The NW-WM1Z has basic control buttons on one side to augment its touch-sensitive display, one hold/lock switch on the other side, two headphone connections on its top, and a USB and microSD card slot on its bottom. The reason for two headphone connections is that one is a standard mini-stereo connector while the other is a brand-new 4.4mm “standard” balanced connection. This new standard will be a boon to accessory headphone cable manufacturers since many headphone owners will need to buy a new cable (or adapter) to go from the other “standard” balanced connectors to this new one.
The NW-WM1Z employs a new user interface or UI that allows for both side and up/down swipes to move from one control screen to another. The NW-WM1Z also has nested menus and standard controls such as a “back” button. Anyone with a passing knowledge of smartphone operation will have no problems navigating through the NW-WM1Z’s controls, but I suspect he or she may need to access the owner’s manual to decipher and fully digest some of the NW-WM1Z’s more esoteric settings, such as DSEE or DC phase linearizer. I know I did.
Along with a dedicated data/charging cable, the NW-WM1Z comes with a cleverly designed case that incorporates a hard plastic cover plate to protect the touchscreen. With its reinforced corners and edges, if or when you drop your NW-WM1Z the player will not get the worst of things. Sony’s “golden brick” will survive anything short of a drop from a third floor window. One word of warning: The NW-WM1Z, like many other Sony devices that connect to a USB port, uses Sony’s own connector rather than a standard mini-USB B or C. So, if you forget to bring a dedicated Sony cable with you on your travels, none of your other USB cables will help you connect to power-up your player.
Data storage capacity for the NW-WM1Z begins with 256GB of internal storage, which can be augmented by one microSD card of up to 256GB, bringing total capacity to 512GB. Unlike many players where you can swap populated microSD cards from one to another and the data is recognized, unless you place all your music files into a folder marked “Music” the NW-WM1Z will not find or recognize your files. (Even the cards that were recognized and played by the Sony NW-ZX2 were deemed blank by the NW-WM1Z.) Another small issue with the NW-WM1Z’s handling of micro SD cards: You will need a long strong thumbnail, tiny fingers, or a pair of tweezers to switch microSD cards in the NW-WM1Z because of the way the door and card slot are designed.
With two gain settings, normal and high, the NW-WM1Z attempts to span the range from highly sensitive in-ears to power-hungry high-impedance headphones. With the ultra-high-sensitivity (115dB) Empire Ears Zeus custom in-ears the NW-WM1Z produced some low-level hiss, but with the 100dB-sensitive Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered custom in-ears there was no hiss when the player was in pause—just deep dark silence.
Switching to the Beyerdynamic DT-990, 600-ohm version, which are my lowest sensitivity full-sized headphones, with the high-gain setting of the NW-WM1Z engaged and using its single-ended output I had barely enough volume at the full output level of 120 on a scale of 1-to-120 to play my own live concert recordings at what I consider moderate volumes. (Loud was not an option.) With the easier-to-drive Beyerdynamic DT-880 250-ohm version there was just enough gain with my own recordings to play them loudly. My conclusion is that if you have a hard-to-drive headphone that you want to mate with the NW-WM1Z, it’s important that it can be attached via balanced mode where the NW-WM1Z has substantially more output—240mW versus 60mW from its single-ended output.
One unique Sony feature, unavailable on any other manufacturer’s portable player, is the Sony SenseMe AI music shuffle. This advanced shuffle feature has twelve categories—morning, daytime, evening, midnight, energetic, relax, upbeat, mellow, lounge, emotional, dance, and extreme work. According to Wikipedia, SenseMe works “by mapping music to a dual axis map based on the mood and tempo of music tracks. Mood and tempo are determined by using the appropriate Sony compatible software, which analyzes music tracks individually and computes the relevant track information. Analyzed tracks can then be plotted onto an intuitive dual axis map…The horizontal axis is based on mood and the vertical axis is based on tempo.” SenseMe was first introduced by Sony in 2009, and has been available on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and many Sony handsets since 2010. Its implementation on the Sony HAP-Z1ES player was my first exposure, and initially I was not impressed. But after a several months’ use I’d learned that the SenseMe “channels” delivered a much better user experience than ordinary “shuffle” settings. I was delighted to see that SenseMe was included in the NW-WM1Z’s feature set. It’s great on a fully-populated-with-music NW-WM1Z—almost like having your own personal radio station.
Although the NW-WM1Z is a technological marvel, as mentioned earlier it does lack some features that potential users may find essential. First, it can’t stream from any online music services such as Tidal or Spotify because it lacks WiFi or wireless file transfer. Secondly, the NW-WM1Z can’t do dual duty as a portable USB DAC connected to a computer. Second, since it is a closed system you can’t add features or apps via third-party sources. The NW-WM1Z was designed to be an optimal playback device for digital music files; additional functions and capabilities were eliminated so that playback of digital files could be optimized. In automotive terms the NW-WM1Z is a Formula One racer, not a family sedan.