The absolute quality
Almost all models shown before do sound pretty good, but if we score them in the absolute scale, they wouldn’t go over 7, except a few exceptions.
Many collectors think that the most tech-featured models are also the ones that sounds best, but it’s not. For example, the AIWA JX707, although it’s one of the famous and also one of the most featured walkman (the most featured of them all is the JX929). Bear in mind that putting all that technology into such a tiny space means some sacrifice… for sound quality.
The same is true for the PX1000: it doesn’t sound as good as it looks. For example, the JX505, sounds much better, especially if you are lucky to get a unit with a good azimuth adjustment.
So most top-of-the-line models that featured radio, LCD screen, remote control, recording capabilities and even Dolby C can be quickly pulled out of the ‘wall of fame’ of best sounding walkmans.
AIWA JX3000 and JX707: the best example of how much technology can be embedded into a walkman.
The audio quality was sacrifized, though.
AIWA made some of the best ones. They combined, like no other, an excellent mechanism (named 'alpha') with pretty good W&F, an excellent headphone output and very advanced features, like an HX amorphous head, DSL bass amplification, Dolby C or a wired remote.
The best sounding ones are (in no particular order): the PX101, PX303, PX505, PC202 (with its MII & MIII later versions) and the rare PX410. The HS-PX101 is a classic, with excellent sound quality and good flexibililty thanks to the bass & treble sliders. The HS-PX303 has an HX amorphous head, which improves the treble response, and features the only one bass amplification that can compete with the legendary Bood Khan, but with much more flexibility. Both feature a biázimuth head adjustment that allows to get excellent high frequency response. The PL101 nd PL303 probably perform as well as their bigger brothers, so they are very interesting too, but they lack dolby C.
The AIWA PX101 and PX303, some of my favorite players. the PX101 was the very first player that AIWA made to
be the very best in the world. And at the time, back in 1987, they indeed did. The PX303 was the first one to feature
an HX Amorphous head and the best bass response that can be ever found in a walkman.
The HS-PX505 (and his little brother, the HS-PL50) looses the flexibility to adjust LF and HF (Low and High frequency) response as well as the biazimuth but they offer the BBE system, which is pretty interesting too, while mantaining the DSL. I personally like so much how DSL sounds in the PL50 particularly. It has not so many options, but it sounds great. Natural and powerful.
The AIWA PX505 and PL50, the best players from the '91 catalogue. They combine many interesting features,
like a HX amorphous head with an excellent DSL bass enhancing and Dolby C.
Special mention should be towards the (both very rare) HS-PC202 and the HS-PX410. The former is a less-known model which is very small and doesn't catch the eye by its design, but... holy god, it really catches your ears when you hear it. I don't know how can such a tiny thing sound so great. Even with Dolby C! Definitely a highly recommendable model. The latter versions (PC202MII and MIII) are more or less the same, and can be found often for great prices.
The HS-PX410 is very interesting too. It's the only one from all these that has the 'newer' logo, which means it was released when the brand was already acquired by SONY, and just before they went downhill in terms of quality. The PX410 was the latest good-sounding PX model. Almost none of the later ones had the quality of these top-level ones. The PX410 doesn't feature a HX head and looks different from any other, with that button layout at the top and a very strange battery compartment (that works pretty well, though). Surprisingly, it features one of the best Dolby C of them all, and a very good sound quality.
By the way: the mechanism is very clunky... not the one you would take to the biblioteque with you ;-)
The AIWA PX410 is a 'different' model, with a weird button layout and battery compartment. However,
it sounds really great and has one of the best Dolby C of them all.
Probably the best ones are the best SONY DD models. If you're lucky to have one, you'll know for sure: this thing sound awesome. They offer the best audio quality within SONY’s entire line. They were designed to have just a few features but the best sound. So, no autoreverse, no small form-factor, no LCD screen, no radio, no remote and no recording. No nothing... except a good play.
They all share a very interesting feature: the Disc Drive system, which ensures very low wow & flutter, and many (the Quartz locked ones) an excellent tape speed stability. Some are absolutely stable (those with Quartz locked mechanism) and even have Dolby C.
Some of the best sounding walkmans of the DD line by SONY.
If you’re searching for something that it’s not for big pockets, I’d personally go for a WM-DD30 or a DD33. These are, in my opinion, the best compromise between features, quality and price. You’ll get a sturdy player with a very good head, low W&F, Dolby B, MegaBass and a very nice design for a price between 80-160 euros, depending on the condition.
Some of you are probably dreaming about a walkman that sounds like a DD but in a smaller form-factor and with more advanced features, like feather-touch buttons and auto-reverse. But, hey, without having to spend a kidney on that. Well, there is one. It's a not widely known model: the SONY WM-DX100. It combines all those features, except the DD system. It's probably the best sounding non-DD walkman. The problem is that it's pretty rare to find.
SONY WM-DX100, probably the best sounding walkman under the DD level.