Saturday, June 18, 2016

Take the Red Pill: The Sony NW-ZX2 High-Resolution Walkman

The SONY NW-ZX2 High-Resolution Walkman recently woke me from a coma. One I did not realize I was in. The ubiquity of music today had clouded my experience of it. I had become dulled by it all. Despite possessing almost my entire music collection in my pocket on my iPhone, I had slowly lost my passion for it without even realizing it.

On a whim at my local Best Buy, I was tempted to buy the SONY NW-ZX2. At $1,200 it is not a drop in the bucket. I did pause to consider if I truly wanted/needed it. But I figured that all my dicking around to save money with that Cartwheel coupon app at Target each week needs to pay off for something, right? Also, deep down, I felt like Neo in The Matrix, just knowing, sensing, feeling, that something has been absent or missing inside of me.

My hunch was right. Something was missing.

After pairing the high-end ZX2 Walkman with a pair of $300 Sony MDR1A Premium Hi-Res Stereo Headphones, (these are actually low-end as far as premium headphones go) and putting a few Apple Lossless CD rips and FLAC files on the ZX2, I felt like Morpheus had just given me the red pill. My dulled old-man ears woke up. The ZX2 exploded old favorite albums anew into my head and helped to clear the wax from my ears. Everything I played sounded better. Even standard MP3 rips.

The unit is surely not for everyone. It’s not as easy or convenient to get music onto as your iPhone is. I need to re-rip old CDs in Apple Lossless and then copy album folders over to the Walkman one-by-one. This slow process has me carefully recalling what I always loved to listen to. Old soundtracks such as A Clockwork Orange, and Passion by Peter Gabriel, or the work of classic techno musicians such as Aphex Twin, B12, Kruder & Dorfmeister, all sprang back to life for me. Led Zepplin erupted like I’ve never heard them before. Bjork, Thievery Corporation, Radiohead, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, 10,000 Maniacs, Charles Mingus, The Police, and Cat Stevens are just some of the artists whose work I’ve loaded on the ZX2 and listened to with amazement so far. Nothing I’ve played has disappointed me yet.

As the days went on, I unpacked my CD collection. I rarely even look at it anymore. Everything has been ripped to mp3s, (mostly 192kbps) a long time ago. Suddenly I was revisiting my CDs again, carefully scrutinizing what to re-rip into the Apple Lossless file format and what to add to the new 128GB high-end pocket powerhouse. The ZX2 can be expanded with a micro SD card.

The ZX2 is built like a brick shithouse. It’s has a heavy, thick, solid aluminum construction. The headphone jack exits at the bottom from a dime-sized, solid brass outlet. Many fine audio components are housed inside that are absent or severely reduced in today’s cell phones. Also, many audio formats can be played on the ZX2. AAC (Non-DRM), AIFF, ALAC, DSD, FLAC, HE-AAC, Linear PCM, MP3, WMA (Non-DRM) can all be loaded with no problem, playing nicely together. Online reviews I’ve read said that the ZX2 requires a burn-in period of between 100 to 200 hours before the fine capacitors inside begin to shine and produce the best quality sound. That blows my mind, as I’ve probably only listened for about 15 to 20 hours so far and I’m already amazed.

The Walkman has a nice touchscreen and uses an older Android Lollipop OS. Apps can be loaded onto the machine as well. With the built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, you can even browse the web and stream music from online sources. Little of this matters to me as I already have my cell phone for all that. It’s the quality of the music that is important here, and from what I’ve heard so far, I’m giving it the highest praise.

Here are a few links for the technical details and some more in-depth technical reviews.

Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 Music Player

The bottom line here is that if you feel you want to revisit the music you love and experience it anew, then this is the unit for you. The price, for sure, is a big-ass camel hump. We all have our priorities that we blow money on, and we find reasons to justify doing it, too. This one is mine, and I’m glad I took the red pill.