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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Regular rock shows the same sort of distinction, and with Clapton’s “Layla”, The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and The Beatles classic “A Day In The Life”, we’re hearing what appears to be closer to the speaker experience from a strong pair that you wouldn’t want to give up.
There’s warmth in the recreation, a solid thumping from the bass made by real instruments, and a slight amount of fuzz from a recording before the remastering skills found with new technology in the past couple of decades.
Clearer remastered tracks do sound clear, that said, such as in the new version of “Landed” by Ben Folds, and the excellent mixing of “The Space Between” from Dave Matthews Band. The distinction between the instruments is very noticeable here, even as the mids take priority, the bass and highs still just as noticeable as ever.
Really, these headphones are about as balanced as balanced could be, and after two hours of listening, comfy too. We don’t really need to take them off, except, you know, for leaving our desk.
Next up is hip-hop, and Gorillaz starts this off with “Feel Good Inc” and a solid punch in the bass while a rounded electric bass takes up the slack in this section, the vocals strutting their stuff with clear separation. We hear more of that distinction in Galactic’s “Find My Home” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize”, each pushing out heavy sets of bass and vocals that seem to take a slight back seat to these lows, but only marginally slow.
R&B also gets a work out, the punch of the bass drum and snare in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” clear while percussion makes itself present over the top, the sound of MJ clicking, and his vocals, all working together to produce a sound where the bass doesn’t totally overpower, especially in the chorus.
Soul produces the same sort distinction, something we can attest to hearing in Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, helped when we pumped the volume up on these tracks.
That’s something we do need to note, and that’s because while most large headphones require a headphone amp to really get the most out of their sound, or to even get an adequate amount of sound, the Sony MDR-Z7 headphones can work with the volume pushed out by headphones or tablets to get enough.
For our headphone test running through Google Play Music, we found that at two notches below the lowest setting, our volume was high enough on the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact to be loud and detailed. Two higher and at 100 percent, and those with slight hearing issues should still be satisfied.
In fact, plugged into an iMac, the output was high enough even at around 20 percent of the volume, telling us that these headphones aren’t likely to struggle when used with a computer, though an amplifier is likely to be preferred regardless.
Our headphone test doesn’t stop with soul, though, transitioning to pop and modern music.
Here, the Sony MDR-Z7 headphones perform just as well, keeping Maroon 5’s “Sugar” balanced, alongside Katy Perry’s “Roar”, the former close and tight with snappy percussion, bass, guitar, and vocals, while the latter was separated well and supported strong spatial differences between the ominous synth in the back, the mids and highs of the vocals and light percussion in the middle.
Jazz and blues heads up the next section, with Jonny Lang’s “Bump In The Road” loud and vibrant through the vocals and guitars, the bass pushing forward, with the same excellent recreation occurring on “Fever” from The Black Keys and “I Will Wait” performed by Mumford & Sons.
Jazz was mentioned, too, and Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” is soft in the highs, spread across the noticeable but never forced too hard bass, the percussion delicate as the high hat is tapped gently, with much the same softness found in Nat King Cole’s “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, outside of the bass which was solid and round.
Our go-to testing track, Coltrane’s “Blue Train” was as good as we’ve ever heard, balanced, warm, and with a solid amount of bass to the drums and upright, the soundspace practically found in the centre of the instruments without too much distance to speak of.
Finally, there’s classical Yo-Yo Ma’s solo rendition of Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1 in G” was rich in detail, the croaking of the strings evident, though it did need a little more volume here on our phone and tablet.
Indeed, after our tests, it’s clear that these are an excellent pair of large headphones, and a return to that quality we always hope for when we remember Sony’s love for audio.
Are they as good as a pair of $1300 headphones, specifically the excellent Audeze LCD-2 cans we checked out earlier in the year? They’re definitely up there, though we think Audeze’s cans edge them out ever so slightly.
That said, with a cost of $500 less, they’re definitely a decent value, especially if you want a pair of great cans but can’t justify the over thousand dollar price of others.
Some might find Sony’s Z7 headphones a tad heavy, we found the cans to be comfy, cozy, and delightful in their recreation of the tracks we were keen to listen to.
At a hair under $800, they’re certainly not going to be for everyone either, but if we had the spare money, this would be a pair we’d happily invest in, with a sound that is excellent and easy to fall in love with.