Home Closed Back Headphone Reviews Sony MDR-Z1R Review – The Openest Closed Back Ever?

Sony MDR-Z1R Review – The Openest Closed Back Ever?

by Stuart Charles Black

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Stock photo: B&H

Originally published 11/26/17.

Updates:

4/9/22. Article revisit.

Note: Images coming soon. Audio Advice lends out headphones but the Z1R is only available for in-store demo and cannot be taken home!

Greetings friend and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the Sony MDR Z1R Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

You’ve come to the right place!!

What I will bring you in this review

  1. Ratings/Price
  2. Specifications
  3. Summary
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. Video Review
  7. Amp/DAC requirements
  8. Who these headphones benefit?
  9. Consensus/Conclusion
  10. Final Word

Today we’ll be taking a look at Sony’s flagship Z1R and finding out if it’s ultimately worth a purchase. So strap in and let’s get started.

Sony MDR Z1R

In The Box

Sony MDR-Z1R Headphones

Hard Storage Case

Balanced Cable

Single-ended Cable

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 64 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 4Hz – 120kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 70mm.
  • Material: Beta Titanium Alloy.
  • Color: Black.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes, comes with 2. A 3 meter (9.8′) cable terminated with a straight 3.5mm TRS plug with 1/4″ adapter, and a 1.2 meter (3.9′) cable. Cables are comprised of silver-coated oxygen-free copper conductors and gold-plated connectors. TRS vs. TS.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 9.84 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 385g.
  • Accessories Included: Hard Case.
  • Amp needed: No.

Summary

The Sony MDR 1ZR is a closed back headphone so open, airy, and spacious, that you’d think you were listening to an open back. No joke.

Should you purchase these or even try them out, you’re in for a real treat.

Everything sounds so incredibly natural yet exciting and lively at the same time that it’s a bit hard to put into words.

Z Reviews (Zeos) from Youtube said these are headphones for hippies, and he isn’t completely wrong.

They’ve got an extremely laid-back sound signature, but somehow manage to be interactive and engaging. It’s Mellow Yellow all the way. Even turned up very loud, there’s not a hint of sibilance which is always a plus. What does sibilant mean?

Bass

The Z1R opts for a ruler flat bass response and it’s one of the absolute best qualities of the headphone. Think of an Audeze bass here – it digs incredibly deep while retaining excellent rumble and articulation.

I got a chance to test out a bunch of songs, as well as a few familiar favorites, and my findings were fantastic. “Billie Jean” sounded crisper than it’s ever sounded, and “Ants Marching” By Dave Matthews put a huge smile on my face.

I don’t listen to Dave like that, but it’s a song that brought back a lot of high school memories.

The sound engulfs you in the best way possible and isn’t overbearing in the slightest.

Mid-range

The mids are equally as impressive in my mind, as female vocals in particular really jump out at you in the best way possible.

On Fleetwood Macs’ “Landslide” Stevie never sounded so present. There was a gorgeous warmth and clarity to her voice, and I was immediately sucked into her world.

Though these are very relaxed, they still sound fast and keep up with the music wonderfully.

Treble

Despite the 10k peak on a graph, I didn’t find them too harsh or fatiguing. There’s certainly sparkle up there, but I think the Z1R handles it incredibly well without delving into Sibilant territory. I would expect nothing less for this price, so I’m very happy to report that cymbal crashes and hi-hats stay in their lane and likely won’t bother you.

One of the main culprits responsible for the Z1R’s unique open sound could be its drivers and CCAW voice coil.

Major HiFi has the lowdown:

One of the Z1R’s main staples is its huge 70mm dome dynamic driver with a CCAW voice coil. This promises an output with a wide dynamic range and a more sizable signal flow. It’s improved by the Z1R’s resonance-free housing which uses special filters to control air resistance and eliminates destructive noise caused by driver movement.Major HiFi

This may sound like Sony market-speak until you listen to the headphones for yourself and it starts to make sense. There’s nothing forced or overbearing about this sound signature, and it never feels like the Z1R is throwing sound at you as cheaper headphones tend to do.

Instead, we’re getting a ridiculously clean rendering of music that’s hard to believe as you’re listening, to the point where all you can do is smile as I mentioned in the open.

Soundstage

Speaking of open, one thing that will undoubtedly jump out at you is the Z1R’s Soundstage.

There are few closed headphones out there I’ve tried that can accomplish this (namely the CB-1 and K550/553), but Sony’s flagship is certainly the frontrunner in this regard.

Songs feel and sound much larger and on a grander scale than they have any business sounding, and there’s incredible depth and width to the overall image without it coming across as unnatural or forced.

If I loved the K702 for its Soundstage capabilities, the Z1R is that much more realistic about it, and almost feels as if you’re experiencing the music in person rather than within the confines of a studio space.

This is what I alluded to above with regard to that Dave Matthews song. The energy and realism honestly felt like a live experience rather than a song heard through Headphone Drivers.

Build & Comfort

Build and comfort were equally exemplary, as there wasn’t a single wasted part of the Z1R.

Aside from the large cups that protrude outwards (which are rather strange looking), everything about these headphones is rather utilitarian yet still elegant and classy.

They’re a matte black finish and upon first glance, you’d think they were rather heavy.

It’s only when you pick them up that you’re in for somewhat of a shock as they are a lot lighter than expected. Even with that said, they feel just right in your hands and you can tell Sony took great care in crafting them.

In fact, I found myself gently squeezing the sheepskin pads on the cups and headband periodically – to the point where I had to look around and make sure no one was staring.

GET A ROOM!

These are soft, luscious pads that feel incredible to the touch.

Comfort is equally as pleasing, as the headphones fit and clamp almost perfectly on your head to where you’re barely noticing them at all.

Over numerous listening sessions at Audio Advice I never once had to adjust or take them off.

They’re super non-intrusive all around and are perfect for those marathon sessions with your phone; getting lost and just enjoying the music.

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable.
  • Build quality is phenomenal.
  • Good sound isolation.
  • Great Soundstage for a closed back. What is Soundstage?
  • The weight is just right. They don’t feel too bulky even despite the Dumbo elephant earcups.
  • Instrument separation is exemplary. Look for stuff going on in all directions, with an excellent sense of clarity, detail, and imaging. You’re going to hear things you never thought in a million years would be there. Just be aware they’re pretty subtle but very noticeable.
  • Bass has an impact but doesn’t feel out of place or unnatural. Mid-range is given room to shine. Expect a sense of refinement that just can’t be achieved with other offerings.

Cons

  • Depending on who you ask, the peak at 9-10k is a bit too much.

I don’t agree with the assertion at all (9-10k peak) and found them to be crisp and emphasized without the bite or sibilance.

I don’t think they sound harsh in the least bit, but perhaps the source (Sony’s ZH1ES Headphone Amp) had something to do with that.

I honestly think the whole debate is a bit ridiculous. The HD800 was long considered to have a weird 6k peak, but that didn’t stop people from drooling all over it.

Honestly.

Now, is the MDR Z1R worth the retail price? Probably not. But it’s a darn fine headphone, and I’m not backing down from that. 🙂

Video Review!

Amp/DAC requirements

Given its 64 Ohms Impedance and 100dB Sensitivity, the Z1R will resist power a little bit but is highly efficient. In other words, an amp isn’t mandatory but you may want to invest in one anyway.

I listened to it with Sony’s ZH1ES. How to choose a headphone amp!

Who these headphones benefit?

I found them to be excellent with Rock, Pop, and Jazz. Look for them to do well with almost any genre.

Thoughts from Stu’s notepad

Bass

The bass can sometimes become a bit loose sounding, but it’s the exception and not the norm.

Musical Virgins

One of the standout qualities of a headphone like this, and a running theme with a lot of these high-end models is the sound.

It’s hard to explain, but it’s like you’re hearing the music for the first time. You know how the track sounds, but it somehow presents itself differently and in more detail.

The detail and clarity are what separates itself from a headphone that may be more closed off or muddy by comparison. The Audeze LCD-3, as well as the Grado GS1000e, are both prime examples of this along with the MDR Z1R. 🙂

Consensus/Conclusion

A stellar-sounding headphone with an impeccable build and luxurious comfort. 9-10k peak is problematic to some, and the bass can get a tad muddy at times. MSRP is questionable as well. This puppy is worth around $1,200 – $1,600 in my mind.

Final Word

The Z1R has long been a staple in my Best Audiophile Headphones Write Up and I still think it’s one of the best today.

Apart from that, there’s only one other end-game closed back that I recommend to people and that happens to be the Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow. Sony’s flagship is a bit better in my opinion but it is close.

I would wholeheartedly recommend the Z1R to anyone looking for their forever closed-back, seeing as how it represents a sort of end game in high-end audio equipment and is likely just about the equivalent to the open-back Utopia (though I think the Utopia is overall a better headphone).

In any event, the Z1R’s incredible build, comfort, and sound stand with the likes of Audeze, Sennheiser, Focal, and many other top-shelf companies. A quick google search yields 5’s across the board nearly everywhere you look and I think those ratings are absolutely warranted as it’s not a headphone you’re going to forget anytime soon.

In other words, it’s a more than worthy entry, and I’m grateful to have gotten a chance to listen.

Interested in reading some reviews?

 


Well that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Sony MDR Z1R headphone review and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

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Do you agree with my assessment? Why or why not? Any experience with the Z1R? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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