Sony DMP-Z1 Signature Series Digital Music Player with headphone amp and DAC
When Sony unveiled the DMP-Z1 it drew the attention of the audiophile press like a perfectly cooked steak in a room full of starved Paleo dieters. But it was not so much its looks or technological accomplishments that drew curious eyes, but its price: £8,000 or $8,499 US MSRP! However, having spent some quality time with the DMP-Z1, I think that, if anything, it might be underpriced!
The DMP-Z1 was designed from the ground up with sound quality as the primary goal, with a blank slate and almost a blank cheque for development. From its rigid milled aluminium H-shaped chassis (to isolate digital from analogue circuitry), three separate battery packs and five individual cells that isolate the digital and analogue sections from AC power, customised analogue rotary volume controller that supports the volume for four separate signal paths, Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4497EQ DAC Chip, TI TPA6120A2 amp chip, dual micro SD card slots, 256 GB internal storage, USB type C connections and Bluetooth receiver, it displays a level of rethinking that is reserved for state-of-the-art signature products.
The DMP-Z1 DAC section will support PCM to 384KHz/32bit and DSD 11.2MHz; interestingly, however, PCM files can be resampled into DSD 5.6 format via a built-in “DSD Remastering Engine” when turned on. Two other sound processing options include a ‘Vinyl Processor’ and a DSEE HX ‘Digital Sound Enhancement Engine’. The former option, says Sony, recreates “low-frequency tonearm resonance, surface and scratch noise, and resonance on the vinyl” to give “back the character of vinyl to your digital tracks.” The latter option uses artificial intelligence to recognise “instruments, voices, and musical genres” and then applies that information to “accurately rebuild audio lost during digital compression for a full-fidelity experience.”
The DMP-Z1 has two headphone outputs, a stereo-mini unbalanced and a 4.4mm balanced output—both with Kimber Kable wiring. It has no preamp-output or other analogue outputs besides the two headphone outputs, which default to the balanced output when connected. And while the DMP-Z1 is certainly transportable, it is not and was not designed to be a portable on-the-go device: its designated place is on your desktop where it can serve as a USB DAC, play files from one of its two micro SD card slots, or from a Bluetooth source device.
In my time as an audio equipment reviewer, I’ve probably fondled over 1,000 knobs (all metal, all consenting), but none have been anywhere near as beautiful or as satisfying to turn as the big golden volume knob that dominates the front panel of the Sony DMP-Z1. To touch it and turn it is gratifying on a deep tactile level.
The DMP-Z1 is mostly an ergonomic delight, but there are a few operational anomalies. For example, the unit re-creates the database for the micro SD cards in its card bays each and every time you turn it on. Similarly, the DMP-Z1 asks users to choose between AC and battery power every time it is powered up. Finally, the unit sports a top-mounted 2.75 ×1.5‑inch colour touchscreen that some may find too small to see clearly or to use effectively.
The good news is that these few quirks in no way diminish the DMP-Z1’s essential riches, which are its sonics. The sound reminds me of the Sony NW-WMZ1 portable player—it is lush without being sluggish and detailed without sounding mechanical. The bass through the Abyss Diana headphones connected via its balanced output extended down to the depths. And while with some amps the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones can sound bass-heavy, the DMP-Z1 tightly and successfully controlled the MDR-Z1’s low bass. Spatial characteristics through both headphones mentioned were superb—tight, well defined, with effortless three-dimensional imaging.
If you are searching for a great all-around, flexible, and ergonomically elegant DAC/headphone amp for your desktop look at Sony’s superb TA-Z1ES. But if you want to experience the bleeding edge of high-resolution DAC/headphone amplifier design and execution (with some limited flexibility) I encourage you to investigate the Sony DMP- Z1 further. It has the most beautiful sound (and volume knob) I have experienced from a desktop-based DAC/headphone amplifier so far.
DMP-Z1 Signature Series Digital Music Player
Type: Battery-powered desktop Digital Music Player with headphone amplifier and DAC
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 40kHz
Max Power Output: 570 mW single-ended, 1500 mW balanced
Storage: 256 GB internal memory, plus two Micro SD card slots
Battery Life: from 8 to 10 hours
Wireless capabilities: Bluetooth® Specification Version 4.2, NFC, A2DP, AVRCP, SBC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, AAC
Dimensions (H×W×D): 6.83 × 13.82 × 27.89cm
Price: £8,000 UK, $8,499 US MSRP
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