Feature Design Z/ZX/EX Monitor Series
Feature Design Z/ZX/EX Monitor Series

Bringing advantages of a professional heritage to a wider audience

Kitayama: In the automotive world, some technology refined through F1 racing trickles down to consumer vehicles, in the sports cars people enjoy off the race track. Similarly, the result of design work to introduce the appeal of monitor headphones to a wider audience outside the recording studio is the MDR-ZX300 and ZX100.

Conceptually, these models build on Jun's design themes while satisfying those who wouldn't hesitate to listen outdoors, and those who want see what monitor headphones are all about. You'll find the same strong-looking arms, supporting a monoform housing for a superb seal, but I sought a different impression from that of MDR-Z1000 headphones.

For one thing, the ear pad shape is different. I decided to use supra-aural pads, which improves portability (because they're more compact) and makes the headphones easier to handle in routine use. Although the pads are round instead of oval, the housing is composed of continuous surfaces, following the same monoform design of the MDR-Z1000.

The headphones' minimalist structure ensures that users will appreciate them over a longer product lifespan. I avoided elements that might one day seem outdated. Everything here in design serves a functional purpose.

A good example of this is the finger rests on the headband of the MDR-ZX300 and ZX100. Watch people putting on headphones, and you'll see that they tend to extend the sliders fully, put the headphones on, and then adjust the arm length. This adjustment requires some kind of finger rest, and on these models, they're subtle ridges that blend in well with the overall appearance. Here, I wanted to put the needed functionality exactly where your fingers naturally go, so that you can adjust the headphones easily without even thinking about it. Similarly, the red stripe is not merely an accent color-it's a visual cue so that you know intuitively which side is left and right when putting the headphones on.

Innovation in in-ear monitors

Katsumata: Technological advances have made it possible to replicate the performance of monitor speakers in in-ear monitors. Watch a recent live music video, and you probably won't see any monitor speakers on the stage. They used to be common, but today, musicians wear receivers in their ears. Those are in-ear monitors.

The four EX series models inherit the design concepts of the MDR-Z1000 but were developed as in-ear monitors built to withstand the handling of consumer products. They were designed along the same lines as MDR-Z1000 headphones. First, the housing, which produces sound, embodies monoform design. But as in-ear monitors, instead of ear pads they have ducts and earpieces that channel sound to the ear. For excellent isolation, we developed new noise-isolating earpieces. We chose a smooth housing, both for acoustical reasons and as a shape that ears adapt to more easily. In fact, we took a cue from brass horns for this shape.

Our main task was ensuring a good fit. The MDR-EX1000 and EX600 incorporate large, 16 mm drivers, which might cause fatigue unless we were careful. Although our acoustic engineers had determined the optimal angle and distance for insertion in the ear, with these specifications, it was hard to ensure a good fit. This led to a behind-the-ear format, which has the added benefit of reducing "touch noise" when the cable is touched. Other design details such as a replaceable cord (in case of breakage after long-term rough use) will make these in-ear monitors a favorite for many years.

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