Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD Audio Player

Game Changer

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

Once you’ve specified file types, pushing the “Start” button will initiate file transfers. My initial transfer involved 5697 music files and required almost 20 hours to complete. You can expect the first transfer to take a while, which is why a wired Ethernet connection with its faster transfer rates is the best option.

After all your music files are transferred to the HAP-Z1ES by the HAP Music Transfer app, the HAP-Z1ES connects to Gracenote’s database to acquire artwork for any files that may not have artwork. A majority of my music files already had artwork, but for some of my own recorded tracks the HAP-Z1ES found some interesting, if not entirely correct, art and attributions. On one particular track, which was a recording by my acoustic band, Knapweed, of the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan song, “Walls of Time,” the song was incorrectly attributed to Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers from their Live at the Ryman album. I was quite surprised when I selected it; instead of Emmylou’s superb vocals I heard my own pitiful croaking.

If you select “auto update” from the HAP Music Transfer program’s options, during each launch it will immediately look for any new tracks in your designated music library locations and automatically transfer any new files onto the HAP-Z1ES.

In addition to playing music from your music library, the HAP-Z1ES also has a built-in Internet radio tuner. Called the “V-Tuner,” this feature includes the ability to search for Internet radio stations by genre or location. It also lists the bit rate of each station so you can see exactly what quality level a station can deliver. I quickly found the local stations that I listen to regularly and designated them as “favorites” via a heart symbol icon, which added them to a special list that I could access more easily.

Sony also added a special AI feature to the HAP-Z1ES called SenseMe channels. According to Sony, SenseMe channels is a function that analyzes and automatically categorizes music tracks according to their mood and tempo using the 12-tone analysis technology developed by Sony. SenseMe has twelve categories of music—morning, daytime, evening, midnight, energetic, relax, upbeat, mellow, lounge, emotional, dance, and extreme. These could be handy, especially if you’d like something a bit more selective than good old-fashioned shuffle mode. In my music library of almost 6000 songs, selecting “extreme” brought up 34 tracks. I guess I’m just not an extreme kinda guy.

The HAP App and HAP-Z1ES Remote
The HAP-Z1ES comes with a silver wand-shaped remote control. It also has its own dedicated free downloadable app. The remote control duplicates all the buttons on the HAP-Z1ES front panel. It also adds jump forward, jump reverse, as well as mute and volume controls. Although the HAP-Z1ES has a fixed output level, both the volume and muting can be controlled by compatible Sony receivers and integrated amplifiers, or even assigned to products from other manufacturers, using the HAP-Z1ES’s “Amp Control Setting.”

The HAP control application will be available for Android phones, iPhones, iPads, and Sony Xperia, and other Android tablets. At the time of the review, only the Android app had been finalized, so Sony included an Xperia tablet with the app installed on it. Once the app located the HAP-Z1ES on my network it worked flawlessly with no crashes or delayed responses. The app lets you choose music, make playlists, and find particular tracks in your music library. Among its extra features is a “new music” list that shows you the latest additions to your HAP-Z1ES’s music library and the most popular tracks called “favorites” (in case you really enjoy playing the same tracks over and over.) One nice, yet completely superfluous feature is that the background colors of the app change in response to the primary colors in the cover art of any currently playing track.

Day-to-Day Use
While I’m pretty sure there’s a computer in there somewhere, its lack of computer-based issues has made living with and using the HAP-Z1ES on a day-to-day basis a joy. I just turn it on and it works. Whether controlled from the front panel, the remote control, or the app, the HAP-Z1ES responded to commands quickly, and except in the case of hooking up with Internet radio stations via its V-Tuner, where it sometimes took as much as ten seconds for some stations to start to play, any music on the internal HD began playing almost instantly after being selected.

While I didn’t find Sony’s SenseMe feature of particular value, I’m sure most users will find some use for it, if only to annoy significant others by selecting “lounge.” One feature I did enjoy was the “Favorites” selection feature in the V-Tuner. I was able to assemble a very nice list of higher-bit-rate Internet radio stations in a short time by using V-Tuner’s search features.

The Sound
As someone who has felt that the best digital reproduction comes from files that have not had their native rate changed, reading that PCM files can be converted into DSD by the HAP-Z1ES raised some red flags. But after comparing the HAP-Z1ES’s DSD Remastering Engine’s rendition of PCM recordings with those same files played back at their native rate through the HAP-Z1ES, I can only conclude that whatever Sony is doing in the conversion process doesn’t appear to have any signature negative sonic effects. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to write that the Sony HAP-Z1ES does a better job of reproducing PCM than PCM-centric DACs or HD players, it certainly is on sonic par with the best I’ve heard.

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