Sony DMP-Z1 $8,000 USD Digital Music Player Unveiled

It seems Sony has decided to enter the über high-end headphone amp market with the $8,000 USD DMP-Z1 from their “Signature Series” and the Internet is blowing up a bit because of it.

Unveiled on August 9th – the eve of the 2018 Hong Kong Advanced Audiovisual Exhibition – along with new $1,780 USD IER-Z1R in-ear headphones, the unit caused quite a buzz with attendees and press at the launch according to Chinese website coverage that Google kindly translated for me.

Several audiophile and tech or headphone-centric websites seem to love freaking out with a number of them espousing click-bait headlines like “$7,900 for a music player with a gold-plated volume knob,” or “… $8000 Walkman.” Which I love, because really, why not have fun with this since Sony has the Z1 listed under ‘Walkman’ on their website.

But to be serious, it only takes a quick glance at the specs to reveal that this is no ordinary headphone amplifier. This looks to be a whole new type of beast and is touting some seriously-advanced engineering and features.

The Z1 is kitted-out with 256 GB of internal hard drive storage and two micro-SD slots for expansion, USB-C connectivity and Bluetooth and something Sony is calling “DSEE HX” – Digital Sound Enhancement Engine.

Asahi Kasei dual-AK4497EQ DAC chips are onboard for native DSD playback up to 11.2MHz and 32/384kHZ PCM resolution, but it appears PCM is resampled into 5.6MHz DSD for playback according to Sony’s specs. A Texas Instruments “High Fidelity Stereo Headphone Amplifier” TPA6120A2 PA chip is also jammed inside supplying 1500mW (16-Ohm) headphone output.

According to a press release put out on Thursday (August 30) by MQA on the eve of the Berlin IFA Consumer Electronics Show, Sony will have MQA support in the DMP-Z1.


A top glass-fronted LCD panel displays a multitude of functions and Kimber Kable supplies internal wiring for both the 4.4mm balanced connection and the 3.5 mm unbalanced circuit paths, a gold-plated, oxygen-free copper circuit board is internally isolated, and five battery cells independently drive all digital and analog amplification circuits to free that delicate signal path of AC interference (up to nine-hours of high-res playback between charges). A side note here; just about every component I’ve heard that utilizes battery power vs AC delivery has had a noticeable drop in the noise floor, allowing for more music detail to make it through to the transducers.

There’s tons more information, but I’ll let you check out Sony’s website to digest it all, but just to note, last, but not least is the copper and gold-plated brass volume knob that so many are making so much about. It’s just a knob and I think it’s safe to say that’s not where the cost is coming from: it’s the huge amount of high-quality parts, bleeding-edge tech and the R&D that obviously went into the Z1.

There will be some who will cry foul at the price, but once again, you get what you pay for and designing, constructing, implementing mechanical and electrical tooling is not cheap and usually takes years of planning, trial and error and engineering execution – never mind SQ testing and all the changes that are inherent to final listening tests.

As for the new IER-Z1R IEMs, there is very little information available from Sony on them other than they are optimized for high-res audio, feature an HD hybrid driver with two dynamic and one balanced armature, possess a “refined-phase structure” and come with both 4.4 and 3.5mm connection cables.

I’ll be reaching out to Sony to find out more and see about review samples.

Sony Corp. America
25 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10016.

DaveinSM's picture

nice, but there would be a lot more interest in something like this with less high end features at $1800 or $800 without the balanced output.

I really like the idea of onboard memory as well as micro-SD slot expansion. This makes it a standalone digital player that can be used desktop or bedside, even with high impedance headphones. I will be interested when someone comes out with a similar concept at a lower price point.

buckchester's picture

I challenge to try and reliably tell this apart from an iPhone with a pair of efficient headphones in a double blind listening test.

Nihilion's picture

Umm.. you’ve never really heard HiFi have you? Because the difference between an iPhone and a $200 DAP or $100 USB DAC is quite stark. This is going to be several leagues above.

buckchester's picture

I have heard all sorts of expensive electronics and I find I can’t tell a difference in sound quality. The only time I can tell a difference is if the speakers or headphones need more power to achieve a desired volume level, in which case a more powerful amp will be better. I feel like this is likely the only time when an amp would make a difference. I feel like expensive DACs are a complete waste of money. I am also suspicious of claims to the contrary since they only come from people who make these claims without blind testing the equipment. I’m willing to concede that there could be small differences that I have not been able to hear, but if the differences are meaningful, then I think we should be able to distinguish between two pieces of gear without knowing which ones we are listening to. Otherwise, how do we know our biases are not affecting our judgement? As such, I challenge Rafe to prove things otherwise.

xnor's picture

Please name some technical qualities of DACs that headphones or speakers do not significantly overshadow?

Let's take FR: DACs are typically quite flat. Headphones are typically +/- 5 dB or more over the audible range plus this changes with just tiny changes in positioning.

Or phase response: ditto.

Or maybe distortion: DACs and amps typically have 40-80 dB lower distortion than headphones ... so headphones mask that as well.

Or channel balance: up to 1-2 dB for headphones, a tiny fraction of a dB for DACs, amps. Also changes with tiny changes in positioning with headphones.


Looking forward to an answer.

KaiS's picture

I own both iPhones and iPad, and exceptionally expensive ADs and headphone amps, and to tell the difference Is leagues apart would be way over-the-top.
I have double blind compared those configurations a lot, and if level and impedance matching is done correctly a difference is there, but very subtle:
A bit more clarity, some more extension in the low and high frequency range, although there is no difference in the measured frequency response.
Even repositioning the same headphones on your head makes hundred times more difference than that, not to say using another pair of headphones.

Don't ever underestimate the sound quality of the iDevices, but still I think you can improve a little above what is a offered there if you like to spend money on that.

Of course you can gain much more spending on better headphones.

If you buy high quality $8000 headphones (do such exist?) and plug them into your iPhone you will have an exceptional high quality system.
If you then spend another $8000 on an amplification system you will get comparably $100 worth of improvement.

sszorin's picture

KaiS : "If you buy high quality $8000 headphones (do such exist?) and plug them into your iPhone you will have an exceptional high quality system".


Nihilion's picture

Well then I hope ignorance truly is bliss, because you're entirely wrong. I mean, tubes exist and are preferred by many for their character their demonstrable distortions impart on sound. SS amps can vary from one another in many ways, all clearly demonstrable with empirical measurement. I'm sorry you haven't heard a good DAC either, which are considerably more complicated devices than amps. Not only are they mini amplifiers, but they're also digital interfaces as well---you know---re-creating analog voltages from what a set of discrete measurements outside of time. There is certainly much than can--and does--go wrong.

Now you sit there lazily confident in your judgments because, obviously, nobody is going to go rig a blind AB test to your satisfaction just for you. Nobody is going to "accept your challenge". The sense of entitlement is palpable. If you've ever gone through the effort of setting up a truly blind AB test with source equipment and amps then you would know that it's very difficult, requiring specialized equipment. Yet at the same time if you've ever heard something like a $3400 Simaudio Moon 430HA next to $400 Schiit Jotunheim (both of which have plenty of power), they are unmistakable from one another. If you've heard something like a $4600 Chord Hugo TT next to a $200 SMSL DS DAC then you'd find them quite distinct.

I find often those most avid to use science like cudgel are the least qualified to do so. I work with the Placebo Effect for a living. Unless you are in a very narrow scope of occupation, I almost certainly know more about it than you do. The PE is real in audio and often relied upon by the "HiFi" industry. However, it isn't all snake oil. There are details, richness, and depth in the music you listen to every day that you are missing with budget equipment. Now perhaps you are willing subjecting yourself to another manifestation of the Placebo Effect (the "Nocebo" Effect, wherein the very real benefits of HiFi fail to penetrate a psychological barrier you've built around the idea that it doesn't get any better than your iPhone.

buckchester's picture

Yes, tube amps can sound different. My comment was referring to solid state amps. As long as they aren’t clipping, I think it should be very difficult to tell any apart.

DACs on the other hand, I have my doubts as to whether or not there are any meaningful differences. And by differences, I mean audible.

I would agree that performing a perfectly scientific blind test does take some work. But, I think any blind test would be better than none at all. It doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as the people involved have some degree of credibility that they will make an honest effort, as opposed to trying to prove one way over the other.

My opinions are not set in stone. I am willing to change them. But they are a reflection of my experiences with hi-end audio. I’ve bought some nice electronics in the past that I was told would produce a night and day difference. And to be honest, when I first got them I wanted to hear a difference so bad that I thought I did. But after the fun factor of having new equipment wore off, I took a more objective view. I tried and I tried, but I just could not hear a difference.

It’s ironic that you say I have constructed my own psychological barrier when I am the one advocating for a testing method that would remove any such barrier from the equation. If you don’t blind test something, how do you know you are actually hearing a difference?

xnor's picture

The special audiophile super expensive amps (up to way over 1000% markup), especially tube amps, can significantly distort the signal to the point of introducing audible distortion.

Of course ... the manufacturer needs some distinguishing characteristics. Something to make it special for the special customers. And sometimes this even goes beyond cosmetics. Crazy, right?
That's not hi-fi though as in the original meaning of the word.

Even with "low"-distortion tube amps, the high output impedance typically distorts the frequency response and transient behavior of your headphones.
But a $5 adapter with resistors does the same electrically .. except the result is probably cleaner.

Every reader of this website knows that there is little to no correlation between sound quality and price of headphones (above some really low minimum price).
The same is even more true for DACs and amps, for the simple fact that you can get such components that perform magnitudes better and more consistent than any transducer for cheap.

Headphones and speakers are interesting because even just tiny changes can lead to significant changes in FR or distortion which will lead to audible differences.
DACs and amps really aren't, which goes against the monetary interests of audiophile equipment manufacturers, so they make use of every trick in the book.

xnor's picture

> you would know that it's very difficult, requiring specialized equipment

Like a multimeter to do the level matching (common mistake: has to be done with the load) and a friend to do the switching?
It is not difficult. Please stop repeating this excuse that is repeated all the time by people who never do such tests.
I do it regularly and everyone that has to make critical auditory assessments should do so too.

Btw, care to present some measurements of the devices you've mentioned?
Audible differences should be easy to spot given distortions above well-known thresholds.

That would help some people avoiding buying distorting equipment ... or help them buying it deliberately.

rantng's picture

256GB of internal storage? For a high end not-really portable DAP? For ~$8? Surely you can do better, Sony.

Simply Nobody's picture

No MQA decoding (unfolding)? ...........

Nihilion's picture

Why would anyone need that?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Appears not, at least at this point anyway.

It was just released, so I can imagine a firmware update could allow for the first origami MQA unfolding.

Time will tell.

Rafe Arnott's picture
From an MQA announcement just released for IFA 2018 in Berlin starting tomorrow, read it HERE.
SonicSavourIF's picture

I would love to see people who defend this type of overpricing for trivial electronics taking up blind listening challenges similar to the one proposed by NwAvGuy. The high-end marked is simply ridiculous. Luckily nothing is at stake and people are only wasting their money.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Stating that a new high-fidelity product – and let's be perfectly clear SonicSavourIF, you have not heard it – is "trivial" shows a real lack of respect for any individual's, or company's years of hard work on bringing a new product to what is a decidedly volatile market.

A headphone amplifier is not "trivial." It is essential. At least if you plan on listening to headphones.

jk6661's picture

Rafe, your point about use of the word “trivial” is well-taken. However, the larger point here is that there is a HUGE problem with expectation bias in this industry. Double-blind tests are almost never conducted; instead, a typical reviewer plugs Massively Expensive Component X into his system, figures it must be having a Massive Impact impact because it’s Massively Expensive, fears that his credibility and self-image will be imperiled if he doesn’t hear said impact, and proceeds to wax rapsodic about mind-bending sonic improvements that he “hears.” Not every reviewer falls in this category, and perhaps you don’t. If so, my hat is off to you. However, anyone with even a basic knowledge of human psychology knows that expectation basis is a serious problem in many walks of life, and it’s almost never even acknowledged — let alone accounted for — in high-end audio reviews.

End of rant.

teched58's picture

I think you picked a bad example from which to hang your outrage over the use of the work trivial. The Texas Instruments TPA6120A2, which is the headphone amp chip that's used in the Sony player, costs $3. That doesn't mean that the design effort, nor the years of industry development which made the chip possible, was trivial.

But it does mean that it is trivial, both in cost and design expertise required, to design it into a product TODAY. It is by definition a commodity part.

roscoeiii's picture

What worries me most from the specs given here is the 16 Ohm output impedance, which suggests to me that the amp will not play well with low impedance headphones. The ratio of amp output impedance to headphone impedance I usually hear recommended is 1:8, or even 1:10. Which means that this amp would pair best with headphones with a minimum 128 or 150 ohms input impedance. That eliminates a lot of possibilities.

And then there are also some headphones that are very sensitive to amp output impedance values. For example, the popular Campfire Audio Andromeda has a sweet spot of between 1-2 amps output impedance. Below that it gets too bassy, with rolled off treble. Above that, it has too much treble and the bass is rolled off. Andro users who have a source with output impedances outside that range often choose to use the iFi IEMatch, which has alters the output impedance of the source and puts that output into the Andromeda sweet spot (it also helps reduce hiss and give a more usable volume adjustment range for sensitive headphones).

DaveinSM's picture

Yes, a 16 ohm output impedance is problematic. EOM

pete111's picture

That's wrong, the output impedance is not 16 ohms, the way the writer worded this should be edited. even tough not specified. Sony announce a power of 1.5 W INTO a 16 ohms load, no reason to spec it that way if it's not compatible with 16 ohm loads. The chip, don't spec an output impedance neither since it's a designed based notion, but states as minimal load 6 ohm. That will be a very low output impedance device.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Directly from Sony's website:

"By incorporating an audiophile-grade, high-power headphone amplifier, the DMP-Z1 realises 1500mW (16Ω) headphone output to drive even the most demanding headphones"

I've edited the wording to match Sony's site exactly, I'm sure more detailed specs will be available soon from Sony.

spyder1's picture

Sony sales, and marketing need to check their history books. The "Sony ES," line of audio products attracted attention of the audiophile crowd. Oldsters would get out of their lazyboys to buy a DMP Z1ES.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I do wish Sony would come out with another $1K SACD player, but why do so many get knotted up about expensive gear. I worry about only what I can afford and let the rest enjoy their money and the gear they want. There are plenty of amps under $500 to $1K that do a great job for the rest of us. I have no issue with folks driving expensive cars, either. If you do well in life and take advantage of no one else, please enjoy your life to its fullest. If this is it, go for it. I love music and hearing as much as I can makes it all worth while. You should as well.

DaveinSM's picture

Jim has the right attitude. I’m not an early adopter and not in the market for luxury gear, but I think we can say that all of us have benefitted from the trickle down benefits of cutting edge technology and products. Plus, high quality gear tends to age better and retains value way longer. With digital all bets are off, though, and it would make more sense to invest in high quality build and materials versus the latest DA converters or DSPs.

xnor's picture

1) High end performance does not necessitate a premium price. The DAC used is $50 (which is a premium chip with premium price, a chip with 3dB lower THD+N costs like $8), the amp chip however is $3.
(These are prices for low quantities.)

2) Yes, advancements that are first realized in high end products do trickle down, but that has to be distinguished from premium, luxury products.
The manufacturers of such luxury products benefit just as much if not more.

3) Even if this device just lost 10% in value over a few years, that loss is more than the entire value of a more reasonably priced product.
But in a few years, technology also has advanced ... to the point where you will get better performance in a new device that costs a small fraction even of just 10% of the price of this device.

What you're buying here is a luxury product and you're paying a premium for it.
If the buyer understands that and has the money and wants to spend it: more power to him/her!

pete111's picture

The DAC chip is no more than 5$ neither and this IS a premium + price, I believe the reason you googled some funny prices like that is because Asahi Kasei business model is very different than TI. TI sell to everybody at the same price, make their datasheet available, etc, anybody can design using TI. AK on the other end, you need a business relation with them, NDAs, etc. If you see some 50$ chips pop up it's not trough regular distributor, It's from a side business that happens to have a handful and make it available at a crazy price like that. No DAC chips are remotely close to these prices. a 3$ Class AB headphone amp is still the top of the line and have no doubt this perform very very well

sszorin's picture

No 'line out' ....ridiculous and unacceptable.