Sony MDR-Z1000

BEING THE ONLY CLOSED-BACK headphone pair in this bunch gave the Sony MDR-Z1000 a potential advantage and disadvantage. The advantage, we assumed, would be that the MDR-Z1000 would have more robust bass than the open-back models. The disadvantage, we assumed, would be that it wouldn’t sound as, well, open — i.e., spacious — as the open-back models.

One thing’s for sure, though: The Sony MDR-Z1000 is the only one of these headphones that you might want to take on an airplane, because it blocks ambient noise and doesn’t leak sound the way open-back models do. To that end, Sony supplies both short and long cables, as well as a simple carrying case.

The look of the MDR-Z1000 struck us all as unrefined for a $500 headphone; Geoff charitably termed the styling “rugged” and likened the look to that of industrial hearing protectors. While the padding is supple and the pressure from the headband is just right, the earcups are too small for the large ears of American males; we found ourselves essentially “folding” our earlobes into them.

Will and I both found things to like in the MDR-Z1000’s sound, describing it as vivid and exciting. “If you’re into loud music, these are the ones,” Will said, enthusing about the Sony’s ability to reproduce the dynamics of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra on the Linda Ronstadt CD compilation ’Round Midnight and raving about the strong center image and neutral tonal balance. However, Joe, Howard, and Geoff all felt the tonal balance was too trebly, their adjectives ranging from “sibilant” to “blaring.”

The MDR-Z1000’s frequency response is very flat for a headphone. The 75-ohm output impedance measurement shows a large bass boost of 3.5 dB centered at 100 Hz. This is surprising because impedance is almost dead fl at, averaging 28 ohms and maxing at 31 ohms at 70 Hz. As expected, isolation is better here because of the closed-back design; ambient noise is cut by 10 to 30 dB above 600 Hz. Distortion is a little on the high side at 80 dB below 100 Hz and 100 dB below 300 Hz, but deep bass distortion is moderate at 11.3% at 20 Hz. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179-volt RMS signal is very high at 108.6 dB; combination of low impedance and high sensitivity makes this a good choice for use with portable players.

If you’re looking for a high-quality headphone that you can use at home and on the go, the MDR-Z1000 may be your cup of tea — but give it a good listen fi rst to see if its tonal balance appeals to you.