Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house

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Vinnie R.




All,

Last week a customer sent me a Sony HAP-Z1ES to evaluate as a candidate for modification.  I am starting this thread to discuss
things "under the hood" related to this player (power supply, dac, output stages, etc.) as well as modifications. 

This thread can also be used to discuss listening impressions of the stock (and modded unit in the future), comparisons, things you wish could be done to it with regards to mods, etc.

For starters, I am going to link to a few reviews and other threads that exist about this player, as well as some quick facts and opinions.  I believe it was made available early 2014, so it is fairly new:

First, the links to Sony's pages:

http://discover.store.sony.com/ES/high-resolution-audio/HAP-Z1ES.html

http://store.sony.com/hi-res-music-player-with-1tb-hdd-zid27-HAPZ1ES/cat-27-catid-All-Res-Audio

http://rd1.sony.net/help/ha/hapz1es


REVIEWS of stock HAP-Z1ES:

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/sony-hap-z1es-hdd-audio-player/

http://www.whathifi.com/review/sony-hap-z1es

http://www.stereophile.com/content/sony-hap-z1es-high-resolution-file-player

----

Other DISCUSSION THREADS that might be of interest:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=123436.0

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f10-music-servers/sony-hap-z1es-has-arrived-19079/

http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?ddgtl&1382187029&read

I'm sure there are other reviews and discussions of merit, so please feel free to link to them if you know of any. 

----

The reviews and discussion threads get into the meat of what this player does and does not do, so I won't get deep into that here.  But just to lay out some GENERAL INFO about the stock player, in no particular order:

-- It is NOT a solution for everyone, but I believe it makes a great solution for those who do not want a typical computer in their listening room.
-- You DO need a computer loaded with music files to transfer music to its internal 1TB drive (expandable via USB port - for storage only).  Music
is transfered via wired or wireless network. 
-- No digital inputs or outputs.  No headphone out.  It's strictly SE and BAL line out.
-- Free App to load on your computer to manage what files you want to transfer to it, deleting files, etc.
-- Free Remote App for iPhone/iPad and Android phones/tablets
-- It supports just about every audio file format, including: DSD (WSF and DSDIFF), WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC, MP3, AAC, and WMA files.

Some quick initial impressions by me, in no particular order:

-- Once music is loaded, it is very easy to use.
-- Fast boot up and shut down.  It even seems stable and menus are responsive!
-- Excellent build quality.  This is Sony ES, and I think they are trying to make a statement here with this player.
-- Nice LCD, a little small (but that's were the remote app comes in handy).  3 brightness settings.
-- For the USD $1995 MSRP, it is a great value.  I say this based on the sound quality, build quality, what is under the hood, and how well it functions, which brings me to....

Some quick "under the hood" information about the power supply, d/a, and output stage:

-- Mostly linear regulated power supply stages inside.  Multiple EI transformer cores.  Use of MANY linear voltage
regulators.  Very little sharing of voltage rails.  There are a few sections that get a feed from DC-DC chips.  But there is no switching power supply inside, and the critical stuff is all linear regulated.
-- Dual Burr Brown PCM1795 d/a chips (one per channel)
-- OPA2132UA opamps used in the output stage
-- No analog volume control (but there is a "learning remote" feature so its remote can control most amps. Haven't tried it)
-- Native DSD (DSD64 and DSD128), and also has a PCM-to-DSD "remastering engine" that converts everything to DSD128.  This can be enabled/disabled.
-- Has a DSEE restore engine to add some life to compressed music (or internet radio).  This can also be enabled/disabled.
-- Auto Mute relays are not in the signal path (the shunt to GND).  You can hear them click from time to time when you play files
of different bit/sample rates as it quickly adjusts clocking to play files natively.
-- Low phase noise master clock
-- Separate boards for d/a and output stage, FPGAs, linear regulators, DC-DC regulators, ethernet/wifi. 
-- Solid chassis.  Only the top plate (easy to remove) rings a little, but that is very easy to take care of with dynamat or similar.
-- Very quiet operation.  There is what appears to be a "safety fan" inside that could be turned on if the player were to get too warm.  Perhaps
that could happen if hot tube amp was on the shelf below it, or if the listen room was 100F or something.  But I have yet it hear it or ever
see it switch on in normal operation.  It's a nice touch.

SO HOW DOES IT SOUND?

I'm going to be posting more about this by this weekend.  I've been putting in a few listening hours each night and getting more and more
familiar with its sound signature.  What I can say upfront is that in its stock form, it can easily compete with stand-alone dacs or anything else in its price class - and beyond.  This is one of the main reasons why I think it is a great value.  Sony is a huge company and can leverage their design arm and supply chain  to pull something like this off for less $$$ than the smaller guys - that's just they way it is.  But after considering the cost of manufacturer, cost to design, dealer margins, etc. - I don't see how they are making much profit on this player!  From what I am hearing, seeing, and feeling - it leaves me scratching my head that that can do it for $1995.  Maybe it is a "lost leader" that they sell so they can actually make good money on DSD music - like the Sony PS3?

Will Red Wine Audio be offering modifications to the HAP-Z1ES?

I intend to.  Initially, I wanted to look the other way when I learned about this player last September.  Years ago, I enjoyed modding the first generation Olive products (similar idea to this player).  These days, I've only been modding the portable Astell & Kern high-res DAPs.  But for
some reason, this Sony music tank has been calling out to me.  So I have been and continue to research its design, and am initially looking to
do output stage modifications:

-- Installation of a tube output stage (one tube per channel).  Most likely a version of the tube stage we use in our RWA products.  It's a great
candidate because: 

1. it is super low noise
2. auto-bias
3. does not require high voltage
4. does not use transformers or DC-DC converters
5. has a switch to use 6922 or 12AX7 tube families
6. has a soft-start and auto-mute for warm up, so tubes last a very long time (very low maintenance).

-- I could also do a custom version that instead uses 6H30s for those love that tube.

-- Improvements to the audio board (caps, bypass caps, resistors, convert over the I/V stage to tubes, hard-wire new RCA jacks directly to the tube stage).  The capacitor/resistor swapping to fine tune the voicing of the unit.  I do not wish to play with the output filter parameters that Sony developed because I'm sure they have it working well for PCM and DSD. 

OTHER MODS?

Sure - this is the thread to discuss!  Certain things are probably doable, certain things are probably doable but maybe something I wouldn't recommend, and I'm sure there are things that really can't or shouldn't be done in there.  There is a fair amount of space in there, especially
along the rear and right side panels, to work. 

I hope this thread is useful to those interested in this player, and those interested in some modifications to it as well.  It should be fun!  :D

Vinnie
« Last Edit: 8 May 2014, 02:30 am by Vinnie R. »

OzarkTom

+1

I had to gamble on this, sounds now like it was a great choice.

smargo

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I hope this thread is useful to those interested in this player, and those interested in some modifications to it as well.  It should be fun!  :D

Vinnie

what a great summary from everything that has been said or heard about the sony - good to know that you looked inside and basically liked what you saw and could see where the player might be improved

looking forward to your critique of the sound and the following of what comes to fruition from this thread

Stercom

Vinnie - Very well written and directly on point. I'm not going to repeat what you just said but, yes I agree,  I've owned an Olive 4HD music server,  very good DACs, CD players, etc. The stock HAP-Z1EDS is better than all of them.  The questions I have is why do you think the output stage should be reworked (with tubes is what you indicated), what should we expect to hear with the reworked output stage and what will it cost? If its 100% of the cost of the unit or even 50% - is it really worth it? I know thats a question asking for a subjective answer (that may help you financially.........just keeping it real  :D) but I want your opinions since obviously you have thought about this unit enough to start a thread on it. And, of course, thank you!!

OzarkTom

This is the Amazon review that caused me to order one. If you notice, he has a very expensive system and has compared the Sony to some very high priced Dacs.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A2TACOWOHH3JHG/ref=pdp_new_read_full_review_link?ie=UTF8&page=1&sort_by=MostRecentReview#R2F2JAADMHBZY8

And my buddy Rex just called, he received his new issue of The Absolute Sound. Rex told me there is a 10 page review on the Sony, and Steven Stone gives it a Best Buy rating as Vinnie does here. I am going to visit Rex this weekend and read the extensive review.

Vinnie R.

Quote
I had to gamble on this, sounds now like it was a great choice.

OzarkT,

You did well on your gamble  :thumb:

Quote
good to know that you looked inside and basically liked what you saw and could see where the player might be improved.
looking forward to your critique of the sound and the following of what comes to fruition from this thread

smargo,

Thanks for sending it my way.  I've been carefully listening to it and studying the circuit design of the entire player.  For $2k, it's hard to
fault.  But the part that I really like about it is that it DOES lend itself to mods, and it is a good candidate for mods because it is a solid
platform in terms of the power supplies, good layout and separation of boards, DSD engine, dac, etc.  And solid build quality as well.  I really
think this unit will greatly benefit from a tubed output stage, along with some other mods.  But I don't want to just mod things for the sake of modding.  I want to see what makes the most sense and do things one step at a time.  This weekend I'm going to put forward a solid strategy.

Quote
Vinnie - Very well written and directly on point. I'm not going to repeat what you just said but, yes I agree,  I've owned an Olive 4HD music server,  very good DACs, CD players, etc. The stock HAP-Z1EDS is better than all of them.  The questions I have is why do you think the output stage should be reworked (with tubes is what you indicated), what should we expect to hear with the reworked output stage and what will it cost? If its 100% of the cost of the unit or even 50% - is it really worth it? I know thats a question asking for a subjective answer (that may help you financially.........just keeping it real  ) but I want your opinions since obviously you have thought about this unit enough to start a thread on it. And, of course, thank you!!

Stercom,

Thank you.  And I am going to answer your question in more detail this weekend when I go into more detail about the sound.  The short answer is this:

In the early days of my modding and even early RWA days, I thought that avoiding tubes (and even preamps for that matter and going passive) made the most sense.  What could be more transparent than the best measuring opamps and simple resistive attenuators and the like?  Well, as I later began to experiment more with tubes, I came to the realization that a well-designed tube stage [i'm talking line-level here, not speaker output stage] cannot be beat with regards to delivering richer tonality, a sense of space in all 3-dimensions (making the soundstage bigger and more lifelike), and that 'special something' that just makes you want to keep on listening.  Opamps don't do it for me.  I do prefer discrete FETs, but they don't even do it for me like a good, clean tube stage.   You can opamp roll, you can get rid of them and do discrete FETs or BJTs, but in my findings playing with opamps, FETs, and tubes, I find that tubes really win. 

I'm sure some of you have heard not-so-great tube stages that added noise, hiss, hum, whatever.  I'm sure you've heard tube stages that were thick, dark, and syrupy (where you really do here the distortion and it makes the bass bloated and muddy, makes the sound too thick, smears things, etc.).  That is NOT the tube stage that I have in mind!  That I promise.  It's extends flat above 100k, it is open, it is super low noise, and it responds well to tube rolling.  And it doesn't beat up your tubes.  I'm sure it can't win a measurements battle with opamps, but in listening tests I think it will win every time as long as it is installed carefully and properly into the context of the Sony's output stage design.  This is what I will make sure happens. 

I don't believe it should cost 100% of the cost of this unit.  Maybe 50%... I can't say yet.  I wouldn't even want to go forward with it unless it does what I think it will do, and it needs to do it very well.

Other mods can be done to see if they can push the envelope.  This is a specialized player.  It has a lot of potential - this I know for sure.  Sony set their mind on a $1995.  They really give you something special for that amount.  But I can see why they couldn't do any more and hit that price point.  I do think their profit is very small on it.  That is their business, and I don't care.  I have no affiliation with Sony.  I just think they have
a solid platform with this player for those who don't want a standard computer server and external dac in their system.  Some might hate the idea of the Sony.  They want digital inputs.  They want digital outputs.  Besides cost, I can see why Sony left them out.  This thing plays just about any file type out there, and it does so in a specialized way to do it very well.  There isn't even any SPDIF signal to be found inside to tap off of.  From the FPGA, it's feeding I2S to the dual dacs.  There is no Async USB, Integer mode, etc. conversion because there is no USB in.  In that regard, it's less like a computer audio setup I guess.  And yes, I won't waste my time with this player and even start a thread about it if I didn't think it was worth the time and effort.   I have the feeling it will really catch on in the mod circles and DIY circles because of these attributes, and I also believe it will be shunned and bashed in other circles because it is not a computer + dac combo.  But I really like what I am seeing and hearing, so I will move forward with it and enjoy the ride.  8)

Hi OzarkT again,

Thanks for the amazon link.  Didn't see that.  And in my first post of this thread, I added the TAS review by Steven Stone.

Vinnie

OzarkTom


Philistine

There is a brand new one listed on Audiogon for $1750 plus shipping.

http://app.audiogon.com/listings/cd-sacd-players-sony-hapz1es-hi-res-music-player-system-2014-02-25-digital-33076-pompano-beach-fl

I've been looking for a replacement for a Modwright Transporter for a couple of years, just making do with a Touch currently,  so the Sony HAP-Z1ES looks like a great candidate.   Thanks for linking the Audiogon sale, based on the sellers trading experience, 0, I'd recommend any potential buyer performing a fair amount of due diligence before parting with any money for this.  It may be perfectly legit and a great deal, but you need to do your homework first...

OzarkTom

I've been looking for a replacement for a Modwright Transporter for a couple of years, just making do with a Touch currently,  so the Sony HAP-Z1ES looks like a great candidate.   Thanks for linking the Audiogon sale, based on the sellers trading experience, 0, I'd recommend any potential buyer performing a fair amount of due diligence before parting with any money for this.  It may be perfectly legit and a great deal, but you need to do your homework first...

You can pay by Paypal, that should protect you.

kngale1

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Vinnie, I will be VERY interested in your mod.  Do you plan to offer output capacitor options (IE: Duelund ... ) and tube choice (IE: 6sn7 or 6922 ...)?

Robert57

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  • Posts: 125
Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #10 on: 7 Mar 2014, 05:27 pm »
Thanks, Vinnie, for this superb summary. This Sony player does sound like a good bargain. I've read Steven Stone's review at TAS, and the one glaring omission of this player's feature set is the ability to stream music with a suitable buffer, a la Squeezebox or Sonos, from my central iTunes/ Mac library. It appears you first have to transfer the music files to the local Sony drive (using the home ethernet network) before you can play them, and then you have to create new playlists with the local files. If Sony added true streaming from my central iTunes library, with the ability to play my existing iTunes playlists, that would be a crucial capability to me. Am I missing something?

Rob

Vinnie R.

Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #11 on: 7 Mar 2014, 06:54 pm »
Vinnie, I will be VERY interested in your mod.  Do you plan to offer output capacitor options (IE: Duelund ... ) and tube choice (IE: 6sn7 or 6922 ...)?

Hi kngale1,

The accepted tubes would be ones from the 12AX7 family and ones from the 6922 family (switch on board
to select which family):

6922 family -- 6922/E88CC, 6DJ8/ECC88, 7308/E188CC, 7DJ8/PCC88, 6N23, 6H23, 6N11, and 6GM8

12AX7 family -- 12AX7/ECC83, E83CC/ECC803, 5751, 12DT7/12DM7/12DF7, 6681, 7058, and 7025

I can also custom configure the board for 6H30s instead of the others (6H30s have their own cult of fans, and they
might end up being a great pick for this application... we'll see).

I want to keep the tubes (1 tube/board per channel) inside the player and not sticking out the top if I can avoid it.  In terms of heat, we're looking at around 2W per tube (except for the 6H30s, which is more like 5W per tube), so it will not get hot in there. 

I may offer output cap options.  The possibilities seem endless, and there is no way I'll have time to listen to them all.  Between rolling tubes and caps, those are two variables right there that can fine-tune e the sonic signature.


Hi Robert57,

The HAP-1ZES is not a music streamer, so it does not work like a SB or Sonos.  You do have to transfer your music onto the Sony's internal 1TB HDD, and then you play them. 

My assumption is that Sony engineers wanted this to be there new statement source.  At RMAF2013, they used in in place of the much more expensive Meitner dac that they used in past (which also does PCM to DSD remastering if I remember correctly), and it was paired with their flagship system that I think added up to ~ $30k.  That's a big statement they were making and from reports I've read, they pulled it off just fine.  They didn't want to convert from USB to I2S, they didn't want to convert from SPDIF to I2S, or from an Ethernet/WiFi stream.  They wanted the data to be put on a hard disk, and isolated from outside influences upon playback.  They didn't even design in a SPDIF output to connect to an external dac.  The signal path from HDD, to CPU, to FPGA, to DAC/output stage looks very well laid out and specialized for one important dedicated task.  Again, this is a big reason why I think it is an ideal candidate for mods.  [It's like hot-rodding a car for more power, and the car already has a transmission, suspension, brakes that can handle it and do justice to aftermarket work - instead of putting a nitro powered V8 into something like a Honda Civic, and all the extra power and torque shreds the tranny, it handles like crap, etc.  I know it's not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea].  And again, it is not the ideal player for everyone because some require streaming, Pandora, Spotify, etc. or want more flexibility.  For me, when I want to use Pandora/Spotify, etc. - I know the quality is already compressed so I just plug my iPhone/iPad into a LOD and feed into the preamp.  It does the trick for streaming MP3 quality.  :green:

Vinnie

smargo

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Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #12 on: 7 Mar 2014, 07:43 pm »

The accepted tubes would be ones from the 12AX7 family and ones from the 6922 family (switch on board
to select which family):

6922 family -- 6922/E88CC, 6DJ8/ECC88, 7308/E188CC, 7DJ8/PCC88, 6N23, 6H23, 6N11, and 6GM8

12AX7 family -- 12AX7/ECC83, E83CC/ECC803, 5751, 12DT7/12DM7/12DF7, 6681, 7058, and 7025

I can also custom configure the board for 6H30s instead of the others (6H30s have their own cult of fans, and they
might end up being a great pick for this application... we'll see).

and vinnie:

 im hoping that it will be easy to swap the tubes out - not having to have coniptions - just to try and change a tube

Vinnie R.

Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #13 on: 7 Mar 2014, 09:24 pm »
and vinnie:

 im hoping that it will be easy to swap the tubes out - not having to have coniptions - just to try and change a tube

Super easy:

1)Remove top plate. 
2) Remove tubes from sockets
3) Verify 6.3V / 12V heater switch position based on what tubes you are installing
4) Install tubes into sockets
5) Replace top plate.
6) Enjoy

I'm sure I can find some stainless thumbscrews to replace the screws with, so you won't even need a screwdriver.  :wink:

Factorz

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 130
Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #14 on: 8 Mar 2014, 02:36 am »
Vinnie,
Thanks for the insight into what's under the hood and the mods you have planned really do sound interesting. I also appreciate your update on the ability to use a service like Spotify as this was something I was hoping would have been included and could not get a clear answer on.

Vinnie R.

Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #15 on: 8 Mar 2014, 04:52 am »
Just a quick update regarding the power supply regulation:

The analog transformer (T2) had 3 dedicated outputs (windings off the secondary):

1) Dedicated bridge rectifier and 3.3V linear regulator to feed the digital clock section
2) Dedicated bridge rectifier and 3.3V and 5V linear regulator to feed the 3.3V and 5V for the dual dacs
3) Dedicated bridge rectifier and +/- 15V linear regulators to feed the I/V conversion and output stage (SE and BAL)

The digital transformer (T1) has 2 dedicated outputs:

1) Dedicated bridge rectifier and 5V dc-dc regulator that feeds the main +5V to LOTS of other regulators to feed the microprocessor chip,
system controller chip, SDRAMs, FPGA, Audio DSP, Ethernet, etc.
2) Dedicated bridge rectifier and 5V dc-dc regulator that feeds the HDD and USB port.

So we are talking about some serious isolation between the sections.  2 separate Xformers with a total of 5 sections / bridge rectifier stages feeding a boat-load of dedicated regulators!  8)

Power supply is so important, and the engineering team for this ES product did a great job from what I am seeing....

More soon!

Vinnie

Afterimage

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Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #16 on: 8 Mar 2014, 02:07 pm »
so if I understand this right, if all my music is stored on an external hard drive, all I have to do is connect it to the back and after everything is backed up I would be good to go?   

Brad

Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #17 on: 8 Mar 2014, 02:12 pm »
Pretty sure even if it's stored on an external, it would still have to be 'imported' into the Sony software

Vinnie R.

Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #18 on: 8 Mar 2014, 04:35 pm »
so if I understand this right, if all my music is stored on an external hard drive, all I have to do is connect it to the back and after everything is backed up I would be good to go?

Hi Afterimage,

I haven't tried using an external USB drive yet, but my understanding is that it first needs to be formatted by the Z1ES to work with it.  Then you can back-up the internal 1TB drive, or use the external drive to store more music that you load onto it via the Z1ES interface.  So you could have 1TB internal, 2TB external, etc.  If I personally was looking for more storage space, I would look into installing a larger drive in the Sony.  Not sure how large the 2.5" SSD drives are these days, but thinking 2TB is around the corner...

The good thing is that there is already a backup on your computer (because you need to transfer from your computer to the Z1ES to get files to it in the first place), and you can control what music you load onto the Z1ES in manual mode.  So a lot of music that you probably are not planning on listening to can stay on your computer, and you can load 1TB of your favorites onto the Z1ES. 

[Also, it looks like you can copy files back to your computer from the Z1ES when you network them.  I have to confirm, but that is interesting because music from one's player can be copied to another's computer, and then onto another player it seems.]

I plan to post some more listening impressions this evening and will go from there...

Vinnie

noiseless

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Re: Sony HAP-Z1ES High Res DSD Audio Music Player - in the house
« Reply #19 on: 8 Mar 2014, 04:44 pm »
Vinnie, this is the most informative thread about modding Z1ES so far - thanks a lot for it!

I am a bit afraid of tubes since I have zero experience with them but will watch this place closely and who knows... and I need to buy Z1ES first, of course  :) 

One repeated transformers question, please - are the primary Tx windings easily adjustable inside for 100/120/220V operation or they are custom build for each US/EU/JP version?

Any ideas to design optional output buffer and analog volume control inside the unit so one can easily connect the power amp directly to Z1ES, please?

Thank you,
Ivo