Sony HAP-Z1ES high-resolution file player Page 2

Enter the Android/iOS app for the HDD player, downloadable from Sony (Android) or the App Store (iOS). With this, one gains access to several screens and controls in a graphically pleasing and informative display. The main browser screen, a comprehensive browser screen, and a Now Playing screen all offer album art and progressively more detailed program information. There's nothing the front-panel controls can't do, including settings and playlist operations, but with the tablet the display is bigger, the operations more fluid, and—surprise—you can use it from anywhere you are on the network, including your favorite listening spot.

Serious Stereo
The Sony HAP-Z1ES works pretty much like a portable player, especially with the tablet controller, but it sounded like a serious audio player. (I can't compare it to a portable player because I've never used one, which should tell you something about my priorities.) Across all formats and resolutions, the sound was consistently well balanced from bass to treble, delivered wide dynamics and fine details, and had extremely low—generally, inaudible—levels of noise. In all of these parameters, the HAP-Z1ES's sound seemed determined more by the recording than by any limitations of its own.

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With hi-rez files, the Sony's sound was outstanding. For its harmonic purity of piano and voice and for the spaciousness of its ambience, I've often used mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland and pianist Sergei Osadchuk's Come Away, Death (SACD/CD, 2L 2L-064-SACD), available as a free 24/192 PCM download. The HAP-Z1ES played it as well as I've heard it, but differently. I was less aware, though not unaware, of the space occupied by the musicians, which was fine. However, it was more apparent that Kielland was a mezzo-soprano, even though the music is written in a range mezzos share with sopranos. A newly heard richness in the middle of her range made it seem both more human and more present.

DSD recordings, too, sounded absolutely first-rate, as evidenced by Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony in c, Op.110a, with Candida Thompson leading the Amsterdam Sinfonietta (Channel Classics download). The work is actually an orchestration by R. Barshai of the composer's String Quartet 8, a very successful one that well expresses the original's anguish and anger, with some added weight. Spatial detail is excellent, and individual instruments convey their particular flavors in much the way they do on the SACD via Sony's SCD-XA5400ES player.

The Shostakovich download included an MP3 of the same tracks, and though it suffered in A/B comparisons with the DSD version, it sounded reasonably clear and fairly open on its own. Here's where the HAP-Z1ES's DSEE was advantageous in converting the closed-in sound of MP3 to something more natural. When I switched it on and off, the difference was easy to hear. DSEE did magic with lossy Internet radio at all bit rates, and made 256/320kbps streaming a delight. For the first time, I can listen to so-called "hi-rez" streams, such as Linn Classical or AVRO De Klassickenthe excellent RCORadio, for hours without fatigue. I tried DSEE with many recordings, but could find no lossy or older, non-remastered 16/44.1 file whose sound it did not improve. Its usefulness was questionable with higher-rez PCM sources—it did nothing most of the time, and for the rest, it hindered as often as it helped. The HAP-Z1ES automatically turns off DSEE when it detects a DSD source, and that's a good thing—in that case, using DSEE would require a pyrrhic conversion to PCM.

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Deeply interred in the settings menus is the option to turn off the DSD Remastering Engine. I believe Sony has buried it there to deter users from defeating this signature function. Embodied in a custom DSP/FPGA board, DSD Remastering Engine basically upsamples 64Fs DSD to 128Fs DSD. Other players and DACs can do this; Sony alludes to applying "Sony know-how" in this process, but says little else. I have files in both formats, but how can I rely on these to hear how Sony's upsampling compares when I don't know the details of how they were derived? Nonetheless, after many hours of stressful focus on A/B comparisons, I can offer no reason for ever defeating the DSD Remastering Engine; upsampling to 128Fs never sounded inferior to the 64Fs originals.

Comparisons
It was worthwhile to compare the sound of the HAP-Z1ES to other DACs when all are fed the same files. I had on hand the multichannel exaSound e28, the Mytek Digital Stereo192-DSD, and the Oppo BDP-105. The Sony seemed a bit warmer than the Oppo with PCM and DSD files from a flash drive plugged into its USB type A input, and similar to what I described above with Come Away, Death. Both the Mytek and the exaSound shared that warmth, but in the context of somewhat greater clarity and depth of soundstage—and, in the case of the Mytek, a hint of somewhat greater impact in the bass. The Sony was sonically competitive with all.

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Conclusions
I've read comments on the Internet that criticize the feature set of the Sony HAP-Z1ES. I don't buy into any of them. Sure, it lacks digital inputs—but it's not marketed as a DAC. It lacks digital outputs—but its own DACs are entirely up to the task. It can't download files directly from the Internet—but that would require the inclusion of a browser engine.

Fuggedaboutit! Sony's HAP-Z1ES is an integrated single-box player that is of the highest sonic quality. Add any or all of those other features and it becomes something quite different. It also has the potential to become a gateway product for the mass market of portable-player users because it's based on the effective and familiar paradigm of downloading files to a computer and transferring them to a player. The only feature I might add would be a headphone jack, to ensure those users' seduction by the High End.

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

COMMENTS
skris88's picture

Okay. It's time you gave us a detailed article on how up-conversion works. In fact my brain tells me it CANNOT work. I'm a digital fan. I don't have vinyl. But I don't believe you can make something out of nothing, that a compressed MP3 file or similarly compressed Internet Radio stream could be up-converted to Hi Res digital audio. The ball's in YOUR court now, Stereophile!

John Atkinson's picture
skris88 wrote:
I don't believe you can make something out of nothing, that a compressed MP3 file or similarly compressed Internet Radio stream could be up-converted to Hi Res digital audio.

No-one has said that up-converting an MP3 file will produce the equivalent of a hi-res file. Nothing can put back the audio data that was discarded by a lossy codec. However, up-conversion to a faster sample rate is a legitimate tool in digital signal processing, and it is possible for an upsampled version of low-resolution data to sound better.

I first came across this technique in 1982, when looking at the chip set for the first Philips CD players. Each 44.1kHz sample was interspersed with three samples of zero value. The effect was to reduce the signal level by 12dB but also to quadruple the effective sample rate to 176.4kHz. No information was added above the original Nyquist Frequency (22.05kHz) but now a better-behaved digital reconstruction filter could be used. In addition, noiseshaping of the higher-sample rate digital data allowed Philips to wrest higher-resolution from the 14-bit DAC chips they had developed. (Before Sony got involved in development of the CD specification, the original CD proposal was for data to be stored as 14-bit words.)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dr.Kamiya's picture

Just think of anti-aliasing when you think of up-conversion. We do it all the time for fonts and graphics, so there's absolutely no reason it can't work for sound.

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/images/anti-aliasing/aliased-vs-anti.gif

Anti-aliasing allows us to take rasterized fonts and blow them up to extreme sizes, while still retaining smooth edges and outlines.

This tech has been in development for decades in the world of visuals. Font-smoothing, subpixel-rendering, plus any number of different anti-aliasing methods. At the end of the day it's all about creating a smooth line from a jagged source, and it's just as applicable to audio as it is to graphics.

Just_Me's picture

I know this is an OLD post :-) But its a fascinating topic, as much because the terminology is so vague and misleading. Up-sampling? Oversampling? Difference? No and yes. Ignore.

Anyway, there are several techniques that can be applied if one increases the number of samples. Most fundamentally interpolation. Imagine that you had two dots, and good reason to believe they were connect by a straight line. You could plot dots along that line. Doing so in audio mostly make sit easier to build phase-correct and good sounding analog reconstruction filters. very common.

A higher frequency also suggests tighter jitter tolerances, which is important aurally. I wont go into the science, but it is.

Finally, there are algorithms that can essentially reverse-engineer (very imperfectly) even lossy compression algorithms, although their effectiveness is limited and they will many times guess wrong.

No one creates something out of nothing. It is more a method to improve filtering.

G

zounder1's picture

Sigh... when are manufacturers going to realize a lot of folks don't want a player with a built in hard drive? For those technically competent they long ago purchased a NAS to share files on their home network.
And why in the world do I have to go through the hassle of transferring my music collection and purchases from my computer to the Sony player? I can tolerate music players that are targeted at folks that just want to feed the machine disc after disc to digitize their collection without effort. But the Sony does not even do that?
So Sony has released a product that won't appeal to Luddites that want simplicity. (Asking my dad to transfer files to this machine would painful.) And it doesn't appeal to folks like me that already have digitized and organized my music collection on a home network.
This Sony player would be much, much nicer if it could simply play music from a NAS or network share. So sell me this player for less with no hard drive thanks. Besides, 1TB of built in storage is completely inadequate if you want to collect DSD files. Heck my very small music collection (FLAC mainly) tips the scales at 400GB! Any serious collection of lossless music (DSDm FLAC, WAV, ALAC, etc) is likely already way, way past 1TB in music.

SJNIETO's picture

zounder1, is this correct? It can not stream from a NAS or Net share?

zounder1's picture

Yes, according to the review you cannot stream from a NAS to this device. Miyou must copy the files.

To quote the article
"As when using a mobile player, one browses, buys, and downloads the music to a regular computer. Then, with Sony's HAP Music Transfer application, you can select the computer directories/folders that contain the files you want to send to the HAP-Z1ES. "

This means you use a utility to copy files to the sony. I find that quite pathetic.

SJNIETO's picture

This means one can copy the files over wireless but not play the files over wireless?
It's has WiFi but it can not play streams? Strange...

alvester's picture

If you elect to install and use it, the software does all the transferring for you. Once it's loaded with you music, if your NAS and/or network is down or malfunctioning this unit can still to continue to run without needing the network. (If you fully lose network connectivity you would be forced to use the physical remote rather than an app.)

I used to play back only via a NAS/Home Server and after using this Sony unit I've come to the conclusion this is a great and more reliable option to have. I also both network playback throughout our home (via Bubble UPnP Server/Asset UPnP Server to multiple Chromecast Audio devices and Audio Groups) but the Sony has the better sound in our main listening room.

By having the music reside directly on the Sony too, it removes the frustrating variables of NAS as well as having an easy to use interface via its hardware, physical remote and an app which runs on both Android and Apple devices.

With the latest firmware version the Sony can also serve as media server within your home if you have a UPnP compatible app running on your Android or iOS device. So even though it can't support playback FROM network storage it in of itself can function as NAS Storage and Media Server on your Local Network.

For years I used multiple Squeezebox 2s tied to NAS storage but adding the Sony into our home's music playback systems has been a much easier and enjoyable piece of hardware. It's great when folks are over for a listen - I can hand them an extra Android device and let them browse and choose music directly on the player.

yuppi's picture

I just buy a HAP-Z1ES and found that the XLR jacks being wired with pin 2 hot...

mrvco's picture

This would be an interesting product if the USB port could be used to connect an external DAC. I'm sure the built-in DAC is great, but why limit its lifespan and versatility?

tmsorosk's picture

I do want a built in stand alone hard drive, who wouldn't ? Take it anywhere.
Link it to your computer for a few hours and all your music is on it, a one time deal.
Sweet .

ALTY2718's picture

I purchased the HAP-Z1ES last November (2014). My impressions to date are as follows. 1. The unit is very well constructed. 2. As I had ripped my CD's to my computers HD it was an easy, though slow process (using wifi) to transfer the files to the HAP-Z1ES. I ripped some 200 cd's as FLAC's, took up approx. 70GB which is no big deal. I also had some 10GB of higher res. downloads which I added. 3. The Sony sounded better with my B&W 805 Diamond speakers (on my 'B' system) than with my Focal 1027 Be speakers (on my 'A' system). On my main (A) system I am using an Oppo 105B blue ray player and a 125GB usb stick (as storage), which sounds better to my ears than the Sony in that combination of components. 4. The Sony unit is easy to use, I make use of both the Ipad app. and the remote/front of unit controls depending on whether my wifi system is on. The Ipad app. is fantastic, I have set up the 'favourites' option and make regular use of it. 5. One frustration I have had is that the copyright protection built into the Sony unit prevents one 'Sony music' cd I burnt from playing on the unit. This is frustrating as I have already paid for that music! If you have a lot of Sony cd's this my be something you need to consider. The Oppo played the same cd's without any problem. Despite this glitch I am really enjoying using the HAP-Z1ES.

scott.w's picture

I own this and love it. Question: should I swap the speaker cables (or ICs) to address the inversion?

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