70 years ago, in the wake of World War II in 1946, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, now known simply as Sony, was founded.
Their first product was the Type-G tape recorder. 12 years later, in 1958, the company changed its name to what we today know as Sony. The name is derived from a combination of “Sonus”, the Latin word of sound, and the American “sonny boys” used in Japan to describe smart, presentable businessmen. Since then, they have produced televisions, phones, computers, speakers, cameras and much more. Today, Sony is one of the only companies in the world, one foot in every step of the creative process, from hardware to software in movies, music, games and more. The slogan “BE MOVED” fits well in today’s sense, as it touches me deepest.
Bombastic, ballistic, precise, discrete, nice. These are the words that best describe Sony’s MDR-Z7 headphones. The sound signature has a lot of power, lots of details and a lot of character. Too much of one or the other can quickly cause discomfort or cause certain details to be covered by others. On the other hand, a completely flat signature may be boring or lacking in entertainment. Where to find the balance is up to one’s own. But where does the Z7 fall on the fine line? Perhaps somewhere in the middle.
Wrapping and design
The MDR-Z7 comes in a nice black box, with the Sony logo raised in relief in silver on top. When you open the box, you will find the headphones packed in silk, with the serial number stopped in metal. All Z7 devices are handmade in Japan, and the quality of the headphones is outstanding. A complete construction of metal and leather. The sound units are magnesium based and are mounted on brushed steel hangers. A large piece of leather of cattle covers the top of the cow, but with real sheepskin on the inside and on the ear pads.
The design is elegant, minimalist and timeless. This is comparable to the Stax SR-007, because it does not make it possible to put the finger in what decades they are manufactured. The building quality is extremely solid without compromising comfort, as the soft ear pads, the padding on the hoop and the soft leather are wonderfully comfortable. My first day with Z7, I took them from me only after 8 hours of use, which shows comfort as I rarely have anything on my mind for so long. To mention a drawback with the design, it is the weight, since a total metal structure adds a lot of weight.
Sound and Quality
Sound is something very subjective. Some want the cleanest, most neutral sound that can be reproduced. Others seek a strong bass, and some want more treble for vocals and instruments.
The Z7 was tested with many audio sources, from smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop PC with headphone amplifier. In spite of an impedance of 70 Ohm, the Z7 can be used very well from mobile or tablet, but you can not fully benefit from the 70mm aluminum-coated, liquid crystal polymer drivers. To get the most out of the headset you may need to connect them to a proper sound system, or PC. Personally, I connected them to a Mayflower Electronics Desktop Objective II headphone amplifier, with PC as the sound source itself, and in the format FLAC, MP3 320kbs, and the new HiRes 92kHz / 24bit audio format.
On the technical side, Z7 reminds much of the Audio Technica W1000, but has a softer, less defined sound. The result is that everything is clear. No frequencies stand out from others, but at the same time almost all are stronger and more refined. The bass of the Z7 is clear, but no way too strong. The midrange bass has the most power, and in anticipation of neutral sound it may be the weakness point. If you’re looking for a bass reproduction that’s powerful, without completely taking over the sound, this is a discreet way to do it. Mid-range tones are suppressed on the Z7, which gives a very clean sound, as high midrange tones can provide a “cheap radio effect”. Removing too much again loses details found only in these frequencies. For the first time, I do not need to reduce the frequency of an equalizer, so I have a little more cleanliness to play with. The treble has some interesting choices on the high frequencies when 16k and up are rolled off.
Often this is where the details lie, but if they become too prominent, it is often the one that creates the unpleasant sharp sounds that cause ringing reverberation in the ears. At certain points, high tones may turn out, but Z7 avoids sibilants (the sharp “s” sound in vocals and some loudly sounding instruments) becomes too sharp and uncomfortable, and retains details of the sound.
The Z7 is of the type of closed headphones, in spite of this, they reproduce a sound scene that is outstanding and very impressive. The angled 70mm drivers (elements) help a lot here, and the only thing that separates the elements from your ears is a thin hexagon filter, with a lot of space between the filter and the element. This is brave of Sony when they give us a raw sound without much filtering, which refers to Sony’s own trust and believe in the product. There may be some things to remind you of the Sennheiser HD600. Some things are better, other things are weaker. The size of the device, the construction, and the sound itself may remind you a lot about the Fostex TH900. But, while the TH900 has a cleaner sound, the Z7 has a more comfortable sound, leading to my last point.
Z7 is a very unique set of headphones. They are in a price range gladly associated with completely neutral sound, but deliver a sound of color and depth. Everything without falling into the trap of excessive sound, such as Beats by a non-audio engineer. The price may be a bit high for something that does not have the flat, neutral line, and if you have budget and seek even more balance, the W1000 may be a more correct choice. You will find these headphones in the same price range as the Fostex TH600, Stax SR-L500 and HiFiMan HE400i, and it can be done comparing to Audio Technica W1000, and Fostex TH900 in relation to sound quality. The Sonys MDR-Z7 is more bombastic, has more power, but it still has to hold back. The result is a signature that is engaging and defining, but also relaxed and comfortable. For the first time, I do not need to turn on the equalizer to get a sound of details that do not hurt. Often, you can get bored specific sounds being pumped, but when all that comes out of the Z7 is so balanced, so controlled, it may be the most attractive headphones you can get when sound is the final sum of the parts. It must be emotional. Be excited. Be moved.
Article and Photos: Lars Sørensen
This article was initially provided by Medias for Androidguiden.no. Seeing how the shelf-life of high quality audio equipment as well as the high cost involved, these products stay relevant for quite some time after they are released so we decided