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Sony WM1ZM2: Long live the King? 

Software differences

While it’s true that M2 debuts an entirely new open Android-based software platform compared to M1’s pared-down, proprietary Linux-based OS, the music player part of the experience is mostly shared between the two. 

That’s because Sony’s Walkman Music Player software has been ported wholesale to Android, and most of the benefits of Sony’s DSEE and other DSP effects are designed for this software, despite the option to use other playback software on the new Walkman.

It’s therefore useful to consider the differences between the two players from two angles: differences in the Walkman software and its DSP engine, and the new software features made possible by Android. 

From a Sony playback and DSP perspective, M2 does indeed have some interesting upgrades, the most important of which is a new all-gold on-screen volume dial resembling the beautiful gold volume pot on the DMP-1Z. This makes M2 feel far more like a DMP than it does a mere portable DAP, and DMP owners should feel right at home with their new uber player.  

Jokes aside, the main differences between the Walkman software on M1 and M2 are cosmetic. Whether or not you consider these to be enhancements is not for me to say, but I do like some of the new quirks on the M2 version, like the full-screen cassette tape visualizer – complete with artist and track name – that pays homage to the original analogue Walkmans. 

On the DSP front, M2 includes all the sound-shaping wizardry from M1 – including DSEE, DC Phase Linearizer and Vinyl Processor – along with a new feature borrowed from the larger DMP-1Z and TA-ZH1ES players: DSD Remastering. 

DSEE has been upgraded from EX in the M1 to Ultimate in the M2, which makes it more versatile and effective for a wider range of music formats, bur other than the all-new DSD Remastering engine, the DSP features are mostly the same. You also have the option of bypassing DSP completely with Direct Sound, which is the option I mostly opt for myself. 

Open Android 

Sony got one thing right and one thing not so right with its open Android implementation. The fact that they adopted open Android, as opposed to a sandboxed version with limited Google Play support (or worse, no Google Play support at all), makes M2 a very versatile player, with the ability to fully customize the UI and add powerful file management and media playback functionality using third-party apps. 

On the flipside, they hardly bothered to upgrade the hardware (CPU, graphics processor and RAM), with only a small bump up from M1, and so you shouldn’t expect the same fluid, snappy Android user experience of other modern Android DAPs, which themselves are still years behind the performance of modern Android smartphones. In fact, the Walkman software on M1 seems faster to me by comparison. 

Some other notable omissions of Sony’s Android implementation are linked to hardware. For instance, while the screen has been enlarged and improved, it lacks a common feature of other Android DAPs: tap to wake. I’m not sure if Sony included sensors capable of enabling this feature using third-party apps, but in my experience, if it’s not a standard feature, it’s likely not something that can be added after the fact.  

Another consideration is that Sony S-Master is a closed system, which means third party music players like USB Audio Player Pro don’t have direct access to the audio hardware required to enable native or ‘bitperfect’ high-resolution support. Even if I wanted to use an alternative player, chances are I wouldn’t do so, because playback quality wouldn’t be optimal.

Moreover, it seems that Sony’s software implementation doesn’t bypass Android’s antiquated Sample Rate Conversion (SRC) engine, so any third-party app, including streaming apps like Tidal, have their output converted to 44.1KHz or 48KHz regardless of the music format. There’s one caveat: Sony allows you to ‘up-sample’ all music to 192KHz, which means hi-res Amazon, Apple and Tidal hi-res music can be streamed at better-than-Redbook quality, albeit still not strictly bitperfect.

Then there’s the absence of gesture-based navigation – or lack thereof – so you’re stuck with the three-button navigation bar whether you like it or not. 

I’m sure I could find other quirks too, but there’s no point really. When comparing M2 to M1, if you need Android functionality for your use case (if you want to stream music, for example), M1 simply won’t work for you. If you’re comparing M2 to other modern open Android DAPs, however, the issues above are worth considering, at least if user experience is something you take into account when choosing a music player.   

Continue to sound impressions…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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