Picture Sunday: Sony MDR-Z1R

Disclaimer: The star of this weeks’ picture Sunday is Sony’s MDR-Z1R. We got this sample on loan for a few weeks from Sony Japan. This post is a part of our Picture Sunday series.

The MDR-Z1R I borrowed from Sony shipped back two weeks ago. Simultaneously, I’m tested HiFiman’s Susvara and had another high-end headphone go through my office. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that of the three, the Sony spent the least time on my head. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I had a lot of deliveries and my doorbell isn’t that loud.
  2. I was out of office a lot.
  3. The MDR-Z1R is so pretty that I preferred to hold it, pet it, and sniff it.
  4. I’m doing my damned best to finish a review of Susvara for ohm.
  5. While I love how the MDR-Z1R puts together a mid-rich sound, I’m not generally a mid-rich guy.

It wasn’t the last point that had me mainly fingering rather than listening to the MDR-1ZR. Three weeks seems like a lot, but it’s not enough to get accustomed to three different products, particularly when in the office you have Sony’s toppest-end DAP, their latest FPGA DAC, and a plush headphone. Each was as fine as your first LatinX crush, but thicker across the middle.

What most surprised me about the MDR-Z1R is how well it appeared to isolate. To me its grill patterned insinuated a semi-open design. But it appears to be properly closed, if not sealed like a good-old DT770. I went to Sony HQ to ask about this. Stripped of its grill, pads, and hangar, the cap itself deadens air like nothing I hitherto had heard. Which explains what essentially is as reverb-free as I’ve experienced.

As far as I can tell, the MDR-Z1R is engineered for two things: meaty vocals and mids, and, through dead reverb super clear transmission to the ears. I’ve got an interview to publish, which I hope will illuminate some of the headphone’s design parameters, as well as show off the dedication of its designers. With it, I’ve got a few good words to say about the MDR-Z1R, and few words of warning regarding its mids, and warmth.

For my part, I love the MDR-Z1R, just not for trance, electronic, heavy metal, or industrial jazz. It’s a headphone made for vocals and for small ensembles and which elides absolute extension for a warm, intimate touch, and one into whose arms I’d jump if only I wasn’t such a trance head. My guess is that between Lieven and me, the Sony would closer match Lieven’s listening preferences.

4.3/5 - (26 votes)

Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.


  • Reply September 24, 2017

    dale thorn

    I’m longing for the review that begins with “As I began listening to the _______, I was overcome with emotion – the most natural sound I’ve heard in a long (heh) time was flooding my ears with an orgy of splendor and sparkle that I didn’t want to end.” Short of buying a Grand Seiko SBGC219 or the new Orpheus, that’s the general idea of what I wish for.

  • Reply September 24, 2017


    This is one of the very few extremely natural sounding and fatigue free high-end headphones. Sony managed to avoid falling into the uber-analytical and piercing trap of the summit-fi like Pioneer’s SE-Master 1. Very hard to keep it fun and keep it technically superior.

    Sad to see such a product receive a bad rep. Sony really spent a good deal of time developing this and there are some good ears used for reference. Sound engineers received lots of feedback from mastering engineer Mark Wilder, of Miles Davis SACD reissue fame. It’s generally very good with acoustic recordings and not so much with synthetics, probably due to the preferences of the ears behind this product.

    And it’s truly very gorgeous. Almost looks better than it sounds.

    • Reply September 25, 2017

      ohm image

      I love this headphone. While I’m fast becoming a fan of warmth across a broad midrange, I still long for really detailed highs. For my part, a Z1R with more high range energy if not detail would 100% fulfil me. As it is, this is one of the nicest-sounding headphones of its temper.

      • Reply September 25, 2017


        time to reaccquaint yourself with the sony MA-900 then 😉 developed by the same engineer behind the ex series of dd iems and now the head of sony just ear, aside from its gimped cable, it’s actually a hidden gem in the sony roster.

    • Reply October 2, 2017


      most of the bad rep is actually caused by that hawaiian shirt guy…

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