Thursday, 15 March 2018

Quick Impression -- Sony NW-WM1Z

Go Balanced or Don't Bother

If there's a TLDR post for this rather popular high end DAP, that will be as short as I can summarize it for those who are curious of this player.

Now who doesn't know Sony?

They're known for many things. Smartphones, headphones, in-ear monitors, wired and wireless speakers, WALKMANs, Playstation consoles, you name it.

Sony is a titan company that owns a lot of things and sometimes innovate a bit, while faceplants on other department (totally not referring to The Amazing Spider-Man movies), and thankfully their little innovation in introducing a new output in the world filled with 2.5mm Balanced Output paid off. bigger better?


So...what do you get for your MYR 11,999?

Well, for starters, the undeniably solid build for this piece of brick.

Seriously, the WM1Z has to be -- without a doubt -- the most confidently built player I've got my hands on so far, probably even better than SP1000 SS that I touched -- which has a sleeker design in my opinion. The chassis itself is made from oxygen-free high-purity copper for the purpose of higher conductivity rate than many players which normally use aluminium. The gold plated material also gave it not just a very premium, prestigious look, but also has a purpose of protecting its internals from outside environment.

The downside though -- is that this player is extremely heavy thanks to this.

Weighing in at a whopping 455 grams, this player is what some will dub a "Golden Brick", including myself. Not only does it feel like holding a shining piece of gold, but it looks like one too, which could...well, be both good and bad depending on how you see it. I know a few thieves will stare at it for a while before they attempt to steal, but that's assuming if they love listen to Beatles on lossless quality while robbing a bank...

Believe me when I say this -- in the bus or train, if you're holding this listening to music -- its natural gold-shine will inevitably draw some attention. So keep a close eye on it when you're using it outdoors.

The screen is 4 inches, same as the old Sony ZX2 DAP model, which I think is more than enough for a player like this -- and its user interface is very much as recognizable as many high-end Sony players. It's very easy to use and has minimal lag, which is always a plus for something this heftily priced.

It's touch-function is responsive enough and very much lag-free, though admittedly compared to SP1000, I find the experience on the SP1000 a touch smoother.

I will say however, that the boot-up time is a bit of an arse. It took nearly a minute for the player to load up before it finally allows me to play any music. Perhaps if there's a firmware update in future that will address this minor issue, this point will could easily be fixed.

Bear in mind though, that when you're using 3.5 and 4.4mm output, switching in between will yield different volume levels depending on how you last adjusted them accordingly (that includes the low or high gain output setting too), so be sure to check the volume twice before you play the music, otherwise you risk blasting your ears with sensitive IEMs placed on the balanced output, which tends to almost always be much louder.

I've learned my lesson the hard way...

The next thing is the impressive storage.

256GB of internal memory. This is pretty much going to cover most of your music library unless you have a massive gallery that you just have to bring everything. Which of course, a microSD card slot that supports up to 256GB as well, totaling 512GB. So chances are you'll probably never run out of space unless you managed to fill out a 1TB external hard-drive with no room to spare for music.

At least I don't think I've met anyone capable of doing that here yet...


It's a good sound.

Okay, the end.

Haha, big original joke, am I right? 

Well, I'll be more elaborate then.

It's a very remarkable sound with natural presentation that has a little touch of warmth to its signature that is pleasant to listen to. It's revealing, enveloping and musical with plenty of transparency and resolution to boot. 

Topped off with a great soundstage, the sound has a presentation of you being in a very nice and wide music hall booked only for you alone and no one else (especially if you're using CIEMs to listen to). It plays nice with just about any IEMs, whether being dynamic drivers, hybrids or just straight up BA-drivers. 

But...there's a catch.

This impression can be said to its younger brother made in aluminium -- WM1A.

Why? Because of the 3.5mm output. Either the implementation is not up to par, or simply because it's nothing more than standard output found in much cheaper Sony players, but I cannot for the life of myself, tell the difference between WM1A or 1Z when I A/B them in between using same tracks connected through my CIEM on the unbalanced output.

I even took the liberty to ask the staffs in the dealer shop I demo regularly to do a blind test for me using same songs and volume output switching left and right and tell which is which. The results?

Out of 5 tries, I got all of them wrong even after numerous critical listening attempts.

Seriously, the unbalanced output is kind of disappointing even though there's clearly nothing wrong with the sound but the fact that you get almost identical sound signature from the much cheaper WM1A (priced at MYR4,999) is very hard to ignore.

But then came the surprise.

The 4.4mm Balanced Output

I used a 4.4mm adapter for my CIEM's run of the mill stock cable and plugged it to give the balanced output a try -- to find out if bigger really is better, as opposed to the 2.5mm balanced output.

Immediately, there's a very visible and hard-to-deny change in sound quality.

The 4.4mm output is astounding.

Sounds on all spectrum began to open up and seemed to have a much grander presentation.

Low-ends tighten up with more layers of texture and body, midrange became sweeter and lusher, treble extends further and became more sparkly and airy. The soundstage opens up a good margin and gave it a very 3D presentation. The positioning is also incredibly precise, even through my entry-level Supra-CIEM which was naturally V-shaped.

Detail retrieval is also very impressive without it being dry, cold or overly analytic. There's too much life in this sound signature to even call it cold or dark, musicality is quite a strong emphasis on this player thanks to that warmth it carries. Compared to SP1000 on balanced output, the SP1000 has a more neutral presentation but with similar amounts of detail reproduction.

From here on, whether SP1000 or WM1Z will be pretty much up to your preference as both of them are equally astounding in their own rights. 

Just a matter of whether you want a more neutral or slightly warm sound.

But to me -- if I managed to get myself a 4.4mm plug adapter, I will very likely lean to Sony players that have them since the sound improvement here is very hard to ignore, and I certainly find myself craving for more in future players that do have the same 4.4mm balanced output.

I should also mention that both 3.5 and 4.4mm output are pretty much free of background noise and hiss, as I can't hear any audible noise even without music on volume set to very high levels.

Temporary End Words

Well, I think I've made it clear from the opening title of this blog entry.

If you want to get the most out of this DAP for its sound quality, just be sure you at least get yourself a proper 4.4mm plug adapter.

Otherwise, you're better off with a cheaper Sony NW-A25 WALKMAN (Priced at MYR 799) if you have no interest to use the balanced output at all.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Quick Impression -- theBit Opus #1

Bang to Buck? Hmm...close enough.

I'm going to be...extremely upfront about this.

I never cared too much about Opus players. They just don't pique my interest enough when I first looked at them. If anything, on first appearance impression alone I just see them as nothing more than cheap AK players wannabe for those who want to save some cash but still can't afford the actual AK player they desire.

Even holding the player alone seemed to make me feel like I am holding a slab of cheap steel and plastic mixed in together, and it didn't help that the button feedback was a little flimsy for something that cost as much as MYR 2399 and can't seem to have snappy buttons like the cheaper Fiio X3 II or X5 II.

But after several months passed as they announced the new Opus 1S, I got curious and returned to give a proper level of attention to the Opus #1 that I once dismissed so unjustly from appearance alone.

My thought was -- "Why would they release another version of this? Was there something good inside that I never gave a chance and it would mean I miss out something crucial?"

And that's where it brought me back to this model.


With an internal memory of 32 GB, and dual microSD card slots of 200GB compatibility each, raking in a total of 464 GB total, the Opus #1 is more than capable of holding a lot of lossless music tracks.

The user interface on the Opus is nothing short of user-friendly. It's very easy to use and pick up.

And it's also very responsive -- which makes breezing through music folders effortless and hassle-free.

While I don't use the EQ function myself, it does seem adequate enough for basic use from what I examined briefly.

One thing I am not happy however -- is the terrible screen. There's no delicate way to put it on a DAP that priced over MYR 2000. Put next to the Fiio X5 II again, the supposedly larger touch-screen on the Opus #1 just feels very cheaply made. 

The backlighting on the screen is just poor and very uneven. Color disorientation on angle viewing is so obvious that you might question the quality of the screen on something this expensive when you could see similar screen quality from smartphones that are priced far cheaper like the Xiao Mi phones.

This -- I am certain. The screen on this device is not a worthy screen for a device priced as steep as MYR 2399. 

Thankfully however, the performance on the player is top notch.

Powered by the ARM Cortex-A9 1.4 GhZ quad-core CPU processor and 1GB DDR3 RAM under its hood running on an Android-based OS, the player is very responsive to touch feedback and there's very minimal lag.


This is where I can say "Now this is more like it."

Driven by the Cirrus Logic CS4398 24bit dual DAC-chips, tThe sound is comfy, smooth and neutral with a mild warmth added to it, which makes it a little "analog" sounding than "digital".

Tested out of the demo unit of Dita Audio's The Answer (with the original unremovable Fat Cable), the bass has very fine texture with proper depth to it. It's not a lot of quantity, if anything, it's a fine balance of quality and quantity with proper natural decay.

The positioning did took a bit of a back sit however, giving it a very relaxed and laidback feel. Listening to OMAM's Wolves Without Teeth was definitely something else, the presentation is both relaxing yet still retained that dynamic life from the chorus' instruments powerful drum hitting in contrast with the mildly slow tempo of the song.

The midrange is musical and filled with a fair amount of micro-details, and positioned not too forward that it became unbearable.

Treble however is a little bit rolled off from my ears. It extends well, but not far enough for me to consider it a strength. Then again -- this does contribute to the player sounding smoother on slow songs that has a lot of acoustic instruments or even just listening to Kenny G's jazz. The resolution on the Opus #1 is not the most out-of-this-world levels, but for this price-point, it does its job very well and plays nice on most genre.

Soundstage is wide and deep with adequate 3D imaging, and presentation overall is pretty transparent.

Driving the Dita Answer -- I hear no audible hiss even when listening to very high volume levels, so there's another plus. However, BA IEMs might not get off so easy since they are naturally a lot more sensitive to source-pairing. 

My only advice is test the DAP with your IEMs first before pulling the trigger if you're sensitive to hissing.

Temporary End Words

Opus #1 has impressed me on the most important things for a DAP -- sound, and the UI-friendliness.

It's clear now that I have a fondness on this little bugger after trying it out for a few hours of listen. Now...will I buy this?

That remains up in the air, but the price of 2399 does seem like a big bargain when you put it next to premium AK DAPs like AK70 MK II, which cost MYR 3299.

Sure, the screen is a bit of an embarrassment in my personal opinion, but it's not off-putting enough to shun me off of a purchase consideration as the UI was so easy to use and its sound does impress on price point alone. 

But one thing I am certain -- I will look forward to the newer Opus #1S once I get the chance to audition it.

Now...Astell&Kern...about that AK70 MKII...

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Quick Impression -- Astell & Kern SP1000 Stainless Steel


I think that's about the best word I can describe when I first listened to the heftily priced AK SP1000.

Thank Lord that the copper variant is priced the same, unlike the previous flagship model which has a copper encasement that is significantly more expensive than the Duralumin version.

Still, it's a hefty price tag to swallow -- priced from MYR14,999 to MYR 17,500 (depending on which dealer you're buying from here in Malaysia).

But eh, why am I even bothering about questioning price tag in this hobby when there are setups far more expensive than this, right? This is meant to be a quick impression so I'll stop beating around the bush.


With an internal memory capacity of 256GB, there's more than enough room here to store most of your lossless files, including a bunch of DSD files (unless that's all you ever have in your thousands of high quality songs collections), and if that's not enough still, it also has a microSD card slot that can read up to 512GB, so that's a total of 768GB of music files here at your leisure. I know I won't be able to fill even a quarter of that myself, so I am happy with the total capacity here.

While the user interface is one of the friendliest and easy to utilize I've seen from an Android-based OS, lag was always the first primary issue with AK players for me, even for the supposedly amazing AK380.

While I enjoyed the sound quality of the 380, the interface lag is something I cannot forgive, especially knowing that player is priced over MYR 10,000.

Thankfully, the octa-core processor here did its job well smoothing out the lag-issue and it's easy to adapt. The fluidity of skimming through music files is significantly better than the predecessor.

The boot time is also a lot faster than AK380, which is another great thing since frankly, the load time on the 380 to me -- is a bit of an arse to deal with, for a gigantic brick that cost almost as much as a used second-hand vehicle.

While I haven't used it yet for file transfer through PC, the SP1000 uses a Type-C connector, which should be a lot faster than the usual micro-USB connection. 


So...the sound. Right, right...

Let's just say that thanks to the use of the dual flagship DAC chips from Asahi Kasei Microdevices, the AK4497EQ, SP1000 is currently my favorite Astell & Kern player, replacing AK300 with the Amp clipped on.

 The moment I listened to the SP1000, three things hit me immediately.

Clarity, Precision, Resolution.

Finally, there's also the neutrality that I grew to appreciate as my preference to sound matured on from the moment I started this hobby 2 years ago.

I used to be a big fan of very warm sound that has plenty of musicality and coloration, but as time passed on, I just feel that it's time for my ears to have a change of taste for something more...well, technically good and natural, to say the least.

And this is where I leaned on to SP1000.

The three key elements I mentioned that is the strength from SP1000 is extremely high, so much so that it made the AK300's experience looked like a complete joke, but then again, we're comparing something radically different in class so that there is an unfair comparison. But not that I dislike the AK380, though I have a feeling I might always go back to the SP1000 after listening it for so many times.

The sound has no emphasized addition towards any frequency and it's incredibly linear. It will bring out the best of the sound from even the cheaper category IEMs regardless of which output you prefer.

Both the 3.5mm and 2.5mm output also have pitch-black noise-floor and there's no hissing at all even with no music playing and the volume set to max. This is tested with the Elysian Acoustics Minerva-R on balanced output (See Pic above).

The staging is also impressively wide and deep, and has a very precise 3D imaging that will envelop your head nicely, especially if you're using CIEMs or universals that happen to have near ideal fitting and isolation on your end.

Bear in mind though -- just because I said it's a neutral-sounding DAP, doesn't make it dry, cold or boring. In fact, it managed to strike a great balance of musicality and being analytical. 

Bass has incredible speed, attack, decay and texture over it. It's just layer upon layer with its presentation, giving it a very rich experience -- and yet thankfully no boom or bloat will be found here, unless your IEMs have that sound signature of course (like the Sony Extra Bass series)

When it comes to bass -- think quality over quantity. It's got a dynamic presentation that's very neutral in signature. 

Midrange is very precise, resolving and full of life without any added flavor thrown into it, and I couldn't sense any unnatural positioning either, especially with vocal-tracks.

Treble is very sparkly, well-extended and superbly detailed. It pairs well with IEMs that has very strong high-frequency tuning, as it will definitely bring out the strength from pairing them with this DAP. If you're not a fan of energetic treble however, and are more of the type that appreciate a more rolled-off high frequency, it might be difficult to convince you to like its presentation.

Temporary End Words

Since this is only an impression write up on this gorgeous looking DAP, it's clear that I have more to say but that's only until I actually got the entire package of this thing to consider a full review. But from my time spent with the SP1000, I am very happy that in terms of sound, UI, and storage it's very much ticked most of my boxes.

Well...the only thing I will never agree to this player will be the price...which is equivalent to someone like me -- to at least donate several limbs in a charity campaign to even hope to afford it.

Until, where is that new Opus player...?

Monday, 5 March 2018

The Beginning in 2018

Greetings and salutations, Arthur Chor here. Just your everyday music lover for a hobby.

It's been quite a while when I started out this hobby several years ago, I believe it's time for me to finally set up a personal blog where I can call "home" to share some of my thoughts on reviewing or writing impressions of gadgets that I hear in this music-loving hobby of mine.

I refuse to use the term audiophile as it just came off as being a bit too elitist for my taste, but...then really doesn't matter what I think's to a proper start on my personal space.

I will add some of my write ups from here on out other than other notable communities such as Head-Fi.

Cheers, to those who visited.