Sony MDR Z7 review:

A high-end Sony headphone that's truly high-end

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The Good The Sony MDR-Z7 is a well-crafted, very comfortable audiophile-grade headphone that features well-balanced, articulate sound. For a closed-back headphone, the soundstage is wide (it sounds more like an open-back headphone). Two cables are included, one of which is designed for use with balanced audio headphone amps and players.

The Bad Expensive; no protective carrying case or pouch.

The Bottom Line While expensive, the well-built and supercomfortable Sony MDR-Z7 can go toe to toe with competing high-end audiophile headphones.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.5 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 9.0
  • Value 7.0

Sony offers a huge range of headphone models, but it hasn't made a headphone that goes toe to toe with the top audiophile models in quite some time. The MDR-Z7 is such a headphone. It looks, feels and sounds like the real deal -- and it better, considering it costs $700 (£550, AU$1000), though it can be found for less online.

At this price point, a lot of audiophiles choose to go with an open-back headphone to get that more open, airy quality that open-back headphones deliver (the Beyerdynamic T90 , HiFiMan HE-400i or various Grados, for example). The MDR-Z7 is a closed-back design but manages to sound more like an open-back, so imaging is broad and beautifully focused.

The benefit of that closed-back design is that the MDR-Z7 doesn't leak much sound and its plush "pressure-relieving urethane cushions" with 3D-sewn covers do a good job passively sealing out ambient noise. This is a really comfortable headphone and while not as light as the MDR-1A , it's relatively light (335 g or 11.8 oz. without cable) for a full-size high-end headphone that has a sturdy metal headband and hinges.

The MDR-Z7 is a sturdily built, very comfortable headphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also worth noting that the MDR-Z7 has been designed to be a quiet headphone so as not to take away from the listening experience: "Precise component machining, with the added placement of silicon rings around every moving axis, realizes smooth and silent earcup movement," Sony says.

You get two detachable oxygen-free copper cables: a 3-meter (9.8-foot) conventional stereo cable and a shorter 2m (6.5-foot) double-headed balanced audio cable that splits the channels and is designed to work with balanced audio headphone amplifiers like Sony's $1,000 PHA-3. You can use the headphones with a mobile device, but that 3m cable is a little long for on-the-go-use.

If you want to try to eke out even better sound out of the headphones, Sony also sells braided cable upgrades (courtesy of Kimber Kable) that are designed for home, on the go and balanced amplifier use.

A gold-plated 1/8-inch (minijack) to 1/4-inch (phono) plug adapter is included, but no headphone case or protective carrying pouch ships with the headphones.

The headphones feature 70mm drivers and plushly padded earcups. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

We tend to jury test a lot of the headphones we review, and I had editor Ty Pendlebury and CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg try these headphones (Steve reviewed them for another publication, so he was already familiar with them). We all agreed they're bona fide audiophile headphones.

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