RMAF 2018: Sony DMP-Z1 Headphone amp and MDR-Z1R headphones


That’s pretty much all you have to say to anyone to trigger a universal response to conjure up the name SONY.

The company which has been around since 1946 got its name from a mix of the Latin word sonus (root for sonics, or sound) and good old American slang sonny, which to the Japanese at the time meant a smart, hip and well put together young man… this is part of the history that launched a corporate juggernaut in electronics and heavy industry that currently has a roughly $59.9 billion net worth according to Forbes.

What I’m trying to say is that this is a big company and they were making their presence made at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest not only at CANJAM, but all over the show. There seems to be a push into getting back the brand recognition they once enjoyed so easily with electronics, but which might have slipped in the audiophile world, hence new products like the MDR-Z1R headphones ($2,299 USD) that were used to voice the new DMP-Z1 portable headphone amplifier according to the DMP’s designer Tomoaki “Tomo” Sato whom I spent some time with in Denver while listening to a couple of his creations.

I’ve written briefly on the DMP-Z1 ($8,499 USD) when it was first announced, so I’m not getting into specs now, you can read about it HERE and the version I heard at RMAF is, according to Sato, “90 per cent there to the final full-production version.” Sato said he is still fine-tuning voicing the unit with emphasis now on perfecting timbre, tonality and further lowering the noise floor via finessing of the fully dual-mono battery/power-delivery design which he admitted was one of the biggest challenges involved with the entire five-year project.

The 100 dB sensitivity MDR-Z1 (rated 4Hz~120kHz) with their 2.76-inch, closed, dynamic Neodymium-magnet driver were very a comfortable and light fit, coming in at just 385 grams, they are a mix of plastic and alloy with a titanium/leather headband and feature genuine sheepskin ear pads. Cords are detachable Y-Type with choices of gold-plated stereo mini-plug, balanced 4.4mm and a 1/4-inch adapter. Cords are silver-coated OFC strands and come in 9.84-foot and 3.94-foot lengths.

Presentation through the DMP-Z1 was very neutral and navigating the DMP interface was easy and intuitive. Starting with a 24/192 FLAC file of Chaka Khan’s “I'm Every Woman” revealed a real sense of drive, dynamics and headroom – even off-grid using only battery power. This isn’t the fattest recording in my books but the DMP and the MDRs did a fantastic job of making it sound full-bodied and fleshed out. Excellent chesty, rather than throaty vocal reproduction and what I felt was natural timbral and tonal coloration to instruments produced an effortless, and mostly non-fatiguing session on several tracks, if only a bit on the ‘accurate’ side for my tastes. A DSD 2.8mHz copy off The Beatles White Album of “Dear Prudence” had me impressed with how balanced the presentation was with no part of the song’s dense instrumentation overshadowing another.

Weight and placement of vocals and instruments was, for the most part, full of warmth, clarity and distinct separation. I did not fail to notice there was a touch of brightness and edge in the treble region on “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” At this point, in my opinion, the DMP sounds closer to a ‘mastering DAC-type sound’ with resolution seeming to bump everything else overall more towards the highest frequencies, which kept in the context of the unit being “90 per cent there” seems to leave room for Sato to work some magic because I think the unit is really close to being one of the most enjoyable portable players I’ve spent time with.

Check back often for continuing RMAF coverage of CANJAM here at InnerFidelity.

Sony Corp. America
25 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10016

Bansaku's picture

The Topping NX1s is a portable, the iFi nano iDSD is portable, heck the Sony NW-WMZ1 is portable. Is Sato a hobbit, because the DMP-Z1 is freaking HUGE in his hands!

Does it come with a satchel in the style of the original Sony Discman or Betacam recorder? :P

Simply Nobody's picture

May be like the Chord Hugo TT ............. Table-top use :-) ...........

Pokemonn's picture

Legendary Alps RK50? just wow.

Simply Nobody's picture

May be Rafe could review Chord Hugo2 and Hugo TT2 for comparison with the Sony DMP-Z1 :-) ..........

Venture Guy's picture

As of Friday, Sony, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange had a market capitalization of $71.392 Billion and had reported $76.065 Billion in revenue on 3/31/18.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Thanks Venture Guy,

Current net worth of Sony is $59.9 billion, not $15 billion as I stated (I was looking at a 2012 Wiki figure). Forbes list is Here.

Market capitalization and revenue are very different things than net worth.

But thanks for making sure I had my numbers right, I appreciate it.

Rthomas's picture

Hi Rafe,

In the last few months you've given us quick impressions of many high end headphones and one full review of the Audeze LCD-XC.

I wanted to know if there are any high end headphones ($500 to $6000) that you do not like?

Just trying to get an idea of your preferences. Surely you can't have liked everything you heard? ;)



Rafe Arnott's picture
If I come across something I find that truly has no redeeming qualities, I'll let you know.
sszorin's picture

@ Rthomas - Did you have a chance to listen to the sound produced by LCD-X / LCD-XC ? These headphones would show you what not to like.

sszorin's picture

Unfortunately Sony Corp. is not interested in developing and manufacturing top level headphones. MDR-R10 and MDR-CD3000 were Sony's last good headphones. That was in the 1980s. Sony recently also made incomprehensible errors regarding new walkmans [portable digital players].