The second impressions, still on headpie. WMZ1 vs. WM1A vs. AK380. First such comparison, and it's on headpie !
I spend some time at the Audio shop in Beijing. My initial objective was too compare the AK380 stock with the AK380 copper, the presence or absence of difference in sound between these two has been obsessing me for some reason recently. Well today, this obsession found its answer, but not in the way I was expecting.
I arrived at the store and realized they didn't have the AK380 CU demo anymore, which pissed me off as I checked with them beforehand...welcome to Beijing :D What they did have was both WMZ1 and WMA1 demos, and so I loaded my music (redbook and highres flac in all genres, roughly 30 tracks) on all three players, and took 45mn comparing tracks between the 3 players on my SE5 Ultimate. I volume matched the two Sonys obviously, and tried to volume match with the AK380 by ear. I went through most of my tracks listening very carefully to understand the difference in signature and performance, to my ears that is.
In terms of signature, the difference where quite obvious from the start between the AK380 and the Sonys (who share strong common traits). The Sony signature is more full bodied, with more bottom end, smoother highs, less width, more depth and 3D sound, the AK380 is less engaging, slightly clearer sounding, more air. The differences in signature between both Sonys are, in my opinion, much else obvious. I do not hear what some people are saying, where one is neutral and one is warm. I hear that the WM1A is SLIGHTLY less full bodied, slightly less warm, but only by a touch.
I take back what I had hinted at, that the Sonys might lack trebble extension. They are not the sparkliest, but the treble sounds just right, no issue there. Very smooth and peakless.
Now to the key part, I was having a hard time saying which one really had the edge. For quite a while, I thought that the AK380 clearly had the edge, because while it was less engaging, it sounded somewhat cleaner. The WM1A sound really nice, but the AK380 is a bit cleaner AND a better performer overal IMO, unless you prefer full bodied sound and / or have harder to drive cans. At the same times the 380 is three times the price so I hope it keeps some edge. However, this difference is also more a matter of what sound signature you prefer. Some could like the WM1A over the AK.
The key diffierence I was looking for hit me suddenly, when I was listen to Rhye : SEPARATION AND LAYERING on the WMZ1 are just above all the others. When you listen to a nicely mastered album with numerous instruments and singers, they are clearly separated width wise on the AK380, but on the WMZ1, you can position them in space very clearly, they have more flesh, are more vibrant and distinct. The difference is even more obvious on with the WMA1 as the sig is closer to the WM1Z. I did a few back and forth between all three and can confirm this is what I hear.
Let us be clear, these are all great performers, and you really need to listen carefully to find one above the other. But now I am leaning towards getting the WMZ1, as it just so musical, realistic and lively.
Impressions by Mimouille