Sony Expands Hi-Res Audio Options with New Products on its Signature Series

September 6 2018, 01:35
During IFA 2018, Sony expanded its audio catalog with several new top of the range products in its Signature Series. Deserving  all the possible attention are the new IER-Z1R in-ear headphones and DMP-Z1 digital music player. These products harness decades of audio expertise, proudly showcasing Sony’s relentless lifetime pursuit for excellence, which they often miss. These new Signature Series products are ambitious, expensive and will certainly please a very specific crowd devoted to Hi-Res Audio and DSD file collecting.

Always committed to audio innovation, Sony says it has created a range of products in the Signature Series that surpasses everything that came before it - something which many fans of Sony's older products - and even fans of its excellent professional products - will not agree. Anyway, pursuing sound reproduction to ultimate perfection means being able to distinguish every nuance in the music with live atmosphere — even the natural decay of fading notes to silence. The new Sony line in the Signature Series intends to offer faithful sound reproduction.

IER-Z1R Signature Series In-ear Headphones
Among the new products is the new top of the range in-ear model from Sony, the IER-Z1R, which intends to follow-up on the circumaural MDR-Z1R, which has mixed reviews, even if it is one of the best-designed headphones ever, simply hindered by a very particular tuning of its frequency response.

Sony says, the IER-Z1R will deliver exceptional sound quality with High-Resolution Audio, thanks to its new HD hybrid driver system, consisting of a 5mm dynamic driver, 12mm Magnesium alloy diaphragm dynamic driver and Magnesium alloy diaphragm Balanced Armature (BA) driver. A complex 3-way design, which is carefully balanced with a "refined-phase structure for precise image projection."

The original housing shape in the IER-Z1R was designed for comfort and includes a pre-formed ear hanger and a large variety of ear buds for optimum fit. A zirconium alloy outer housing with Perlage pattern face plate is meticulously crafted and designed in Japan using superior materials, protecting the HD hybrid driver system, consisting of three newly developed Sony-designed drivers. As Sony explains, an advantage of its custom designed drivers is that "it ensures a preservation of consistency in sound signature from driver design stage to the finished product."

The 5mm dynamic driver is constructed with a newly developed aluminum coated LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) diaphragm and external magnetic circuit allowing it to reproduce the ideal frequency response of up to 100 kHz. Strategically placing the 5mm dynamic driver coaxially against the sound path accurately delivers the sound from the super tweeter directly into a listener’s ear canal, specified for a frequency response of up to 100 kHz.

The 12mm dynamic driver’s diaphragm features a magnesium alloy dome which is lightweight yet highly rigid. The dome’s edge is also made from aluminum coated LCP which offers flexibility for optimum bass reproduction and high internal loss.

In addition, the diaphragm of the balanced armature unit for reproducing high range sound is made from magnesium alloy. Working together with a newly developed silver coated copper voice coil and gold-plated terminals, the balanced armature unit is said to "faithfully reproduce sound including the smallest low-level signals."

Finally, the acoustic response of the IER-Z1R is tuned by the refined-phase structure which features a magnesium alloy inner housing. All three drivers; the 5mm dynamic driver, 12mm dynamic driver and balanced armature driver unit are built into the inner housing which works as an optimal sound path. Sound coming from each driver is optimally blended in the sound path which ensures an ideal phase response and clear separation. Magnesium alloy also eliminates unnecessary vibration due to its high rigidity and internal loss.

Advanced sound space control technology was applied to finely control air flow at the rear of the drivers. Ventilation is accurately controlled by connecting an acoustic tube to the extended acoustic cavity behind the driver unit. This unique-to-Sony sound control method reproduces a wide sound stage.

Sony’s dedicated audio grade film capacitor for crossover network circuits was used in the IER-Z1R delivering a refined sound with low distortion. This film capacitor was developed after numerous listening tests. In addition, a Sony developed dedicated audio grade solder was also used to minimize loss in the signal path.

The balanced connection is supplied with a 5 pole 4.4mm balanced standard cable or the use of optional cables. Silver coated OFC (Oxygen-Free Copper) is used in the supplied cable. Sony has evolved the plating structure of the plug and terminal to gold plating over a non-magnetic plated surface core material, to ensure a supposedly "undisturbed signal flow."

The supplied cable also features natural silk thread that reduces touch noise, also working as an insulator and damper against vibration. Also, the supplied cable features twisted pair wiring, thereby reducing signal transmission loss to preserve the signal purity and achieve accurate high-resolution sound. In addition, an optional cable engineered with Kimber Kable is also available.

For the physical design, Sony says it harvested an ear shape database, collected over decades of research, making the IER-Z1R optimized for the average ear, and comfortable yet stable for everyone. 13 variations of ear buds (six variations of triple comfort ear buds and seven variations of hybrid ear buds) and pre-formed ear hangers are also provided. The Zirconium alloy outer housing provides increase hardness, corrosion resistance and durability. The face plate of the IER-Z1R features an elegant “Perlage” pattern distinguishing the headphones at a glance.

DMP-Z1 Signature Series Digital Music Player
Next up, Sony expanded the Signature Series with a new integrated desktop music player that also includes the headphone amp and DAC. Compatible for DSD Native up to 11.2 MHz for both balance and single end, the new Sony DMP-Z1 Digital Music Player also features an integrated battery, with the headphone power output controlled by a gold plated rotary volume control, and dual DAC. The independent battery power system uses five battery cells, which contribute to make the H-shaped aluminum chassis to stay in place. Finally, there is 256GB of built-in storage with dual micro SD slots.

As Sony details, combining super high quality sound, premium design and enhanced usability, the DMP-Z1 is "a high end music player bringing top quality stationary class headphone amplifier sound and power to wherever you desire." The DMP-Z1 was designed to support High Resolution Audio playback up to native DSD 11.2MHz or PCM 32-bit/384kHz, and offers approx. 1500mW (16Ω) of headphone power output for a personal, premium listening experience.

As the audio signal directly passes through the volume controller, this affects sound quality and is one of the most important aspects of audio design. The DMP-Z1 uses a Sony customized high-end analogue rotary volume controller which is copper plated, followed by gold plating and supports the volume for four separate signal paths (L+ / L- / R+ / R-). This ensures signal purity and ensures the DMP-1 maximizes the DAC chip performance by retaining all audio source information even at low volume levels.
The new Sony DMP-Z1 Music Player, headphone amp and DAC seen here with the top of the range circumaural MDR-Z1R headphones.

The DMP-Z1 features a dual DAC with the Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4497EQ DAC Chip, and the TI TPA6120A2 amp chip, two world leading top end headphone amp IC's.

The independent power system uses a total of five battery cells, providing stable power to both the digital and analogue blocks. Users can easily switch the music player’s power mode from AC to battery by simply touching either battery button or AC button on the DMP-Z1’s touch panel user interface.

The DMP-Z1’s H-shaped aluminum chassis helps to eliminate vibration and reduces resistance. Inside, the amplifier board is physically separated from the main board, blocking noise and providing areas for connecting to ground on each board via connection to the chassis.

A first for digital music players, listeners can personalize their preferred sound with Sony's DSD Remastering Engine which lets users convert all PCM music sources into DSD 5.6MHz. The DSD Remastering Engine can be switched on or off easily in the user interface. A newly developed Vinyl Processor feature can recreate the acoustic phenomena unique to vinyl playback. This includes the effect of tone-arm resonance, sensitivity improvement caused by tiny surface noise and a "richer sound character," due to acoustic feedback from the speakers to the turntable.

The DMP-Z1 also includes Sony's newly developed DSEE HX enhancing algorithm, which is applied automatically to any lower resolution or compressed source based on a real-time analysis. Sony says this is a process based on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology (hey, they needed to use the buzzwords...), so that users do not need to select the type of enhancement.

With its mirror-finished aluminum top plate, spin finished aluminum physical playback control keys and gold plated analogue rotary volume controller, the DMP-Z1 is certainly a premium design which exudes high-class luxury in every component. To support the music player functions, apart from the dual micro SD card slots and internal storage, the unit uses a USB Type-C connection (easily converted to "old" USB with any cable) and Bluetooth receiver.

The Sony IER-Z1R will be priced at approximately $2,200 and will be available soon. The DMP-Z1 will be priced at approximately $8,800 and available from the beginning of December 2018.
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