Audio excellence: Sony’s MDR-Z7 headphones reviewed

Sony has been doing audio longer than most of the big brands, and as such, it has a pretty solid reputation for things that sound great. Generally, though, if you need things that sound great, you need to be prepared to spend up big, so can Sony’s $799 headphones scare up the bigger and more expensive models from competing companies?

Features

A pair of larger headphones, the Sony MDR-Z7 aren’t likely to be carried about like any old pair of headphones.

This pair of cans is big, with large 70mm drivers, an aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm, and a sensitivity rated to 102dB.

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One of the larger pairs designed for enjoyment at home, the MDR-Z7 headphones rely on a left and rate separated cable with independent 3.5mm headset jack connections for each ear coming together in a thick stretch of cable with gold-plated connections.

Circumaural is the name of the game here, with large leatherette pads on each ear, the same leatherette finish applied to the headband, with enough room to move for lengthening the headband for large head pushed to ten points of size increases on either side.

The Sony MDR-Z7 headphones are technically classed as closed headphones, and are one of the last products Sony still makes in Japan, built to handle high resolution audio and delivering a frequency response of 4 to 100,000Hz.

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Performance

Big headphones have a very different audience than most of the headphones we see. They’re made for people who love to listen to music, and who generally love it so much that a pair of headphones that recreates sound the way it was recorded or initially mixed seems like a good idea.

And it is, especially if you’re often fighting for use of loudspeakers at home, because not everyone wants to listen to music at the same volumes as you, nor do they necessarily want to listen to the same music selections as you.

That’s where the big headphone comes in, and often the big price tag associated with them. These headphones often ask for loud volumes pushed out by headphone amplifiers, or HiFi amps, and so when you look at the often $1000 (and higher) costs of the headphone, you have to factor in an amplifier, too.

But what if you don’t? What if you can grab a pair of big headphones that offer just enough line volume to work with mobiles, tablets, and plenty of room to move on a computer?

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For that, you turn to something Sony has spent time working on, a pair of headphones named the MDR-Z7, large closed headphones with heavy cable and screw in 3.5mm jacks that aren’t proprietary but are a little more solid and stable that conventional and basic cables.

Pick the cans up and you’ll find they’re noticeable in size, weighing over 300 grams (335g to be exact) without the cable, and nowhere near as light as your basic pair of cans.

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Despite this noticeable weight, there’s comfort, with the MDRZ7 having it in spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. We’re not talking one suit of cards here, as these are a comfy pair of cans.

They are a little on the heavy side, that much is true, but those of you with an appreciation for larger cans won’t even notice it, the large circumaural pads for each ear comfortable as your head gets used to the size.

It didn’t take us long, but if you’re especially susceptible to the pressure of large headphones, make sure to try these on before plonking down the money, otherwise you might be in for a surprise.

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Once you’re good with that, you can plug in the cables, which are thick and sturdy, and rely on a 3.5mm jack with a screw inside of it. They’re not proprietary, which is a positive, and can be replaced by any 3.5mm jack if the cable — thick as it is — ever degrades and fails.

Compared to some of the other cables we’ve seen with headphones, this is definitely a positive, as a split left and right 3.5mm cable won’t be very hard to find, even if the screw connections — which aren’t required, and merely strengthen the connection — won’t exist on replacements found at regular electronics or audio stores.

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The GadgetGuy 2015 Sound Test will get a good flexing with this pair, our first headphones to be run through this year’s 50 track bench, and as usual, it starts with electronic.

Testing with Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” and Daft Punk’s “Solar Sailer” in the softer electronic sounds, there’s a good balance between the lighter tones in the mids and highs and the underlying bass sounds, with the beats — subtle as they are — providing a soft punch in each track.

Heavier electronic with even more punchy bass shows just how vibrant a bass shaker this pair of headphones is, with Mooro’s “M66R6” and The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub” pushing beats hard in the low end, while the mids and highs are loud and strong, working with the sound rather than against it.

We’re seeing the same punch in other tracks, such as “I’m So Sorry” from Imagine Dragons and “Bad Blood” by Bastille, each with a good thwack at the low end that pulls you into their dynamic sound like a vacuum to the ears, with a soundscape that is direct and unobtrusive, as if the engineer was mastering the track to your ears specifically.

With that sort of response, we’re intrigued to see what rock and metal can do, and start with a shift from electronic to rock with Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” and “Digital Bath” by the Deftones, each pushing the mids and highs hard with obvious separation between the vocals and instruments, keeping everything clear, even as the vocals start to scream.

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