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View Full Discussion Writing a review on this. @CEE_TEE
Funny that this just came back; I literally just bought this ZX300A about two and a half weeks ago, with the help of a friend who was visiting China. If I had joined in on the last Drop for this here, I would’ve had it sooner.
First off, WHY did I buy this, in the modern environment of smartphones and music streaming services like Spotify and TIDAL? Well, sometimes I travel, either relatively short distances to friend’s houses or long distances to family and business trips, and I want a device I can use, share, and carry wherever I go. For most of you, that means the 26-30 hour PLAYBACK battery life means freedom from power worries. It’s also small and pocketable enough to take it without encumberance. No interruptions from Notifications, but I can still have those on my Phone. Personally, I have an iPhone and enjoy many benefits of that ecosystem, but a DAP like this one allows expandable (or organized?) storage with MicroSD cards. Finally, it’s sound quality will beat any smartphone (I haven’t heard an LG V20-V40, but I’m still comfortable saying this) and several “transportable” DAC/Amps, without having to strap together a stack of boxes.
What is owning it actually like?
The first thing I noticed was it’s physical presence. The thing has no visible seams except where the aluminum body meets screen, leather, or button, and those seams are laser-thin and even. The brushed aluminum, leather back, matte texture screen, and palm-friendly curved edges feels great and supremely luxurious in hand... I love my iPhone and iPods before that, but this has better fit and finish, possibly better than Steve Jobs attention to detail, even down to things I don’t understand like the O-ring sealed MicroSD cover and slightly-canted-towards-the-back buttons along the right side (which easily group the volume buttons and playback buttons by feel - it’s easy to change volume or skip a track without looking).
The leather back is a stark contrast to the near-frictionless glass back of my iPhone 8+... where the iPhone seems destined to eventually slide off of any surface if you don’t have it bolted into a case, the ZX300a will sit on my bedside table without the weight of my HD 6XX cable causing it to spin or fall. My FiiO X7 is small enough to fit in my pants pocket, but this Sony makes much less of an awkward bulge and stretch in my tighter jeans front pocket, and I can fit in my jacket breast pocket where the X7 cannot.
Connecting to my iMac was as easy as plug and play, though it was a bit of a throwback to use a proprietary and wide connector on a DAP again (does the Walkman Port have analog line-out pinouts like the 30-pin iPod connector did? Hopefully it doesn’t have the durability issues of the 30-pin connector!). The Walkman automatically switched to Mass(drop?) Storage mode and Finder mounted the MicroSD card inside and the “Walkman” internal storage of the ZX300A on my desktop, and I could simply drag/drop songs into the MicroSD card at that point. The “Walkman” storage contained a user guide, sample tracks from Stevie Wonder in High Res (this night have been a gift from my friend who bought this for me in China, but I doubt it), and an installer for file transfer software, which I ran so I could just drag/drop playlists from my iTunes into the player, and copied over some FLAC and DSD files as well.
Connecting to my iPhone with Bluetooth was a breeze. There’s a fairly obvious icon on the top screen (the library screen) with waves coming towards the player; tap that, confirm Bluetooth Receicer mode, and pair it in your phone’s settings or NFC. After pairing the first time, switching to this mode connects to my phone automatically, nice. Also nice, the Sony screen shows what device is the source, and what audio codec is being used. AAC for my iPhone, aptX with my iMac if I wanted, and you android users can enjoy aptX HD or LDAC (not sure about aptX Low Latency, which I sure would like to try with gaming!). I was fairly impressed with my Bluewave GET and fullsized headphones, but I can tell this is an overall upgrade - more on that in the sound quality section.
Two connection issues though: my car and my PS4. I have a 2013 Golf, Volkswagen was still using proprietary “media” cables instead of USB back then, Bluetooth was still “new” and somewhat glitchy back then, so it might be my car. My iPhone 8 and android-based FiiO X7 connect fine, but the car labels them both as “phones,” and the ZX300A and car will search and search without ever seeing each other. Same for the Sony PS4 Pro connected via usb to the Sony ZX300A... no problems connecting my Chord Mojo, Creative G5, Bluewave GET, but no joy putting my Sony ZX300A into DAC mode (also on the menu screen, icon next to Bluetooth Receiver) and plugging in the Sony USB cable. I really hope I’m doing something wrong.
I love all the options for browsing songs. By year, playlist or folder, the ability to add songs to a playlist or one of 10 bookmark lists, the automatic “recently added” playlist, and all the standard artist, album, genre, and all songs, it’s pretty much all here. There’s a SensMe feature that uses a computer program to analyze your songs and make playlists of songs that go together, kind of like an offline (and not tracked by advertisers) version of Pandora or Apple Genius, which sounds promising and I’ll have to get around to playing with some day. Scrolling has inertia like on smartphones, with a scroll bar that shows up on the side to give you an idea how far you are along the list, and you can “grab” and drag this scroll bar to jump by alphabetical order (A’s, B’s, C’s, etc). There’s no “type to search” feature I’ve seen yet, but scrolling to the first letter of what I’m looking for and then normally scrolling through to the song seems fast enough, and I might see something along the way that interests me even more ;) I don’t see a feature to add a song to play next... something I would also like to see get added (meanwhile, I should be able to ”cheat” this by using one of the bookmarks lists). I don't see an option to shuffle tracks either, which seems odd.
EDIT: Shuffle is the circular icon to the left of ⏮. It threw me for a loop because it wasn't the standard 🔀, it looks more like a repeat button. Oh well... it’s Sony being Sony 😆
Ok ok, sound quality! You’ve been very patient, thank you :) Rest assured, the ZX300A sounds excellent.
More? Ok! Thought you’d be sick of reading by now, but alright! This is definitely a solid-state sound: low distortion, low noise, well-extended, clean but somewhat dry presentation. Three things stand out the most: a well-extended and supported low end with strong but tight bass impact, a strong sense of separation, and great soundstage. A great track to test this actually just came on while typing this: there’s percussive impact to the opening digital notes of “The Game Has Changed,” and the volume of the violins behind slowly rises in the background, each instrument clear to listen to without being masked by the others. The midbass hits hard with the synthetic notes and the horns (nice mix of real and digital instruments, Daft Punk!), plenty of energy at 100 volume (out of 120) on my HD 650 (= HD 6XX) in the 3.5mm SE output. “Heart of Sunrise” by Yes also gets me caught up in the tempo and pacing of the song, fantastic drum work there aided by the crispness and impact of the Sony.
If I had a criticism about the sound quality, however, is sometimes it still sounds too digital. Maybe it’s still needing some burn-in (the manual comes right out and says the capacitors won’t operate at full capacity until about 200 hours of music playback (with headphones connected) on the balanced and single ended connectors, each. Also, I regularly listen on a desktop setup with a value over $3,000, and I’ve spent a few hours getting blown away by an HE-1, so... bias, but I know what is possible. What I mean by digital is particularly noticeable with vocals... we hear voices all the time, we know what they sound like, but even with a balanced HD 800, the voices sound like something recorded, processed, and reproduced (all of which is, of course, true) and I haven’t yet found a song that was so transparent it tricks me into thinking it sounded like a person there, singing. It’s a trade off... amazing sense of texture, detail, very tight bass, and snappy impact, but in return each note is emphasized and “trying hard” a bit more than realistic, and vocals and notes and don’t flow into each other compared to something like a Chord Mojo or iFi iDSD Micro Black Label (discrete DAC/Amps that cost almost as much as this DAP). My best headphones are somewhat hard to drive though... the story changes with good IEMS, still fairly dry but a bit more at ease in the midrange.
Timbre is definitely improved when listening to my Campfire IEMs. Even though they’re just connected to the SE port, I guess the load is just easier to manage. At AXPONA 2019, the HD 820 connected to a Sony W1MZ at the Kimber Cables table sounded like no compromises... we’ll see with time if the timbre opens up, or if the silver solder and copper enclosure of the WM1Z really set that player apart.
***Edit: So, I got an HD 660 S, with a Pentaconn balanced cable. In short, WOW. The decrease in the HD 660 S’ resistance (Ω) and increase in sensitivity are just enough to make it an excellent pairing with the Sony. The bass doesn’t sound separated or hollow, and the sound overall has a much richer, fuller sound than with the HD 650 (300 Ω) in the SE 3.5mm port, and even the HD 800 (300 Ω) in the 4.4mm Pentaconn port. This just goes to show: Many times an amp can get “loud” enough, but driving something “well” is a who other level. I highly recommend the HD 660 S + ZX300A pairing (balanced), and I bet it would also sound pretty great with an HD 58X Jubilee using a Pentaconn cable (I could swap the HD 660 S’ cable into the HD 58X... but I’m having too much fun already 😂). ***
I don’t want to belabor that criticism too much at this point though... it’s still early days with my fairly “young” unit, it still sounds really good even with my “snobby audiophile” criticism, and even better with a nice pair of IEMs.
That this portable player can have a black background with IEMs and still play well with 300 Ω full-sized headphones, have triple or more the battery life of other DAPs, and be truely pocket sized, I still declare this player as a “win.” The ZX300A is the direction all DAPs should go in, with only small iterations needed for perfection.
Feel free to ask questions in reply, I’ll try to answer. I paid for this DAP with my own money, no sponsorship/discount/incentive from Sony or any particular store.
Great review. Thanks. In your opinion does ZX300A sound better than the Dragon Fly Red? I have the Red and is wondering. Thanks
Nice review and thank you for sharing! I have a ZX-2 and have been keeping my eye out for a new player that is as transparent and extended as possible for IEM testing.
I love that the ZX300A even drives your HD650/6XX, but would you choose this to do IEM testing with? Wondering if I need to look Astell&Kern for my purposes...
There is a review section for those who are verified purchasers from Drop, it will show up when a minimum number of reviews have been completed by purchasers. Really appreciate your in-depth sharing for myself and Ev-eryone else. :)
Yes, more low end grunt, the sense of impact and separation (and what some people call PRAT, Pace Rythmn And Timing, though the music plays back at the same correct speed) lead to a higher sense of detail and catch you up in the rythmn of the song.
@CEE_TEE I think it is pretty great with IEMs, though I only have 3.5mm terminated IEM cables right now. I don't hear any background noise with IEMs till I turn the volume up fairly close to max, and no hiss with the HD 650 (and I wasn't testing for it but I didn't note any with the HD 58X). Jury is still out on ”transparency” in the sense of full-on-realism, where the midrange seems slightly cold and compressed right now on the high impedance HD 650 with its 3.5mm SE cable and HD 800 with my 4.4mm balanced cable (less issue with the balanced port), BUT that could be a combination of the ”fresh” capacitors and lack of burn-in time (as mentioned in my review). The mids actually sounded more full and transparent with my IEMs, and I didn't hear any compromises on that level when I listened to an also 300 Ω Sennheiser HD 820 connected straight to a Sony WM1Z at Kimber Cable’s AXPONA booth recently. The ZX300 and WM1A, WM1Z share an amp, but the higher end models have upgraded wiring/solder and possibly capacitors... Same power output, I believe. I prefer the size of the ZX300(A).
I’m making a more concentrated effort to ”burn in” my ZX300A now, plugged in a prototype pair of IEMs last night and left them playing overnight. Battery just died this evening, pretty great considering all the hi-res songs I put on. For IEMs, you may find the ZX300 is already good-to-go, it really is a detailed and neutral DAP.
The ZX2 has wifi and I believe TIDAL, where the ZX300(a) has bluetooth streaming instead. I believe the balanced Pentaconn out of the ZX300 actually supplies more power than the ZX2.
If you were looking at Astell&Kern, the KANN was the highlight of their previous lineup, and with the new line of SPX000 models, the upcoming KANN Cube might be a new stand-out bad boi! A&K has a bespoke quality and you can trust almost any of their players will be perfect for IEMs, but some of them lack for driving full-size headphones (except the large KANN and higher end models with extra amp modules), and they seem to have a 5-9 hour battery runtime... So their more high-end models seem like transportable desktop units rather than pocketable portable DAPs, IMO. Pick based on your needs!
Ev-eryone else, I see what you did there ;)