Sony Walkman Reborn

Those who remember the Sony Walkman are in a specific age category.  In the 1970s, Sony introduced the first portable music experience with a cassette player that fit in your hand, orange-sponge headphone covers, and a sound that was the best for the time.  It gave those who could afford it, a personal experience with music.
Over time, the Walkman became cheaper and there were many competitors.  Some better, some worse.  CDs shifted the music experience from cassettes and When the MP3 players arrived, the industry changed again.
Sony had the hardest time dealing with the shift to MP3 and other file-based players.  They introduced a digital Walkman, but poor user experience and a higher price relegated the device to obscurity.
Sony has decided to stop competing in a crowded market place of low and middle range players.  Engineers were given a mandate, forget all about cost and develop the best portable audio in the world.  They succeeded on all fronts.
The NW_WM1Z Walkman feels like a solid piece of metal and is crafted with some of the best components available.  It sounds unbelievable with standard MP3 files, but really shines with lossless audio.


The headphones aren’t orange fuzzy pieces of foam.  Instead they were also crafted with the worlds best audio in mind.  The MDR-Z1R headphones even use a special braided cable to reduce signal loss.  When they sit on your head it feels light and airy.
While you can use the Walkman and headphones alone, Sony recommends using the TA-ZH1ES amplifier to really open up the sound.  An amplifier for headphones?  I know, you’re thinking you aren’t one of those guys who sits next to the speakers at concerts, so why do you need more volume?  Amplifiers often do more than make sound louder.  In this case, this amplifier processes the signals from the Walkman and further improves the sound.
Attempting to describe what this system sounds like is like trying to go back in time and tell people what a 4K TV looks like to the proud owners of the first televisions in the 50s.  It is an experience.  I sampled both an organ concerto and one of my favorite songs, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” by Paul Simon from his Graceland album.  I could not believe the sound.
My personal audio system isn’t bad.  I have carefully collected headphones and speakers that deliver amazing sound.  This system did make mine sound bad, it sounded like a different experience.  Rather than allowing me to hear different ranges of sound, I stopped thinking about the sound altogether and thought that Paul Simon was standing a few feet away singing.  The organ in the concerto sounded like it was in the same room.  The sound was so perfect that I stopped listening for the limitations and was in the moment.  That’s an achievement.
Sony achieved what they set out to do.  This is the best portable sound I have heard.  They also spared no expense.  To get you started on the cost, the cable for the headphones is the cheapest part, it is over $200.  The next cheapest component is the amplifier at $2,199.  The headphones are next at $2,299 and the Walkman itself is $3,199.  If you’re keeping track, that is just shy of $8,000.
I traditionally don’t like to write about unobtainable technology.  What makes this story interesting is the rebirth of a brand and product that brought personal music to the world.  Given time and technology that provides the same quality and lower prices, this type of experience will become more affordable.  In the meantime, if you get a chance to try it, give it a shot.  It won’t make you want to spend $8,000, but it will give you a glimpse at amazing audio and the future of audio.
Walkman Photo courtesy of Binarysequence
Brett Thelin

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