them down... to people who don't own several condos.

Is it cool? Yes. Would you buy one to put it in concert with your main system or any system with an amp & speakers? I can't imagine why.

This is a lot of scratch for a media player for headphone listening. I'd have thought that they'd have added some regular line outs. Would that have raised the price marginally to $9K?

The box, though, is very pretty.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Agreed. My wish list for home digital player includes a lot of features this box box possesses, but for that kind of money:

1: It's not a "Walkman" and it's silly to call it one. A Walkman fits in a pocket, this doesn't

2: As a digital music server it should also function as a preamp, have regular RCA outs in addition to those headphone outs.

3: As a digital music server it should stream off the internet.

4: While we're at it, how about some analog inputs?

There's plenty of DAPs out there that are more flexible than this, cheaper than this, and they can fit in a pocket, like a "Walkman" is supposed to. I like the idea of a non-portable digital player that runs off batteries. My experience is that digital audio wants pure DC, a proper battery-based power supply for this sort of device makes sense. But for this kind of money, this item lacks flexibility.

Anton's picture

I kind of agree with everyone.

I saw a 1 TB small SSD for 40 bucks at Amazon.

If these babies could allow working slots for a dozen of those, imagine the joy!

I hope some of the players in the digital player industry hire a consumer or three and ask what they'd like to get done!