Feature Design Z/ZX/EX Monitor Series
[ 2011.2.22 up ]

Straightforward audio excellence

Mentioning Sony headphones may call to mind the V series or professional mainstay MDR-7506 headphones, which deliver detailed monitor sound thanks to relentless pursuit of accurate playback. Now these legendary monitors have reached the next stage in the evolution of Sony audio. Hear how the superb quality recognized by audio professionals is beginning to resonate from monoform product design.

Jun Komiyama
Jun Komiyama
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Producer
Sohei Kitayama
Sohei Kitayama
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Jun Katsumata
Jun Katsumata
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Designer
So Morimoto
So Morimoto
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Designer

The drive for ultimate performance

Komiyama: Everyone has their own preferences in audio quality and their own listening habits. There are as many "perfect" headphones as there are listeners. That's why Sony has developed headphones under many product concepts. In each case, what makes it possible is headphone-fit expertise and solid sound production technology.

Monitor headphones represent the most essential elements from this development, carefully refined and distilled. Professional studio equipment used by sound engineers must offer faithful reproduction and excellent resolution, so that each individual voice or instrument can be distinguished. A favorite in this field that has enjoyed a long reign of about ten years as a reference model is the Sony MDR-7506, and this tradition is continued in the new MDR-Z1000. Building on a solid studio record and a reputation for reliability, the MDR-Z1000 must meet exacting demands in current and future sound production environments.

It would be a project to test a product designer's mettle. No matter how well the drivers perform, a bad fit would prevent the headphones from reaching their full potential. In headphones, performance depends greatly on product design, and in monitors, even before design development, we need the determination to rein in development ideals as we consider what would satisfy professional needs. This makes headphone design difficult but interesting.

I proposed that we borrow an automotive analogy: the MDR-Z1000 must be the F1 race car of headphones. All the thinking and effort that goes into F1 race cars is for the sake of speed. Driving these cars also requires keen skills. Their utilitarian cockpit is very tight, with hardly a trace of comfort or convenience. By no means are they designed for all drivers, but what's critical here is that such an uncompromising approach yields extreme speed. Similarly, we believe that monitor headphones demand single-minded pursuit of source fidelity to satisfy the keen ears of audio professionals. Our task was to translate this belief into effective product design.

Monoform design, fitting for straight-ahead sound production

Komiyama: I contributed to the design of the MDR-Z1000. Closed-back headphone of this kind must offer good sound isolation, keeping music perfectly isolated from the outside world. Toward this end, the first thing I focused on was the ear pads. One problem that can compromise the seal is when your hair comes between your ear and the ear pad. The effects of this are minimal, but on the MDR-Z1000-the top F1 racer of headphones-it would be unforgivable. To avoid this problem, it's useful to target the narrow area where no hair grows. That's why the ear pads are more vertically elongated and slightly more tight-fitting laterally than those of other current Sony headphones.

At the same time, we introduced a new pad structure. Even if we make the pads vertically elongated to help keep hair out, they won't form a good seal unless they follow the contours of your head. There was no way to do it but to use pads that are circumaural and flush against the head, rather than supra-aural. We kept the ear pad opening small while ensuring ample space inside, to avoid pressure against the ear. That's why MDR-Z1000 pads are slanted, tapering from the outside in-carefully designed to rest on the narrow area where no hair grows. This required special pad construction and stitching. We also sought a perfect fit by shaping the base surface of the pads so that they curve to match head contours.

Now that we had ensured a good seal, how could we reflect this in the overall styling? I thought monoform design would be a fitting way to convey a sense of solidity. Headphones to date have been full of surfaces, protrusions, and indentations from the sheer number of parts. This lack of continuity gives an unsettling impression, as if sound will leak from the seams.

In contrast, the arms of the MDR-Z1000 are plain almost to an extreme, but this enhances structural strength and rigidity. These headphones are used by professionals, which calls for elements that represent durability and reliability. We have also concealed the "structural necessities"-the joints or shafts that are often visible in moving parts used to adjust the length or angle of headphones. But in appearance, the way the sinuous shafts hold the pads and the sliders merge with the band seems somewhat abrupt, as if we had simply fused these rather substantial parts together. From many angles, we took monoform design to the limit for a perfect seal, to keep music in and outside noise out.

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