This is a note from a musician and an avid music listener.
Reviewed in the United States on 21 July 2019
My background is mainly in classical music, but I’ve dabbled in electronic and experimental acoustics here and there. My music tastes vary from very early forms of musical expression to the most progressive experimental sound. What I’m not a fan of, is current music. To me, most of what is being offered today, is devoid of any art, it’s superficial, the root cause for it is very wrong, hence the product has no value. To me.
That said, the music that I love and appreciate, I like to listen in abundance. The source for that listening experience plays a big role. Unfortunately, most current trends in portable digital audio, play in favor of convenience, not quality. While video has been pushed to its limits and beyond, constantly improving with every new iteration, audio has been kind of forgotten, neglected and sacrificed. I’m talking about our most common daily media consumption devices – our phones. That is why most lovers of quality sound, or “audiophiles” if you will, are left to look elsewhere for portable audio devices. Fortunately, the need for this segment is being recognized more and more by tech manufacturers lately. To name a few: Astell&Kern, Sony, iBasso, Cowon, Pioneer, Fiio etc.
Before I decided to purchase the Sony NW-WM1A, I was also considering the A&K Futura SE100 and the Cowon P2. They were pretty much in the same price range (even though lately, the pricing has changed quite a lot for the three). At the time, I did not have the opportunity to test all three. I was only able to get a taste of the Sony and the Cowon. This was exactly a year and a half ago. Since, I have been able to listen to the A&K as well. I stand by my choice.
Here is why.
They all have completely different design philosophies. The A&K is the most eye catching. Contemporary and artistic form. The P2, which is probably my favorite design wise, is very structural and architecturally designed. The Sony has a more practical, functional and passive design language. All three are beautifully crafted devices, but the Sony slightly separates itself from the others by build quality and craftsmanship.
The Sony NW-WM1A is a premium product that is designed impeccably. There are no finicky plastics here. The unit is built with an aluminum frame and is very rigid. It oozes quality. The way it feels in your hand, the heftiness, the materials, the build quality, the finish…you can tell that this product has been tailored and designed with huge attention to detail and perfection. Japanese craftsmanship at its best. Kudos to the Sony engineers. They have always managed to put a smile on my face throughout the years. Thank you!
Ease of Use:
The Sony OS is very simple and easy to use. Make sure you update it to the latest version and you are good to go. In the year and a half that I’ve had it (1713 hours and 50 minutes playtime), I have never experienced any bugs or lags. For its purpose, it works perfect. The screen is decent, the physical buttons feel very good on touch, and the layout is very organic and easy to get used to. There is plenty of headphone amplification, so you will not have issues using your more demanding headphones.
The battery life is way above any other DAP on the market right now. Nothing comes even close.
Oh boy, where to start…The Sony NW-WM1A sounds very relaxed, open and smooth. The sound is even throughout the sound stage and the bass is rich and controlled. Never too analytical or boring. It is very enjoyable and comfortable player to listen. All the details are there, masterfully separated, yet well rounded. The control is superb, there is no “in your face”, pushy, harsh sounds, what you hear is a very smooth textured sound. There are 120 volume levels, an upscaling technology, a lot of pre-set or customized equalizer settings, so you can control the tone to your liking. I will not even bother mentioning that this device is meant for hi-res audio. The player is capable of making any audio file sound better, but if you want to experience the full capabilities of the player, I recommend using a high quality digital format. Compared to other DAPs, the Sony NW-WM1A has a smoother, warmer sound signature, which I really like.
A few things I do not like about the player: the proprietary WM port, not being able to delete an album directly from the player, not being able to save EQ settings for a particular file.
The main focus of this player is sound quality. There are no compromises there. And that is why the Sony NW-WM1A completely fulfils its purpose. There have been a lot of discussions about the pricing of these devices. To me, the price is justified. In today’s age, when it’s considered normal for the latest flagship phone, a device that you replace every couple of years to be priced from $1000-1500, a premium DAP, with all the engineering and the craft that goes into development of these devices, the cost of materials used, which will last for years, it is more than justified.
All of these devices that I have mentioned here are designed with a purpose of bringing you a premium level of audio experience. Both, the A&K and the Cowon are beautiful devices and you will not go wrong with choosing any of them. Do your research and find out which one is more suited to your tastes.
I just fell in love with the Sony.
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