The Sony Walkman NW-ZX507 is the more premium of the two Sony portable players announced at IFA 2019. Retailing at €830/£750 from November 2019, it’s very much aimed at the uncompromising listener.
It has a 4.4mm balanced audio connection on top, native DSD and MQA playback and plenty of storage space for local files — all very good reasons to start taking it seriously.
With mobile phones getting bigger and bigger, it’s a relief that Sony has stuck to truly palm-sized dimensions for the Walkman. It’s a light but reassuringly chunky design with an anodised aluminium frame in a choice of either silver or black.
Big gold circles accent the 4.4mm and 3.5mm headphone connectors on top, and the big circular control buttons along the right-hand edge are a very nice statement of audio intent. We are pleased to note that the volume buttons are particularly large. There’s a hold slider that can be used to make sure you don't accidentally upset playback while fiddling in your pocket, and the USB-C charge port and microSD card slot are positioned on the opposite edge.
The 3.6in HD touchscreen is bright and responsive and gives adequate access to the Android operating system. In some ways, it’s a pity when you see the bog standard Android app tray appear but, thanks also to built-in wi-fi, it does mean that you get unfettered access to the Google Play app store and therefore your favourite streaming services.
More enjoyable, though, is playback from the well designed Walkman app itself. A menu offers quick and easy access to the music you've stored on the internal 64GB disk and an SD card, if one's inserted. We really like the the HR Music tab, which allows you to navigate directly to the tracks that are encoded in the highest quality.
On the inside, Sony has spared little expense. The amplifier is Sony’s S-Master HX digital amp. The studio circuitry includes a newly developed FTCAP high polymer capacitor, an Electric Double-Layer capacitor for better bass levels, premium solder and finer resistors for more delicate detail. It’s capable of up to 384kHz/32bit PCM playback but also contains Sony’s DSEE HX processor, which will upscale lower quality local tracks and music streams too; all very well and good on paper, of course, but how does it actually sound?
The Sony Walkman NW-ZX507 is set-up by Sony at the show to test with the five-star Sony MDR-Z1R headphones, which already gives the Walkman something of a head start. Nonetheless, we are very impressed by what we hear.
Playing Get Lucky by Daft Punk and Pharrell, we’re immediately struck by a wealth of detail we’ve simply never noticed on that track before. Claps, clicks, tom-toms and the like really bring the music alive, but the sounds still remain so well integrated spatially into the overall soundstage that nothing feels like it stands out where it shouldn’t.
Dynamics are superb, with the silences between the notes chocolatey deep. There's no harsh onset of the beats, no fuzz and no hiss anywhere in the background as we listen to the locally stored FLAC file. Pharrell’s voice is reproduced with a wonderful depth of character while Daft Punk’s gritty vocoder lyrics are a fantastically robotic contrast.
Tonally, the balance seems superb. There’s no part of the range that has been rolled off in any way and you can tell that there’s no crawling attempt at crowd pleasing with the way that the NW-ZX507 has been tuned. The bass is authoritative and tight but still fun and lively. It really gives a sense of Sony’s confidence in this product.
The whole effect is of a device that delivers a very rich sound in seemingly effortless fashion. It’s a gloriously easy listen.
The confines of a trade show are not the best for an undisturbed listening experience and the test of a portable product really requires the use of reference headphones and direct comparisons but, all that aside, we are so far very impressed with the Sony Walkman NW-ZX705.
It’s highly feature complete in terms of physical design and audio support. It feels like Sony has done a brilliant job of choosing a good quality of audio components, a practical form factor and all with a very sensible price balance. But what we like best of all is how it sounds.
We can't wait to get the NW-ZX705 in for review so we can throw loads more music at it and find out if it can follow through on this deeply impressive first impression.