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Sony NW-WM1A Review (Digital Audio Player)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony NW-WMA1A DAP (digital audio player). It is on kind loan from a member. The cost is -- are you sitting down? -- US $1,199. It is available on Amazon however for US $999 including Prime shipping.

For that money you get by far the best industrial design and feel I have seen in a DAP:

Sony NW-WM1A Review.jpg


You can see the level of quality from the treatment of the output jacks:

Sony NW-WM1A Review Balanced and Unbalanced Headphone Output DAP Review.jpg


The unit is quite heavy which helps with the hefty balanced headphone cable I have. Not so great if I had to carry this in my pocket.

The controls take that theme of great execution to well past anything available in other DAPs and certainly smart phone:
Sony NW-WM1A Review Volume Control DAP Review.jpg


Sadly the main connection to the unit is a proprietary multi-pin connector. Why oh why? The connector is very delicate and losing the adapter cable to USB means the device becomes useless since you can't charge it or transfer files to it.

I did not play much with the unit but did suffer though a pain in a neck issue: every time you power the thing in, or plug it into the PC, it goes through "creating database" that lasts some 20 seconds. It does this over and over again. First of all, this is a very user unfriendly message. Second, why does it rebuild the database every time?

It was a relief to see it not running Android. If I want Android, I use a phone. A media player should be an optimized engine for this use, not some "app" in Android.

While the NW-WM1A is plug-and-play on Windows as far as acting as a USB DAC, it must be doing something strange as it did not at all show up in ASIO4ALL wrapper I use to send test signals to it. So I was limited to static measurements.

Sony NW-WM1A Measurements
There are two output settings: normal and high. Let's start with the normal output for unbalanced headphone jack, driving the unit through USB:

Sony NW-WM1A Measurements DAP Digital Audio Player Unbalanced.png


As you see, the output is quite anemic at 0.6 volts. Switching to high mode gave out a bit more output but no more than a $9 phone dongle:

Sony NW-WM1A Measurements DAP Digital Audio Player Unbalanced High.png


Switching to balanced output in high mode thankfully produced 2 volts out:

Sony NW-WM1A Measurements DAP Digital Audio Player Balanced.png


This is still quite low though and surprising for such a chunky and heavy device. We have little dongles that weigh nothing which produce far more power:

most powerful digital audio player review 300 ohm.png


most powerful digital audio player review 33 ohm.png


Since power availability is just about everything when it comes to serious portable headphone listening, the above is quite a miss. BTW, I looked over and over again but could not see any power specifications from Sony. Must not have been a focus of theirs.

Back to the dashboard, the output impedance is very low and hence good, 1.3 ohm. Distortion dominates the SINAD which even with balanced output at 93 dB, is worse than the CD's 16 bit let alone anything high res:

1607069001924.png


It is kind of Ironic that Sony was the co-inventor of the CD and some 40 years later, they still can't produce a portable product that provides transparency to its format!

Dynamic range is thankfully decent:

Sony NW-WM1A Measurements Dynamic Range DAP Digital Audio Player Balanced.png


Multitone representing "music" is good as well for a portable product:


Sony NW-WM1A Measurements Multitone DAP Digital Audio Player Balanced.png


Sony NW-WM1A Listening Tests
In high mode using balanced output, I was pleasantly surprised that there was enough power to drive my inefficient Ether CX 25 ohm headphones. The sound was very clean and detailed with good bass. Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 in low gain mode was disappointing. There was no dynamics and bass was suffering. I did not try it in high mode but that should make a good difference.

Conclusions
Sony nails the look and feel of a digital audio player with NW-WM1A. It is the Sony that I know (which I worked for years ago) which sadly lost that touch for years. Alas, software execution could be better and performance simply is not there. You can do better with a used LG phone or many dongles. I realize some people like DAPs due to better usability. The Sony has that but not the requisite performance for what they are asking.

If you are going to buy the Sony, I highly recommend getting balanced cables for your headphones to get the much higher power (and lower distortion) it produces.

Overall, I can't recommend the Sony NW-WM1A. It gets a few things right but is far short of what a perfect DAP should be. And at $1000, I expect perfection.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

YSC

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#3
well, same performance as my ZX300 measured by WolfX also, completely usable to me although not money well spent regarding the SINAD.. glad that back then I decided to pay HKD $4500 not $9000 for the "better" WM1A though
 

Mike-48

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#4
Better usability? I run a DLNA client on my Android phone, which makes finding and playing music easy. It also means I'm using the same interface when I'm away and playing music from the phone's SD card as when I'm at home and playing music on the phone (or on my home system, for that matter) from a DLNA server.

The last DAP I tried was an iPod Classic. It was astounding at the time, but my LG phone has better fidelity, lighter weight, more usability, a better screen, and Bluetooth for use with my noise-canceling headphones.

I am really puzzled why these costly DAPs exist. Even if they offered ultimate fidelity, where is it quiet enough that you'll hear the difference? In the car? On the street? In a coffee shop?
 
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Blumlein 88

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#5
You wonder how such an expensive device falls so far short on power. If they didn't get anything else right you would think they would have given it ample power. I wonder what the sign off on a product like this is for it to get to market.
 

Frank Dernie

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#6
It was a relief to see it not running Android. If I want Android, I use a phone. A media player should be an optimized engine for this use, not some "app" in Android.
Quite an attraction. I have an Android based DAP and hate it, particularly the touch screen jack of all trades and master of the unwanted selection.
The versatility is needed on a smart device but is a cost saving irritation too far on a single use device.
I like the buttons and quality of manufacture on this Sony but that creating database delay would lead to me never using this one either.
Back to the phone, or my antidiluvian steam punk alternative.
 

Mike-48

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#7
the touch screen jack of all trades and master of the unwanted selection
Yes, that is the sole issue I have with using an app on a phone. Good GUI design can reduce the number of times it happens, but it's annoying at best -- startling at worst -- when a stray finger stops the music.
 
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#8
I really wonder if there's really any DAP that could offer complete audio transparency and very long battery life (isn't this why portable gear for?). So far DAP "reviews" and posts about them are only about their soundstage and how far does the treble extend. Build quality is mostly flawless on the majority of them and they have beautiful screens but it's just to attract buyers with their looks. Audiophiles really care about those looks, if it looks good it should sound good too. It sounds heavenly if it costs at least $3k. I swear if I was rich I would buy and send LPGT and SP2000 for reviews just for fun.
 

YSC

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#9
I really wonder if there's really any DAP that could offer complete audio transparency and very long battery life (isn't this why portable gear for?). So far DAP "reviews" and posts about them are only about their soundstage and how far does the treble extend. Build quality is mostly flawless on the majority of them and they have beautiful screens but it's just to attract buyers with their looks. Audiophiles really care about those looks, if it looks good it should sound good too. It sounds heavenly if it costs at least $3k. I swear if I was rich I would buy and send LPGT and SP2000 for reviews just for fun.
Man I believe you are rich, so comon:cool:
 
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#13
Embarrassing. Just embarrassing.

At this point you'd better off buying some cheap android phone, a cheap dongle and 3d print some makeshift case to put two together and get far better performance + modern UI and features. Will still cost you far less than these 'audiophile' DAPs.
 

raif71

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#14
wow...I used to want this dap but due to price had to watch from afar
 

PeteL

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#15
Even if they offered ultimate fidelity, where is it quiet enough that you'll hear the difference? In the car? On the street? In a coffee shop?
With noise canceling headphones maybe?
Just thinking out loud to your question, I don't disagree with your general statement. Not a user of noise cancelation myself, Ihave no firm opinion on them, other that they do block environmental noise.
 

YSC

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#16
With noise canceling headphones maybe?
Just thinking out loud to your question, I don't disagree with your general statement. Not a user of noise cancelation myself, Ihave no firm opinion on them, other that they do block environmental noise.
Well that’s true also for practically all hifi stuffs as even the best speaker or earphones will distort more than the signal, but I do believe distortion can accumulate in each other so in cases they will sound different. And especially even in lab conditions 16bit is already considering enough for human hearing so anything not too far from that should sound fine and good.
BUT with something selling that expensive I would expect it really can deliver full transparency especially in an age 100db+SINAD can be achieved even in discrete R2R dacs! Not to say ic based solutions
 

Ajax

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#17
Most of us carry some form of a smart phone. I use an iPhone and it sounds good to my ears considering the listening environment is usually noisy. If I need better sound for a car (say) I connect an Audioquest dragonfly red or an SMSL Idea (via a camera kit so I can also power it while playing music).

Can anyone therefore please explain the point of a DAP. There must be a market otherwise companies such as Sony, who have been consumer savvy in the past, would not produce them. Who buys them and for what purpose when it means you will most likely be carrying two devices instead of one?

Serious question.
 

PeteL

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#19
I did not play much with the unit but did suffer though a pain in a neck issue: every time you power the thing in, or plug it into the PC, it goes through "creating database" that lasts some 20 seconds. It does this over and over again. First of all, this is a very user unfriendly message. Second, why does it rebuild the database every time?

It was a relief to see it not running Android. If I want Android, I use a phone. A media player should be an optimized engine for this use, not some "app" in Android.
Yes, I have a NW-a45 litterally collecting dust this creating database thing was driving me nut, BUT
as opposed to you, I would never again consider a DAP that can't connect to wifi and use streaming services. Yes you are allowed to feel otherwise, for me personally it is a must have. I know that there are (arguably sketchy when you want compatibility) ways to do that without Android, but as the low end Sony that I have, this outrageously expensive DAP has no WIFI capability neither. Then again, I would want more fidelity and more power, but the OS, well if it's user friendly and reliable, I'm happy, but it's just me. the no wifi reason is the main reason I don't use it really, with the fact that it's even more anemic as an amp.

Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 in low gain mode was disappointing. There was no dynamics and bass was suffering. I did not try it in high mode but that should make a good difference.
Yes, obviously, not willing to sound snarky, but it is even worth saying that? I am honestly wondering why you didn't try? is it because it's buried in a menu somewhere and not easily changed? that's the most obvious reason to have a Gain switch, low gain for sensitive IEMs that would let you hear the noise floor and have only the bottom of the volume range usable. and High Gain for tougher loads. 100% of the users would use high gain on their 650, that's a test that would have been useful to know if it's at least usable for that.
 
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raif71

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#20
Most of us carry some form of a smart phone. I use an iPhone and it sounds good to my ears considering the listening environment is usually noisy. If I need better sound for a car (say) I connect an Audioquest dragonfly red or an SMSL Idea (via a camera kit so I can also power it while playing music).

Can anyone therefore please explain the point of a DAP. There must be a market otherwise companies such as Sony, who have been consumer savvy in the past, would not produce them. Who buys them and for what purpose when it means you will most likely be carrying two devices instead of one?

Serious question.
I use some DAPs. They are solely for music. My phone is a beat up device and not really suitable for music listening and I don't carry 2 devices. When I go out, I only carry my phone. Don't really have time for music listening outside of house. At home I use DAP only when I'm doing chores around the house. :)
 
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