Review: Sony NW-WM1Z, MDR-Z1R, TA-ZH1ES – Los tres tomodachis

MDR-Z1R – 2299$ USD All about it here: Z1R Premium Headphones MDR-Z1R

This headphone blew my mind from the moment I removed it from its sturdy, luxurious box. Sony spared no effort. The outer grill pattern is cosmetic, but perfectly installed, laid out, and finished. The hinges and cup fulcrum are comfy, solid, and accommodating. You’ll get any size head in there, and mostly with exquisite comfort. My narrow head slipped right in, and the headphones shrunk to its size with no problem.

The only thing I dislike are the sheepskin, which to me feel and smell exactly like synthetic leather. They are far less comfy than the sheepskin I’ve used from other companies. They tend to get unnaturally sweaty and sticky in warm weather. Still, they are well put together, and attach easily. Below them is one of the most beautiful protective driver grills I’ve ever seen, with as minimal an acoustic profile as exists. There’s no way it will exert undue influence on the sound.

The cups deaden sound as much as is possible in a circumaural design whose modus operandi isn’t absolute isolation. Put them on and you’ve basically stepped into an acoustically dead chamber where environmental sounds plunge beneath the waves. There are a few downsides to this design, but not from a functional perspective.

The cables lock to the headphones on fine helicoids. They are robust, tangle resistant, and transfer little microphone noise to the ear cup- and the little they do is deadened by the headphones‘s excellent cups.

Where the MDR-Z1R most wows, or where it most fails, is its warmth. That, and emphasis on the midrange, and in particular, vocal range sound pressure. It has a strong, pretty warm, if not overly detailed low range, whose stereo and instrument separation are good but not legendary. But this low range and its extension into the mids, are serious. In no way does it overpower the mids, but its fingers sneak pretty far up the range. It is possible to, here and there, coax out flab. Certain genres with heavy emphasis on upper bass will push a hell of a lot of energy at the transition point between lows and mids, and mids will pull in most of that attention.

Vocals jump out and are warmer than they are ultimately clear. Everything is lush and emotive. Both female and male vocals sound great, but I found myself listening to more female vocalists through the MDR-Z1R than typically I do. In fact, I ended up being drawn to organic, vocally singy stuff from the get go. Partly it was a choice: the MDR-Z1R seemed best suited to that sort of music. But part of it was because it gave a new interpretation to music I thought I knew.

The sound stage is interesting, pushing both to the sides and front with a large and wide footprint left by the bass. The MDR-Z1R’s warmth precludes ultimate detail, but I don’t get the idea that Sony were aiming for absolute detail.

They can’t have been targeting listeners like me, and may have even targeted listeners with preferences warmer than Lieven’s. Their target must be listeners whose music preferences begin and end in the acoustic, and feature a lot of vocals, and a lot of strings. After that, slow, melodic electronic and small ensemble stage where atmosphere takes precedence over crisp vocal edges, sharp cymbals, and metal-tinged strings.

For me, the MDR-Z1R quickly became a guilty pleasure. I’m not a warm guy. On more than one occasion I’ve been called an asshole. I love friendly conflict, discussion, and debate. Contrast and small details are things I crave. And yet, this warm, laid back headphone moved me to listen to genres that I typically leave to reviews- and not because I have to. I don’t like female vocalists all that much. I’m not into tame, jazzy, audiophile sounds. But damned if I didn’t gravitate to that stuff when listening to this headphone and rediscover about half of my library of tunes. I’ve not been bothered by a possible treble spike, but then, I ended up listening to music that’s not all that peaky, and totally relaxed into space and vocal genres. I wanted to relax, taste the atmosphere and air, and get into the mids.

That warmth also lent a refreshing and treble-tame pathos to Bexarametric, Aphex Twin and Autechre. I waded balls deep into my favourite electronic music and loved it. As for trance, only the really uplifting progressive stuff fit my prejudices and this headphone’s interpretation.

If you like warmth, strong but not overwhelming bass, and aren’t Joneseing for crispy percussion, I recommend checking this headphone out. If you’re unsure of what your favourite genre is and think that vocals may be for you, by all means: head to the nearest Sony Store and check these out. If you like audible linearity, crispy forward edges on high-voiced strings and cymbals, and hard bass leads, look elsewhere. This headphone is tailored for a different listener.

TA-ZH1ES after the jump:

Review: Sony NW-WM1Z, MDR-Z1R, TA-ZH1ES – Los tres tomodachis
3.8 (76%) 20 vote[s]

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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.

15 Comments

  • Reply September 26, 2017

    Inka

    “The only thing I dislike is the pleather pads. ”

    I think they’re made of sheepskin.

    • Reply September 26, 2017

      ohm image

      That’s what Sony say. But they don’t feel like sheepskin of any quality. They feel exactly like high grade protein leather.

  • Reply September 26, 2017

    ohm image

    However, point taken. I will indicate that in the text body. Thank you.

    • Reply September 26, 2017

      Inka

      Ah, it felt like pleather too for some of my friends. However given how easy it is to bust them on this, I doubt Sony, an entity that can’t run away from a lawsuit, would risk this.

      Enough audiophile stuff gets claimed by random small boutique companies(quantum-physics based stickers that help audio quality… it’s real) that once brought to court would just disappear. I think bigger corporations like Sony or Sennheiser are a bit more reliable in this regard. But it would help if somebody checks to see whether it’s really sheepskin.

      Beautiful photography of the MDR-Z1R. It’s a tricky headphone to photograph… the grill pattern tend to create moire in cameras… most of the press shots I’ve seen tend to display that.

      • Reply September 27, 2017

        ohm image

        You may be right. But here in Japan, many things pass for leather that are not leather, nor even close to it. There are many words used in substitute for the real thing which indicate things that are totally fake. So, you may well be right, and it is probably fair to trust Sony generally.

        • Reply September 27, 2017

          senshi

          http://www.sony.jp/headphone/special/park/products_m1/tech10.html

          They specifically use the kanji 本革/hongawa (real leather) on their website interviews. If they are pleather I think they are opening themselves wide up for lawsuits.

          • Reply September 28, 2017

            ohm image

            Yes, thank you. I saw that on their website, and still was confused about it. They feel great, but nowhere as nice as what I’ve used normally that’s called ‘sheepskin’.

            Awesome comfort otherwise.

  • Reply November 15, 2017

    Henal

    Nice and valuable information!!

    Thank you!!

  • Reply November 22, 2017

    Washer

    Super information!! Thank you very much 🙂

  • Reply March 9, 2018

    BlackWF

    Hi Nathan, thanks for the great reviews!! I always find the reviews on Headfonia more reliable/enjoyable/easy-to-read than any other sources.

    I have a question please. I have v281, which I primarily uses the balanced out only. If I were to sell my beloved precious v281 and buy TA-ZH1ES instead, would I be wanting more from TA-ZH1ES’s balanced out? The recent prices on TA-ZH1ES is so attractive that I’ve been contemplating this, but being spoiled by the superb balanced out of v281 I am just not sure if I can ever be satisfied again with any other amps. My current headphones are HD800S, LCD-2C, HD600 and I’m saving for Utopia.

    • Reply March 12, 2018

      ohm image

      I’m sorry, but I personally haven’t used the V281. I think that Lieven has. Sony’s FGPA system is wonderful and I’m keen on the TA-ZH1ES but I can’t recommend it over your system as I have no anecdotal point of reference. Apologies.

      • Reply March 18, 2018

        BlackWF

        I really appreciate your candid response!

  • Reply May 29, 2018

    Henri

    Very good information!!

    Thank you!

  • Reply June 6, 2018

    Pooja

    Immerse yourself in exceptional sound with the premium NW-WM1Z Walkman, a High Resolution MP3 player for those in pursuit of beautifully balanced audio. Awesome article! I want people to know just how good this information is in your article. It’s interesting content.

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