Chances are you’ve owned a Sony Walkman before. It probably played cassette tapes or CDs and had features like Mega Bass and skip protection. This Walkman is nothing like that one.
The new Sony Walkman ZX2 is a piece of premium audio equipment, a portable way to play high-resolution audio files that promise better fidelity. It’s also $1,200.
The Walkman ZX2 is the follow-up to Sony’s first high-end Walkman, last year’s (you guessed it) ZX1. At 8.3 ounces, the black metal body is weighty in the hand and feels really sturdy, while the textured leatherette back adds some much-needed grip. Its profile is longer and thicker than a smartphone, and that extra weight helps keep it from slipping, but it is a little awkward, especially if you’re trying to put it in a pocket.
The 3.5mm audio jack is ringed in bright gold, which is Sony making sure you know you’re holding something premium. Not everyone’s going to love the ZX2’s looks, but if you’re into the whole industrial-luxe stereo aesthetic, you’ll probably be into it.
The ZX2 sounds incredible. Period. My testing process was pretty straightforward. I plugged in a pair of Sony MDR-1A headphones, kicked back, and hit play. My demo Walkman came loaded up with a pretty diverse selection of tunes, from Nine Inch Nails to Serge Gainsbourg to the Smiths, and it made my studio apartment feel like a concert hall.
But out in the world my excitement started to waver. On a walk to work or even during an afternoon at a laid-back coffee shop, I found the ZX2’s performance perfectly good but uninspiring. The music sounded exactly like what I could pump out of my iPhone 6. There’s just too much going on, too much ambient noise, and too many distractions to appreciate this level of fidelity outside a controlled environment. Even the most isolating headphones aren’t going to get you to that full-on living room sound.
I love the idea of a high-end gadget that does only one thing and does it extremely well. But, while the ZX2 does provide outstanding audio quality, the limited practical benefits, burden of carrying another heavy device, and steep price tag all conspire against it. As for the $1,200 question? I’m going to have to give the Walkman ZX2 a pass.
What about the interface?
The ZX2 runs a heavily modified version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, which feels outdated on the new device. Using an existing operating system is a great idea, since Sony can be confident it’s going to work and can focus its energy on the features that matter – but using one from late 2012 seems underwhelming.
What about the device itself?
You can download apps from the Google Play store, meaning the ZX2 will run the streaming services you’re already using to get your music, and it can even be used like a tiny tablet in a pinch. Things like dedicated equaliser controls and tonnes of different ways to sort your music are baked into the new experience and add to the serious audiophile cred. But the overall experience was laggy and left me frustrated on multiple occasions. Whether it was waiting for album art to fill the screen or simple things like scrolling, the ZX2 often felt half a second behind.
And the hardware?
The 4-inch screen is only 854 x 480 pixels and has relatively low contrast; by comparison the Samsung Galaxy S6 is only 1 inch larger but boasts 2,560 x 1,440 resolution with insane colours. I know that a beautiful display isn’t mission-critical in a dedicated audio player, but on a supposedly top-tier device, no corners should be cut. I do appreciate the addition of a MicroSD slot, letting you expand on the 128 GB hard drive, which could fill up quickly.
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