On a quest for the best sound for audiophiles looking for the real thing in ideal audio, engineers and designers worked together to create an amp, player and headphones that deliver the ultimate musical experience.
“What are audiophiles searching for in ideal sound?” Sony’s answer in the Signature Series is the reproduction of the finest details of sound. Sony sought a reproduction so powerful that listeners would experience the sound space so intimately that they might even feel they could discern the temperature and feel of the air. The goal was to deliver the finest details of every sound—from the moment before the performance starts, to the breath before the vocal, through the final fade to silence. The Signature Series sound space imparts an experience so physical that listeners feel immersed in the breadth and depth of stereophonic sound.
Having built a musical culture around headphones, Sony had the vision to reproduce the finest details of sound with a minimally sized component. Mobilizing Sony’s long history of analog and digital technologies for reproducing high-quality sound, we worked hard to design a line of products that would heighten the experience of great sound quality. Our overall goal was to transform the experience from just listening to music, to actually feeling it.
The design was completely driven by the commitment to top sound quality with zero noise. Materials were selected for their acoustic characteristics. The housing was shaped for optimal sound transmission. Even the signal path on the circuit board was determined by audio requirements. We kept going back to the basics, seeking the optimal shape, materials, and processing for the audio, ignoring the customary cost. We also focused on the elements that contribute to great sound quality and adopted a design that made the most of their properties, while eliminating everything extraneous to create a simple, iconic design that totally exudes premium sound quality.
In order to deliver even better sound quality than past hi-end models, our entire design team had to reevaluate our prejudices about what makes for “good design” and redirect our focus. Engineers and designers worked together from the beginning stages of development to elicit essential structures, shapes, and ideas to achieve a high level of sound quality. This involved a great deal of effort, but it was an indispensable part of the process.
Tomoaki Takuma, Chief Art Director
For the MDR-Z1R, we focused intently on the design of the housing to reproduce a sound space that is true to the original sound. The housing has a significant effect on sound quality and can create unwanted resonance or distort sound. We went back to the basics to design a housing that would reduce resonance as much as possible. It was the image of an inflated sail that gave us the clue we needed. We turned our attention to designing a housing that would, like cloth, naturally embrace the sound pressure generated by the diaphragm. This concept led us naturally to the flowing, organically curved design of the housing. The single-sheet gentle curve reduces as much vibration and eliminates as much resonance as possible.
The dual housing structure with a permeable acoustic resistor and wire mesh protector controls air flow through the housing to reproduce the full expanse of natural sound. This combination not only reproduces great sound, but also helps achieve the ambient silence that we were seeking.
Another feature of the MDR-Z1R is the capacity to reproduce super-high 120 kHz sound frequency. In order to draw out the best of this feature, we introduced a new design for the grill in front of the diaphragm, the component that produces sound. In the design process, we realized that a simple grill shape emphasizing durability would not easily reproduce the qualities of high-resolution sound at 20 kHz or higher. We experimented with several designs, looking for the perfect grill that would faithfully reproduce even the tiniest differences in sound. What we came up with is a Fibonacci sequence, a pattern that is found constantly in nature. This grill pattern reproduces the intended sound properties smoothly at all frequencies. It is made of stiff resin to achieve both thinness and strength and minimize sound damping from the grill at high-resolution frequencies.
The MDR-Z1R is designed for exceptional sound quality, but doesn’t forget about fit. In soft sheep skin to keep your ears comfortable and dry, the ear pads are added with 3D sewing based on ergonomic design for the most comfortable fit.
There are no design artifices employed in the Signature Series. Every single element is, in essence, driven by function. We did this so that users could understand how great the sound quality is, and why, just by looking at the product. We want users to enjoy this unprecedented sound quality experience together with the unique story told by the product.
Shogo Yashiro, Art Director
Revisiting the Walkman with a new emphasis on premium sound quality, we went back to the drawing board to reconfigure the circuit board and redesign the housing materials for the NW-WM1Z. To achieve even better sound quality, we emphasized a flow of sound that would create the least amount of noise. To minimize noise, we configured the interior to direct the signal straight from the unit memory to the upper headphone jack. This circuit board configuration is plainly reflected in the unique position of the two headphone jacks on either side of the top housing. This resulted in a distinct design that not only embodies the direct flow of sound, but also, with its trim body, makes it easier for the user to hold and protects the buttons from bumps and jolts.
We were particularly discriminating about the materials we selected for the housing of the NW-WM1Z, using oxygen-free copper to bring out the very best in the acoustics. Cut face processing is employed to highlight the solidity of the carefully selected metal. We rounded the edges for corners, which makes the body more dent-resistant and durable. The NW-WM1Z housing is plated in gold, to make the most of the natural beauty of this material, which is known for producing high quality sound.
We also developed a new user interface, adopting an analog meter to display volume level and a spectrum analyzer to display sound frequency. Even the scales of the volume meters are represented meticulously so that users can enjoy the premium sound quality visually, as well.
We returned to the beginning of Sony’s breakthrough concept for portable music, the first-generation Walkman, to create new value with the NW-WM1Z by pursuing the ultimate in a portable sound quality experience revamped for modern listening styles. Sound quality comes before all else, and I think we definitely achieved that with this new model.
Tanaka , Designer
The TA-ZH1ES is a stationary headphone amplifier specifically designed to elevate the performance of our headphones. To completely eliminate distortion in the electrical circuits, a housing must firmly support and protect the circuit board. This is accomplished with an aluminum case up to 12 mm thick, seamlessly forged with extrusion molding for extreme rigidity that ensures premium sound quality with no distortion. The top plate is made of a combination of aluminum and steel with slight dimples on the surface to control unnecessary resonance. A space is left open around the top plate, highlighting the impressive thickness of the side case and providing the functional bonus of heat release.
Our quest for top sound quality with absolutely no distortion led us to the seamless aluminum case. Instead of boring the headphone jack holes from inside as is usually done, we worked our way in from the outside of the thick aluminum face plate, leaving just a minimal indention around the jacks. This created a look that highlights the solidity of the material, giving aesthetic expression to the value of the housing.
How can we help users intuitively operate a shape and layout that are created first and foremost to achieve great sound quality? This was a key in developing a design for the Signature Series that syncs essential functions with usability to achieve a product that lets users experience premium sound quality in true comfort.
Deguchi , Designer
Welcome to the Signature Series, the sound experience Sony discovered in its quest to delight the true audiophile with a passion for perfect sound.