I spent some time with these 3 headphones over the weekend. It was fun comparing them, and it also gave me a measure of insight into the capabilities of each headphone. I expected certain outcomes, but I was also pleasantly surprised by a few conclusions. Without further ado, here it goes.
Source: Schiit Gungnir Multibit > Schiit Mjolnir 2
All headphones were tested with their stock cables. I used the stock Auteur pads on the Vérité Closed.
Let's get this out of the way. The best bass in the lineup belongs to the Sony MDR-Z1R. It has the most prominent bass response, coupled with excellent texture and layering. There is very good rumble at play here, enough to please most bassheads, but shy of a bass cannon like the TH900 Mk2. Still, if you enjoy quality bass, the MDR-Z1R has this in spades. A strong mid-bass punch is paired with deep sub-bass extension to afford a classy low-end presentation. The lows have great impact and slam, and they tend to decay a little longer, offering great reverb.
The AH-D9200, on the other hand, comes into the picture with a leaner bass profile. Don't be fooled, though - it retains an outstanding presentation, coupling decent sub-bass extension, rumble, and punch into an addictive all-in-one package. You will hear fantastic texture, with great transients. It has the speediest bass response of the 3 headphones; make no mistake, though, it is no planar, but the lows linger less than the Sony and the ZMF. Overall, bass is clear and clean, with very good quality.
The Vérité Closed is a good middle ground between the presentations of the other 2 headphones. It is thicker and slower than the Denon, but not quite close to the levels achieved by the Sony headphone. Nevertheless, it produces lows with good impact and excellent texture. It has very good layering, probably the best of the 3. Mid-bass punch is a little more robust than the AH-D9200, with a noticeable boost that allows tracks with a strong bassline to shine.
Winner: Sony MDR-Z1R, but probably by a hair. The Denon AH-D9200 has the cleanest bass profile, with very good texture. The Vérité Closed straddles the 2 in quantity, and doesn't lose too many points in the quality department.
The MDR-Z1R has a lush and full-sounding midrange. Vocals have a tendency to sound thick and heavy; if you love authoritative voices in your music, the Sony does this well. However, the vocal reproduction capabilities of the Sony is hampered by its aforementioned abundance. Instruments and vocals both sound melded together in comparison to the Denon and the ZMF. It is not bad per se; the midrange is simply not as clean and as well-defined as the other 2.
The Denon retains its clear, clean and detailed midrange. There is a slight warmth that doesn't proliferate throughout the frequency spectrum. This results in mids that are free of bloom, with great instrument and vocal separation. Oddly, I think that it reproduces female vocals a tad better than male ones; both are crystal clear, though, and lack a level of gravity that is present in the MDR-Z1R or the Vérité Closed.
Lastly, the ZMF produces an excellent midrange section. It has adequate warmth that lends a touch of grandeur to vocals; they are slightly less lush and well-rounded than the Sony, but in doing so, it not only retains the authority of the MDR-Z1R, but also the clarity and detail of the AH-D9200. Voices and instruments are effortlessly reproduced.
Winner: ZMF Vérité Closed. Vocals sound at its best on the ZMF, with great prominence and presence, without losing points in the clarity department.
The Sony MDR-Z1R has a treble section that is rather uncontrolled at times. It has adequate sparkle with fine grain scattered up top. However, it is also uncontrolled and peaky, and tends to sound a little harsh at the worst of times. Overall, this is the Sony's greatest weakness, as its inability to retain control causes runaway highs that may be grating to some people.
The AH-D9200, thankfully, corrects a lot of the MDR-Z1R's issues with the treble. Of the headphones in this comparison, the Denon has the most prominent highs, with a treble section that is equal parts rich, clear, crisp and detailed. There is very good extension up top, and detail is easy to discern. However, it may be a little too bright for those who shy away from excessive highs. For me, it functioned at the edge of what I'd consider acceptable.
The Vérité Closed has the most muted treble section of the 3 - it is smooth and controlled, with decent sparkle and average extension. If you're sensitive to strident highs, the ZMF's higher registers might be suited to your tastes. However, like the MDR-Z1R, the treble on the Vérité Closed is its weakest link; typically, I'd prefer a little more prominence and definition in the treble region. If the Denon was bordering on too much treble, the ZMF was close to the other end of the scale in terms of sparkle and detail.
Winner: Denon AH-D9200, but only in detail and definition.
The Sony MDR-Z1R has good resolving capabilities. However, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish its ability in this aspect, as its sound is masked by a layer of syrup. Underneath its lush abundance, however, lies a headphone that has good resolution and detail. It is also very good in both layering and instrument separation. Strangely, in crowded tracks, the Sony was able to effectively distinguish the many instruments and voices. In all honesty, I approached this shootout with the impression that it'd fare rather poorly in this particular regard.
The Denon AH-D9200 was an ace in technicalities, which was helped by the fact that it is the cleanest-sounding of the 3 headphones here. As a result, resolution is excellent, with fine micro-detail rendering throughout. However, it struggled in differentiating myriad voices and instruments in the most complex of passages; for lack of a better description, the Denon had a presentation that was akin to fine pieces of clear glass stuck together with too much glue.
Finally, the Vérité Closed rounds up this section with the best technical chops in this shootout. Like the MDR-Z1R, the ZMF headphone was able to resolve fine detail amidst a warm and lush background. However, it achieved this in an effortless manner; micro-detail was easily identified. In comparison with the Denon, the ZMF's forte lies in its ability to handily resolve crowded passages.
Winner: ZMF Vérité Closed, but not by much.
Staging and Imaging
The MDR-Z1R has the widest and deepest stage, with excellent imaging. On all of the tracks that I played, the Sony was able to project a very 3-dimensional stage, with good positional cues.
The Denon AH-D9200, on the other hand, had the smallest stage of the 3. It felt cramped, in comparison. Thankfully, it didn't suffer in the imaging department.
Lastly, the Vérité Closed produced a stage that was almost as wide and deep as the Sony, but it has better vertical extension. It was also excellent in the imaging department.
Winner: The MDR-Z1R, but only by a fine margin.
Without a doubt, the MDR-Z1R is the most comfortable of the 3. It is light, has a solid but manageable clamp, and comes with plush pads.
The AH-D9200 has the strongest clamp force, and also the smallest and shallowest pads. I didn't experience any particular issues with comfort (on all 3 headphones), but the Denon felt decidedly less comfortable than the other 2.
The Vérité Closed, like the Sony before it, has a good and solid clamp, and slightly better pads. However, it was also a little heavier. All in all, it was supremely comfortable.
Winner: The MDR-Z1R and the Vérité Closed take this category. A longer listening session might yield some issues with comfort on 1 (or both) of them, but in my limited testing environment, I didn't detect any major problems.
To be honest, before this comparison, I was under the impression that the MDR-Z1R would be the poorest contender. However, I was pleasantly surprised that it won in a few categories. For a basshead like myself, the bass section is quite possibly the most important category, and one that I'd actively seek when testing new headphones (or IEMs). In this regard, the Sony did really well. Plus, it was a champ in the staging department.
On the other hand, the Denon AH-D9200 was a headphone that I held in high regard (and I still do). However, it didn't handily trump the other 2 headphones in many categories, and only managed to eke out a win in the treble department. Make no mistake, it is still a great product, though, with a clean and detailed profile, and a bass section that has great texture.
Lastly, the ZMF Vérité Closed is quite possibly the champion by virtue of its few wins, and not being the worst in any single aspect. It combines great technical capabilities with great bass and midrange sections. It's one weakness was its less-than-stellar treble presence. In conclusion, it's definitely a great headphone, worthy of being one of the best in the contemporary market.