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Sony MDR-Z1R Review – £2,000 headphones (featuring Chord Dave DAC)

The Sony MDR-Z1R are without doubt an exceptional closed back headphone. The large ear pads and angled drivers are conducive in creating a very large wall of audio with plenty of air between the instruments. The huge 70mm drivers ensure that the height of the soundstage is also remarkable.

When comparing them directly to the Sennheiser HD 800s – another headphone which tends to create a huge soundstage, there are noticeable differences. The HD 800 headphones by design tend to struggle to create a soundstage with any kind of intimacy. Sometimes, especially with sultry female vocals, the HD800s can appear to be somewhat analytical, rather than just enjoyable. The HD 800’s do work particularly well with complex classical recordings however.

There is no doubt that the Sony MDR Z1R are not ideal for critical studio analysis, unlike the HD800 or HD800s. The MDR Z1R produce high levels of bass and plenty of sub bass too, but they are absolutely on the warm side of neutral, especially if you purchase the optional Kimber cable which Sony have specially created for this headphone.

These new Sony headphones are very good creating a realistic sized soundstage and will appeal to the audience who simply must have plenty of bass response. They tread a fine line of just offering enough bass without it bordering on overblown, but they do need some taming as well as their high frequencies are slightly exaggerated too.

This is especially noticeable when moving from a more neutral headphone as some of the high frequencies can be a little grating. This is where the optional $250 Sony/Kimber cable comes into play because by swapping out the stock cable, you are removing some of this glare in the high end and replacing it with a little rounded off treble extension. Most of the time it is completely resolved with this cable change, but sometimes not quite. They fall a little short of perfection.

When deciding on a purchase, I would simply ask the potential customer one question. Do you want a headphone to analyse music and to be completely pure, or do you want a headphone that slightly colours the presentation to be warm, fun and even slightly aggressive?

In more cases than not, I would imagine there is a huge audience who will opt for the latter option. The Focal Utopia for instance are a very analytical headphone which I do enjoy, but sometimes I can leave them feeling fatigued after long listening sessions. The MDR Z1R want to make you headbang along with Iron Maiden or Metallica, but equally so they are adept at presenting the sultry, sexy tones of Norah Jones or Diana Krall.

I often found myself simply enjoying the music with the Sony MDR Z1R and while they are not going to oust leading planar headphones such as the Audeze LCD 4 or Hifi Man HE1000 as market leaders they are without doubt in my mind the most impressive closed back headphone on the market right now.

Pros:

  • good detail retrieval.
  • Superb soundstaging.
  • Massive bass response
  • Tight Sub bass.
  • very enjoyable presentation with a variety of genres.

Cons:

  • Not a studio style headphone.
  • Standard cable can deliver a little upper register grain/grit.
  • Not a neutral headphone.
  • can get hot due to the closed back design.
  • Not an impulse purchase – they are expensive.

KitGuru says: It is great to see Sony back in the high end again. Are these at the level of the iconic R10 headphones? Perhaps not, but only time will tell. They are however the best closed back headphone on the market right now.

Rating: 9.0.

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  • Lelisevis

    I’ve turned into a bit of a fan of Sony lower end stuff of late, stuff that I’m not too worried about throwing around. I’m never without a pair of MDR-1A’s which I can’t recommend enough, they get moved daily from my Phone to my PC then to my Xbox when everyone else has gone to bed. They are getting harder to get hold of but they are streets ahead of those weird funny coloured green and purple models they seem to have in the stores these days.
    My go to in earphones are the highly rated Sony MDR‑EX650AP, these are the only brass earphones I’ve ever came across and you’ll pay for the privilege but in believably it’s not a gimmick, you get no distortion at all at any volume, they are punchy and crystal clear and sometimes you actually feel like instruments are around you which can be disturbing.
    My dream at the moment is to own the MDR-1000X but they are a bit outside my price range, but still it doesn’t stop me picking up the box everytime I’m in the store. A man’s gotta dream.

  • Allan

    they generally make good headphones at all prices. Keep dreaming!

  • canali

    huge shit kick from Ty of Innerfidelity on these today, however…he didn’t like them at all.
    https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/sony-mdr-z1r-sealed-over-ear-headphones

  • koroshiya8

    Haters got to hate, for some reasons… i’ve been using the z1r for a couple of months and been impressed. And this review is pretty spot on regarding the higher bass response. Also be wary of fatigue over time as the clamping force is slightly strong for me as compared to say the HD800 which has very light clamp on your ears.