Sony Walkman NWZ-ZX2 review:

Sony's Android-powered high-res audio player sounds great, but it'll cost ya

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 is a premium audio player which sounds just as good as it looks. The Android operating system and onboard Wi-Fi means you can load streaming apps onto the device. The device offers extensive support from files including DSD and lossless up to 24/192.

The Bad Extremely expensive. Battery life drops significantly if you leave Wi-Fi on. Sony's Android interface doesn't feel as premium as you'd expect from the price.

The Bottom Line The Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 is a luxury portable high-res audio player with Android streaming apps, a premium build and excellent sound, but its high price may be too much for all but the most dedicated music lovers.

7.8 Overall

It was 36 years ago that the Sony Walkman brand appeared and subsequently ruled most of the 80s and early 90s, helping to popularize the cassette tape along the way. The subsequent Discman was able to take some of that momentum into the CD era, but by the early 2000s Sony had stumbled badly -- its proprietary formats with names like MiniDisc and ATRAC were relegated to niche status, crushed under the MP3 juggernaut that was Apple's iPod.

But what goes around comes around: with smartphones pushing the iPod into obscurity, standalone music players are making a comeback of sorts. Companies like Pono and Astrell & Kern have shown there is a market for enthusiast-level audio on the go -- portables that play high-res audio for discriminating listeners that can appreciate digital audio files that sound appreciably better than MP3s. And Sony -- which never gave up its high-end audio focus -- is back in the mix, too.

The NW-ZX2 isn't Sony's first attempt to resurrect the Walkman name, but it may come the closest to recapturing some of the magic of the brand's glory days. While its build quality is impeccable, the Sony's real weapon against the "little guys" is its ability to connect to Wi-Fi and load Android apps (hello, Tidal!).

The "catch" is the extraordinary price tag. At $1,199 in the US, £949 in the UK and AU$1,599 in Australia, the ZX2 is a stretch for music lovers not used to paying through the nose for something that doesn't even make phone calls. Happily, the Sony Walkman NWZ-A17 delivers a non-Android alternative at one quarter of the price. But the ZX2's design and sound quality make it at least worth an audition if you're in the market for a high-end player.

Editors' note: This review has been updated since its original publication on March 6 with full ratings, battery testing comparisons, and some additional thoughts and observations.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 looks as luxurious as you'd expect from the price, with a carved aluminum case and a satisfyingly thick headphone jack. As well as touchscreen navigation, there are dedicated volume and transport controls that are indented to prevent accidental selection.

The menu system is basically Android Jelly Bean and can seem a step out of place compared with the outward glamour of the Sony music player. For example, while the hold button causes the screen to fold in on itself like a CRT (looks very classy) the drab black-and-blue volume bar is pulled straight from Sony's very first tentative steps onto Android land.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The device is larger than most phones, at 2.625 inches by 5.25 inches by 0.75 inch deep (67 by 133 by 19mm). It features a textured back -- similar to the grip on Canon cameras -- and a large 4-inch LCD screen. It's quite weighty, too, at 8.3 ounces (235 grams).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Features

The main advantage the Walkman has over competitors like the Cowon Plenue 1 is that it's able to access streaming services, especially high-quality ones like Tidal. The Walkman runs Android 4.2, which means you can enjoy streaming apps in a higher quality than you'd expect from your typical phone. Of course, the Walkman isn't a phone -- you'll need to make sure you're within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot to stream. (The ZX2 supports dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi.)

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Behind the glossy Google exterior beats Sony's S-Master HX digital amplifier, which the company says offers ultra-low distortion. The player will playback digital files up to 24 bit/192 kHz in MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, ALAC and, importantly, DSD formats. If that list is a string of unrecognizable letters and acronyms, this product isn't remotely for you.

Unlike many competitors, the ZX2 is an audio and video player and features a decent-size 4-inch display with a 854x480-pixel resolution. Unlike its laundry list of music formats, it will only play AVC (H.264/AVC), MPEG4 and WMV 9.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

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    This simple music player lets you listen in virtually any format and sounds great -- for...

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  • Apple iPod Shuffle (2012)

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    The Apple iPod Shuffle is an adorable way to take your favorite songs on the go, but sometimes...

  • Sony Walkman NWZ-A17

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    Standalone MP3 players are still in demand, and the NWZ-A17 Walkman is a portable player...

 

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