Reborn Walkman steals some of Pono's hi-res audio thunder

walkman xz1

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Apparently the folks at Sony were listening to Neil Young: The company that introduced the Walkman portable cassette player in 1979 hopes to breathe new life into the brand with a high-resolution audio portable that plays FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) 24-bit 192kHz audio files. That’s the same high-resolution audio format chosen by Young and his Pono partners for their PonoPlayer, which is set to ship in October.

A FLAC audio file has about 30 times more data to draw on for recreating a song versus a standard MP3 audio file. That means better sound quality for your music—as close as you get to analog sound with a digital file, the backers of hi-res audio contend. (Others dispute whether the average ear can hear the difference between high-resolution audio and a CD.)

walkman xz1 side

You’ll pay a pretty penny for Sony’s NWZ-ZX1 Walkman, which has rolled out in other countries but doesn’t have a U.S. ship date yet, according to the Wall Street Journal in its profile of the rejuvenated Walkman. If you want it now, you can get it through resellers on Amazon, but you should expect to pay around $700—or more—if you go that route. In contrast, the PonoPlayer will have a $400 price tag when it arrives in a few months.

The Sony NWZ-ZX1 Walkman comes with 128GB of onboard memory—you’ll need it, given the size of hi-res audio files—but doesn’t have a slot for SD cards to add more capacity. Besides playing FLAC high-resolution audio files and the ALAC lossless audio format, it can also handle “lossy” MP3 files. It runs on Android 4.1, according to the ZX1’s spec sheet.

Now may not be the right time to buy Sony’s 21st century Walkman—not until Sony makes its U.S. plans for the music player more clear and certainly not with the PonoPlayer’s release just around the corner. Still, the availability of another high-resolution audio player bodes promising things for people craving better sound quality out of their mobile devices.

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