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Sony NW-WM1AM2 Review

The Sony NW-WM1AM2, a digital media player that encapsulates the best of the brand’s audio technology in a sleek and mostly portable package.
Sony NW-WM1AM2

Sony, a global leader in the audio industry, has consistently been at the forefront of innovation and design. They have a history of crafting devices that push the boundaries of what’s possible in sound. Six years after their revolutionary WM1 series launch, Sony has introduced its successor, the Sony NW-WM1AM2, a digital audio player (DAP) that encapsulates the best of the brand’s audio technology in a sleek and mostly portable package.

Overview

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 is the latest addition to Sony’s premium line of digital audio players, designed for the discerning audiophile. It is an evolution of its predecessor, improving upon the features that made the WM1 series a favorite among audio enthusiasts. This digital media player offers an unrivaled sound experience, a plethora of features, and a design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. With an upgraded configuration and improved sound performance, this flagship has set a new standard for portable HiFi players.

Design & Build Quality

Sony NW-WM1AM2

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 is a statement piece with a design that reflects its status as a high-end audio device. It boasts a robust aluminum alloy frame with a beautiful black finish that adds to the device’s elegance. The device has a gold “W” Walkman logo subtly placed, adding a touch of sophistication to the design.

The player is slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor. Still, its sleek, rounded design ensures it remains comfortable and easy to handle.

Buttons and Display

The layout of the device has been carefully thought out for usability. It features a hold switch on the left side, which prevents accidental button presses when the player is in your pocket or bag. The hold switch has been redesigned to be more elongated, making it easier to operate. The right side of the player houses the power button, volume controls, and playback controls. 

Sony NW-WM1AM2

The power button is positioned higher for easier one-handed control. A small bump resides on both the power and play/pause buttons. The bump is in a slightly different position on each of the buttons, making it extremely easy to memorize the position of all the buttons and which one your finger is on. This no look design is essential for a digital audio player as the the player should never force you to disengage immersion from the audio to interact with the device. 

Sony NW-WM1AM2

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 comes with a larger 5-inch HD (1280 x 720) touchscreen, a 39% increase in size compared to the previous model. This allows for a smoother, more natural control experience and displays more content. The screen size and quality may not be enjoyable for watching video content. Still, it does a great job of showing album artwork and navigating the interface.

Connectivity and Ports

The top of the Sony NW-WM1AM2 houses a gold-plated 4.4mm balanced port on the left side and a 3.5mm single-ended port on the right side. It also includes rubber caps for the jacks to protect them when not in use.

Sony NW-WM1AM2

The NW-WM1AM2 has a high gain option to increase power to each of the headphone connections for those with higher impedance headphones. The Sony NW-WM1AM2 is not the most powerful DAP on the market, but it should drive most headphones out there. It had no problem driving my Fostex T40RP MK3s, which are notoriously hard to drive.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

The NW-WM1AM2 includes built-in wifi supporting 2.4/5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 5.0, providing diverse options for connectivity. I noticed the wifi speed maxes out at a connection speed of 433mbps, no matter what type of network connection I chose. This limitation is disappointing for a device where one of the key features is being able to download music from streaming apps for offline playback.

The device features a microSD card slot on the left side, an upgrade from its previous placement at the bottom. It also includes a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port, allowing faster charging and data transmission, keeping up with the current mainstream audio environment.

Battery Life

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 boasts impressive battery life, a crucial factor for any portable device. The increased size of the device has allowed for a larger battery capacity. It promises up to 40 hours of local playback time and around 20 hours for streaming media.

In my testing, I was able to get close to these numbers, though the battery life when streaming music varied depending on the app. Amazon Music, for example, seemed to kill the battery more quickly than Apple Music.

Volume level and gain setting (low or high) will also affect battery life. In my typical case of using the Focal Elegia headphones via the 4.4mm balanced connection, gain set to high, volume level set to 75/120, and listening to local files containing a mix of 16 bit/44.1kHz FLAC and 24bit/192kHz FLAC audio files, I was getting about 35 hours of battery life.

Sound

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Overall Audio Performance

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 delivers a sound experience that lives up to Sony’s reputation for excellence in audio quality. The device’s sound style is distinctively powerful, dynamic, clear, and rich. It showcases excellent sound details and a natural, accurate sound field with a great sense of positioning.

I listened to the NW-WM1AM2 using a range of headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5 (Bluetooth), Focal Elegia (4.4mm balanced cables), Hifiman Sundara (both 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm cables), Meze 99 Neo (3.5mm cable), Fostex T40RP MK3 (3.5mm cable), Hiby Seeds II (3.5mm cable), and even the Apple AirPods Pro (Bluetooth).

The listening experience is different with each headphone, to be sure, but the distinct sound signature of the Sony NW-WM1AM2 is there no matter which headphones I used. That definitive rich and warm sound signature that Sony is known for, but with clarity and energy. The NW-WM1AM2 was even able to make my Fostex T40RP MK3 sound more dynamic and punchy, and these are professional headphones that I EQ heavily when using them on a daily basis.

Sony NW-WM1AM2

If you’re looking for a more neutral sound profile, you will want to skip the Sony NW-WM1AM2. Do not confuse this with accuracy. The NW-WM1AM2 audio output is incredibly accurate but far from neutral. Look at the HiBy R6 III, FiiO M17, or Astell and Kern Afutura SE180 if your taste is more neutral. If you really want to go higher end you can also look at the Sony NW-WM1AM’s bigger brother, the Sony NW-WM1ZM2.

To wrap things up on the sound side of things, the sound on the Sony NW-WM1AM2 is never boring or tiring. And you’ll notice how empty music can sound when moving to a different source device right after listening to the NW-WM1AM2. Ultimately, I’m not sure words can describe the impressive feat Sony’s engineers have accomplished here. You have to listen to it for yourself.

Note: To comply with EU regulations, Sony has removed the high gain setting from devices sold in EU markets, leading to lower volume output. Please be aware of this when purchasing the Sony NW-WM1AM2 in Europe.

Hardware Upgrades for Improved Sound Quality

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 has outdone its predecessor in terms of sound performance and has undergone several hardware upgrades to do so. While we won’t cover every hardware change from the previous version, the Sony NW-WM1AM1, let’s look at a few key improvements. 

The device’s audio block power supply features a custom made FT CAP3 (high polymer capacitor) to “improve sound expression and create a smoother sound, with a wider sound space, more transparency, and tighter bass.” Essentially, using the FT CAP3 helps audio sound richer and smoother, with a larger sound stage and bass that doesn’t roll off or bleed into other frequencies. 

Regarding capacitors, the device has a single large solid high-polymer capacitor adopted as a battery assist for the amplifier block. The large capacitance and low resistance of the capacitor allow it to accurately output signals by preventing sudden falls in voltage. This leads to clear vocals and a clear, powerful, and accurate bass sound.

The S-Master HX Amplifier

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 features a digital amplifier chip dubbed the S-Master HX. Sony engineers know what they are doing when it comes to outputting digital audio, and the S-Master HX chip helps to reduce distortion and noise across a wide range of frequencies for rich and full-bodied sound. You truly get great sounding audio from the NW-WM1AM2, and the S-Master HX is one of the key components that make it happen.

Aluminium and Gold

The frame of the NW-WM1AM2 is composed of an aluminum alloy that’s resistive to electrical noise and other interference providing a stable, high-quality sound. It also adds to the premium feel of the device itself.

Sony also uses gold in the solder material. The effects of using gold in solder include improved sound localization, a wider sound space, and clearer sound and vocals. Gold is exceptionally conductive and ensures minimal signal loss across the circuit board.

Features

Operating System and Android Apps

The NW-WM1AM2 is powered by Android 11, allowing users to install any application from the Google Play Store. This caters to the needs of audiophiles who want to enjoy high-quality local playback and music from music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

Android 11 may seem like an outdated choice on such a new device if you are coming from the world of smartphones, but rest assured, it will run the majority of apps for a good long time. To assuage your doubts, let’s walk through why that is. 

First, Google updates the Play Store framework through the Google Play Store, moving some key pieces from the OS to the Store itself so that Google can support devices that no longer receive any OS updates. This ensures that apps can install and function without needing anything from the device manufacturer.

Second, most apps work with Android versions going back as far as Android 5. Let’s look at a few examples. Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music require Android 5 and newer, Qobuz requires Android 6 and newer, and Tidal and Amazon Music support Android 7 and newer.

Lastly, the Sony NW-WM1AM2 is different from a device that needs to support the latest mobile game. It doesn’t need to get the newest features that only benefit smartphones. And it more than likely is not a device that will be used to browse the internet or check your email. It’s a playback device with some occasional media consumption on the side. 

First and foremost, though, the Sony NW-WM1AM2 is a digital audio player. It does not need to be continually updated to perform that function. Like any Android device, nothing prevents a user from manually installing (sideloading) any Android app they choose onto the device.

Regarding how Android performs on the Sony NW-WM1AM2, it is on the sluggish side if you are used to how Android runs on modern smartphones. That is not to say that it is unusable or frustrating, but you must manage your expectations for the hardware. The NW-WM1AM2 does not have the most modern CPU or the large amount of RAM that smartphones require. After using this amazing optimization guide from the head-fi forums, Android feels much smoother on Sony NW-WM1AM2.

Built-in Sony Apps

Walkman Music Player

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Walkman Music Player app

The built-in Walkman music app is the bread and butter of the experience on the Sony NW-WM1AM2. This built-in app is used to play local audio files on the internal storage and MicroSD card (if used). It will provide the highest playback quality as it has direct access to the hardware of the Sony NW-WM1AM2, including the S-Master HX chip. The slide below demonstrates the customization that Sony and its engineers have done to the Android software to take advantage of the impressive hardware inside the device.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 tech

Looking at the red line in the graphic above, we can see that Sony has implemented bit-perfect playback in the Walkman app. Bit-perfect playback means that if your audio file is encoded in 24 bit/96kHz, then that is exactly what will be played, with no downsampling or upsampling.

Contrast this to apps you install through the Play Store, such as Neutron Music Player or Apple Music, which use Android’s own audio path. For apps other than the Walkman app Sony has implemented an option called High-Res streaming, located in the sound settings of the Sony NW-WM1AM2. 

With High-Res streaming turned off, all audio from the non-Sony apps will be down-converted to 16 bit/48 kHz. With High-Res streaming enabled, all audio from the non-Sony apps will be up-converted to 32 bit/192 kHz. This is significant as purists who want bit-perfect playback for non-Sony apps will be out of luck. It’s unlikely that most people will be able to hear the difference or even care about this in the first place. However, the information is still relevant for those that do.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 can also be used as a USB DAC when connected to a Windows or Apple computer. The USB DAC functionality can be accessed from within the Walkman app. It’s a nice feature to have, though definitely not an essential one. I noticed there was a delay between the audio and the video when watching videos on my Windows PC, so it may not be an ideal solution in some use cases.

On the negative side, the Walkman app is fairly barebones regarding key features that we have come to expect from music playback software. You cannot edit metadata on the device, nor can you edit audio files at all from within the app. You also cannot sort by album year from within an artist, which is truly a crime, in my opinion. 

Sony Headphones Connect

The Sony Headphones Connect app is also conveniently built-in and even updated through the Play Store. So if you have one of Sony’s great Bluetooth headphones, such as the WH-1000XM5 that we recently reviewed, connecting and setup is super easy. All of your settings can be imported as well by logging in with your profile. The app also works with wired Sony headphones, giving you some added functionality there too. 

The Sound Adjustment app

There’s one last built-in app for us to discuss: Sound adjustment. The app does exactly as it sounds and provides additional options for adjusting the sound output of the Sony NW-WM1AM2. Some of these functions can be enabled with others, making for some interesting audio results.

From within the app, we have an option called “Direct Source.” Turning this on will mean that the player is doing no processing of any kind to the audio stream. Essentially this is the player’s stock sound.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

Turning this off, though, gives us various options. The first of which is DC Phase Linearizer. This setting adjusts low-frequency phase shifts to reproduce the audio characteristics of analog amplifiers. You get various types to select from here as well.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app
Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

Next is the Dynamic Normalizer. This minimizes the volume difference between songs. So, if you have one song that sounds loud with another being quiet, this feature adjusts the volume so that both songs will be at the same volume when you switch between them. It works in the same way as Apple’s Sound Check feature.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

Moving onto the next screen, we have the Vinyl Processor. This feature produces a rich sound that is close to the playback from a vinyl record on a turntable and has various types to select as well. I actually really enjoy using this feature on certain albums, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app
Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

Next, we have DSD Remastering, which converts a PCM signal to a DSD signal to reproduce sound quality close to analog. As you may know, DSD (Direct Stream Digital) is a format developed by Sony and Philips for use with SACD (Super Audio CD). For a great explanation of what DSD is and how it works, check out this well written article from What Hi-Fi. I often use this function on the Sony NW-WM1AM2 as it helps with listening fatigue and sometimes provides a fuller sound for some music.

Sony does note that it is effective only when headphones that support a balance standard connection are connected.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

The next function to look at is the Equalizer, which is fairly straightforward. I have two major concerns with Sony’s implementation here, though. First, it’s only a 10-band equalizer. I would have liked some additional functionality, such as more bands or even having PEQ. Second, the frequencies cannot be changed, which makes the equalizer incredibly inflexible. For these reasons, the EQ function is essentially useless for my use cases.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

Lastly, we have what is maybe the most exciting feature of the device, DSEE Ultimate. DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) is an AI trained algorithm that upscales compressed audio files, such as MP3s, to CD quality audio. This might sound impossible, and in some cases, yes, you are right. I have an extensive MP3 and AAC collection still, and for some songs, DSEE Ultimate doesn’t do anything at all. In fact, sometimes, the song sounds hollow and flat. Some of the time, though, it sounds as if it doesn’t do anything at all. Still, then you’ll hit a series of songs that come alive and sound as if you had ripped them from the CD as a FLAC file instead of that crappy 128kbps MP3 that 20 years ago you thought would be enough forever. It really, genuinely works. Some of the time, anyways.

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Sound Adjustment app

LDAC

The very last feature I’d like to touch on is LDAC support. It makes perfect sense that Sony, the developers of LDAC, would include LDAC support on the Sony NW-WM1AM2. LDAC is a technology that allows near-lossless audio to be played via Bluetooth on supported Bluetooth headphones. Pairing the Sony NW-WM1AM2 with Sony’s WH-1000XM5, which is LDAC certified, provides the perfect synergy. The audio sounds great, and the connection never drops. There are built-in settings for prioritizing sound quality or connection quality for those situations where wireless interference may cause issues. I can verify that LDAC is perfectly implemented on the Sony NW-WM1AM2.

Final Thoughts

Sony NW-WM1AM2

The Sony NW-WM1AM2 is a shining example of Sony’s commitment to delivering top-tier portable audio devices. This flagship audio player has set a new benchmark in terms of design, functionality, and sound quality. Priced at $1399, the Sony NW-WM1AM2 may be steep. However, considering its outstanding features and performance, this digital audio player offers good value for money, making it a worthy addition to the Sony Walkman brand, and to any audiophile’s collection.

Recently Sony has also released the Sony NW-ZX707 and the Sony NW-A306, which are newer and updated versions of the Sony NW-ZX507 and Sony NW-A100 (A105 depending on your region), respectively.

We have an in-depth comparison of the NW-WM1AM2, NW-ZX707, and NW-A306, as well as dedicated reviews of the Sony NW-A306 and the Sony NW-ZX707.

HiFi Oasis Verdict

HiFi Oasis Verdict
9 10 0 1
9/10
Total Score
  • Design & Build Quality
    9/10 Amazing
  • Sound
    9/10 Amazing
  • Features
    8/10 Very good

Pros

  • Thoughtful design and premium build quality
  • Warm, rich, and clear sound profile
  • Android OS allows for support for music streaming services
  • Packed with excellent features such as DSEE Ultimate and LDAC
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Poor WiFi performance
  • Built-in Music Player app lacks features
  • Poor equalizer implementation
  • May not have enough power to drive some higher-end headphones
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