Sony NW-A100 and NW-ZX500 Walkman Audio Players

The 40th Anniversary of the Sony Walkman was in 2019 and with that, Sony released two new Android-based Walkman DAPs to commemorate the original Walkman with the NW-A100 and the NW-ZX500 series.

Both features a cassette tape screensaver while playing music and a vinyl DSP as part of some new features of their DAP line.

The NW-A100 series comes in at around $349 USD for the 16GB 105 model, with additional models including a noise-canceling IEM, and a special edition set with a Walkman case.

The NW-ZX500 series adds 4.4mm balanced and starts at $600 USD and $830 USD for the 16gb and 64gb versions.

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Sony NW-A105 Walkman Digital Audio Player First Impressions

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The latest “Walkman” from Sony are a set of Android-based digital audio players with streaming capability in the NW-100 and NW-ZX500 series walkmans. I purchased the NW-A105 now, though after going through the first day or so of having it, I may be opting to get the higher priced ZX507.

First off, the A105 is priced at around $349 and comes with 16GB of internal storage and has a microsd slot. I am using it with a 200GB card now and had no issues loading music. It only has 3.5mm single-ended output and is limited to just 35mW at 16 ohm power. So, in otherwords, it’s a tad weaksauce. That said, it’s enough juice for pretty much every IEM I own with the exception of my Unique Melody ME1 planar in-ear, and that one can get plenty loud, but just sounds awfully anemic, especially when compared to the iBasso DX160 which has significantly more power in it’s balanced output. To make things even more pointed, the Apple USB-C to 3.5mm dongle has more power than the NW-A105.

Still, when used with just IEMs, this thing actually sounds pretty good, and it has a neutral to neutral-bright tonality to it. The soundstage is open and presents a clean, detailed playback.

The battery life is pretty bad so far. I’ve disabled most apps and turned off syncing and location services, but I’m finding battery drain to be still pretty high. I also haven’t had luck unlocking the bootloader to see if I can mod it as well.

Another negative, and I’ve already pointed this out above, is that this isn’t the DAP you’re looking for to use with over-ear headphones that need more power. The Verite required the amp to be maxed out and it sounded really bad. I didn’t even bother trying the Hifiman Arya with it.

But the good news is that bluetooth works great and no issues with wifi and bluetooth range that is an issue with a lot of the Chinese-based DAPs I’ved used more recently, with the worst being the iBasso DX160 where I can’t go more than 5 feet without stuttering during bluetooth playback.

The other thing to note is how small and how cute this little player is. It fits inside my palms with ease and it’s roughly the size of the small iPhone SE’s screen footprint. That’s small! It has full android 9.0 and play store capabilities and I had no issues using Spotify and Qobuz as well as Niagara Launcher and other android apps, and using it was quick without any lag.

Now that said, I am looking at possibly returning this and getting the NW-ZX507 as it has a little more power and balanced options for doubling it’s power output while still retaining a slim feel, albeit taller with the same screen size. We’ll see…

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So I may have spoke a tad soon about crappy battery life. In my full day running this with IEMs plugged in and playing mostly off-line FLAC files, I’m currently down to 23% with 10 hours and 45 minutes of non-stop playback, with about 15-20 minutes of Qobuz usage and the rest using the walkman app.

Doing some math, that gets me to about 13.5 hours of playback.

  • During this time, I had 1 hour 9 minutes of screen-on time which does drain battery faster.
  • When I used Qobuz, streaming, it drained much faster.
  • Using Direct Sound mode (which disables all DSP), the battery drainage is minimized a lot!
  • Disabling Direct Sound mode, and even if you don’t enable any of the DSP effects or EQ, you’ll still drain faster than with it On. Weird.

Oh I didnt mention, it has SYSTEM level EQ and DSP effects. I tried it on Spotify and Qobuz.

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I picked up the Sony NW-ZX507 walkman a couple days ago as well. It’s the mid-tier level DAP and similar in size and shape to the ZX300. This one also runs android, and features the same SOC as the NW-A105, as well as both sharing 4GB RAM. That means, their performance is exactly identical, and that’s what I’ve experienced using both of them.

They also use the same battery and so I’ve had very similar results. I’ve actually have been averaging roughly 18 hours of “predicted” battery life while using this DAP, running it down to about 50% after 9 straight hours of usage playing mostly FLAC.

The ZX507 adds 4.4mm balanced, as well as the Sony FT Capacitors and circuitry to it that are not present on the lower, cute tiny NW-A105 model.

In my initial listen, I found the 4.4mm and 3.5mm to sound pretty similarly right out of the box, and also found no distinguishing differences to the NW-A105.

As I continued to play with the 507, I started listening to bluegrass music, and I found the 507 had subtle differences of playback — just slightly more defined bass, and very slightly better resolution. But it’s very very close to the NW-A105, which means that the little player sounds quite good for IEMs.

The 507 has more power, so it can handle some headphones though I think it’s still on the weaker side of things. I haven’t tried it with Verite or Arya yet.

Anyway, I decided to keep the NW-ZX507 and returned the 105, despite loving the small size and really enjoying that player. The 507 build is a lot better, feels weightier and more polished. The screen is the exact same, but the player itself is longer and feels nice holding in the hand.

The one quirk so far is that the USB-C port is on the side of the player which is weird. It’s also throws off balance a bit if you’re charging and hold it at the same time, but I haven’t had to do that too much.

The case shown in the photo is the Dignis case. Feels great, and covers it well.

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cough cough Sony shill cough cough

:smirk::wink::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: great write up in all seriousness Ant!

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The Sony NW-ZX507 is the latest Sony Digital Audio Player in their Walkman line that has spanned 40 years now. Of course, the digital versions are only more fairly recent, but to commemorate this event, Sony released the NW-A100 and NW-A500 series of Walkman with a fun Cassette Tape UI that can be activated while music is playing.

Features

I covered some impressions of the NW-A105 a little while back, and was quite happy with it for the most part. It’s an extremely cute player with a very small handheld size, snappy UI, good battery life (for an Android DAP), and decent sound quality. I decided to give the higher priced NW-ZX507 a shot after and ended up keeping the more expensive model, and here’s why.

First off, the two share a lot of similarities. They have the same SOC, RAM, battery, and pretty much the same software sans a couple DSP tweaks. They also share the same screen size and from what I can tell, the same resolution. The ZX507, however, has a longer and thicker body, to allow for a balanced audio system architecture with the proprietary Sony capacitors and S-Master HX amps. With this, they also added the 4.4mm balanced jack to the top of the player which is quickly becoming a favorite connector of mine.

This change does add a little more size and a little more weight to the overall unit when compared to the A105, however, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a small DAP and is quite portable and pocketable. In addition, the USB-C charging and data port is now moved to the upper left side of the player, which is quite a unique location for a USB port. It took some getting used to, and I still find it very awkward to use while plugged in. I end up not charging and handling most of the time.

Unlike other DAPs in this segment, this player does not have USB DAC capability which can be a bummer to some people. In good news, I found it’s bluetooth and wifi performance the best of all the DAPs I’ve used, though still not on the level as say my Samsung Galaxy S10e phone.

Battery Life

I found in my “as controlled as I can possible make it” testing, that the player can last 18 hours with FLAC playback using the Walkman audio player, and with the Sony DSP functions turned off and a couple hours of screen time. That’s much more than other DAPs that use Android I have tried in the past. With some streaming via Qobuz or Spotify, the playback time drops a bit. In my normal usage, I can easily get through a work day without worry about battery emptying out, and can predict up to about 12 – 14 hours of mixed offline and streaming playback.

To this note, I do have most things disabled like syncing and do not use the player for social media or gaming. I use it purely as a music player with occasional streaming music and YouTube. Battery tends to drain faster with streaming services and screen-time as expected.

On the note of the screen, it’s quite bright, even on the lowest settings. I don’t ever have a need to go higher than the lowest settings and that does help with the battery life as well. The screen size is 3.6 inches, so it is a little on the small side for when you need to use the keyboard, but for me, personally, I was able to use it just fine and I tend to minimize the need to use keyboard anyway.

The UI itself is pretty much a vanilla Android interface, running Android 9.0. Sony includes the Music Player app, as well as help guides, and an app to tune the DSP functionalities.

Sound DSP Options

These include a 10 band equalizer, their DSEE HX upscaler, their Vinyl Processor, Dynamic Normalizer, and DC Phase Linearizer simulator effects.

In listening, I found the DSEE HX to be really not that useful. It sounded like it just made music sound brighter, which seemed to match measurements I took.

When using the Vinyl Processor, the effect was rather minimal. It added slight warmth and a vinyl sound by oscillating the lower end frequency response by +/- 1-2 dB.

The Dynamic Normalizer essentially reduces dynamics: the loud and quiet range of your music. Enabling this essentially compresses your music, with the benefit of normalizing volume between songs, however it’ll make your music sound rather flat.

The DC Phase Linearizer “makes low-frequency phase characteristics more similar to a tradtional analog amplifier.” When I enabled this using one of the Standard A or Standard B modes, it does present bass a little more lifted and natural sounding. I did also measure this with a FR graph. The High/Low modes actually reduced the sub-bass with a roll-off which I found interesting. There was also slightly different harmonic distortion between the modes and a phase shift.

Listening Impressions

The Sony ZX507 has a nice musical sound that doesn’t stray too far from neutral, but does have enough flair to it that I enjoy it overall. It does sound like it emphasizes the lower-end to be slightly above neutral, while having just a small amount of reduced treble extension, especially when compared to my previous DAP the iBasso DX160 or something like the Fiio M11, which I found to be very bright.

It’s not as warm-bodied as the Astell & Kern SR15 or even the Hiby R5 however, but if I had to pick a DAP I recently had that shares similar sound, it’d be the Hiby R5 however with better resolution, clarity, extension and just a more natural overall sound.

The DX160 may actually beat out the ZX507 in terms of a neutral presentation, albeit with an aggressive sound, however I find the ZX507 just a little more engaging, with slightly softer presentation, which is more enjoyable over-time, though to be honest, the DX160, in terms of pure sound qualities, is exceptional value for its price, and the ZX507 is double the cost.

Comparison

I’ve already compared some of the Android-based players I’ve used recently, but I’ll put together a little chart here to compare them for other features as well with lower being better. I subjectively ranked each IEM from 1-8 in each category and did a 2:1 weighted score based on Sound to Usability.

**Lower score is better

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Great writeup and I love the charts. Very useful reference.

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