Audiophiles and professionals seeking accurate headphones can often run into trouble in our era of boosted bass. Sony’s MDR-Z7 headphones, however, are tuned to bring out detail, not exaggerate the lows. This isn’t to say they don’t provide ideal bass depth—if there’s deep bass in the mix, you’ll hear it, along with every other element. And in the highs, the headphones provide ideal clarity, making them a valuable pro-level tool for reference and mixing. At $699.99, the Z7 headphones aren’t cheap, but they deliver a magnificent listening experience worthy of our Editors’ Choice.
The MDR-Z7 headphones feature massive circumaural (over-ear) earcups that completely enclose the ear and even manage to give it some space. The luxuriously cushioned leather earpads barely make contact with the ear, resting against the jawline, temples, and scalp. The fit is exceedingly comfortable, and despite the bulky frame, relatively lightweight. The underside of the headband is also thoroughly padded and exerts very little pressure on the top of the skull.
The 2.76-inch neodymium dome drivers are recessed in the enclosures. There are small grilles on the lower outer panels of each earcup that some sound escapes through. The design is “enfolded,” sending acoustic reflections back to your ears and creating an excellent sense of depth and space, similar to what many open-style headphones are able to achieve.
With a stated frequency range of 4Hz to 100kHz, it’s safe to assume that there isn’t much in the frequency range that the headphones mix, even if those numbers seem almost showy in how low and high they are. (A typical frequency range for headphones is more like 20Hz to 20kHz, and even most pro-level models don’t tend to add too much in either direction.)
To ensure an accurate ear-to-ear fit, and thus an accurate stereo image, Sony has marked the interior of the headband with precise measurements—like the lines of a ruler—that are numbered so that each earcup can be adjusted identically. Furthermore, these marks are detented, so that the earcups snap to the next measurement marking with a click when moved. The audiophile in me wishes this were a mandatory headphone design practice.
Sony includes a detachable Y-style 6.6-foot cable that screws into each earcup’s jack for a secure connection. The cable terminates in gold-plated 3.5mm and ships with a 0.25-inch headphone jack adapter. The cabling includes a dedicated ground wire for both left and right channels, rather than a shared wire for both, which helps keep cross-talk to a minimum.
Rather than include a second cable with an inline remote, Sony opted to include an exceptionally long 9.9-foot extension cable. This extension is ideal for studio use—it’s uncoiled, but can easily reach across a reasonably large room. Of course, the semi-open style of the earcups means that using these for tracking isn’t a real possibility (they would be ideal mix room tracking or mixing headphones, however). Still, for this price, including a cable with a remote for use with a phone or tablet would have been appreciated. There’s also no carrying pouch or case, which feels like an oversight for this price range and application.
We conducted the majority of our testing using an Apogee Symphony I/O connected to a Mac Pro for our sound source. Additional testing was performed using an iPhone 6s—a less likely sound source given the MDR-Z7’s relatively high impedance, but we were still able to get plenty of volume out of the drivers in this setup.
First let’s discuss the bass response, which is stunning. Nothing is invented here, so if the track you’re listening to was mixed with moderate bass, the headphones won’t be boosting the lows like roughly 75 percent of the models we test do. However, if the track in question does indeed pack some powerful, deep bass, Sony delivers the ideal melding of clarity and full depth. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the drivers deliver an accurate thump that will sound dialed-back to anyone used to the full-throttle bass experience typical of today—but there’s plenty of depth here. You’d never accuse these headphones of sounding remotely thin, and the entire frequency range is well-represented—it’s a crisp, detailed, full sound.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of what the headphones do with more subtle low frequency content. The drums on this track can sound thunderous on bass-forward headphones, but here they sound full and round, and certainly not overly bass-boosted. Furthermore, you get a sense of the space the drums were recorded in—it sounds like you’re in the same room with them. Callahan’s baritone vocals have a lovely low-mid richness through the MDR-Z7, matched with some treble edge that provides excellent clarity. Where the acoustic guitar attack can sometimes sound a bit too intense on highly sculpted headphones that tweak the high-mids and highs to match boosted bass, here the attack sounds light, crisp, and even airy at times. This is an accurate, beautiful sound signature.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives the high-mid presence needed to give its attack a sharp, punchy presence, but it’s also matched with some low and low-mid thump. It’s a full sound that we rarely get for this track—often the attack dominates, or the lows are piled on and the attack sounds dulled. Here, there’s a balance, and the result is a vibrant, bouncing presence. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with ideal depth. The vocals are also presented with perfect clarity—when the backing track drops away and you hear only Kanye’s voice, it feels as if his mic is right next to your ear, with every detail delivered and no sibilance added.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound magnificent through the MDR-Z7. Lower register instrumentation gets the body and vibrance needed to anchor the beautiful recording. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals are crisp, bright, and crystal clear. Again, you get the feeling of being in the room with the musicians—the drivers, recessed slightly, give a wonderful sense of space.
Sony’s MDR-Z7 headphones sound gorgeous—they’re perfectly suited for those seeking to hear every last detail. All genres sound fantastic through their drivers, and the fit is comfortable, even during long listening periods. To check mixes in a professional capacity, the headphones are an excellent, accurate option. For music lovers at home, or even listening on phones and tablets, they’re also winners. The level of quality is absolutely in line with what you can expect for the price, earning the Z7 our Editors’ Choice.
But keep in mind you have options in the $500-and-up club. We’re also big fans of the Acoustic Research AR-H1, the Blue Ella, the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, and the Audeze EL-8. All of these headphones bring their own unique sound signature to the table, all of which emphasize clarity and accuracy first, then add a little extra to the performance from there.