Sony Z1R Review

I grew up a huge Sony fan. My first music device was a Sony Discman. My first laptop was a VAIO of some sort. There’s an old Sony CRT TV in my childhood home. Even the first headphones I remember buying were a pair of Sony earbuds. But Sony isn’t exactly well renowned for their headphones. Of course, Sony has the fabled R10 and the incredibly weird and expensive Qualia 010, but beyond that, they’re a little more mixed. I’ve owned a number of “famous” Sony headphones: the CD3000, SA5000, Z7, EX1000, and the PFR-V1. None of them sounded very similar to each other, but they all had one thing in common: they were good products but had one or two glaring flaws that made them difficult to recommend. The EX1000 and SA5000 were very, very bright; the CD3000’s low treble was also quite boosted; the Z7, well, has more than a few problems but notably it had bloated bass, harsh treble, and a huge dip at 1.5kHz that really messes with vocals; and the PFR-V1 didn’t really have much bass (as expected from a headphone that literally doesn’t seal) and had rather odd tone. The Sony Z1R was Sony’s chance to redeem themselves and create a headphone to break the pattern, at the cost of $2,300.

The Sony Z1R comes in a huge box. It has a hefty latch and its inside is lined in a satin material. It might be the nicest headphone box I’ve ever handled, but I can’t help but feel that it’s unnecessary.

The headphones themselves are beautiful; the frame is made of metal, the cups are made of a chromium-coated stainless steel metal mesh, the metal adjusters have solid clicks, and the jacks used in the headphone have an incredibly satisfying click. The headband itself is made of pleather though, which may be a concern down the line should it disintegrate.

I’ve written meet impressions on the Z1R before:

“I didn’t really have any expectations for the Z1R; I’ve managed to avoid reading impressions from others because I was legitimately considering buying one at one point. I’ve owned a Z7 in the past and was hoping it didn’t just sound like a more refined version of it. Thankfully, it seems to be a completely different headphone. The Z7 had a huge dip at 1.5k and a nasty mid-treble peak. The Z1R, however, has a bit of a downward slope past 1k and a tiny bump somewhere around 9-10k. It’s a relaxing sound that I actually could see myself loving in the long run. But they do lack air in the uppermost regions. Its bass is strange; it doesn’t hit like a traditional dynamic like a [Fostex] TH-X00, but it wasn’t enveloping like the [Focal] Elear. The closest analogy I can come up with is that the Z1R’s bass sounded like listening to speakers in a room but the bass is coming from through the wall instead of from the speakers; it’s not quite diffuse but it’s not quite visceral. Jason from the Source AV brought the Z1R with the WM1Z and HAP-Z1ES and while the setup was gorgeous, it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea together. I feel like they actually held the Z1R back; it accentuated the treble peak and was overall too warm and unrefined, which I only noticed after trying it out of different setups.”

Strangely, I didn’t hear a ~3kHz peak that others heard at the meet. Going back, I’m really not sure how I missed it; it’s kind of a dip-spike, made obvious through by certain vocals and instruments occasionally sounding hollow but other times too accentuated. It’s not very pleasant and can often distract me enough to be tempted to switch headphones if I’m really in the mood to listen to that particular album. That said, I didn’t find it incredibly noticeable with most music, so it seems to be a conditional problem. The 10kHz peak is definitely more noticeable in a quieter environment but oddly enough, unlike the Elear, which I actually believe has a smaller peak, the Z1R isn’t remotely as fatiguing. I found myself listening to the Z1R passively for hours at a time, which leads me to believe the bulk of my fatigue with the Elear was due to its ringing. I was initially told that the Z1R isn’t a “first impression” headphone and that I may grow to love it but after a few weeks of listening, I still don’t really find too much to praise, especially considering what it costs.

Bass

My opinion of the Z1R’s bass after a longer audition isn’t very different from my initial impressions; it’s undeniably boosted, and it’s a strange type of presentation. It almost doesn’t sound integrated with the rest of the music because of the odd presentation. It gives the feel of being in a room with a subwoofer, or something to that effect, but without the actual visceral sensation. Strangely, bass never sounds particularly tight but it doesn’t have the unclean or overpowering quality in many loose-sounding bassy headphones. The Z1R does extend to 20Hz very easily and midbass doesn’t sound elevated relative to the subbass, but the Z1R is a bass-boosted headphone.

Midrange

The midrange is probably what I have the most reservations with in the Z1R. As mentioned before, there’s a peak around 3kHz that isn’t always audible, but when it is, it really shows. One example that I found particularly offensive is Feist’s The Reminder album, as for some reason, her voices almost sound like they’re coming through a telephone with the Z1R. The accentuation is obviously an attempt at adding “character” to the headphone’s sound but it just doesn’t sound “right” to me.

Treble

The Z1R is best described as “dark-bright” in that the headphone is generally dark-leaning in that it’s very much a downward tilt in FR with bass being much stronger than treble, but the Z1R has one specific peak around 9-10k which can get rather fatiguing. I also found the Z1R severely lacking in air, to the point where they sounded stuffy and closed-in. It’s not incredibly surprising, as the Z1R is a closed headphone and that’s par for the course with closed headphones, but it’s still disappointing.

Frequency Response Measurement

The Z1R’s FR measurement seems consistent to what I hear, with elevated bass above 200Hz, a strange peak just past 3kHz, and a 10k spike. Normally, I don’t trust measurements in my rig past 10k because they’re always unreliable, and the Z1R is no exception, but they really do lack upper treble. Not to that degree, of course, but it’s noticeable.

Conclusion

With the Z1R, Sony continues a long tradition: making interesting headphones unfortunately plagued with one or two glaring flaws. The Z1R isn’t a bad headphone by any means; if the ZMF Atticus and Eikon didn’t exist, these may easily be the best closed headphones in production. But that, unfortunately is not the case. While the Z1R’s 3k peak isn’t always noticeable and in some cases, may be pleasurable for some people, it could have been done much more tastefully. If Sony had priced the Z1R at roughly half the price, I may be more forgiving of it, especially because it’s a beautiful design. It’s a fine headphone; the bass presentation is weird, the midrange is tonally off, and the treble is a little too restrained, but the overall package generally works well. It’s the kind of headphone I can put on and not really care about analyzing music and end up simply relaxing and enjoying music for what it is. Whether that is worth $2,300 or not is up to the reader.

  • Bagged Milk

    #ReturnTaksSS100

  • dave

    Great review. Too bad about the 3khz peak. Think some modding can remove or subdue it to less offense levels?

    I’d hate to open that headphone and scuff it up, though. Such a gorgeous design, no doubt.

  • Hrmm… I don’t think the headband is made of Pleather… I think on one of the interviews it’s made from a Cowhide leather so it’s more durable than the sheepskin on the earpads

  • pyktures

    I definitely enjoyed the Z7 more since it sound about the same as Z1r without peak 🙂