The NW-WM1Z and MDR-Z1R Used Together
This has been a long review so I’ll keep this section short and sweet. This combination in balanced mode is the rival of any headphone/player combo I’ve heard, regardless of price or technology. The sound flows with an effortless rightness that draws your attention to the music, never the gear. No matter how dense or busy a track, isolating a particular part or instrument was always easy. And the realism of this duo’s imaging specificity will scare you. There is absolutely no locational smear or vagueness; even when two vocalists were singing in unison, it was easy to differentiate each one. In short, this dynamic duo redefines the state of the art for portable systems.
Given its price, there isn’t much in the way of direct competition for the NW-WM1Z except for the Astell&Kern AK380. If you are trying to decide between these two fine players, congratulations. Sorry, I can’t help you more because the decision will come down to your own tastes, not mine. Both are superbly made and excellent-performing components, and your decision will likely depend on which interface and features you value the most rather than just the sound. The AK380 is more flexible, with a greater number of input and streaming options, but the NW-WM1Z has Sony’s SenseMe AI shuffle. And, of course, your preferences in earphones, and how well you like the combination of player and ’phones, will influence your decision as well.
The MDR-Z1R headphone, at $2299, has plenty of competition, but nothing quite matches its level of comfort, sound, and compatibility with a wide range of playback devices. Its closest sonic competitor would be the MrSpeakers Ether Flow ($1799–$1849), which is a smidgen less comfortable and favors a stouthearted headphone amplifier, but is over $400 less expensive. Although I no longer have the aforementioned Focal Utopia headphone for direct A/B sonic comparison, I do feel the MDR-Z1R headphones are in the same sonic class with those and the MrSpeakers Ether Flows—certainly these are both headphones that anyone considering the Utopia should hear before purchase.
With its NW-WM1Z portable player and MDR-Z1R headphones Sony has made the statement: “Here’s what we can do.” And the results of those labors are mostly successful in the case of the NW-WM1Z portable player; with the MDR-Z1R headphones, they scored a major coup. As mentioned, the MDR-Z1R ’phones are directly competitive in sound and comfort with Focal’s Utopia (also stellar sonic performers). While the NW-WM1Z player may be ideal for someone willing to sacrifice some features for others, the MDR-Z1R headphones sacrifice nothing (except for maybe an additional balanced cable and travel case) and qualify as the best all-around, multi-purpose, multi-environment headphones I’ve heard.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Dynamic, closed-back
Impedance: 64 ohms at 1kHz
Sensitivity: 100dB at 1mW
Weight: 385 grams excluding cable
Type: Portable player
Formats supported: PCM up to 384/32 and DSD up to 11.2MHz, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF
Output: Balanced or unbalanced, variable level
Power output: 240mW per channel balanced; 60mW per channel unbalanced
Outputs: Standard mini-stereo and 4.4mm balanced
Battery life: 30 hours playing 96/24 FLAC files
Dimensions: 73mm x 124mm x 20mm