A benefactor under the codename of MrWalkman has developed and maintains a set of alternative firmware packages which can be installed on a number of Sony Walkman series DAPs – NW-A35/45/55, ZX300/A, WM1A/Z – which main benefit is the application of Sony’s flagship DMP-Z1 sound signature to all those models.
In addition to this, depending on which countries their products are supposed to be marketed Sony makes different feature selections, different sound tuning, and different maximum output power available to the regular consumer. Thanks to Rockbox’s “Sony NW Destination Tool”, it’s possible to freely choose upon various features/settings sets.
Following multiple advice, as soon as I got my NW-A55 I immediately flashed MrWalkman A50 FE firmware, and activated J (Japan) regional settings on it, thus removing an annoying EU-related volume cap.
Simply put: DMP-A50 FE firmware is better than stock one.
Today’s question is: how does DMP-A50R compare to DMP-A50 ?
At a first attempt of semi-direct comparison, DMP-A50R sound is better.
- It’s mainly cleaner
- With better bass and treble control
- Mids are fuller, which is not necessarily a pro
Better or not, it may be subjective. Sound certainly is different.
The most positive difference I got is enabling DirectSound.
With DirectSound disabled the extra clarity goes away but all the other features come back available. With all extra features at OFF position, sound is still a bit better. More time and effort is required to determine *if* I can make it even more glorious vs DirectSound by playing on the various DSP features.
Detailed audition notes taken
As I have only one NW-A55 I couldn’t of course organise a proper A/B session. So I selected one single test song (Supertramp – “School” – from “Crime of the Century” which I have available in 24bit/176KHz resolution) and 2 IEMs with different signatures (E3000 and Oxygen). First audition on DMP-A50, took notes. Then reverted + flashed DMP-A50R + set J region (again! reverting to stock removes it), and auditioned again by taking comparative notes.
All volume levelling is “by ear” and comparisons are “by memory” (although short), so all is quite approximate. Nevertheless…
MrW DMP-A50 FE – J region
CA+ OFF – All effects OFF except DC Phase Linearizer ON
|Electric Bass is well textured|
Kickdrum is boomy – it covers the guitar which you have to “guess” is playing in sync behind it.
Stage is wide, high and decently deep
Imaging is still very good in spite of the bass.
Separation is ok, not top notch
Treble misses some air, detail is decent but that’s it
Timbre is warm with a bass bump, silky, musical
|Electric Bass comes out less textured, more sculpted |
Kickdrum is bumpy, bodied but perfectly “polite” – it does not cover but complements the guitar’s main line
Treble is definitely more detailed, airier, edgier but inoffensive
Soundstage is as wide, a bit less high but deeper
Imaging is same level as E3000, net of timbrical differences
The most orchestral part at 4:50++ shows great separation
Timbre is more neutral with a very feeble tint of warmth on the bass end, and less feeble, perceivable tint of metallic edgyness up top, more technical & vivid, less silky/musical
NW-A55 MrW DMP-A50R FE – J (Japan) region set
Apart for more options to choose under DSEE / DC Phase Linearizer / Vinyl Processor, and 10 bands available in the EQ in lieu of 6, there are other interesting adds:
- High Gain switch
- Balance (L/R) control
- “Direct Source” sound switch (replaces ClearAudio+ option)
MrW describes the “Direct Source” switch as a practical way to turn all sound mods off at the same time. Which is true, but there is more. Comparing “Direct Source ON” mode with “Direct Source OFF” + all mods manually set to off, I notice
- DS ON = Louder (I would say approx 1.5 dB)
- Cleaner! Better stage and imaging, and more controlled sound all accross the spectrum, especially on the bass
- (indicated by MrW) no MQA, no DSD support
Fundamentally, while both DMP-A50 and DMP-A50R allow for “manually” tuning the sound by means of 5-6 different tools (EQ, DSEE, etc etc), DMP-A50R kills CA+, and replaces it with what looks like a “null” selection, apparently disabling the entire eq section altogether.
Very simply put too me “DMP-A50R DS ON” > “DMP-A50 CA+ OFF”, and quite evidently so.
Lets go in detail:
DS OFF, DC Phase Linearizer = A-Standard, all others off, Low Gain
|(compared to DMP-A50)|
Electric Bass is still well textured
Kickdrum is still too buttery but less haloed, more controlled. Guitar is less covered.
Mids are more forward
Stage I would say similar
Imaging is still ok, separation is better due to better bass control
Treble seems similar
Timbre is a tad more centric, still silky, musical
|(compared to DMP-A50)|
Kick drum and electric bass fuller but not slower
Mids more forward
Treble detail is a tad furtherly evident and controlled
Stage is airier, imaging cleaner.
Separation is extremely good from 4:50++
Timbre is more neutral + an accent on warm mids, no more metallic nouance up top. Stays more defined and technical than E3000 but more polished
DS ON, Low Gain
|(compared to DS OFF etc)|
Bass is more controlled
Kickdrum haloes less. Guitar is more independent.
Mids are less forward (still more than A50)
Separation is a tad better
Treble is a bit airier
Details are similar in quantity but better defined
Timbre is less bassy, more warm-natural, still silky, musical
|(Compared to DS OFF etc)|
Cleaner, furtherly sparkly and airier
Mids are less pushed fwd
Timbre is the most neutral of all, still with a general light warm tint. I wouldnt spot any edginess up top, trebles are at the same time sparkly and polished/unoffensive
Battery consumption differences not assessed.
A50R disables quite a few stock features (radio, noise cancelling, VPT surround, language study, audio recording, clearaudio+). None of these really matter to me. Maaaaaybe the radio but that’s it.
Some of the added features seem quite significant. DSEE extra options & DC PL extra options mainly. And High Gain. Still not well investigated.
MrWalkman advises that “DMP-A50 is the most stable” version. On DMP-A50R I did find one – and one only until now – major instability case, which is NFC. Right after flashing, NFC is enabled. It is labelled as “not working” but it is not disabled by default. Fact is that with NFC on I had the device restart itself twice in 15 minutes. I disabled NFC and I could not experience any other form of instability (yet).