Friday, 25 October 2019

What SoC is Sony using in the new A and ZX Walkmans?

Sony NW-A100 NW-ZX500 Walkman

Last month in an interview with Sony's Ryogo Tsukigi on Philweb, quite a few new details emerged about the new A and ZX Walkmans. The first, measures were taken to reduce the noise from the Wi-Fi chip and SoC; second, high resolution streaming services will be downgraded to 48Khz/16bit; and finally, the new A/ZX Walkmans were using a 1.8Ghz quad-core SoC but the manufacturer/specifications were not mentioned.

The first point was already known since Sony mentions it on both the A and ZX product pages, but the second with the down sampling to 48khz/16bit is news to me.  The down sampling is due to restrictions from the SoC, which is an unknown quad-core 1.8Ghz cpu at this moment. So with the imminent release of the new Walkmans, it was time to investigate to see what I could discover.

Before I talk about the SoC, let us compare the PCBs of the A100 and ZX500. Below is the NW-A100 board from AV-Watch, some of the writing is visible, but not everything is clear. If anyone is able to find a similar photo in larger size where the writing is visible, please leave a comment below.

Sony NW-A100 PCB
Source: https://av.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/news/1212858.html
The numbering above is identical to the ZX500 below.

1. SK Hynix chip - I am not able to make out the writing but in the older ZX300, SK Hynix was used for the NAND e-MMC. Not sure if this is the same case here, I will explain below in #3, so this might be the DRAM for the device.

2. Unknown NXP/Freescale chip - This could be the SoC, since Freescale does have ARM based SoCs. Looking closely at the label, it seems to end in ZAA.

3. Koxia e-MMC 32GB (2D 15nm flash Memory) - THGBMJG8C2LBAIL - This appears to be the e-MMC, which would make the SK Hynix chip the DRAM like I wrote above. Koxia used to be Toshiba memory.

4. Unknown chip for now, I initially thought it was the NC chip but the size might be too big, and the ZX500 also has it and that is lacking NC. So perhaps it is some controller for something.

5. S-Master HX amp - CXD3778GF

6. WiFi/Bluetooth chip - Murata Type 1PJ.

Sony NW-Zx500 PCB

There are no proper teardown photos of the ZX500, but Sony has provided us with a photo of the PCB, although not labelled. I have labeled the chips like in the A-Series with the 2 on the left as cutouts since they are on the reverse side.

Sony NW-ZX500 PCB
I decided to see if I could find the sizes of chips, so I made the above photo. I combined the 2 photos and using the width and length of the player, I was able to determine a scale for the image. I averaged out the length and width scaling in order to have a more consistent measurement.

Going back to the numbered ZX500 board (click here), here are the sizes I have calculated. Most of these are rounded up, so if I got 12.98, I rounded it up to 13.0.

1. 15mm x 10mm
2. 7mm x 7mm
3. 14mm x 14mm (NXP/Freescale chip)
4. 13mm x 11.5mm

We know the size of the Koxia e-MMC, THGBMJG8C2LBAIL. Googling that product code, shows a dimension of 13mm x 11.5mm, which matches what I calculated. So I know that my estimates are close if not the same to the real dimensions.





Ok now to the SoC/CPU. I found an early review of both the A and ZX Walkmans but by a user on twitter, kunkoku. He has 2 great reviews up for the A-Series and ZX-Series, they are in Japanese but I highly recommend checking them out and using translator to read the reviews. Anyways, in the reviews, kunkoku installed both CPU-Z and Antutu on the Walkmans to see the hardware specifications, apart from the ICX codes, which I have updated here, we have some information about the SoC and RAM.

AnTuTu

Sony NW-ZX500 Antutu
Source: http://kunkoku.com/nwzx500.html
CPU-Z

Sony NW-ZX500 CPU-Z
Source: http://kunkoku.com/nwzx500.html
Unfortunately the CPU name/manufacturer is not listed, but this does not mean we cannot find it out. But before I go on, it is interesting that both the ZX-Series and A-Series have 4GB of RAM which is impressive for a Sony MP3 player. I would imagine this is because Android is being used and that can eat a lot of RAM.

Focusing back onto the SoC, we can see the GPU vender, Vivante Corporation, and specifically the renderer, Vivante GC7000 Nano Ultra. So who uses Vivante's GPUs? Well quite a few companies as seen in the Wiki, but focusing on the GC7000 Nano Ultra, only one company uses this GPU for their SoC, NXP/Freescale in the NXP i.MX8M Mini. The wiki section on this SoC does not specifically mention the GC700 Nano Ultra, but in the product brief PDF, the GC Nano Ultra is listed in the block diagram. More information about the chip can be found on NXP's website here.

NXP i.MX8M Mini block diagram

Looking at the CPU in this SoC, the specifications are the same as in CPU-Z/AnTuTu, quad-core Cortex-A53 at 1.8 GHz. If we look at the part numbers in the product brief, it looks like Sony is using the i.MX 8M Mini Quad, or MIMX8MM6DVTLZAA.

NXP i.MX8M Mini part numbers

Now recall at the beginning I mentioned NXP/Freescale chip (#2) had writing on it that ended with ZAA and this matches the chip number here. Likewise the size of the chip here, is 14mm x 14mm, the same size which I calculated from the NW-ZX500 PCB. So there we have it, Sony is not using a Mediatek, Realtek or even a low end Qualcomm SoC, but a NXP/Freescale chip. 





So why this chip and not something more high end? I suspect the reason might be with Sony's desire to isolate the Audio circuits from the communications circuits and using an all in one SoC with BT/WLAN was not an option. Looking at some Mediatek SoCs, there are some without cellular connectivity so perhaps price was a factor or maybe something else.

So there we have it, the SoC has been identified. As for the other unknown chip, #4, I am not sure what this is.  A similar chip is found in the A30, A40, A50 and ZX300, all with an idenical long crystal oscillator. In one A30 PCB, that chip appears to be some kind of Mediatek chip, but I am not sure this the case here. If anyone knows or has some ideas what this chip could be in the new A/ZX, leave a comment below.

20 comments:

  1. Very interesting! Thank you very much for this!

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  2. Well it sucks,if audio of 3rd party apps only works with 48/16. Want my music not to be resampled if it is 44100Hz audio.

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  3. I sold my WM1 and waiting for ZX500 because WM1 OS cannot read long file name or folder name.
    So I think android OS may have some app can read long name as multi line.
    But it was downsample :(

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  4. Amazing! Best Walkman information breakdowns on the planet!

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  5. so no full MQA unfolding for TIDAL stream and offline listening, :( bad news considering there is no MQA digital store for all the American Continent to feed the player...

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    1. Well to be fair, neither model has been announced for North America yet, so if no announcement at CES, who knows if it will be even sold there.

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    2. agree, but this seems to be a problem with all hi res players, I dont know how does MQA pretend to survive if there is no digital store and streaming services get downsampled on all portable players, seems weird to me and a very slow start for MQA, by the way I love this blog, just discovered it a few days ago! nice work!

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    3. how zx500 is compared to zx300 in terms of sound quality / sound signature?

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    4. From user reports on headfi, it seems they sound more or less the same and if anyone has a ZX300, no point in upgrading unless you want the wifi capability.

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    5. thanks. do u have a clue whether zx500 will have an usd dac mode or not?

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    6. I cannot find anything in the manual regarding DAC mode, where as the ZX300 manual does have information on DAC mode, so I do not believe it has it. Best bet would be to ask in the headfi thread.

      https://www.head-fi.org/threads/new-sony-nw-zx500.914486/

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  6. Hello, do you know if the USB-C can output audio?

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    1. Good question, in one interview I saw Sony mention that they went with USB type C because so many new headphones are using the format, like their new models.

      While I suspect they do have usb-c audio, there is no mention in any review yet. I'll look into it and see what I can find out.

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    2. thank you, we are just 2 days from official release in japan and also amazon france is shipping on Nov 1st, I have high expectations for this unit!, hopefully you cang get your hands on one and review it

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  7. So what's the final verdict on 24bit playback from online sources? Have Sony crippled this new series to output max 16/48? But 24/96 etc from local storage? That would be incredibly disappointing as I've been holding out for months for a device like this from Sony!

    IF that's the case, I see little point in spending £320 for this device, when the A55 (£180) has the LDAC receiver and you can output the MQA from your phone?

    Or Fiio has the BTR3 LDAC receiver for £55?

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  8. The official website from uk says: When using a music application other than Sony original music player app," High-Resolution Audio is down-converted to 48 KHz/16bit for playback.

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  9. well, I have decided to cancel my 507 order and go for a RED A105hn version, pretty much same specs without the balanced 4.4mm output which would make mr purchase mor cables.. its way to expensive just for that feature alone.

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  10. Awesome work, Ascariss!! Thanks!!!

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