Signature Series: DMP-Z1 and IER-Z1R
A ceaseless quest for peerless audio quality
Sony's Signature Series has united everything in the company's sound-technology arsenal,
pushing sound to an entirely new realm - taking the headphone experience from "listening" to "feeling" it.
Two newcomers have now joined the existing lineup: the DMP-Z1 digital music player
and IER-Z1R in-ear headphones. What went into the creation of those new additions?
The engineers and designers behind Sony's latest entries into the Signature Series were aiming for aural experiences at
unprecedented quality levels—and that vision, a constant pursuit of perfect sound, shines through in their creations.
In pursuit of perfect sound
The only goal of the Signature Series is delivering Sony's vision of the ultimate in sound quality. With that objective square in their sights, engineers and designers have forged collaborative connections on every development project—working together right out of the gate. Those efforts have transcended the traditional frameworks of cost, material, and structure in search of sound experiences that immerse listeners in what the artists behind the sounds intended people to hear and make users feel present in the music. The team's first models, which came out in 2016, wowed audiophiles the world over with their in-the-moment sound—what many likened to being right there in a concert hall.
The development team, aiming to take sound quality to a deeper level, focused on bringing the joys of the ultimate-audio experience to an even broader user base. Embracing their tireless pursuit of what audio can be, the developers set off to create a digital music player that would maximize the potential of any headphone unit and a set of in-ear headphones that would make the ultimate sound experience mobile. The designers grounded their perspective in a solid understanding of the technology, using their design sensibilities to piece together mechanisms and shapes capable of unleashing incredible sound quality. It also meant translating the Signature Series design concept into an intuitive look: a visual rendering of pure aural magic, with the forms maximizing the unique elements of each model and eliminating any non-essential decorative features.
All for the best sound possible
The DMP-Z1 digital music player is an attempt to create the ultimate high-definition headphone listening experience. Every quest has a starting point, of course, and the genesis of the DMP-Z1 journey was twofold: a clean, stable, battery-driven power source with less noise than standard AC power, thereby creating an ideal headphone listening environment, and an analog amplifier with the high-output, high-quality performance it takes to deliver incredible audio performance on any headphone platform. Operating on that foundation, the team set out to back up that power and signal-transmission performance by integrating the amplifier, player, and battery into a single package to minimize signal deterioration and noise in wired setups.
To take full advantage of the exceptional sound quality that analog amps can offer, the team decided to put a top-of-the-line rotary volume knob on the front surface of the body for optimal audio performance. The knob, with its bold placement, accents an overall look that captures the legacy of Sony's long-running dedication to sound with an elegant touch. The team also revamped the user interface (UI) screens to enable battery-driven operation even when the AC-adapter is plugged in, making sure that users have access to the very best in sound quality at all times.
Finding inspiration in steel beams
How could the designers give shape to the "ultimate" audio experiences at the core of engineers' vision, then? Tackling that mission, the team squared its sights on the H-frame form. Echoing the look and feel of an H-shaped steel beam for architectural applications, an H-frame stands up to bending and minimizes unnecessary resonance to help the unit deliver exceptional, distortion-free sound quality. The design mounts the unit's circuit boards on the H-frame, which serves as the chassis in place of the conventional box structure, with digital components on top and analog components on the bottom. That puts the two boards in identical physical conditions, creating an environment where sound can emerge with the ideal clarity. Adding yet another feature to the frame, the designers put an insulator on the bottom surface to help purify the audio output. With all those meticulous tweaks and delicate touches serving the singular purpose of peerless audio quality, the DMP-Z1 is already dressed to impress. It gets even better, though, when you add in the new battery—an upgrade that makes the unit portable—and the carrying case that the design team created for it. The device is a gateway to brand-new sonic experiences. Users can take the ultimate in sound quality with them, in style, wherever they go.
At Sony, we've always looked to create new things by combining the imagination of designers with the technical expertise of engineers. The idea for the DMP-Z1's H-frame, which came from the design team, is a case in point—we made it happen together with the project engineers, who kept saying that it was a great structure for great sound and they wanted to see it through to the end. Part of a designer's job, I think, is to come up with new, original ideas and bring them to life with engineers. It's all about embracing the challenge.
Sogabe, senior designer
A nucleus of extraordinary sound quality
At the core of the IER-Z1R, Sony's latest in-ear headphones, is the ear-opening experience of relishing extraordinary sound quality in ordinary life, wherever the user happens to be. For the design team, the challenge centered on a hybrid-driver system with three newly developed units capable of producing frequencies from the ultra-low end to the ultra-high end. The difficulty? Fitting it all into the limited housing space without sacrificing any of the units' performance. For the ultra-high-frequency dynamic driver, the setup puts diaphragm in a coaxial arrangement with the sound-conducting tube, creating a structure that transmits high-frequency sound to the ear without any decay. The BA driver unit for high frequencies, meanwhile, goes into the intertragic notch, and the dynamic driver covering the range from the low end up to the middle frequencies goes behind that. The arrangement was a collaborative effort: designers and engineers worked up the structure together to achieve both pristine audio quality and optimal wearability—and in the end, it all came together in a simple, comfortable form. The team ended up using zirconium alloy for the casing, taking advantage of the material's high rigidity and lack of a need for surface treatment. To enhance the precision of the internal structure, the developers embarked on the challenge of forming an integrated, seamless housing. That effort proved successful, too, resulting in a smooth, seamless casing: a "nucleus" of astounding sound quality.
Finding a visual reflection of aural perfection
When you have so much power under the hood, you need a design to make the package look the part. The IER-Z1R team knew it had to present the amazing audio capabilities pervading the headphones in a way that would communicate that performance at a glance, using polished material to convey a sense of shimmering sound. Zirconium alloy turned out to be the perfect canvas. Aiming to bring out the natural beauty of the material, designers had the alloy polished for more than 30 hours until they arrived at a sheen that measured up to the clarity of the product's aural experience. They also applied a traditional perlage finish—a technique for luxury watches, among other items—on the exterior faceplate to add yet another layer of symbolism to the headphone's identity as a high-performance audio device to last a lifetime. The designers also trained their discerning eyes on the cables, which they crafted for optimal wearability and minimal touch noise that can occur when the outer surface comes into contact with the user's clothing. Again, material was key: the team wove silk into the cable material and, to bring out that distinctive luster, wrapped the cables in special tubes made with specialized tubing both transparent and durable. It all serves to make the IER-Z1R an eminently satisfying set of headphones—assets to treasure, not just headphones to listen through.
One of the things we kept in the backs of our minds was how sources of beautiful sounds, like wind instruments, tend to look beautiful, too. To find that unity in our headphones, we whittled the design elements down to the bare necessities. What's left is the essence of the musical experience, a pure, unadorned medium for the artist's true intentions.
The Signature Series is a "signature" for a reason:
it defines the identity of Sony’s one-of-a-kind audio experience.
That lineup just got more expansive with the addition of a digital music player and in-ear headphones,
broadening the horizons of top-grade sound—which Sony engineers and designers
will continue to deliver together.