Sony plots to re-invent Walkman as MP3 player for audiophiles — but test indicates people can’t tell the difference

The £949 walkman could run into trouble, if people can't tell the difference between it and more expensive devices

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 06 January 2015 16:30
The ZX2, featuring its distinctive gold headphone output
The ZX2, featuring its distinctive gold headphone output

Sony’s plans to re-invent the Walkman as a high-end, and very highly-priced, music player could be limited by the fact that people can’t really tell the difference between it and an iPhone, according to tests.

Playing the same song — the first 30 seconds or so of Michael Jackson’s Thriller — to people in The Independent office through Sony’s Walkman and an iPhone showed that most saw very little difference between the two.

Our tests were run with Sony’s NWZ-ZX1, which costs £549, the first generation of the new audiophile-focused Walkman. The new Sony Walkman announced this week costs £949, and claims to be even better than the first.

Both feature Sony’s “Hi-Res Audio”, which it claims can boost the sound of even existing tracks.

Our test compared the ZX1, using the Thriller that came pre-loaded, with an iPhone 5 and the song downloaded from the iTunes Store. Both were listened to using AKG’s K550 headphones, in a blind test.

In those tests only around half of those that listened to both picked out the Walkman as the better of the two sources.

Some said that the details of the sound, such as the sound effects at the beginning of the track, were more clear on Sony’s device. But others said that the sound from the iPhone had more punch, and pointed to the extra bass on the iPhone’s device.

Flatter sound is often something complained about on devices made for audiophiles — many tend to strip out the bass and aim for a much more even sound, which is not to everyone’s taste.

But even factoring that in, many were left unenthused by the Sony’s sound.

Even the NW-ZX1 is much cheaper than the iPhone we used in testing (though the exact model is no longer for sale). And the ZX2 is nearly twice the price of its predecessor.

The ZX2 was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which is running until Friday.

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