Sony MDR-ZX700 Review

10


Brief: Circumaural headphone introduced to the US market at CES 2011

MSRP: $119.99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $80 from amazon.com

Build Quality (8.5/10): To match the low weight of the magnesium alloy used in the structure of the flagship MDR-Z1000, the ZX700 is made almost completely out of plastic. The rough and thick materials do remind me of the HD25-1 but, being nearly twice as heavy, the ZX700 is likely more susceptible to damage from being dropped. Still, the plain-looking headphones do feel like a quality product despite using very few metal parts and the lack of a folding or collapsing mechanism instill further confidence in their longevity. The 1.2m single-sided cable is well-relieved and quite thick, reminding me of the cord on my Ultrasone HFI-15G. A 1.8m extension is included for home use, which is actually my preferred configuration over coiled cords or the monstrous 9-foot straight cables found on many higher-end cans.

Comfort (8.5/10): Despite its size, the ZX700 is a fairly light headphone and remains comfortable for hours. The moderate clamping force is distributed very evenly by the plush pads and the cups are just deep enough for my ears not to touch the grilles. Headband padding, too, is ample – really, the only downside of the ZX700 is that, like all closed, pleather-padded full-size headphones, it can get quite warm after a while. The slightly lighter and smaller MDR-V6 doesn’t get quite as hot, for example.

Isolation (8.5/10): Though the ZX700 has what looks like a pair of vents on the earcups, they don’t seem to leak any sound and overall isolation is very good – a bit better than with the smaller MDR-V6.

Sound (8/10): Though the ZX700 is only one model down from the flagship MDR-Z1000, the huge price difference between the two headphones puts the ZX700 firmly into the mid-range portable headphone segment. Sonically, the ZX700 is far closer to the legendary MDR-V6 studio headphones than the consumer-oriented XB-series models I’ve been using lately. The bass, for one, is tight and controlled despite lacking in neither weight nor body. Though the MDR-V6 has slightly better depth, the ZX700 doesn’t trail far behind and wins out in detail and punch. Impact lags behind the ATH-M50 but the ZX700 is by no means bass-light. The general balance of the ZX700 actually reminds me of the Bowers & Wilkins P5 but the Sonys are easily more detailed, textured, and resolving than the ultra-portable B&Ws. Their larger transducers also move more air for ‘visceral’ impact, though the P5 really doesn’t fare too poorly in this regard. The bass-midrange balance of the ZX700 is a bit better than that of the V6, making the transition appear smoother and the general signature – more balanced. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a better term for the overall sound of the ZX700 than ‘well-blended’ as the sound signature really does sit better with me than the sum of its parts.

The midrange is free of bass bleed and slightly warm. There is a bit of emphasis on the lower mids but not enough to throw off the excellent overall balance of the headphone. Clarity and detail are quite good as well but fall slightly behind Sennheiser’s brighter and leaner-sounding HD25-1. The ZX700 may not be as crystal-clear as Sennheiser’s flagship portable but it is warmer, smoother, and thicker-sounding. The note thickness actually makes the ZX700 sound a tiny bit fuller than the classic MDR-V6 as well. Timbre and tone are equally solid, highlighting the slightly metallic character of the brighter HD25. The treble transition is smooth and quite uneventful. In fact, the treble is most mundane part of the ZX700’s sound, acting more as a compliment to the bass and midrange than an equal part of the spectrum. That said, treble presence and extension are decent. The detail and texture will beat out the more treble-happy MDR-V6 on busy tracks and, while there’s not much sparkle to be found, when a track calls for high amounts of treble energy, the ZX700 will (begrudgingly) deliver.

The presentation of the ZX700 again impresses with its all-around competency but doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. The headphones lean slightly towards intimacy but the soundstage is quite well-rounded. In terms of size it is similar to that of the MDR-V6, beating out the HD25 and B&W P5 in width and three-dimensional space. Instruments are well-separated and positioning is quite decent. Tonally, the ZX700 is closer to neutral than the dark-sounding B&W P5 but not quite as bright as the V6, resulting in a lack of ‘airiness’ in the upper registers, which usually results from a headphone’s treble lift. There are advantages to the smoother, calmer treble of the ZX700 as it is less prone to harshness and sibilance and reveals fewer flaws in the recording than the V6 and HD25, both of which were designed for use in monitoring applications. At the same time, the punchy bass of the ZX700 keeps the sound signature lively on the whole and the timbre of the ZX700 is a bit more natural compared to the V6 and HD25. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the ZX700 is quite efficient – more so than both the HD25 and V6 – and easily reaches ear-splitting volume levels with my old Sansa Clip, benefitting relatively little from a dedicated amp being added to the chain.

Value (8.5/10): As far as I am concerned Sony could easily have stuck a 9’ cord on the ZX700 and called it full-size can. They didn’t, however, creating a questionably portable but undoubtedly competent mid-range circumaural. Solid unamped performance, good passive isolation, and a plain black-and-silver design all further the ZX700’s claims to being one for the iPod crowd. More importantly, the Sonys sound good – about how I imagine the $300 B&W P5s could sound at their absolute best, if B&W ever were to re-tune the headphone. Punchy and warm but with excellent resolution and a strong midrange presence, the Sonys make for good all-rounders and, while they may not quite beat the ATH-M50 and HD25 on a technical level, the sound signature simply works when taken as a whole. For those willing to put portability last, the ZX700 may well be worth looking into, especially when it hits US shores officially. Furthermore, if the Z1000 is as good a value at $540 as its sibling is at $120, I may just have to start saving up for this thread’s new benchmark.

Manufacturer Specs:
Frequency Response: 5 – 40,000 Hz
Impedance: 24 Ω
Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 3.9ft (1.2m) + 5.9ft (1.8m) extension, single-sided; Straight Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: N/A


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

10 Comments

  1. Chris on

    Hey ljokerl. Hopefully you can help me out again, you have greatly in the past. I’m gonna audition 4 or 5 headphones through Amazon. One of them I can’t get from Japan so that leaves an opening for one more. I really have no idea about terminology, or even what my current headphones would offer in terms of whether they were dark, fast or slow bass, recessed mids or not, and so on. One thing is certain, I cannot take harsh highs……..they just hurt my brain like heck. As far as mids go, again, not exactly sure what these entail, but I can only assume that when you hear something like drums or vocals, they either sound a million miles away or way way upfront. If this is what the mids entail, I definitely don’t like either of those. Just like harsh highs, vocals that are way out in front in the mix just seem to give me a headache too. And drums way back in the mix just doesn’t sound right to me. The last two I’m deciding on would be these Sony ZX700’s and the NVX XPT100’s (If you’ve heard any of the incarnations of these that’s fine – Fisher Audio, Brainwavz). Thanks a whole lot.

    • ljokerl on

      The ZX700s should be okay if you’re worried about the treble being too strong and the mids or bass being overly forward or laid-back – they’re very inoffensive headphones that don’t really commit any of these crimes. Those NVX cans, assuming they sound the same as a Fischer Audio FA-003, will be more balanced and accurate but I never thought they had especially smooth treble. It’s a better headphone, but a riskier buy in your case.

      • Chris on

        “It’s a better headphone, but a riskier buy in your case.”

        Thanks, I thought that was a perfect reply. I’ve read that the NVX were better balanced, but some people thought the treble to be somewhat harsh. Thanks alot.

        • ljokerl on

          Awesome, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with these particular cans so I’m happy to back up what others have been saying!

  2. Mike on

    Do you recommend these over the Creative Aurvana Live 1?

    • ljokerl on

      I like the Aurvana better.

      • Mike on

        Do you think the Aurvana is the best sounding headphone under 100 dollars?

        • ljokerl on

          For the type on sound it has (warm and smooth), I haven’t tried anything better. Even if it isn’t the best (there’s a lot of headphones out there), it should be pretty darn close.

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