Sony Walkman NWZ-ZX1 high-resolution audio player (hands-on)

/ Updated: 21 January 2014 6:40 pm GMT

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The iconic Walkman name didn't fade into the history books with the massively popular cassette players that made it famous; it's still hanging round, slapped on Sony's latest digital music players. Although it bears the well-loved Walkman moniker, the Sony NWZ-ZX1 is not an audio player for the masses.

Instead, its high-end digital audio amplifier, together with its ability to play uncompressed, high-quality audio files aims it squarely at the audiophiles who demand the utmost definition from their music collection. That quality comes at a cost however. It'll set you back a wallet-crushing 549 pounds (around $900) when it goes on sale in the UK in February.

Sony has yet to announce US availability.

Design
With its 4-inch display and Android software, the ZX1 looks rather reminiscent of an Android phone. Get up close though and you'll quickly realize the difference. The brushed aluminum body is not something you'll typically find on your average smartphone, nor is the leather-effect rubber back panel.

At 13.5mm thick, it's chunkier than an average smartphone -- it's far fatter than Sony's superskinny Xperia Z1 -- but it's comfortable to hold and looks rather elegant. Around the edges you'll find dedicated media control buttons to pause and skip tracks and change the volume. They're milled from metal, as is the surrounding, giving it a very luxurious feel -- but at 550 pounds, I wouldn't settle for anything less.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The display has an 854x480-pixel resolution, which, while far from the Full HD display of its smartphone cousin, the Z1, is plenty for simply playing music -- although I'd have liked to see more pixels to make it a better choice as an all-round media player. In my hands-on time, it seemed bright and reasonably bold.

Features
In order to cater to the audiophiles, the ZX1 comes equipped with a dedicated digital audio amplifier and is able to play high-definition music formats including AAC, Apple Lossless audio, ATRAC, FLAC, and WAV, as well as the more common MP3 and MP4 for videos. Lossless audio files are considerably bigger than your standard 128kbps MP3, so in order to fit more music on board, Sony has given the ZX1 128GB of storage.

That sounds a lot, but Sony reckons that's only room for 800 high-quality songs -- with lower bit-rate, compressed songs, you could fit many thousand more, but quality will suffer. Sony also reckons the ZX1 will upscale music into higher quality versions, although I've yet to put this to the test. It might give an already decent quality song a more crisp sound, but don't expect it to turn a recording from a radio speaker into a studio-quality production.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You'll need to pair the ZX1 with a pair of superb headphones too. Your bundled iPhone earbuds really aren't going to cut it, and if you use just a pair of Beats Solos, Spotify-quality music will be fine. To get the most from the ZX1, you'll need to look more toward cans such as the Sennheiser HD750s, so expect to splash out an extra few hundred quid if you don't already own a good set of headphones.

Sony reckons you can squeeze up to 32 hours of battery life from the player, which is probably more juice than you'll get from your smartphone, so it will no doubt come in handy on long flights. As with much of Sony's range, it has NFC on board, letting you pair it with a compatible Bluetooth speaker or set of headphones just by touching the two together.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Outlook

If you care only about listening to the latest Timberlake tracks on Spotify, then the Sony Walkman NWZ-ZX1 certainly isn't the toy for you -- you'd be better off sticking with your Android phone. If you absolutely crave lossless audio and don't mind shelling out the high asking price -- as well as a similar amount on a pair of good headphones -- it could be worth checking out.

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Where to Buy

Sony Walkman NWZ-ZX1

Part Number: NWZ-ZX1
Pricing is currently unavailable.