Hands on: Sony HAP-Z1ES streamer review
One of the big news stories to emerge from IFA 2013 was Sony’s launch of a brand new range of high-res audio supporting hi-fi components.
Top of that new range sits the Sony HAP-Z1ES, a £2000 streamer/music server. Amongst the hustle and bustle of the show Sony had created a purpose-built listening room where the streamer was on display. And, we were lucky enough to spend some exclusive hands-on time with the unit. Read on for our first impressions..
The HAP-Z1ES was connected to Sony’s matching, £2000 TA-A1ES stereo amplifier, which, in turn, was connected by a couple of seriously chunky runs of speaker cable into a pair of Sony SS-NA2ES floorstanding loudspeakers.
Sony’s audio guru, Eric Kingdon, handed us the reigns: in this case, they came in the form of a slender remote control and a Sony tablet. The latter was running a brand new control app, purpose-built for the new streamers, but more on that later...
Sony’s equipped its top-of-the-range streamer with a 1TB hard disc drive. This should give ample room for even the largest collection of ripped music files, high-res or not.
You’ll drag and drop onto the unit’s hard drive either wirelessy or connected via wired ethernet. If 1TB isn’t enough you can hook up additional USB drives and increase the capacity.
As you’d expect, file compatibility is extensive and includes AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WMA, MP3 and DSD, the latter being Sony’s own encoding software found on its Super Audio CD (SACD) format. Fans of classical or mix CDs will be pleased to know gapless playback is included too.
There’s a decent-sized 4.3in LCD display on the front of the streamer, which shows you various bits of information, including artist, track and sample rate of the music being played.
The chassis seemed solid and weighty with a thick aluminum panel dominating the front of the streamer. The fascia is a minimalist design with just one dial and a small handful of buttons to help with menus and music playback.
You cycle through menus with the large dial and hit the adjacent enter button to select. Eveerything seemed straightforward enough but we did find ourselves wanting to push the dial in to select the next screen. Maybe it just takes a little getting used to.
The streamer’s remote control is very slender and sparsely populated like the front panel, with just buttons for volume control, stop, start and pause. It seemed lightweight compared to the heftiness of the actual streamer.
At this point, Sony then pointed us in the direction of its new HDD Audio Remote app (due for launch on iOS and Android devices). Needless to say it was running on a Sony Xperia Z tablet and although not the final version of the app, it showed plenty of potential.
A little slow to respond at times, but the track, album and artist information was cleanly presented, while the way everything was displayed seemed to make sense.
Anything selected through the app was mirrored (following an ever so slight delay) on the streamer’s screen. The app’s screen even changed colour to match the dominant colour in the album artwork.
Playing through the Sony SS-NA2ES speakers, our initial impressions were promising. Obviously we can’t wait to slot the streamer into our own reference system, but, switching between various resolutions of track, our appetites were suitably whetted.
One of the tracks was a CD-quality rip of Nat King Cole’s When I Fall In Love and the Sony seemed to do a good job of divulging detail from the strings and drums, while communicating Nat’s striking vocal. Jumping up to high-res tracks the detail levels went up a notch as you’d expect.
It’s great to see a global manufacturer like Sony pushing hard for high-res music. And, having a top-end streamer (together with a complete streaming range) should really help their cause. All we need now is more high-res audio content for consumption, and you'd think that Sony, with its own music label, would be in pole position to deliver it. Fingers crossed...
As for a full review, well that will have to wait until we get the streamer in our listening rooms, which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later…
by Andy Madden