Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD Audio Player

Game Changer

Equipment report
Music servers and computer audio
Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD Audio Player

To further improve overall vibration control the HAP-Z1ES uses a new foot design that employs ribs combined with an offset connection that isolates sound pressure from external sources. Inside the HAP-Z1ES Sony uses special mounting methodologies—an example is the analog connection terminal, which is mounted separately on its own isolated board to minimize the effects of vibration. An internal cooling fan is mounted via a damping system to minimize any vibration it might generate. It is also specifically angled so that it can operate with maximum efficiency and minimum noise.

Sony’s attention to detail on the HAP-Z1Es extends even to the main dial on the front panel. It is attached to an iron plate to prevent twisting or lateral movement. Although priced at only $1999, the HAP-Z1ES’ fit and finish certainly rivals preamps and network players costing a lot more.

The Setup
The original set-up plan was for a Sony technical expert to fly into Denver from San Diego and set up the HAP-Z1ES for me. An especially vigorous snowstorm curtailed his visit. He got as far as the outskirts of Boulder before he had to give up. Undaunted, I set up the HAP-Z1ES by myself without any outside technical assistance. I found that even an audiophile with limited computer savvy could install a HAP-Z1ES with little difficulty.

After unpacking the HAP-Z1ES, I placed it on an equipment rack shelf and attached its analog outputs to my preamp and connected its Ethernet input to my home network via a 100 feet of Cat 5 Ethernet cable. I could have used the HAP-Z1ES’ built-in Wi-Fi (I got a signal strength reading of 61 from the HAP-Z1ES’s built-in Wi-Fi signal strength meter), but I wanted to make sure the HAP-Z1Es was receiving the most robust signal I could supply.

After connecting the HAP-Z1ES I turned it on and went to the “Network Settings” section of the main menu. There I selected “wired set-up” and “Auto” from the IP address page. After that, the HAP-Z1ES linked to my network and I saved the configuration. For users who like reassurance, the HAP-Z1ES lets you check and confirm that the settings are “OK” before closing the network settings pages. The procedure is much the same for wireless Wi-Fi, except you have a page that lets you select your access points. If you live in a Wi-Fi-intensive environment you can pick the correct Wi-Fi network and enter your password. Near the end of the review period I switched over to Wi-Fi access and had no issues with changes to the installation or impaired Internet performance.

Once the HAP-Z1ES is connected to your home network, either via Ethernet cable or via Wi-Fi, you can transfer music files to its internal hard drive. Unlike many music servers that employ a closed system (see AHC’s review of the Olive player), the Sony HAP-Z1ES permits you to add, store, and backup your music files onto standard USB hard drives as well as its internal drive. Although created so those new to music servers can easily use it, the HAP-Z1ES can fit into a fairly complex computer music eco-system. Sony expects the average HAP-Z1ES owner already has a library or even multiple libraries of music. With the Sony HAP Music Transfer application owners can not only transfer current music files over to the HAP-Z1ES, but also periodically and automatically copy over any new music to their HAP-Z1ES.

Initially I had some problems using the HAP Music Transfer application on my ancient Dell D620 laptop, which runs Windows XP. Even though I was running the last version of XP, the D620 did not recognize the HAP-Z1ES. After a couple of e-mails, Sony determined that the D620 was not running XP in the 32-bit mode that is needed for the program to run successfully. Any PC running a more current version of XP, Windows 7, or Windows 8 won’t have this issue. Since my ancient laptop proved to be better suited for doing firmware upgrades than running current software, I asked to see the Mac version of the HAP Music Transfer application. Sony then sent me a Beta copy of the Mac version which had just become available. It worked flawlessly.

When first used the HAP Music Transfer application has a default location for your Mac’s music library that may or may not be correct for your system. If you don’t keep your music on your primary drive you will have to change the app’s default location for your music folders. You must change the music library default or nothing will be transferred because the app won’t be able to find your music files.

The HAP Music Transfer app supports multiple music folder locations. This means that if you and your family have separate music libraries on different computers in your home, as long as they are attached to your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the HAP Music Transfer app can move them over to the HAP-Z1ES after you’ve selected and added them to the HAP Music Transfer’s music library folder list.

Once your music folder locations have been entered into the HAP Music Transfer app, you can specify what kind of files you would like to transfer. The HAP-Z1ES supports 3GP, AA3, AIF, AIFF, DFF, DSF, FLA, FLAC, M4A, MP3, MP4, OMA, WAV, and WMA file types. And while you can transfer any and all of these formats over to the HAP-Z1ES, you might want to restrict its library to higher-quality lossless file formats. For users who’ve generated MP3 versions of their full-resolution files for their portable devices, being able to exclude MP3 files is a useful feature. By checking or unchecking the format boxes on the “Contents Settings” page of the HAP Music Transfer app, you can specify exactly which formats will be transferred.