The Solid Sony MDR-1R, MDR-1RBT, and MDR-1NC Page 2


Sound Quality
After initially hearing the MDR-1R I had hoped all three headphones would have similar sound signatures. Unfortunately, that's not the case, all three headphones have fairly strongly different characteristics so I will be commenting on the sound of each separately.

Sony MDR-1R
Like most sealed headphones, the Sony MDR-1R has a somewhat uneven frequency response. Bass response is probably the biggest problem suffering from a lack of extension into the lowest octave and being a bit bloated in the mid-bass. The mid-range is good, but has a slightly emphasized upper-mid making the sound, especially of female vocals, present and forward, though pleasantly so. The treble is very well behaved delivering good clarity and very little, if any, treble harshness. Even though the top octave is a tad laid-back, the sense of space and audio image is surprisingly good. The balance between the bass, mids, and treble is pretty good and, though a little uneven, the overall impression is of a fairly well balanced sound.

I found the problems with the sonics of the 1R got worse as they were turned up---the mid-bass bloat and forward upper-mids became somewhat overpowering. But at lower listening levels---where I prefer to listen---they sounded quite a bit better, delivering a good bass experience, a nice sense of presence in the vocals, and a good sense of space. I think most people will be quite satisfied with the sound, though audiophiles will find them a bit off the pace of the best cans in this category...but just a bit.

Sony MDR-1BT
While the MDR-1RBT might have fairly good sound for a Bluetooth headset, it does have some significant sonic problems. The most obvious of which is a strongly booming bass response and a significant suck-out in response at around 300Hz. The net result for me was being drawn to either the strong, warm bass, or presence range of vocals with little in the way of mid-range balance and clarity between. Treble response is good, and while a bit more artificial sounding than the 1R, is not harsh or strident.

The thing is, at the current price of $299 I don't think I've heard anything better. The $100 more expensive Parrot Zik sounds a bit more even in response, but also sounds more artificial. Also $100 more expensive, the UE 9000 in BT mode is even more overemphatic in the lows and has a somewhat disturbing sharp and artificial high treble.

Bottom line: While I find flaws in the Bluetooth audio, I also think it's among the best I've heard, and it's very nicely priced relative to the competition in this category. The MDR-1RBT uses Bluetooth version 3.0, and the Advanced Audio Distribution Protocol (A2DP). Clarity of both transmission and reception during phone calls was excellent.

This model is a bit of a failure in the sound quality department. In the un-powered passive mode, the headphones had a strong warm tilt, making them sound murky and dull. While the treble articulation was good, and the mid-range was fairly even sounding, both were cast aside with too much warmth in the sound.

Once the active noise canceling was turned on, the bass bloat was slightly reduced, but the treble became disturbingly more emphatic. I suppose one could argue that in high noise environments emphasizing the high frequencies improves speech intelligibility. The problem is that I spent some time in front of my desktop speakers playing crowded bar noise, pink noise, and brown noise, comparing the Sony MDR-1RNC and the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, and I finished the listening session absolutely convinced that the Bose had significantly better noise canceling and sound quality in noisy environments.

Please be aware that noise canceling headphones are really only needed in very loud environments and usually deliver less than stellar sound quality. If you'll only occasionally be doing air travel listening in loud bars, and most of the use for the headphones will be in portable, home, and office applications, you're likely better off with a sealed headphone that will work okay on the plane but sound much better otherwise than noise canceling headphones.

Summary Sony MDR-1R
With it's very good looks, very good comfort, good sound quality, and very attractive price, I find myself compelled to put these versatile headphones up on the Wall of Fame as the best all around portable, around the ear headset.

Better sound is available with the Sennheiser Momentum, but fit problems with larger than average ears and head size make it difficult to recommend broadly. And people looking for solid, punchy bass would be better off with the V-Moda M-100. Both, however, are more than $100 more expensive than the Sony MDR-1R.

Summary Sony MDR-1RBT
Like its wired sibling, the MDR-1RBT has very good looks and comfort, and while its sound quality is somewhat lacking compared to the 1R, it's quite good for a Bluetooth headset. The price at $299 though is the big win, with most high-end BT headsets being hundreds of dollars more the Sony MDR-1RBT is a terrific buy, and will go up on the Wall of Fame as the best all-around Bluetooth headset.

Summary Sony MDR-1RNC
Really good looks and comfort just aren't enough to recommend the MDR-1RNC over the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, which handily bests the 1RNC in both noise canceling and sound quality at a price $100 lower. Not recommended.

Sony home page and product pages for the MDR-1R, MDR-1RBT, and MDR-1RNC.
Head-Fi reviews and discussion threads here, here, and here.

Sony Electronics Inc.
(201) 930-1000
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