The Sony MDR-ZX700

Out of the blue, a Sony PR agent dropped me an email.

"Sony has recently introduced the new high-quality Studio Monitor Series headphones that boast premium sound and technology, and I wanted to see if you are interested in reviewing them."

She referred to four headphones in her email (two full size sealed MDR-ZX700 ($119.99) and MDR-Z1000 ($499.99), and two IEMs MDR-EX600 ($199.99) and MDR-EX1000 ($499.99)), but only had the inexpensive ones for review samples at the moment.

Oh .... okay. I'll take the cheap ones and have a listen. Glad I did.

The Sony MDR-ZX700 ($119.99)
Hundred dollar, sealed, full-size headphones is a tough category. Not so much because of the competition, but rather because it's so hard to make a satisfying headphone of this type and price. Sony makes it look refreshingly easy with these headphones.

I'll over generalize and say headphones tend to fall into two categories: Bling over substance, and butt-ugly utilitarian. The latter is fine with me; the former is annoying to no end. The Sony MDR-ZX700 hit a sweet spot I didn't even know was there.

This headphone is industrial design at its classic best. A simple curved and nicely padded headband; clean, black earcups with an uncluttered look; and a silver painted bail with a hefty and interesting shape to bring it all together. I find them very inviting. They speak to me: "Hi. I'm a headphone. Put me on and listen." Simple.

Ergonomics and Build Quality
Most "Pro" headphones have numerous features like folding for smaller storage size, replaceable cables, and earpieces that flip around for DJ use. The MDR-ZX700 has none of these. But so often it's these very features that bring complexity to a pair of headphones, which leads to points of failure rather than improved usefulness. Some of the DJ cans are hard to pick up without having the earpieces flop around. The simplicity of the ZX700 is its strength; put them on to listen, throw them in the milk crate when you're done. I think they likely will be a very good general purpose can to have around the studio, they couldn't be simpler to use.

At 47 1/2", the cord is quite short. It's a very good length for portable players and listening to laptops, but it's not a good length for the studio where you'll likely need an extension if you don't have a headphone out attached to a mic stand. The cable is terminated with an 1/8" miniplug, and the plug housing is small so will reach inside protective cases on portable devices. No 1/8" to 1/4" adapter is included.

The build quality and materials on these headphones are quite good for a can at this price. Sony's website refers to the housing with this statement:

    Built for precise sound and durability, the aluminum housing provides strength with low mass, helping reduce unnecessary vibration.
If they're referring the earpieces, that's just not true. They're plastic; they're stamped "ABS" (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a plastic, on the inside of the cups. I think the marketing people got their wires crossed a bit.

Nonetheless, ABS plastic is good stuff, and I found the fit and finish on these headphones quite well executed. I did some disassembly on the headband and one of the earcups and found the innards to be nice and tidy. All the big bits are held together with Philips head screws; these headphones should be fairly easily repaired or modified. In fact, I think these headphones would be a good base for DIYers to tweak up with stiffening, damping, and/or driver replacement.

I found the MDR-ZX700 to be fairly comfortable on my modestly larger-than-normal head. The clamping pressure is moderate, and the fit close; with their light weight, this combination felt very secure on my head. The earcups are somewhat on the small and shallow side; though the pads did fully encircle my ears, they did touch both the pad and the baffle plate within the earcup. I would characterize them as a bit confining, but not uncomfortable. With long listening sessions they did become a little bothersome.

The headband is nicely padded, and with the light weight and close fit of the earpieces, the headband can be adjusted so that some weight is born by the seal around your ear. I didn't experience any "hot spot" where the headband rests at the top of my head.

So, how does it sound?

Sony Electronics Inc.
(201) 930-1000

donunus's picture

I've always been eyeing these. Thanks for that review Tyll. I might be picking one up the moment I need a closed inexpensive headphone to use with my ipod.

maverickronin's picture

I'm intrigued by your comment about using them as a foster-phone for a driver swap.

Are they to secure enough on your head to stay put if you bend over to pick stuff up or get down on your hands and knees to mess around with something under your desk?

I'm looking for a frame and cups that can be used portably during some light physical activity and with with some decent isolation. Ideally I'd like something like the DT1350 or HD25 but I can't justify spending that much money just to gut them...

Tyll Hertsens's picture

The difficulty, it appears to me, is the complex baffle plate. But having that large skeleton with an angled shape, and lots of pre-drilled vent holes that can easily be stuffed or not might be an advantage too.

The inside of the cup is virtually empty, with no bracing at all, as I recall. Easy to epoxy and stuff at will.

And yes, I think they're quite stable on the head, well above average. Adding weight from modding will change that some, but still, I think they're quite good.

Caution: you might think it so good you have to buy another to do the modding to, and keep some spare drivers for your first pair. :)

maverickronin's picture

These go on the short list.

The Monkey's picture
Nice to see Sony having the confidence to reach out to someone who will give an honest review. They've had their ups and downs, but I've tended to like Sony products over the years. Perhaps the next time you speak to her, Tyll, you can drop a hint that it's time for another "statement" can.
Tyll Hertsens's picture
What they ought to do is just start building the R10 again. The Qualia not so much. The in-ears they sent me were damned good too. I'll get around to reviewing them.
SAS's picture

It's interesting to look at the "spike" around 2 kHz on the corrected response that corresponds to the same thing on the Grado headphones. More interesting to note that it is an artifact of the correction curve combined with that plateau in the measured frequency response.

But, hey, that's why measuring headphones is more of an art than a science. Right Tyll?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Yup, you're right about the bump being more due to the corrections.

I'm not sure if it's more art than science, but there's a big mix of both.

A bit of voodoo as well ... sometimes I throw a cat in the box for good measure.

Leaves a little room for error. Schrodinger would approve, I think.

SAS's picture

Just so long as you never open the box again, the cat might still be alive. Otherwise, you're taking the chance of getting PETA after you.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'll blind them with my imposing uncertainty.
yuriv's picture

7509HD also has 50mm drivers, plus your measurements of the two look very similar. The big difference seems to be the angled drivers. I wonder if they sound close.

The classic V6/7506 arguably, has better measurements. It's a useful tracking and troubleshooting tool, and non-fakes can sometimes be found for half the price. The next time at the mall I'll have to ask the folks at the Sony store if they'll let me listen to both.

svyr's picture

wow, if only these didn't have bass roll-off/distortion issues. (if it had a bass hump, I'd buy a pair :D ). I really quite like having a hump for 1-2k

I think Z1000 have the same problem. My pair had giant resonances in bass (probably because of the incredible seal) and I'm pretty sure it was not rolled off/more prominent to the point of painful. The mids felt relatively recessed compared to bass and treble, so I don't think you'd see a mids hump like you do on ZX700

svyr's picture

oh, PPS the comfort is ok, it's just the headband doesn't lie flat on the head for Z1000 for me... So the edge puts pressure on the temple = discomfort.

kwkarth's picture

Nice review Tyll!
It occurred to me that you might be over thinking this thing about driver angle..

You said:
"But where the ZX700 did best the other two was in the naturalness of the sound balance. It might be that a more accurate entrance angle to the ear and larger diaphragm making the wavefront more planar was creating a more natural interaction with the ear. Pure speculation, but it felt like there was something to it."

The thing is, that one's ear canal is not angled like that of the driver, and sound can't really develop a wave front "shape" in the extreme near field environment. It's just a matter of direct pressurization and rarefaction of the sound pressure levels, behaving more like a compressible fluid than a wave front.

If anything, the angle of incidence will determine the nature of the reflections and interference patterns from the pinnae. Anyway, just a thought... I can't wait for your review of the Z1000!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I think you just said the same thing as I did, in different words.

Me - "a more accurate entrance angle to the ear and larger diaphragm making the wavefront more planar was creating a more natural interaction with the ear."

You - "If anything, the angle of incidence will determine the nature of the reflections and interference patterns from the pinnae."

This is exactly what I meant, but I think you said it more clearly.

We still might be over-thinking it, however. :)

maverickronin's picture

I hand sewed a rather large set of angled pads for my Fostex T50RPs and in A/B tests between my modded pair and a stock pair the deeper soundstage of the modded pair is the first thing I notice.

Currawong's picture

I tried them in-store and while they were too mid-forward for my tastes, they did remind me a bit of the ER-4 (P? S? I forget which I tried that day).

khaos's picture

I noticed that the ZX700 were put into the Earpad Sealed headphones category (on the measurement page), yet the pads clearly rest on head, enclosing you ears totally.

Shouldn't they be put in the Full-size Sealed category?

PS: Also waiting for the Z1000 and LCD-2 rev2 measurements.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
My bad, you're so right. I'll fix it.
donunus's picture

It would be nice if The z1000 review could have a zx700 comparison in it too so that we will know which limitations of the zx700 were eliminated with the more expensive model.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Working on geting some, and sure, I will make some comparisons.
Milton's picture

Hi Tyll,

Do you like these headphones better than the MDR V6? I wonder because they are both in the same price range and both a closed design.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yes, these are much better balanced.
Analogue-Lunatic's picture

the DR-ZX701iP. I listened to that headphone at my local BB when I needed a pair of better headphones with the iPhone-compatible remote (for an iPhone 3GS). In the end, I went for the Skullcandy RocNation Aviator for the same price as the DR-ZX701iP. Both are good headphones, but I felt that the Aviator is slightly better at the $150 price point.

As for the MDR-V6 (MDR-7506), I always felt that it sounded a bit too harsh and tizzy although the rest of its sound isn't bad at all. And given that I never really cared much for the MDR-V600 (mainly due to the driver/earcup matching issues when I last listened to that headphone about eight years ago, the last time those headphones were made in Japan - recent-production V600s were made in Thailand), it is surprisingly that I like a headphone that's available almost everywhere (as far as higher-end stuff goes) that much.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think your comments are spot on. Thanks.

The only thing I'll add is that the Aviators don't seal very well, so the Sony might be better as a commuting headphone.

Strange Chameleon's picture

Im trying to decide if I should Buy these sonys or wait for these new Phillips headphones you were talking about. Which do you think is better for my price range of 100 to 150 dollars?

Strange Chameleon's picture

Should I buy these headphones or wait for the new phillips headphones you were talking about? Which do you think is better in the 100 to 150 dollar price range?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
H ... waiting for the Philips might be a good idea. I think they may be better than the Sonys.