Sony MDR-Z1R Sealed Over-Ear Headphones Measurements

Click on graphs image to download .pdf for closer inspection.

Raw frequency response plots show the Z1R is very insensitive to movement on the head—possibly due to the nicely fitting pads.

Bass response is elevated about 6dB above baseline. While it starts to come down at about 150Hz, it doesn't fully return to level until about 500Hz; in listening the bass did bleed into the mids. While the peak at 3kHz is at about the right level it is extremely sharp; I've not ever seen anything quite like it. The run up to the peak is a little slow to rise; in listening I did hear this as a slightly withdrawn presence region giving the impression of some veiling around vocals.

The fall from the 3kHz peak is extremely fast and falls too far. This tends to take the body out of cymbals. The subsequent peak at 10kHz is significant and strong. I heard this as a sizzly treble that I found fatiguing.

30Hz square wave shows a bit of wobble in the waveform top, but it remains above zero throughout showing good extension into the sub-bass. The front shoulder is slow to com on indicating a lack of treble energy. In listening it doesn't sound quite like that due to the severe 10kHz peak, but when you ignore the peak you can hear the treble is lackluster.

300Hz square wave is a mess. The leading edge excites the 10kHz peak, which can be seen in the high frequency wiggle for the first fer cycles of the lower frequency ring. I think the ringing throughout is due to the sharp peak at 3kHz.

The impulse response is likewise a ringing mess. Shall I go on.

Distortion is fairly low, but bass distortion looks problematic. I suspect this may be excursion limiting due to the small magnet? Who knows.

Impedance respons is surprisingly flat at a nominal 62 Ohms.

The isolation plot shows decent attenuation of outside noise, but would be 5-10dB lower if it were a completely sealed design.

Needing 106mVrms to achieve 90dBspl at the ear these will play a solid levels from portable players.

Sony Electronics Inc.
(201) 930-1000

Chiumeister's picture

Sad you did not like Z1R, that's too bad.
moving onwards, please review the New Stax SRM-T8000 Hybrid Reference Energiser!

dumbasstyll's picture


sszorin's picture

Please explain your cryptic "comment".

sszorin's picture

It is sad not that Tyll does not like these headphones but that Sony does not seem capable of making good headphones anymore.

Maybe's picture

"When I'd rather listen to the Audio Technica ATH-M50x we've got problems."

I think that's a good TL;DR.

It seems to me that Sony is too hung up on making everything look beautiful and impressing with big numbers in their marketing.

Just looking at that horrid impulse-response and you can see why going 70mm is a bad idea.
The driver actually looks really nice, it's just wayyy too big. That peak at 10kHz seems to be the dome breaking up?
I wish they would have stuck with the 50mm size that worked so well in the R10/CD3000 and just refined it.

The acoustic resistor in the back is a cool idea actually. Since acoustic impedance is frequency dependent, high frequencies can pass through while lower frequencies don't.
This leads to an effective dampening of the resonant frequency while maintaining a relatively resonant-free treble.
Beyerdynamic has been doing this for decades, not sure why Sony is making such a big fuss about it.

The thing is, Sony knows how to make good headphones. They still have capable engineers. Thinking about it just makes it more frustrating.

I'm sure people are going to have fun with the Z1R though. It has a unique tuning which some may find attractive. Pretty sure the ringing is gonna give it a nice "room-DSP"-esque effect. And the ergonomics/design are insane, Sony certainly knows how to impress here.

Tyll, you should really look out for that MySphere thing.
It's engineering-porn through and through.
Heinz Renner has been posting some measurements on head-fi.
The impulse response is great, makes the Utopia look bad.

metal571's picture

It's always reassuring when you aren't afraid to nitpick on a headphone this expensive. It sure measures poorly in terms of tonal balance for being so expensive. Thanks for the fair assessment.

raulromanjr's picture

A lot of broken hearts tonight all over headfi. I love the way my Z7 phones sound so I was curious if the ZR1 has a similar tuning. Now I will say that the ATH-50 comment had to be an exaggeration, Right?

MattTCG's picture

It seems to me that Sony could EASILY recreate a similar sound to the r10. They choose not to. They are first a foremost in the business of making money. I'm relatively certain that their marketing probes said, "a V shaped signature will sell much better than an r10 signature." Just my guess. I listened to this headphone for 15 minutes and decided that it sucked.

Jazz Casual's picture

My listening impressions are similar to yours Tyll. I suspect that I enjoyed the headphone experience that it offered overall more than you did tho. It certainly is a beautiful headphone and supremely comfortable.

Now that you've dispensed with the MDR-Z1R, is there any chance of you doing the same with the PS2000e? ;) Would you be willing to measure one at least?

GNagus's picture

For $2700 it will NOT disappoint you.

Rowethren's picture

Just because Tyll doesn't like it doesn't mean the whole world has to not like it as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion... I personally love my Z1Rs. Like I said on the Head-fi thread the world would be a boring place if we all liked the same thing ;)

acbaines's picture

Hello Members,

I offer this opinion with humility.

Listen to your headphone purchase choices with your own music on your own source device instead of following the advice of a reviewer. Your ears listening to your music is what counts.

I own a pair of Sony MDR-Z1R headphones and I could't disagree more with Tyll's review. He is entitled to his opinion and also his buying choices. Have you ever enjoyed a movie even though all the professional critics said it was a disaster?

There is a level of excellence and enjoyment with these headphones that I didn't achieve with My Stax SR-009's, SR-007 MK1's, Sennheiser HD 800's, or Oppo PM 1's regardless of the source.

I am driving the Sony's with the Ibasso DX200 through the 2.5mm balanced output. I have the Astell & Kern 75 Album 24/192 Bluenote Collection loaded up on a micro SD card and the sound is outstanding!

Make your own choices,

Jazz Casual's picture

I think that goes without saying.

24bitbob's picture

... there's no chance it was a defective unit ;-)

MRC01's picture

It scares me to see these recent super expensive headphones having such poor performance.
Has headphone audio reached the point where excellent measured performance is so commoditized that the expensive stuff instead differentiates itself with style, euphonic distortion and the price tag?
Perhaps it's a sign of maturity -- headphone audio has emerged from the closet to become a 1st class citizen of the over-hyped, over-priced, under-engineered world of "high end audio".

Shike's picture

I've come to this conclusion more often than not. Some companies have an idea of what their "house sound" or "reference" is without having a true objective on it being accurate. Back with the old AKG lines I found the lower models sounded more natural than the higher end. Many preferred the HD600 to the HD650 - let alone the HD700. The HD800 at least felt like a genuine attempt at accurate TOTL. Going up the Grado chain the significant tuning difference in the older GS1000. Denon's newer lines have exaggerated certain characteristics on the higher-end, same with Fostex. Sometimes this drives people back down the product lines, and I think it happens more than expected.

At this point if you want a good headphone that isn't trying to impose its own sound it seems like you're better off staying away from TOTL. They appear desperate to differentiate themselves more than creating a truly accurate reference product. If you like a house sound then by all means indulge.

maelob's picture

Interesting how some people love them and others no so much, I bought them (used for 1600) after reading the reviews of Stereophile, What Hifi, Steve Guttenberg, and others. I briefly compared it to the Aeon and I preferred the Z1R, nooooo lol oh well. But to be honest I see a trend where Tyll is very tough on closed headphones the Ether C flow barely made it in the wall of fame. I don't think he is a big fan of expensive closed headphones.

coastman25's picture

Hi Tyll
I seem to recall that some time ago, possibly over a year or more by now, you made an appeal to Inner Fidelity readers/account holders to provide you with some affordable open backed headphones options for you to review as there was a large gap in your recommendations within a certain price range.
As I recall you received many replies offering suitable candidates which you generously replied to.
However what appears to have happened in the meantime is a complete obsession which headphones costing mega bucks and well out of the range of most hifi and headphone enthusiasts.
Any chance of you getting back to that reality? It would, I am sure be most appreciated.

thefitz's picture

Why here?

coastman25's picture

Where else?

Beagle's picture

""The Emperor's New Clothes" was a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don't see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as "unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent". Finally, a young child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"

When enough overpriced, underperforming headphones get cut down to size, maybe we will see more good sounding ones at reasonable prices. They lost me after the $2000 line was crossed (the TOTL Stax notwithstanding).
(Caveat: this is IMHO and it all comes down to taste and preference)

thefitz's picture

That 300Hz square wave is in the same realm as the Ultrasone Edition 10 as far as bad square waves go. Arguably, I find the square wave to be more useful than the FR when looking to see if I like a headphone or not. For example, the HD700 FR graph doesn't look too offensive but the 300Hz square wave shows that it's an ice pick to the ear.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
T1, Ultrasones, K812, the list goes on and on.
sarin's picture

What makes it more desire to have overshoot rather than well damped 300Hz square wave? For example, the utopia overshoot is double its amplitude at leading edge, with nice ripple compared to Z1R while having sawtooth ripple but with well damped, no overshoot?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The overshoot essentially represents the 3.5kHz concha peak in the raw FR measurements in the time domain.
Luigi's picture

When i first listened to these in Fukuoka Sony shop i was horribly impressed from the rumbling bass ang the bloated voices it produces even from a dedicated amp. When i posted my experience in Facebook a guy attack me. Now that guy doesn't attack you... strange things.

absolutperception's picture

Who should be trusted?
Just read the glowing review of the Sony MDR -Z1R by Herbert Reichert in the recent June Stereophile.

Reichert: " Their sound has unique purity. naturalness and beauty..... rival Audeze, Focal and HiFiMan. That makes them already one of the greats".

And What HiFi enthuses : The finest closed back headphones we have heard..... Paired with fine electronics thy shine...
Maybe T H should test another specimen of these headphones?

AJ's picture

Thanks for the review as always, although surprised with the assessment of sound. I have had these headphone for 2 months, used them a lot and really like them. I settled on them after looking for a good closed back headphone for a long time and the Meze 99 were my previous closed back use phones. The options are many in open back designs but for closed back phones, choice is very limited for reasons this and other sites cover extensively. My other frequently used sets are the Stax L700 at home, Roxanne & Shure 846 on the go. I have and have had other headphones as well from Sennheiser, Audeze, HiFiMan, AKG etc. Because CB designs are also for on-the-go use, they need to be rugged and light apart from sounding great, I felt the Sony's achieve this balance well.

I do see with some recordings the sound falls apart, but most of the time the combination of the soundstage and clarity from these headphones is incredible. They are warm (which works for me given my selection of other phones) and a little "hi-fi" like in signature which doesn't seem to bother me. I did try the Ether line up including the Flow which was very good but I preferred the Sony. The Aeons were great value but did not have the soundstage of the Sony. I was sorely disappointed by the LCD XC which I had thought would be the 'one" when they came out but they didn't work for me.

Being a long time visitor to the site, I very much appreciate the reviews, the insights and the community but ultimately we must follow our ears :-) Mine lead me to the Z1Rs. I hope there will be better closed back headphones than these in the future, but for now I haven't found them.

Beagle's picture serves as sort of request for Sony to 'reissue" the R10. I mean hell, there's a built-in demand, it's already been designed, no R&D necessary. Just make it again. And put it our for $1500 and sell a truckload of them in a week.

Old Pa's picture

Your opinion seems to differ from Jude and me. Have you tried them with the optional MUC-B20BL1 Balance 6.56 ft Y-type Cable so that they can be driven by the PHA-3 balanced portable amp? This is what I've been enjoying recently.

isquirrel's picture

I have owned these for 3 months now and find them easy to listen to, yes they are on the warm side and the bass is a bit too pronounced. I run them fully balanced with DHC Prion4S cable which made an enormous difference over the stock cables. I also noticed they needed a good 250-300 hours of burn in after which the sound champed markedly for the better. With Focal and Audeze producing variances it wouldn't hurt to request another review pair.

Thank you for the technical drawings and explanations.

mmv's picture

When I first saw the headphones for test at the Sony Store in Berlin I was excited. Full of hope to test what should be an incredible system.

But after I tried... just disappointment.

To be honest I couldn't believe it. Was looking for a song that could make them shine, but it wasn't possible.

They are not horrible, but for 2k they should be MUCH better.

JFK's picture

With no disrespect meant towards Tyll who is certainly an asset to the community, one's choice of headphones is a personal one based on how one prefers to listen to music. Tyll seems to prefer a headphone on the bright side of the spectrum (HD800, HD800S, Utopia) whereby there are those that prefer a bit darker, warmer and more inviting soothing sound (Sony MDR-Z1R). As I said, no disrespect meant but Tyll is a contrarian indicator for this audiophile.

rosci's picture

I am owning an MDR-Z1R and my relationship with it was one of love and irritation right from the start. I really do love some of its virtues like the warm sound signature, the wide and open soundstage, the dynamics, the "fun" v-curve with its extended bass and trebles and how it manages to still sound very rich and colorful in the mids.

There was one element that has bothered me for quite a while, though. There is this coloration in the upper mids. It's really not an issue for me with the majority of music I'm listening to. But in some cases it results in a downright unnatural and "wrong" sound. To give you an example, listen to The Tell-Tale Heart from The Alan Parsons Project and focus on the e-guitars that are panned hard to the left and right during the first verse, starting at around 0:18. These just simply sound wrong to me. I've managed to fix it with some EQ at 3.15 kHz -4dB Q10.0. Also there is some sibilance in some cases. This can be checked with the same album from The Alan Parsons Project (the 1987 CD re-issue of Tales of Mystery and Imagination) when listening to Orson Welles' narration.

Recently I came across the measurements Tyll provided as part of this review. Et voilà: The measurements clearly indicate a spike at around 3 kHz and another spike at around 7 kHz, bevor the curve climbs up to the 10 kHz "hill" which Tyll has critizised in his review.

I think this explains it.

Given the rave reviews these cans have received from innerfidelity sister magazines stereophile and sound & vision, I was really wondering whether this has something to do with my own perception and perhaps physical shape of my ears and cranium. But now I have proof: It is there and it's not just my imagination and it's perhaps also not something that will eventually go away after some extended period of "mental burn-in"...

I must say, this is both a relieve and a disappointment. I am just wondering how Herb and Steve can recommend these headphones without any reservations...

Sith Overlord's picture

Heard these briefly on the new Sony DMP-Z1 at an audio show yesterday and they sounded pretty good to me. Audio Show impressions are notably unreliable for a large number of reasons (noise, unfamiliar equipment/music, etc.), but I managed to sneak in a few quiet moments toward the end of the show.

Not overly warm to my ears and though they were definitely on the brighter side of neutral they were not objectionably bright either. I was listening to the Hifiman Jade II immediately before so I'm sure that impacted my impression as well.

It is possible that the negative traits mentioned in the review were just not evident on the music playing at the time, but there certainly appeared to be a special synergy with the DMP-Z1.