With a metal body, black textured finish and no decorative frills, the new model has the same noble minimalism that also marked its closest relatives from the Signature Series family. By the standards of home devices, the device is quite compact and resembles a plump volume of an encyclopedia rather than the usual High End box.
But it is quite weighty: when you try to move the amplifier from its place, you immediately realize that its body is not filled with foam at all. Indeed, the filling of the Sony TA-ZH1ES contains as much metal as it would be enough for half a dozen simpler devices.
The solid chassis is made from thickened aluminum for total vibration damping, while the metal base is constructed as a two-layer sandwich to shift the center of gravity down and increase structural stability. The cover of the Sony TA-ZH1ES is also complicated – it is based on a combination of steel and aluminum to eliminate resonances.
It is on the cover that the main controls of the device are placed, with the exception of the large volume knob, which remains on the front panel. All the rest of the space on the front and rear panel is given over to numerous inputs and outputs. There are really a lot of them here! Much more than most other high-end amplifiers get from designers.
How many headphone jacks does a typical amplifier need? For most, one or two are enough.
The Sony TA-ZH1ES is a special case: its facade is crowded with half a dozen different-sized connectors, from the “popular” minijack to the studio XLR4. Two of them are reserved for a standard, unbalanced connection of headphones, the other four are sharpened for a balanced connection, which excludes losses in the quality of an audio signal regardless of the cable length.
The clear focus on balanced connectivity not only brings the Sony TA-ZH1ES closer to other devices in the Signature Series, but also provides them with a great collaboration environment.
First of all, this applies to the flagship headset Sony MDR-Z1R with an additional balanced cable included. On the rear panel – USB-B for working in conjunction with a computer as a USB-DAC, optics with coaxial for communication with other digital sources, as well as line input and output of the preamplifier.
On the side is something more interesting: a digital interface for connecting with Walkman audio players and Xperia smartphones. Thanks to its thoughtful placement, the user does not need to fumble on the inside of the DAC / amplifier when connecting their portable gadgets to it.
The power and amplification circuit of the Sony TA-ZH1ES uses a number of interesting solutions that have been successfully tested by Sony designers on their top-end High End audio components, but its digital-to-analog module is of the greatest interest. It is based on a gate array – a semiconductor device with the most flexible configuration, capable of developing maximum computing power when processing a digital audio stream.
It is on such gate matrices that the most advanced audiophile solutions are built today – for example, the famous Chord digital-to-analog converters. In the TA-ZH1ES scheme, the gate matrix is responsible for converting any input signal into a one-bit DSD stream with an uncompromising resolution of 22.4 MHz.
In addition to 22.4MHz DSD, it is ready to accept PCM with ultra-high 32bit / 768kHz resolution, which the vast majority of today’s DACs cannot handle.
Besides the powerful arsenal involved in HD audio processing, Sony’s new DAC / Amp comes with a decent set of audio correction tools. In addition to linear phase correction with several operating modes, this set includes a proprietary DSEE HX processor, designed to correct frequency and dynamic losses during MP3 compression.
The presence of this function in a High End device may not seem entirely appropriate until you remember that one of the main tasks of the Sony TA-ZH1ES is to work in tandem with portable devices. Thanks to the capabilities of DSEE HX, the owner of these devices will be able to squeeze out the maximum sound quality even from the most compressed files!
Sony TA-ZH1ES DAC / Amplifier is able to extract the maximum musical potential even from relatively inexpensive headphones – it is able not only to reveal their advantages, but also to smooth out their inherent disadvantages. And to get a really strong impression, it’s worth listening to how it sounds when paired with top models like the Sony MDR-Z1R .