Sony NW-WM1AM2 Walkman Review

Sony NW-WM1AM2 Walkman Review

Phones, Bluetooth, and dongle DACs pretty much handle the majority of portable audio nowadays. So how can dedicated audio players compete? In short, they need to be special, and otherwise provide an experience that you cannot get with your everyday smartphone. Here are my expectations for a top of the line digital audio player (DAP) in 2024.

  1. The sound should be amazing, and it should have enough power to drive all modern headphones.
  2. Bit perfect playback.
  3. Speedy WiFi.
  4. All modern Bluetooth codecs.
  5. Responsive interface.
  6. Run all modern apps.
  7. Excellent battery life.
  8. Brilliant display.
  9. Latest OS with frequent updates.
  10. Support for all modern audio and video formats.
  11. User upgradeable and replaceable storage.

So how does the Sony NW-WM1AM2 digital audio player stack up to the list?

  1. Sound quality is excellent! The Sony DAP sounds better than the Questyle M15i DAC that I use with my iPhone. Sony's built in equalizer and sound enhancements work without issue. The EQ has 10 bands (non parametric). The other sound enhancements are fun to play with, but lacking any real explanation of what they do. The majority of the time, I don't use any sound enhancements. I've tested the WM1AM2 with FiiO's FH9 IEMs, Focal Stellia closed back headphones, and Audeze LCD-X 2021 open back headphones - powers them all without issue. Now, let's be real, it doesn't sound as good as a desktop DAC like the RME ADI-2/4 Pro SE, but I really wouldn't expect it to considering the products are so different from one another. For a portable unit though - best I've ever heard. The conversion to DSD mode seems to do nothing to improve sound quality, and I'm not sure why anyone would use that setting.
  2. Bit perfect? It depends on which app and which mode. You can put it in DAC mode and feed it from an external source, this appears to be bit perfect. Perhaps when using the Sony music app for local files, it's bit perfect. Like most Android devices, all streaming music seems to be resampled. Bit perfect or resampled, it sounds good.
  3. WiFi? It's so s...l...o...w. Downloading albums and playlists work, but don't be in a hurry. It's painfully slow when compared with a smartphone from a couple of years ago. It's downright abysmal.
  4. Granted the device is a couple of years old, but AptX Adaptive existed when it was made, and it's not present here. Granted, this device is mainly for wired solutions, but it would still be a nice touch.
  5. Responsiveness is lacking. The reality is that Sony used a very slow and inexpensive processor. I have yet to find the specific processor used. Had it been a really powerful chipset, Sony would have touted it in their advertising literature and officially listed specification. There's also quite a bit of Google bloatware preinstaled which further adds to the sluggishness of the device.
  6. Here's the list of third part apps I've installed and currently use on the device: Brave browser (because of it's built in ad blocking), FE File Explorer Pro, Apple Music, and O Launcher. Brave is needed to download some APK files. FE Explorer is used to copy music files from my Unraid backup server. Both apps are sluggish and slow in terms of responsiveness.
  7. Sony claims this device will last for 40 hours of playback. That's absolute nonsense. Maybe 8 hours, but not 40. Not even 10 hours.
  8. The display is adequate - not great. It drains the battery life considerably when used for more than a few seconds. Needless to say, it's certainly not up to par with many mid tier cellphones from a couple of years ago.
  9. Android 14 is the latest OS available from Google, but this device is stuck on version 11. It works (for now), but there will come a point where you won't be able to install and run the latest music streaming apps.
  10. It plays back every audio file I've thrown at it - no issues there. However, it doesn't have support for spatial audio / Dolby Atmos which Tidal and Apple Music now support. Regarding video playback, because of the device's poor performance, it'll choke on video. I know some people will laugh at an idea of a device like this playing video saying it wasn't meant for it, but that's just silly. Good audio makes watching movies more enjoyable. Why wouldn't I want to watch a movie with a pair of Focal Stellia headphones? I should be able to copy over an MKV file of one of my Blu-ray Discs and play it back in full quality without having to recompress the file.
  11. Fortunately, you can add storage. I'm using a 1 TB microSD card, and it works without issue.

There's quite a few shortcomings with this player, but these shortcomings seem present in every other DAP on the market (as of now). The whole industry needs to do better. I realize it's a function of cost, but even the priciest units from other manufacturers have similar issues.

All that being said, I do enjoy listening to and using this unit, but it requires multiple tweaks to get things running as smoothly as possible. Here are my tips. To be clear, this is not a full-blown how-to guide, you just need to be a bit of a nerd. Here we go:

  1. Use Universal Android Debloater to "remove" the majority of Google's bloat and unneeded Sony apps like their help guide and Bluetooth connect app (assuming you're not using a Sony Bluetooth device with it).
  2. Replace the GUI with something lightweight like O Launcher from the Google Play Store.
  3. Go into the accessibility settings and turn off animations.
  4. Install Brave and enable the strongest setting of ad blocking. You'll need a browser for number 5.
  5. Download the Apple Music app from Apple's website - the Play Store doesn't give you an option to download a recent version. After it's installed, make sure you go into the app setting, and select to have it save downloads to the microSD. You might have to force close the app and do this a couple of times before it takes. Eventually it will.
  6. Enable hi-res streaming in settings.
  7. Enable high gain output.

In conclusion, do I recommend this thing? I'll give it a wholehearted shrug 🤷. It's fun, I enjoy it, but I'm looking for something newer and better, one that ticks meets all of my requirements. My best advice, is if you do buy one, buy it on Amazon. That way, if you hate absolutely hate it, you can return it.