Sony's new HAPZ1ES music player fills a wide open gap that has been with us for years i.e. A HD file player, Hi-end DAC, expandable on board music storage, an extremely simple, intuitive user interface all wrapped in a beautiful, functional and quality built unit.
For years I have tried to find a decent hi-end, all in one, digital music playback system that does not require a computer or knowledge of computer networks. Sony's HAPZ1ES is that unit. It includes the following key components:
1) 1 TB Hard Disk drive: My library includes HD audio and CD quality audio totaling around 300GB and 6000 tracks. This means that I would need to triple my library before running out of space. If you require additional space, you can connect an external USB hard disk. The Player supports USB 2.0 which means that you should use an external drive that supports USB 2.0 or higher. The Player will need to reformat your drive which will delete all the files on your external drive, so take appropriate action to back up your files first. The HAPZ1ES supports most file types including DSD, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, etc...
2) File Player: The HAPZ1ES has a 4.3 inch LCD screen and a simple 4 button control that you can operate without even reading the User's Manual.
3) Remote Control: The included Remote control has a very minimalist design that I was excited about initially but was disappointed when I held it and realized it was a cheap, lightweight, plastic remote. Also, the Volume and Mute functions will only work if you have the matching Sony Amplifier TAA1ES or a supported amplifier. I tried unsuccessfully to get the Sony Remote to control my Bryston B-60 Amplifier.
Also available is a reasonably good iOS and Android HDD Audio Remote App. I used the iOS version and found it to be good at most things including controlling the built in vTuner (for Internet Radio).
4) High Quality DAC: Sony included a high quality DSD re-mastering engine which can be disabled if needed. "This D/A conversion system leverages a high-performance DSP with a field-programmable gate array to convert all signals to 128 Fs DSD (double-rate DSD) signals. Based on know-how garnered from Sony direct 8-times oversampling methodology and Extended SBM (Super Bit Mapping) professional recording technology." Without getting into the DSD versus PCM debate; I can say that based on many hours of listening to a whole range of file formats (WAV, FLAC, DSD, ALAC) in standard and high definition, I can say with conviction that the HAPZ1ES decodes the signal as good as the most expensive hi-end DAC's that I have auditioned.
5) vTuner: The player includes the internet radio vTuner. I was pleasantly surprised when listening to some 320kbps streams from stations such a Linn Radio. This is actually a very usable tuner replacement, especially if you have trouble getting strong radio station signals at home.
Quirks: Setting up the unit was very easy and straightforward except for the unusually long time it took to copy my library; 300GB from a PC running Windows 7 with both the PC and the Player having a wired network connection took about 10 hours to copy and index. I suspect that it would be even longer if I used went the WiFi route. The HAP Music Transfer Software for synchronizing the music between your PC/Mac and the Player could be improved. I expected it to automatically detect the player but instead it prompted me to go to the player, locate the network settings and type in (on the computer) the last digits of the Player's IP address. I know that this is not a big deal but it does create a sense of "I need to understand computer networks to do this". A quality built remote control to match the build quality of the Player would be nice.
Conclusion: Weighing in at a hefty 14.5 kg (32 lbs) the HAPZ1ES is a beautifully designed, solidly constructed, fast and easy to use HD audio Player that sounds amazing and meets my needs. I will be keeping this unit for a long time.