Sony MDR-ZX700 Review

The Sony ZX700 headphones seem like they’re meant to appeal to audiophiles and studio pros, but with such a short cord, sterile sound and no ¼-inch adapter included, we doubt they will end up being the top choice of either.
The Sony ZX700 headphones seem like they’re meant to appeal to audiophiles and studio pros, but with such a short cord, sterile sound and no ¼-inch adapter included, we doubt they will end up being the top choice of either.
The Sony ZX700 headphones seem like they’re meant to appeal to audiophiles and studio pros, but with such a short cord, sterile sound and no ¼-inch adapter included, we doubt they will end up being the top choice of either.

Highs

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Terrific passive noise isolation
  • Solid build quality

Lows

  • Sterile sound
  • No accessories included

DT Editors' Rating

Sony recently released the latest additions to its family of headphone products: the ZX series. The new series is comprised of four different models that range in price (and size) from $19.99 to $119.99. Though the much pricier MDR-Z1000 look as if they belong to the ZX line-up, it is actually the MDR-ZX700 that Sony claims is the top of the line for this new series. Sony seems to be aiming the ZX700 at audiophiles and studio professionals alike, claiming the ZX700 are “…perfect for use in and out of the studio.” If that claim holds true, then the ZX700 have the potential to be one of the better values available in studio quality headphones. In this review, we’ll take a close look and listen to the ZX700 and find out if they truly are studio ready.

Sony MDR-ZX700 boxOut of the box

Sony didn’t put a whole lot into the packaging of the ZX700, though the box is pleasant to look at and a whole lot easier to open then a blasted blister pack — no shredded fingers getting at these cans, thankfully. The simple, hinged box contains the headphones, which we found fit into a cardboard cut-out. Along with the headphones we found…two pieces of paper. Yeah…that’s it. Unlike the Sennheiser HD448, no storage pouch, extension cable or ¼”-inch adapter are included.

Features and design

Sony’s supra-aural, closed-back MDR-ZX700 headphones are attractive in a simple, understated, almost retro sort of way. The matte-black, plastic ear-cups are oval in shape with a circular name badge that Sony attempted to make look like wood. Unfortunately, the effect is lost to the highly reflective nature of the badge’s finish.

The inner portions of the ear-cups are lined with a padded, soft, black urethane. The same goes for the headband, which is dominated with the soft material. The adjustable inner portion of the headband is made of the same plastic as the ear-cup backing. The ear cups attach to the headband via a wavy, U-shaped bracket that is matte-silver in color.

Inside the ear-cup is a 50mm driver, large enough to generate some big bass if designed to do so. Connecting the headphones to your favorite source is a reasonably thick cord that stretches to just under four feet long. Maybe four feet is the new three feet for headphone cords? If so, we like it. For portable media players, three feet never seems long enough and six feet always seems unnecessarily long.

The ZX700 do not fold down. There is just enough vertical and horizontal play with the ear cups to allow the headphones to fit a range of different head sizes and shapes.

As previously mentioned, the ZX700 don’t come with an extension cable or a ¼-inch adapter. Perhaps Sony means these are just “studio style” headphones, because without a ¼-inch adapter, they aren’t going to work in most studio settings. Sure, quality adapters only cost a few dollars, but at this price point, we expect to see them thrown in.

Sony MDR-ZX700 side cordSony describes the ZX700 as a closed-back headphone and, for all intents and purposes, they are. However, there is a small port hole on the back of each ear-cup from which sound can be heard escaping. Interestingly enough, this “port” is almost entirely sealed off when the headphones are worn by way of hinges located on each side. We’re just not sure what the purpose of this feature is, and find it curious. Another curious oddity is Sony’s choice to provide what it calls a “tactile dot” just below the big “L” badge indicating the left headphone, as a way to feel which side is left when you pick them up. If the big “L” and dot weren’t enough, the left ear-cup is the one connected to the non-detachable cable.

Performance

We tested the ZX700 with our dutiful headphone test bench comprised of an iPhone 4, iPod Touch, Marantz SR6005 A/V receiver, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge, Bellari phono pre-amp, HeadRoom micro DAC and HeadRoom micro amp.

We did the bulk of our listening tests using our iPhone because, contrary to Sony’s studio-oriented marketing approach with these headphones, they seem best suited for use with a portable media player. With a cord this short and no ¼-inch adapter included, it just doesn’t seem likely that the ZX700 would be at home in a recording studio, mixing room or DJ booth.

Sony MDR-ZX700 ear-cupNow, let’s get a couple of really positive points out of the way. The ZX700 are extremely comfortable. While not exactly light-weight, the ZX700 always felt secure and well attached to our head. Unlike some other headphones we’ve tested at this size, we never felt like the ZX700 were at all clumsy or fatiguing. We spent plenty of time wearing the ZX700 and never felt worse for the wear.

Also, the ZX700 do a remarkable job of providing passive noise isolation. Those looking for a quality set of headphones that will successfully drown out outside noise without having to snack on batteries might want to consider these cans.

In terms of audio performance, we think our opinion of the ZX700 might best be expressed in terms of what they don’t do, for better or worse.

First, the good: The ZX700 do not produce artificially bright high frequencies (which, as anyone who reads our headphone reviews knows, is our chief pet peeve). They are capable of reproducing all the treble we’d need to hear and avoid screeching at their listener even when the source material is really aggressive in the top end.

They also avoid producing unnaturally big bass for the sake of showing off how much bass they can put out. As a result, they are mostly balanced in the bass and mid-bass areas, save a little unwanted resonance around 90Hz to 100Hz that we found didn’t get in the way all that often.

As for midrange characteristics, the ZX700 are thankfully not making vocals sound as if they are being piped through an empty beer can. We’d describe the midrange as slightly laid back and uncolored. Listening to a recording of Seal singing “Stand By Me” was one of the more enjoyable moments we had while listening to the ZX700.

For the negatives: We found that these headphones don’t produce sound with much texture. We used a couple of recordings where the Fender Jazz Bass being used produces a distinct sort of growl. On a really good set of headphones, you can hear the wood in the bass being knocked as the bass player slaps and snaps the strings. That effect didn’t come across with much presence.

The ZX700 also sound pretty two dimensional. There isn’t much depth to the sound stage and instrumentation seems to come from either the left or the right, with not a lot in between.

Sony MDR-ZX700 headbandThis isn’t to say that the ZX700 don’t sound good, because they do. The just seem to lack a certain character that gives them a unique sound signature. They sound they produce is clean, but in a sterile, bland sort of way. They look like steak but sound like ground turkey.

Using a dedicated DAC and headphone amplifier brought a lot more out of the ZX700 than our iPhone was capable of delivering, but the distinction was less apparent than with other headphones we’ve tested in this price class.

Conclusion

The ZX700 seem like they’re meant to appeal to audiophiles and studio pros, but with such a short cord, sterile sound and no ¼-inch adapter included, we doubt they will end up being the top choice of either. While well built, extremely comfortable and capable of some impressive passive noise isolation, we think that the ZX700 need to have a little more character to the sound they produce considering the competition in this price segment.

Highs:

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Terrific passive noise isolation
  • Solid build quality

Lows:

  • Sterile sound
  • No accessories included
Product Review

Sennheiser brings audio perfection to wireless earbuds like no one else can

Sennheiser took its time entering the true wireless earbud market, and the results are what you’d expect from the storied audio brand. The new Momentum offer seamless operation, best-in-class sound, and a high price tag to match.
Home Theater

The best noise-canceling headphones paint your music on a cleaner canvas

Drowning out the sound of babies, jet engines, and the outside world isn't as hard as it seems. Here are the best noise-canceling headphones, whether you're concerned with style, comfort, or sound.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Features

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!