The MDR-Z1R, Sony’s new reference model, is one of the most comfortable closed headphones I’ve ever tested. Unusual technical details, the special design and the sound tuning make for goosebumps and are not only for technical nerds.
Over 70 Years of Innovation
The company celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016 with a range of new reference products that were designed to impressively demonstrate the company’s accumulated engineering knowledge under the Signature Series label. The MDR-Z1R headphones tested here have been designed with a clear focus on detail-coded component selection and a “novel” audio design to give the listener the feeling of real-world sound as authentically as possible. In terms of comfort and material selection—as much as anticipated—the MDR-Z1R delivers impressive qualities. Sony’s engineers claimed to seek nothing less than the perfect reproduction of every subtle nuance. Keywords, such as micro-sounds, sound details, dynamics and atmosphere, are mentioned in interviews when it comes to the ideal translation of actual sound events with headphones. At a suggested retail price of €2,199, these claims should have been implemented…
I am always looking forward to seeing top-class pieces because of their often peculiar details. Nevertheless, when the courier delivered the MDR-Z1R to me, I thought at first that I had mistakenly ordered new weights for my dumbbells—the package was huge and heavy! If you take the headphone box out of the cardboard box, you get a touch of exclusivity. The headphones come in a huge leather box, which is opened by a high-quality metal flap closure. It somehow reminds me of luxurious jewellery. The design of the interior confirms this impression.
Look, Feel, & Comfort
If you take the MDR-Z1R out of its “jewellery box”, you hold, in my eyes, an outstanding piece of design in your hands. Particularly striking is the shape of the ear cups, which are protected by a steel mesh. I like the many details of the headphone, including the visually seamless transition between the ear cup hanger and the double-ended headphone cable, the hand-stitched leather for the headband and ear shells, and the overall sleek, shimmering design. The MDR-Z1R is a really big “pseudo-closed”, circumaural earphone. The fit to my head is a true blessing. The ear cups are both tiltable and rotatable and the titanium headband offers the ideal contact pressure for me. However, users with extra-thin heads should consider this before purchasing as it might fit a little too loose. After only a short wear, I came to the realization that the MDR-Z1R is, for me, one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. The ergonomically shaped ear shells provide excellent comfort. The generous, but not excessive, padding with memory foam is still extremely comfortable even after hours of listening. Due to the construction, it will, of course, be warm during extended sessions.
The headband is made of beta titanium, a material made from high-purity titanium refined with a special beta alloy. Beta-titanium is commonly used in the aerospace industry and in the manufacture of highly flexible and durable eyeglass frames. In practice, this means I can put on and off the headband almost without limit, without losing its elasticity. In addition, the material is much lighter than steel. The adjustment range of the headband is generous—over ten gentle grid points each.
The headset comes with two different cables (with silver-coated, oxygen-free copper wires): a 3 m standard cable with mini-jack plug and a symmetrical 1.2 m long cable with a 5-pin L plug for connection to compatible DACs.
Materials and Technology
I usually spare readers an extensive overview of materials used. Since the MDR-Z1R combines so many exciting approaches in itself, I would like to make an exception. In addition to the obvious and already described materials, the most interesting details take place in secret.
For this, I remove the adjustable ear pads on the markings by turning them ever so slightly. Underneath, you’ll find the 70 mm driver. This is behind a membrane covering, which was modelled on the spiral arrangement of sunflower seeds. Not only does this look extremely nice, but with the evenly distributed openings, it also helps acoustically to reproduce micro sounds authentically, which in turn are crucial for a spatial breakdown of the sound. The membrane consists of a magnesium calotte only 30 microns thin and aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer. Behind it lies the copper-clad aluminium voice coil, which is suspended in a two-piece neodymium magnet. All components are hand-connected to a proprietary, lead-free solder—just a small extra detail designed to help ensure that the MDR-Z1R is capable of transmitting frequencies from 4 Hz to 120 kHz. To prevent the housing resonances that occur more frequently in closed headphone systems, Sony’s engineers dove into their bag of tricks. More specifically, they used the traditional paper making washi technique and made a matched acoustic filter from long-fibre Canadian softwood. This is finally edged out by the forming, small-meshed metal mesh with a durable chromium coating. Dust or dandruff can easily get caught in the narrow meshes, which should be blown out every now and then. At the top of the ear cups are also small “pressure exchange openings” that soften the closed character and deliver sound to the environment.
I would like to differentiate the sound processes under the earpieces of the MDR-Z1R into feelings and hearing impressions. The MDR-Z1R has long been a headphone that gave me goosebumps on several occasions. It has a basically warm, dark tuning with special features.
Although the bass for the MDR-Z1R is certainly sound-determining, it is these very low frequencies that initially outsmarted me. In exceptional cases, the lower mids of the bass actually “run over”. In summary, the bass feels organic and cool, rich in detail and deep.
The centres provide a fundamentally differentiated image of what is happening. Guitars, whether electric or acoustic, sound exciting. The sounds of other instruments of the spectrum are also very well mapped. Cymbals sometimes sound slightly blurry, vocals cannot unfold completely. All the way to the top, there is an area of clear emphasis, which creates airiness but makes some signals a bit sharp.
Spatially, the MDR-Z1R offers a very detailed picture. In complex productions, many layers can be differentiated. The headphones also look good in terms of height and depth.
It really is not easy to formulate a concluding sound image: the MDR-Z1R has a tuning that is not ideal for me, but is at times extremely exciting, with detailed space and atmosphere.
The Sony MDR-Z1R is a supremely comfortable headset made from high-quality materials. I could enjoy myself for hours when listening with the “deactivated analysis mode” turned on. The spatial richness of detail is impressive, both in live recordings and while watching Hollywood blockbusters. In the analysis mode, I noticed unexpectedly significant interferences in the frequency response, which will certainly polarize—some users will find their luck with the MDR-Z1R, while others will not be fully impressed with this sound.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)4 - 120.000 Hz
- Impedance60 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)102,13 dB
- Pressure averaged from big and small head687 g
- Weight with cable466 g
- Weight without cable385 g
- Cable length300 cm
What's in the box
- 6.35mm stereo jack
- Cable (3m, OFC, mini jack)
- Balanced cable (1.2m, OFC)
- Leather-covered storage box
- Compatible with high resolution audio
- made by hand
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