When Sony unveiled the DMP-Z1 it drew the attention of the audiophile press like a perfectly cooked steak in a room full of starved Paleo dieters. But it was not so much its looks or technological accomplishments that drew curious eyes, but its price: £8,000 or $8,499 US MSRP! However, having spent some quality time with the DMP-Z1, I think that, if anything, it might be underpriced!
The DMP-Z1 was designed from the ground up with sound quality as the primary goal, with a blank slate and almost a blank cheque for development. From its rigid milled aluminium H-shaped chassis (to isolate digital from analogue circuitry), three separate battery packs and five individual cells that isolate the digital and analogue sections from AC power, customised analogue rotary volume controller that supports the volume for four separate signal paths, Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4497EQ DAC Chip, TI TPA6120A2 amp chip, dual micro SD card slots, 256 GB internal storage, USB type C connections and Bluetooth receiver, it displays a level of rethinking that is reserved for state-of-the-art signature products.
The DMP-Z1 DAC section will support PCM to 384KHz/32bit and DSD 11.2MHz; interestingly, however, PCM files can be resampled into DSD 5.6 format via a built-in “DSD Remastering Engine” when turned on. Two other sound processing options include a ‘Vinyl Processor' and a DSEE HX 'Digital Sound Enhancement Engine'. The former option, says Sony, recreates “low-frequency tonearm resonance, surface and scratch noise, and resonance on the vinyl” to give “back the character of vinyl to your digital tracks.” The latter option uses artificial intelligence to recognise “instruments, voices, and musical genres” and then applies that information to “accurately rebuild audio lost during digital compression for a full-fidelity experience.”
The DMP-Z1 has two headphone outputs, a stereo-mini unbalanced and a 4.4mm balanced output—both with Kimber Kable wiring. It has no preamp-output or other analogue outputs besides the two headphone outputs, which default to the balanced output when connected. And while the DMP-Z1 is certainly transportable, it is not and was not designed to be a portable on-the-go device: its designated place is on your desktop where it can serve as a USB DAC, play files from one of its two micro SD card slots, or from a Bluetooth source device.