I started off with just onboard audio from laptops, including my favourite but outdated VAIO DSD. I was limited to 24/48 on the newest laptop, and felt intense frustration. No DSD under $100 either. All that changed in 2020, when, what had only been a pricey COZOY TAKT PRO in 2018, exploded into an entire market of audio dongles. DSD128 became reachable with just up to $30. Thanks to Apple removing their jacks. It should become clear that desktop DACs have less meaningful purposes when far smaller devices are now cheaper and even perform better. But dongles weren’t enough. DSEE HX AI existed. And after mrwalkman’s comeback, shortly after my request, the mods finally got me into walkman, a very difficult device to get for a reasonable price in many places. Then I grabbed whatever ultra-budget Sony earphones I could get, including IER-H500A, EX150AP/255AP Black, EX150AP Mint Green, ZX110 and MH410c both with EQ. All were $14 or $20 or free.
It has been around a year since I first came to recognise the NW-ZX500 series. Being a person who didn’t really ‘get into audio’ until becoming exposed to Sony Japan Marketing, via the Japanese media and VAIO PCs with their Sound Reality DSD chip CXD9872/ALC889DSD, it seems necessary to consider and share how audio and Sony appear to me now.
No doubt there are people who never take any interest in audio, for whom the cheapest earbuds and random audio jacks in phones etc are sufficiently satisfying and capable of delivering good sound. They are likely the main adopters of the wireless boom. Generally, the most rare sight is a person with big headphones on, the next is the person with IEMs on, and finally, wireless headphones/IEMs/buds. Despite the IEM’s small size, the cable is still an unnecessary obstruction. And because most standard IEMs tend to be weak at recreating ‘air’ and distance, the IER-Z1R, M9, M7 were created. Of course, we can find exceptions in IEMs which don’t simply recreate details ‘up close’ and lack the ‘air’. The question is whether full size headphones have ‘air’ and distance. Whether every piece of gear needs to be pushed to its design limits and whether consumers truly need the variety. There probably never was a need for WM1Z, but that need was created after the product was unveiled.
The IER-Z1R is for consumers. It has one 12 mm dynamic driver just like MDR-EX255/650, except it has ‘magnesium alloy inside’ it, requiring it to be made in Japan. Then it adds a BA driver and another 100kHz 5 mm dynamic driver. Zirconium alloy housing, unique design, and hefty price tag. The talk session notes contained interesting explanations from one main designer. Like others, he claimed that IEMs lacked air and that IER-Z1R achieved it. He gave an answer that IER-Z1R is good paired with WM1x, even PCM-D100, acknowledging that the famed DSD recorder actually plays excellently, and DMP-Z1. He claimed that there is no need for ageing, unlike large speakers. And he knew that the way it is worn affects the sound in much greater ways. He also wrote after the session that 100 people will have 100 views on what constitutes good sound. But he, and the New York mastering studio involved in testing, believed that the sound heard in the New York mastering studio was achieved by IER-Z1R. And that consumers can trust Sony when it asserts that this is one of the ideals they have achieved. They don’t intend to make large profits from this, but wish to share the fruits of their creation. Sounds great of course.
IER-M9, M7 are penta and quad BA arrays respectively, designed for on stage pro use, seemingly making the 16 mm driver MDR-EX800ST (2010) obsolete. Strangely EX800ST is becoming favoured by those sick of BA and multi driver IEMs. Thus, variety is created.
The headphone amps pages explain S-Master processes in greater detail, and show the two 40 bit DSEE HX DSP chips by Analog Devices ADSP.