Sony TA-ZH1ES: Compact headphone amplifier

Metal body, black textured finish and no decorative excesses – the appearance of the new model is recognizable by the same noble minimalism that marks its closest relatives from the Signature Series family. By the standards of home devices, the device is quite compact; it resembles a thick encyclopedia volume rather than a familiar 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 stuffed with foam plastic at all. Indeed, the Sony TA-ZH1ES contains so much metal that it would be enough for half a dozen simpler devices.


The solid chassis is made from thick aluminum and is designed to completely dampen vibrations, while the metal base is constructed as a double-layer sandwich to shift the center of gravity downwards and improve structural stability. The cover of the Sony TA-ZH1ES is also not simple – it is based on a combination of steel and aluminum, designed to eliminate resonances. It is on the cover that the main controls of the device are located, with the exception of the large volume knob, which remains on the front panel. The rest of the space on the front and rear panels is devoted to numerous inputs and outputs. There really are a lot of them here! Much more than most other high-end amplifiers get from the designers.


How many headphone jacks does a typical amplifier have? For most people, one or two are enough. Sony TA-ZH1ES is a special case: its facade is crowded with half a dozen different-sized connectors, from the “folk” minijack to studio XLR4. Two of them are reserved for a standard, unbalanced connection of headphones, the other four are designed for a balanced connection, eliminating losses in the quality of the sound signal, regardless of the cable length. The explicit focus on balanced connectivity not only brings the Sony TA-ZH1ES closer to other devices in the Signature Series line, but also provides them with all the conditions for working together. First of all, this applies to the flagship Sony MDR-Z1R

headphones , which include an additional balanced cable. On the rear panel there is USB-B for working in conjunction with a computer as a USB DAC, optics with coax for communication with other digital sources, as well as a linear input and output of a preamplifier. On the side is something more interesting: a digital interface for connecting to Walkman audio players and Xperia smartphones. Thanks to its thoughtful placement, the user does not need to fumble around with his hand on the underside of the DAC/amplifier when connecting his 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 the most interesting is its digital-to-analog module. 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 arrays that the most advanced audiophile solutions are built today – for example, the famous Chord digital-to-analog converters. In the TA-ZH1ES circuit, the gate array 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 is beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of today’s DACs. In addition to its powerful arsenal for HD audio processing, Sony’s new DAC/amplifier comes with a decent set of audio correction tools. In addition to linear phase correction with several operating modes, this set includes the 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 maximum sound quality out of even the most compressed files!


This DAC/amplifier is capable of extracting the maximum musical potential even from relatively inexpensive headphones – it can not only bring out their advantages, but also smooth out their inherent shortcomings. And to get a truly strong impression, it’s worth listening to how it sounds paired with top models like the Sony MDR-Z1R .

Characteristics Sony TA-ZH1ES

Amplifier type Transistor amplifier
Number of headphone outputs 6.3 + 3.5 mm
Output power 1200+1200 mW; 300+300 W
Frequency range 4 – 80000 Hz
Output connectors XLR
Impedance 8 – 600 Ohm
Dimensions (W x D x H) 210 x 65 x 314 mm
Weight 4.4 kg

Resurface CMP