Find Your Way Back
April 1981 saw the release of Modern Times by Jefferson Starship. Now a largely forgotten album, Modern Times did in fact represent a critical juncture for the band. Singer Grace Slick’s return would not only secure the band’s financial viability, but also lend a certain je ne sais quoi that would help to keep it in good standing with both critics and audiences. Moreover, it provided much needed direction to Mickey Thomas’ efforts, laying the foundations for an evolution that ultimately produced hits like “Sara” and “We Built This City”. And some terribly awkward music videos as well. Unfortunately, not all were impressed. In fact, this highly productive period ultimately resulted in founding member Paul Kantner’s departure over disagreements on artistic direction. Regardless, it was clear that a fundamental change had occurred.
In many ways, the MDR-Z1R is a watershed moment in Sony audio development. In keeping with today’s trends, Sony has revisited high-end in what is shaping out to be nothing short of an audio tour de force. The first indication that something rather significant was in the works came earlier this year when news of invites (and leaks) started rolling in from multiple sources. Cryptic shots of a dimly lit lineup sparked conversation and cautious curiosity. However, in spite of the growing momentum, no one really knew what to expect. A brief retrospective look is informative. Late 2014 saw the release of the MDR-Z7 –the first noteworthy Sony flagship to have been released since the company’s departure from the high-end scene in 2011. Critical response was somewhat mixed, with most citing the sound signature as being the primary point of contention. Further complicating matters was the predictable expectation for nothing short of extraordinary –a precedent set by the MDR-R10 and, to a lesser degree, the Qualia 010.
And yet there was a sense of hopeful optimism. Jumping forward to minutes before the audio release at IFA 2016. Everyone’s flipping through the product notes like it’s a new Dan Brown thriller. I for one was scrambling to memorize the product names –MDR-Z1R, NW-WM1A, NW-WM1Z, and TA-ZH1ES. The last one was a good challenge. Going in, there had been an intimidating number of questions from the audio community. Everyone was trying to size up the Z1R. The turning point for me lay in the inclusion of the magnesium dome. It was more or less an acknowledgement of the Z7’s shortcomings (tuning wise), and a very positive first step for the headphone.
The Z1R is a headphone for modern times. Sony has acknowledged the demand for high performance personal audio equipment, and the Z1R is their answer. Make no mistake – this headphone isn’t meant to be the R10, or 010, or anything in between. It is, very simply, the Z1R. Embodying the best of Sony’s current audio philosophy and technology, the Z1R is a valid contender in the flagship market. Just how valid –we’ll examine this in greater depth through the course of the review.
The MDR-Z1R was provided by Sony for the purposes of this review. I have now had it on loan for close to 3 weeks. I am neither a paid affiliate nor an employee of Sony. As I conclude this review, I would like to thank the Sony team for extending this unique opportunity to cover their new flagship. It’s been quite the journey since I first found out about the Signature Series a couple of months back, and since then I’ve come to have a much better understanding of the considerations, challenges, and beliefs that went into shaping the various components of the Signature series. I do reserve the rights to the media in this review, so if you would like to use the photography/ videos please do drop me a line (at the very least please provide attribution). I dislike watermarks on photos and would rather not use them. I hope that this was informative, or perhaps even entertaining!
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The MDR-Z1R is without a doubt a statement piece. The product packaging is large, and not exactly subtle, especially when considering the two large pictures of the MDR-Z1R plastered on its front. Opening this main cardboard box reveals a black mesh fiber bag. Sliding the bag out of the cardboard box uncovers a heavy headphone case niftily stored inside the bag. How heavy? Well, close to 4 kg for the case alone. When I reached this step in the unboxing, my entire room was flooded with a heavy “new car” scent. That’s because the MDR-Z1R headphone case is made completely out of leather. A solid metal clasp holds the case together, and has “MDR-Z1R” etched onto its surface. The following entire package will contain the following accessories:
- Leather Carrying Case
- One Single-Ended Cable (3m)
- One 4.4 Standard Balanced Cable (1.2m)
- 3.5 to 1/4th Adaptor
- One Large Mesh Bag (Case)
- One Small Mesh Bag (Cables)
So there’s nothing missing in the Z1R’s package. However, wow factor aside, I am not exactly thrilled by the usability of the leather case. It’s huge, even bigger than the T1 aluminum case, and can’t store the headphones with the cables connected and headband extended. In that sense, it’s not really practical at all. Also, there’s nothing available to assist in the transportation of this headphone -not even a leather pouch. I ended up using the nifty Audioquest Nighthawk carrying case for this very purpose. Slightly disappointing for such an expensive product.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Sony Z1R’s build quality is simply exquisite, with an amazing attention to detail. The headband is made of an extremely supple leather, soft to the touch and very comfortable. The titanium headband is both flexible and can easily be shaped to the individual needs of the user. There’s a very tactile click for each adjustment on the headband, and it certainly stays in place. The yoke and enclosure sides are made of metal, and feel solid to the touch, offering good range of motion. The earpad is also leather, and very plush. However, the area available for the ear is somewhat close-fitting, and it does heat-up after extended use. This is something to consider for those living in warmer climates. The one gripe that I do have are with the integrated cable connecters. In resting position, the screw-on part of the cable termination rests one on top of the other, and can be easily scuffed if pressure is applied to the top termination. Not exactly a brilliant tradeoff for better aesthetics. While the Z1R does look very nice, it is also a headphone that embodies a lot of integrated technologies. For those who have read the technical piece, this will be more or less a repeat (so you may skip it if you wish). To start, let’s examine the driver unit. The new magnesium dome piece comes in at a mere 30 micrometers, and cannot be manufactured via a conventional press. The process is confidential, but I will say that it is impressive. The benefits are also noticeable –the magnesium dome driver allows the Z1R to achieve better high frequency performance, and the LCP complement allows for more flexibility at the leading edges.
The new magnet system is comprised of two pieces. Here’s a brief overview of typical production methods. To produce a magnet, and in the Z1R’s case, a neodymium magnet, several fairly standard processes need to take place. First a mixture of elements (including the central Nd2Fe14B) need to be melted in a furnace to produce an alloy. This alloy is then milled down into fine particles, which are pressed at higher temperatures to form a solid. There’s two standard ways of going about this pressing – both involve an external magnetic field. The first is a transverse press. This is how Sony has been producing magnets in the past. Essentially, the magnet is compressed while running a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the press. This tends to result in better magnetic properties for Neodymium magnets. Unfortunately, it also means that the preferred direction of magnetization is on the horizontal axis. The other method is the axial press, where the magnetic field is applied parallel to the press, resulting in a direction of magnetization along the vertical axis. To work around this, the Z1R driver has been cut into two pieces, and instead of pressing onto a flat, horizontal ring-mold, the mold has been flipped on its side. A transverse press still results in a preferred direction of magnetization on the horizontal axis. However, since the ring was on its side, when placed flat this direction is now on the vertical axis of the magnet! This anisotropic magnet is sintered to shrink pores within the mixture, machined, and magnetized via a huge electromagnet. Two of these half circles then come together to form a single, stronger, magnet.
A large amount of effort has also been put into the housing of the MDR-Z1R. The new acoustic filter enclosure allows for the same net venting as the MDR-Z7, albeit with more uniformity and across a larger surface area. I couldn’t help but to bring up the Fibonacci filter in the process – it certainly looks nice but what exactly does it do? It was explained that the frequently seen ring baffles tended to create reflections at certain frequencies, and the resulting peaks and troughs were sonically detrimental. The idea with the Fibonacci grill was then to disperse these reflections in a semi-random manner across the baffle. Thinner arms and harder, higher quality plastic for the baffle also contributed significantly. I find it a curious approach – instead of tackling the reflections directly, it’s a tradeoff that results in slightly more reflections in different places, but overall lowering the more jarring immediate effects of larger, more isolated reflections.
While the score is still out on whether the Z1R is a better headphone than its legendary predecessors – the R10 and 010, it certainly has a lot more technology (modern) built into it. I like that there was a significant effort made to make this headphone technologically innovative, and that it isn’t just another rehash or slight retuning of an older product. For this, I do give Sony credit. Hence, design wise, the MDR-Z1R takes full points in my book.
This has been one of my backburner projects for the past month or two. I’ve worked on it in a rather haphazard fashion, until quite recently when I decided to approach it quite a bit more seriously. In short, welcome Box #2, my small headphone measurement rig. There are no major secrets behind this rig. The measurement microphone is the omni-directional UMIK-1 from miniDSP. It can be purchased for about a 100 dollars USD. Internally, the box is filled with acoustic foam (easily obtainable from your local specialty source). The coupler was perhaps the most difficult part to figure out. There are many documented approaches, and definitely very interesting reading to be done. In creating the coupler, I opted for a conventional flat plate made from soft polyester covered rubber cut from a mouse pad. I quickly noticed that this coupling alone made for some very poor measurements, especially in the higher frequencies where it was clear that artifacts were developing in a regular pattern. Following conventional fixes, I experimented with various diameters of felt, leading to varying degrees of attenuation in the midrange and high frequencies. I have temporarily settled on a variation of the felt fix, with a smaller piece of circular padding hidden beneath the felt. Mic is set close to flush with the coupling surface.
From a build standpoint, I made an oversight in designing Box #2 when I chose to start with a rather small box. The coupling area is tight and to get multiple positions does take some orienting. The felt-pad piece surrounding the mic should also probably be glued but I wanted to have the flexibility to play around with the design. I won’t sugarcoat it –the rig looks like it took a fall from the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Software used is Room EQ Wizard. The results are raw, uncompensated curves to use as general guidelines. Thus far, there has been one measurement of FR by a large French review site (lesnumeriques – here). I find the 5 kHz to 10 kHz 20dB difference to be quite excessive. These curves should be used as general tonal guides, not pound-for-pound representations of what you hear (once again, uncompensated).
-TH-900 offset was -18 dB to lineup nicely with the 90 mark. This is not because the levels were particularly diff. during the measurement process for the two headphones.
Here we have the CSD for the MDR-Z1R. Please read the commentary.
-The first thing I did was to confirm the existence of the peak via a couple of crude listening tests and SPL measurements. I find that indeed the peak does exist in the 3.1 to 3.4 kHz range. I was concerned that this ringing represented a flaw in my rig – however, artifact did not return in the other headphones I measured. Both drivers exhibit this behavior. In day to day use, I really can’t say it bothered me much. Perhaps I am less sensitive (?) and the tonal balance isn’t making this any more obvious for me.
At A Glance
The Sony MDR-Z1R’s sound is best characterized by a prominent bass section, sweet vocals, and crisp highs. It is best appreciated for achieving a good mix of musicality and technical performance. Without a doubt, it is a very pleasant and enjoyable headphone to listen to. Potential criticism will lie in its tonal balance, timbre, and male vocals. As a general guideline (and by no means conclusive), the Z1R is best complemented by a neutral headphone amplifier. Current mode amplification did not produce a good pairing –the Questyle CMA600i I tested was less than satisfactory. Other pairings that I’ve tried include the Teac UD-501/ UD-503, Chord Hugo TT, iFi Micro iCAN, etc. I particularly enjoyed the UD-501, which, while smooth, yielded a highly holographic sound that was nothing short of captivating. I did not have the Sony amp around, due to Sony needing it for internal purposes. This is regrettable and I will update accordingly if I should somehow get to hear the amp in the near future.
Both the MDR-Z7 and MDR-Z1R are tuned based on the same philosophy. Tuning was inspired by an emphasis on extreme dynamics and extended frequency response for both headphones, though the implementation on the Z1R is far truer. In achieving this sound, Sony has once again utilized a large 70mm driver, a development that originated from the MDR-XB1000 (2010) and first implemented seriously at a flagship level in the MDR-Z7 (2014). Higher frequency performance has since been improved on the Z1R via the inclusion of a magnesium dome driver. Stronger magnets and a better enclosure are among a few of the other factors that have helped elevate the Z1R’s performance over that of the Z7. Interestingly enough, Sony did also mention that the Z1R was tuned for “modern” music.
The bass section is an excellent place to begin sonically on the Z1R. There is considerable emphasis on the lower frequencies, and this does have a substantial effect on the overall tonal balance of the headphone. Understanding the concern that this statement may cause, I will clarify that while the tonal balance is shifted with an emphasis on the lower end, but overall tonality is good (much improved over the Z7). Quantity-wise, the Z1R has a lot going on in both subbass and midbass. The subbass extends very deep, and the detail retrieval is excellent. On tracks like Debussy’s Prelude No.10: La Cathédrale Engloutie, the Z1R’s ability to draw a realistic texture from the subbass was impressive and surprising. However, it is the midbass that is most immediately apparent when discussing the Z1R’s bass section. In characteristic Sony fashion, the midbass is a crucial factor in rounding out the lower frequencies and providing the “big” house sound. However, decay does have the tendency to be slower, leading to an occasional sense of diffuseness (in particular with poor pairings). Impact is real, and can be partially attributed to the sheer amount of air moved by the large 70mm driver. While not always consistent, the bass can make the Z1R sound truly immense when it works.
The mids on the Z1R are sweet and are smooth. I find the lower mids to err on the weaker side for two primary reasons. On isolated tracks, the lower mids sound ever so slightly withdrawn, and don’t have enough body and texture. This is further affected when the midbass sporadically oversteps its boundaries. Not often, but it does occur. Upper mids are certainly sweet and enjoyable. While they do not have the easy power and clarity of some competitors, the Z1R’s upper mids are nonetheless pleasant to listen to and among my favorite for general listening (especially pop). Traces of sibilance do reveal themselves nearing the upper end of this range though.
The treble on the Z1R is crisp and articulate, with good extension and airiness. There is a hint of sparkle, and honestly I don’t have any problems with it. I explain my thoughts on the 3 kHz situation in the measurements section. It is much improved over the Z7 and frankly is one of the reason why the Z1R’s tonality really works as well as it does. Soundstage on the Z1R is fairly good, especially considering the closed aspect. Perceived source width is surprisingly wide. Depth and height are okay too, but not quite as standout as the former. Imaging is positive, and I find that some bossa nova tracks were in fact very competently rendered by the Z1R. Separation is proficient, but intermittently affected by the bass section. Hotel California is one such situation where the sound started closing in.
The Z1R finds itself in its element when assessed in terms of overall tonality and musicality. As far as listening for pure musical enjoyment goes, there are very few cans that match the Z1R’s mix of fun and competency. The bass section is dramatic and immersive, even though it may not be the most technical. A pleasant and likeable upper mid section holds up the midrange, and the upper end is solid. It is also without a doubt, one of the best available closed cans on the market. Tonality is certainly much more agreeable than the Z7. In an effort to help contextualize the Z1R’s performance, I’ve tried my best to collect meaningful comparisons below. While I have sat down with all these headphones multiple times (and for hours on each occasion), I still cannot claim full familiarity with all, and in fact there are some that I do dislike. Hence, take it with a pinch of salt –inserts trite disclaimer about your own tastes being the most important.
LCD-2 – $995 USD
LCD-XC – $1,799 USD
LCD-X – $1,699 ISD
Okay let’s hit the ground running. Bass-wise, the Audeze cans lean toward powerful impact with good speed with variations on this general theme. LCD-2 bass sounds fuller and richer, but isn’t as well controlled as the X/XC. Extension on all three cans is good. However, is clear that Z1R is is able to retrieve much more detail from the lowest frequencies, articulating them with better body as well. Unfortunately, the Z1R is correspondingly slower in comparison. The LCD-X/XC comparison stands out in particular. My personal preference for a general listening can would rest somewhere in between these two types of bass.
My opinion on the mids of the Audeze line has slowly changed through the course of my testing. I do feel that LCD-2 mids have better body than the LCD X/XC, and its slightly smoother and richer tone is enticing. To this extent, there is an odd thinness (and grain) that is present on certain tracks for the X/XC. In addition, the XC seems to have a minor glare in the upper mids. These aspects aside, there is sheer power and clarity to the X/XC mids, and all three cans perform better than the Z1R. Male vocals, specifically.
The treble on the LCD 2 isn’t articulate and extended, and loses out solidly to the Z1R. The X/XC fare better, but also lack in refinement, coming off as sometimes “hot”. Soundstage is really not too impressive for the LCD-2, and point largely amended on the X/XC. The separation and air present on the X/XC is better than the Z1R, but imaging does come behind. At any rate, the primary deal breaker for me is not the sound on either of the cans. In fact I was rather pleased with the LCD-X despite some of its issues. The thing is –these cans are really heavy, and are uncomfortable for longer listening sessions. The XC really suffered ergonomically when compared to the Z1R. As I mentioned to a fellow enthusiast, if the Sony engineers had set out to build a headphone this large/ heavy, the sonics would probably have seen a large leap in performance. I understand that there is a new headband system available though, and I sincerely hope that it’ll come stock with future models. This could close the perceived gap in usability between the headphones.
T1 – $500 USD – $1000 USD (Varying Prices)
MDR-Z1R – $2,299 USD (US pricing)
The T1.1 was my first flagship headphone, and is still one of my favorites. While not as a flashy or as expensive as some of its more “modern” competitors, it is reliable and sounds great. As some may know, I tend to talk a lot about this headphone. Perhaps I am one of the few remaining believers stuck in the crumbling Teutonic castle mentioned on the Schiit homepage. For the record, I am using a late serial T1.1 (right before baffle-revision). I do not enjoy the T1.2, and will not be opting for this upgrade path. The added bass can be seen as being akin to putting lipstick on a hippo. It isn’t the Beyer sound, and can easily be achieved via proper pairing without sacrificing the 1.1’s flexibility.
At any rate, I was recently reminded of the sheer potential in the T1 sound when I received the Lindemann musicbook:10 DSD for review earlier this month (review is coming up soon). Too often the T1 is remembered as being a treble-happy, somewhat peaky headphone. However, this is certainly an oversight. The bass section on the T1, when amped appropriately, is actually competitive. Quantity wise –it strikes a good balance, and the decay is right on point. The Z1R’s subbass extends much deeper though and is generally more involved and visceral. I wish there would be a midpoint between these two headphones. The vocals on the T1 are clear, authoritative, and present. While lacking in coloration, sweetness, etc., it has a clarity and accuracy that makes it simply enjoyable. The greatest aspect of the T1 (at least my T1) are the liquid highs, but I was rather impressed by the fact that the Z1R was no slouch in this regard either. Overall, I enjoy both headphones a lot.
Elear – $999 USD
Utopia – $3,999 USD
MDR-Z1R – $2,299 USD (US pricing)
My local headphone store Zeppelin & Co. happens to have demo units for both the Focal Elear and Utopia, and I have since spent quite a good amount of time with both of these new cans. I do enjoy them thoroughly, and the Utopia has more or less become my benchmark for dynamic driver headphones. The Elear is actually quite competitive with the Z1R, and both cans do have an emphasis on bass (note open vs. closed). In discussing subbass, extension on the Z1R is superior, being able to draw more detail and texture than the Elear. Do Jeito Que Sei by João Donato features a wonderful bass guitar backing that exemplifies the Z1R’s capabilities in this regard. However, the midbass on the Z1R isn’t as fast as the Elear’s, putting the bass section behind in overall speed. The Elear is also tighter, and doesn’t have the same diffuseness that occasionally crops up on the Z1R. Having said this, the Z1R does have a very physical, immersive aspect to its bass that the Elear cannot match.
Lower mids on the Elear are better, aided primarily by a cleaner transition from the bass to the midrange. As stated before, lower mids are not the strength of the Z1R. However, I do find the upper mids to be more pleasant on the Z1R, and the sweetness certainly helps (yes, I do have an infrequent bias towards this). Staging characteristics are similar for both headphones. Separation and airiness are better on the Elear, but imaging wise, weaker. I’ve found in the past that the Elear does have odd placement on certain tracks. This is all the more evident when propped something as proficient as the Z1R.
The Utopia and Z1R comparison isn’t exactly the fairest of setups, and it plays out fairly predictably. The one thing that the Z1R does have to its advantage is its tonality. In my conversations with other enthusiasts, it is clear that not everyone is onboard with the Utopia sound, some citing a lack of bass and a perceived metallic sheen to the highs. In this sense, the Z1R is a viable alternative. Jumping into the comparison – bass extension on the Utopia is akin to that of the Z1R, though subbass quantity is less. General focus is different –Utopia has a tight punch whereas the Z1R has the unique “big” bass. What it lacks in visceral impact the Utopia makes up for in far superior control and speed.
Mids are a clear win for the Utopia, with easy clarity and authority that the Z1R lacks. The rendering on the Utopia is much improved, making the Z1R seem slightly laidback and relaxed in comparison. The Z1R doesn’t hold up particularly well when put directly against the accurate and natural Utopia. The tonal quality of the Utopia is simply of another level. Also, the Utopia doesn’t have the upper mid sibilance that can be heard on the Z1R. Highs on the Utopia are airy and pristine, with better extension and eloquence. When it comes to technicals like the soundstage, imaging, and detail retrieval, the discriminating Utopia does it better in almost all situations. Once again, we are looking at two different classes and types of headphones.
TH-900 -$1,299 USD (MK1), $1,500 USD (MK 2)
MDR-Z1R – $2,299 USD (US pricing)
When I first heard the Z1R, I had a hunch that this would be one of the key comparisons for the review. Very few “audiophile” headphones approach the levels of bass that can be found on these two cans, so naturally, it was only a matter of time before a comparison would be made. I do own the TH-900, and am a big fan of its sound. I admire its design aesthetic, and have spent hours trying to capture the way the lacquer cups light up with a soft gradient. I’m kidding…but not really.
The fantastic Debussy piece from Book No.1 of the Preludes, La Cathédrale Engloutie, comes in handy when gauging bass performance. In discussing subbass, both cans have very similar levels of extension, with the TH-900 edging out ever so slightly as far as detail retrieval is concerned. Midbass is more rounded out on the Z1R quantity wise, and on certain tracks provides much more slam than the TH-900 does. Control on the TH-900 however is better, and I feel that it is still the speedier of the two bass sections. Ultimately, the focus is quite different. Whereas the TH-900 seeks to emphasize its extension, the Z1R is more concerned with providing a fuller sounding, more dramatic, segment. One quick note though- I feel that the TH-900 is still slightly more accurate. With certain orchestral and classical tracks, I did feel that the Z1R gave a bit too much emphasis to the bass section. While it certainly made for a good, theatrical experience, it wasn’t entirely true sounding. As a cello player who’s played in orchestras, I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bass section in such force.
Mids on the TH-900 simply don’t compare against the Z1R. The latter features a more even, smoother sound, with greater clarity and better timbre. Z1R mids aren’t as peaky as TH-900 mids, and are just much more pleasant in general. Highs on the Z1R are clear and articulate, but without the fatiguing aspect that occasionally sets in with the TH-900. Soundstage and separation are better on the TH-900, and the sense of air is immediately apparent when switching between the two. On a practical note, the Z1R has much better isolation and leakage control, but tends to get warm after prolonged use. My conclusion is that the Z1R is a far better balanced headphone than the TH-900, and if you are choosing either as your primary driver I would go with the Z1R. However, there are still aspects of the TH-900 sound that I find to be more agreeable, and if you’re picking one up as a secondary use can, it’ll be up to your personal preference.
HE-1000 – $2,999 USD
Edition X – $1,299 USD
MDR-Z1R – $2,299 USD (US pricing)
The Hifiman headphones in fact err towards a softer sound as well. I will admit, I’m not a huge fan of Hifiman’s present higher-end offerings. I found the old HE-1000 to be rather soft, and hence I do think that this comparison may be slightly biased. The Edition X V2 is the first headphone that I shall compare. Granted, it is a headphone of a very different price range, and so the following statements should be put into perspective. I feel that the sub bass isn’t altogether dissimilar from the Z1R, but the detailing on the HEX lacks detail . While the sub bass does have decent presence and extension, it doesn’t have the same level of retrieval as the Z1R. Midbass is tight and fast on the HEX, but does not replicate impact found on the Audeze can. Overall, the bass section is unobtrusive, but also uninspiring.
The lower mids on the Edition X are sort of on par with the Z1R, being kind of smooth and not exactly detailed. It’s a close call on this one. I feel that the upper mids of the HEX are slightly less energetic, and seem to have a mild tint on them. As far as upper end extension is concerned, the HEX falls short, with a perceived roll-off and lacking a “bite” required to be realistic in terms of tonal quality. The HEX’s rendition of the Schubert Quintet In C Major is one such example. The timbre of the violins isn’t quite right, being too smooth at times. This is especially apparent for the 1st Movement (Allegro Ma Non Troppo), where aggressive playing is the key to achieving success in the piece (I know this, because I’ve played it). Perceived soundstage is decent, and separation better than the Z1R. However, general detail retrieval level is still less than its closed counterpart.
The HE-1000 more or less returns in much greater force. Bass is much improved, and more capable than the HEX technically. I find that it can indeed compete with the Z1R as far as extension is concerned. Quantity is less, but this is not to be seen as a negative. Mids are a clear sweep for the HE-1000. The lower mids have a more realistic textural quality, and the upper mids are still less colored. I really hesitate on the treble, because it doesn’t seem to me that the HE-1000 does all that much better than the Z1R in this regard. Once again, I return to certain classical tracks, such as Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 (Death Of A Maiden), I’m not taken aback by its rendering of the HE-1000’s rendering of string instruments. However, when it comes to soundstage, separation, and air, the HE-1000 is clearly the better of the two. The HE-1000’s open back characteristic proves its ability in this sense.
It would be a lie to say that returning this headphone didn’t make me just a little bit sad. The Z1R is really one of the finest closed back headphones available on the market today. To start, it simply gets a lot of things right – the build quality is spectacular, and the design is well thought out and almost impossible to fault. Ergonomics and general usability rank among the highest in my experience. Packaging, while not being the most practical, is certainly very unique. Sonically, it may not be the most technical of headphones, but the Z1R is immersive and involving. Overall, the attention to detail and the completeness of the headphone is nothing short of stunning. This is a standard for how products should look on release, and is definitely a benchmark for future closed headphones. Congratulations, Sony.