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HD 800 S, MDR-Z1R or TH 900

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by cleanstroke, Aug 19, 2017.
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  1. cleanstroke
    I'm having a headphone mid-life crisis. I'm being too indecisive in choosing my end game pair of cans. My toss up is between the HD 800 S, MDR-Z1R, or the TH-900. And sadly I don't have a bottomless wallet and can only get one.

    On subjective grounds, could I please have some opinions/recommendations on which of these headphones are skewed more towards an enjoyable listening experience specifically for electronic music, as it is my favourite genre by a mile. Whichever one of these headphones would be most apt for that genre I would be more inclined to go for. But a good all-rounder wouldn't hurt neither.

  2. Naim.F.C
    When you say electronic music, do you mean EDM, dubstep, dance, trance, techno, garage etc?

    I own both the HD800S and MDR-Z1R, and out of the two I'd pick the Z1R for electronic without even a moments doubt. They are just far more rich, lush, atmospheric and fun with that sort of music, and the added bass impact and presence makes a marked difference to the point where the HD800S comparatively sounds a tad clinical and lacking in impact and oomph.

    Often when there's a drop, a b-line murmur or sub bass attack, the HD800S can in all honestly sound somewhat anticlimactic and unrewarding. The Z1R's however pretty much always deliver in these areas, giving you the anticipated dramatic punch, but without really sacrificing in imaging, articulation or detail.

    The headphones are actually somewhat similar sounding at times, where often the Z1R's sort of sound like a tweaked HD800S with added bass presence (sub and mid bass), a slightly more intimate sound stage, and an overall warmer tone.

    Regarding the TH900, I'd still pick the Z1R's over them too, since I feel the Z1R's are just a little bit better balanced overall, with less harshness and peakiness in the treble range, and less of a U shaped sound overall.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2017
  3. cleanstroke
    Thanks for weighing in! It's awesome that you have both pairs of cans to compare and contrast the differences. But yeah those sub-genres pretty much make up 90% of my library! I do think my heart is set on the Z1R. The only deterrent I have with this headphone however is I will have to run it in unbalanced. With the Jotunheim not having the new 4.4 pentaconn connection.

    Have you tested your Z1R in balanced vs unbalanced? I'd appreciate you letting me know if there is a significant difference in the two.

    Thanks man!
    Naim.F.C likes this.
  4. FlyingWing
    I d' suggest the HD800S because it may sound very lean in it's stock form, but its deeper frequencies sounds drastically larger than either TH900s or MDR Z1Rs...Parametric EQ redundates exotic tunings like in these two HPs.
    I've once listened to a Vinyl Of the Prodigy's the fat of the land with an low-shelf EQ of +8db from 20-55hz on an HD800. That was extremely weird and at times close to Infrasound.
  5. Tentacles
    I've not tried the TH900.

    Between the MDR-Z1R and HD800S for electronic music, it's not even close. The MDR-Z1R is a great all-rounder, and the HD800S absolutely is not. I don't know how anyone could recommend the HD800S for anything where the low end is at all relevant.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2017
    jusbe and montanari like this.
  6. cleanstroke
    Yeah I heard partly by the nature of design when it comes to closed vs open back, generally speaking closed has the upper hand in providing a full, rich house sound. Tentacles, do you run your MDR-Z1R with the standard quater inch, or have it paired with an amp which uses the new pentaconn connection?

    I'm curious to know whether there is a significant enough difference between the two.
  7. Tentacles
    I can't advise on that topic at all -- sorry! The MDR-Z1R is incredibly easy to drive, by design. I plug direct into my MacBook Pro and they sound great.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2017
  8. obobskivich
    I'll be the "third wheel" here - I own the TH-900 but not the HD 800 or the Z-1R. For electronic music (I mostly listen to vocal trance, progressive house, ambient, future bass, retrowave, electronica, etc - not like "super duper slammy bass" or "eyeball message" kind of things, but that isn't to say its absent my listening experience entirely) I think the TH-900 do a really good job. Specifically they have excellent bass texture, impact, and extension but it is never over-bearing - if the track/content isn't extremely bassy, they don't push an "extremely bassy" version on you, they just let it exist as-is (this is kind of a contrast to other headphones I'd hold in high regard for their bass prowess, like DX1000 or W1000X, which both impart a consistent "thickness" to the listening experience), the mids are very good (clean, clear, well positioned and integrated to everything else, etc) and the top end is energetic enough for all those "electronic bits" to really pop, without being overbearing/harsh/aggressive. Overall they could fit as a good "all rounder" too - they're the kind of listening experience I'd rank 9/10 in any category, they don't achieve absolute perfection anywhere, but they don't really have any chinks in their armor either. Honestly they're an easy grab from the headphone shelf on a regular basis, because I know they will consistently perform no matter what I happen to queue up and listen to, and the comfort is top notch.

    To throw another wrench in the cogs: I don't consider the TH-900 the "final word" in headphones, especially for "lighter" electronica. For that, I'd look to the ATH-W5000. They give up some bass extension and a lot of slam to the TH-900, but the mids and treble are significantly more forward, which makes things like horns, strings, higher-range synths, vocals, etc absolutely seductive. They're also faster - this isn't to say the TH-900 are "slow" but I wouldn't regard them as particularly "fast" either. W5000 on the other hand are quite speedy. Now, if you're after something that can drive a hard bassline aggressively, or get into the "eyeball message" kind of genres, the TH-900 will probably suit better because they can reach all the way down there to the depths of sub bass and hammer away at your ears. There's certainly some "compromise" on the W5000 - you get 10/10 in some areas but they "drop off" to 8/10 in others, if that makes sense. When I know I'm going to want to listen to "lighter" music (e.g. vocal-heavy pieces or lighter ambient/techno/glitch/etc) the W5000 are an easy grab, but if I decide mid-way through the listening session to transition to something that really wants to "slam" I either have to put up with the lack of serious response below ~40-50 Hz, change what I'm listening to, or go get a different pair of cans.

    As far as drive on the TH-900 (well and the W5000 for that matter) - these are easily driven headphones. They're low impedance and high sensitivity. I've got the matching amp for the W5ks from AT (the HA5000) which provides something murderous like 2W/ch into 16 ohms, but the gain structure isn't awful - I use it with both the TH-900 and W5000. Do they need this much power? Absolutely not! But I think the "point" of this being the companion amplifier is dynamics - its absolutely effortless all the way up to very robust listening levels, and no matter what the music/movie calls for in terms of dynamic range it can just deliver it. The listening experience is similar to my electostats (which are, per their owners manual, apparently able to do 120-130 dB SPL (I have no desire to test this; it would probably hurt)). That said, they can absolutely plug into a PC soundcard or a CD player's output or whatever and still sound great, you just lose that "effortless dynamics" thing - think about highly efficient speakers and big power amps, its not needed, but there is some method to that madness.

    Sorry I don't have any insight on the HD 800 or Z-1R (but from reading this thread the Z-1R sound like they might be a serious contender to the TH-900 - looks like you've at least chosen your options well), but I'm happy to talk TH-900 (or W5000) with you all day, haha. :)
    FastAndClean and Luminance like this.
  9. Witcher
    I would agree. I've not heard the TH900, but like Naim, I too own the HD800S and the Z1R. I would recommend the Z1R for the fun. The HD800S is also good for EDM where a large soundstage is appreciated, but it would be only better if the amp setup you have is warm enough for it. Otherwise, yeah, it's still cold and clinical by comparison.
  10. cleanstroke
    Very interesting stuff, thank you Obobskivich for all that information on the TH 900. Yeah from what I can decipher, the Z1R and the TH 900 have a bit of a rivalry going on with being two of the best closed cans in the industry. I think I can safely eliminate the HD 800 S from the list now however, with being more than willing to compromise sound stage, for a more lush, and thick buttery low end. I really want a deep visceral impact whenever I hear the bass line or the clap in a track, and from what I can gather you guys feel as though the TH 900 or MDR-Z1R would be better.

    From what I've heard I'm leaning more towards the Z1R, I just wish I could audition these headphones before taking the plunge, however nowhere local from where I am in the UK would be able to provide me with that experience. Based on what I know, I would trust taking the leap of faith more with the MDR-Z1R.

    A lot of my favourite trance tracks have crystalline female vocals too, I'd be opted to go for whichever set of cans wouldn't be too sibilant and fatiguing in this regard, and would deliver them more smoothly. Thoughts?
  11. obobskivich

    No idea on the Z1R (again), but honestly I don't think the TH-900 do a bad job with female vocals (okay so compared to most headphones they're just excellent, but...), but I think the W5000 do a better job. If you really want to get into "lush, thick, buttery" and a wetter/fatter/etc sound, I'd probably say "no" to either TH-900 or W5000, and look at HP-DX1000 instead. Yes they're a very bassy presentation that never entirely "damps down" but if you want that lush/thick/buttery/wet/fat/thick/romantic/etc sound they've got it in spades, against the more "I'm just technically excellent - you can call home and ask my mom" presentation of the TH-900, or the "if you're not first, you're last" presentation of the W5000. You'll notice I'm pointing at three different headphones for "excellence" in three different things - the W5000 are where I'd go for vocals themselves, the DX1000 for a lush sound, and the TH-900 for all-around proficiency and controlled bass; I'm unaware of "everything perfect all in one" (if it's out there I've never heard it at least). I don't think any of these are fatiguing or really all that sibilant (if you have some really harsh/clashy recordings (which is something I've never heard in vocal trance or similar - think more like badly recorded indie punk (like Heroin) the W5000 can bring that up to the surface (so is it "fatiguing" or just "honest"?), but honestly I've never found the TH-900 or DX1000 to make anything sound painfully objectionable, and never found the W5000 to make any electronic music painfully objectionable).

    Basically I don't see why TH-900 wouldn't be excellent for this, but without hearing the Z1R I can't tell you definitely "they're the best" (so I really do get the hand-wringing). But really even if the Z1R are "better" I can't imagine them (or any other headphone) being so much better than TH-900 (or W5000, or DX1000, or any other top-tier headphone) - just "different." That's mostly broad experience with various cans talking, not trying to put up/down the Z1R. One thing that'd also factor into it for me if I were shopping for this - the Z1R cost *a lot* more than the TH-900. I know value is an entirely personal/subjective evaluation but frankly if its gonna cost twice as much, it better deliver something substantial, and honestly I'm skeptical at this level of play anything can offer more than "different" (and "different" absolutely may be "better" or "worse" to someone's ears), and that's just based on having heard a number of "top end" cans. IDK, maybe it really is magic and I'm missing out...

    And yes, I know, I've thrown two more contenders into the circle, both of which are older and significantly less "hip" and "popular" in the modern world of Head-Fi.
  12. Witcher
    You need to hear them out first. I understand if you can't, at least try to hear one. Going on blind faith isn't the best thing to do here.

    However based on my experience, what you have described is what the Z1R is great for. However I do use it with my sony amp or dap. Not with my other setup. So like I said, you have to consider your own setup. I personally do not like the Z1R with a mojo because then it becomes too bassy.
  13. obobskivich
    Absolutely +1 on this. Really no way to know, than to know, and for that you've gotta hear them. If you can't (which I think is reality for most of us), buy them from somewhere with a solid return policy.
  14. Tentacles
    I'm sure this is a very true statement. I'm not trying to push the MDR-Z1R as the be all and end all; it's just a very comfortable headphone that I feel covers a lot more genres (rather well) than the HD800S.

    I liked the MDR-Z7, too. I thought that one was great for electronic music, just not as amazing for jazz, blues, classical, etc.
  15. cleanstroke
    Great point, from Amazon in the UK I'm looking at £1,149 for the TH 900 mkII, versus £1700 for the Z1R. However it is a price premium I am more than happy to pay, if in the event of like you guys say, it is a sound signature which is more attractive to my own subjective tastes. And Obobskivich I appreciate you talking about all these other 'specialist' cans, if you will, which are perhaps considered less mainstream. However, I am not going to lie, I am my own worst enemy for possibly being too shallow, and I am only interested in these more mainstream flagships.

    I also agree completely, I mean this is essentially a months wages being dropped here lol. Sadly the journey is too far, impractical, and costly to make. So like Oboskivich says I may have to gently exploit return policies. And amplification duties will be designated to the Jotunheim from Schiit, I'm hoping that variable doesn't change the signature of these headphones all that much.
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