Sony MDR-EX600 and MDR-EX1000 In Ear Headphones

I've spent a lot of time with good balanced armature monitors stuck in my ears. Mostly it's a pleasure --- there are some darn good headphones out there of this type: Jerry Harvey Audio JH13, Shure SE530, Etymotic ER4P, and Audéo PFE come to mind. I've also spent a good bit of time with in-ear monitors that use dynamic drivers. That hasn't been nearly as pleasurable.

Lately, that's begun to change, and with the Sony MDR-EX600 and MDR-EX1000 I'm thinking we've got a real horse race on our hands.

The Sony MDR-EX600 ($199) and MDR-EX1000 ($499)
These two new dynamic driver in-ear monitors from Sony are rather unusual looking due to their side-firing design. The driver is mounted with its diaphragm surface facing forward, and has a nozzle coming off the edge of the driver enclosure. The advantage of this configuration is that you can have a very large driver and still get it close to the ear. This design is starting to appear more often now and is shared by the Spider Cable Realvoice headphones I reviewed recently and favorably.

As the EX600 and EX1000 share many common attributes, I'll review them together, noting the differences as needed.

Build Quality and Accessories
The build quality of both these headphones appears very good. The EX1000 has a cast magnesium body, the EX600 is not specified, but some parts appear to be metal. Both headphones have driver diameters of 16mm; the EX600 has a multi-layer film diaphragm, while the EX1000 has a liquid crystal polymer film diaphragm.

Both headphone use the same cable, which has a proprietary connector on the earpiece end, and a 90 degree angled 1/8" stereo mini-plug on the other end. The "Y" cable has 18" branches to each ear with a sliding keeper, and the four inches of cable at each ear has a "memory wire" section to retain its form as the wire goes up and over the ears. Overall cable length is about four feet.

Both headphones come with the same mind-boggling array of 10 tips --- 7 sizes of the regular tip (labeled the "hybrid" tip), and 3 sizes of "noise isolation" tip, which has a small donut of foam in the tip to provide a tighter fit in the ear.

The carry case that comes with the headphones is very large, and it's rather complicated to store the headphones in. Personally, I would rather have had something smaller and more convenient that would fit in a pocket.

Ergonomics and Isolation
These earphones have an unusual physical configuration, and it wasn't immediately obvious how to put them on. The drivers are labeled clearly, however, and I like the idea of having the cable route over the top of the ear and snugged together at the back of the neck with the keeper. Once I managed to figure it all out and select the best tip, I found these headphones to be surprisingly comfortable, virtually disappearing after a little while ... quite unusual. Oddly, I had a similar experience with the Realvoice IEM that uses a similar vertically mounted dynamic driver. Something about this configuration works well.

The Sonys did not isolate very well. I did measure isolation with both the hybrid and noise isolating tips and it made no difference at all. MOdest isolation is not necessarily a bad thing. My experience is that most IEMs isolate very, very well, and can be dangerous while walking around as you can become completely unaware of your surroundings. I think in some cases it's wise to wear an in-ear headphone that lets you hear some of your surroundings. When bicycling or skateboarding, for example, it is dangerous to wear headphones that completely isolate. While I can't recommend it as it remains dangerous, these Sony cans would be a good alternative to high-isolation IEMs for these types of activities. On the other hand, if you are looking for headphones for train or airplane travel, I would suggest you look elsewhere. (Etymotic ER4P, Audeo PFE, the Shure SE-line, for instance.)

Also, and this is an odd one, because of the funny shape of these headphones they seem to be prone to making noise on a windy day. There are some comments in the forum threads about this. There wasn't much wind here in Montana during testing, so I stuck my head in front of a fan and did hear significant noise. Um ... sailors and bicycle riders beware?

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COMMENTS
UtzY's picture

How would you comment on MDR-EX600 vs Etymotic dynamic earphones?...I'm searching for a good, accurate, balanced dynamic IEM. Thanks! :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The MC3 (the MC5 is the non-headset version) is a bit mid-range forward sounding; a slightly more colored headphone as I recall. The Ety will isolate lots better ... lots. Big price difference to. I think I'd rather listen to the Sony, but I haven't reviewed the Ety yet so no firm conclusions.
Limp's picture

Stay away from the MC3/5 is my personal recommendation, I couldn't find any fovourable attributes to them. I do not have a very large vocabulary for describing these sort of things, but my impression was of a sort of invisible shroud partially conceiling nuances, top to bottom.
The hf and er series on the other hand. Yummy :)
Mesurements would be most welcome, however. It is always exciting to see if personal experiences can be correlated with scientific data.

Oh. these stetements seem to conflict. Care to elaborate?

"Some tracks were almost unlistenable when played from my iPod Touch. It was better from my iPhone; better yet with my TTVJ Slim attached to the iPhone; and downright yummy driven from the dandy DAC in my HeadRoom Max."

"Both headphones will be easily driven by portable players, but the EX600 is a bit more efficient at 27mVrms to achieve 90dBSPL compared to the EX1000s 32mVrms."

On paper they appear to be a breeze for most any portable device, about on par with the aforementioned PFE. Is there some extra mojo going on with these dynamic drivers?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Both headphones are quite efficient, so they can easily be driven by a portable source. But if the source was of poor quality, the EX1000 was far less forgiving as it had a penchant to make errors --- especially in edginess --- worse.

The MC3 has been measured: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/Etymoticmc3.pdf

It look like it lacks speed to me, which echos your "shroud" comment.

I like the ER and HF series as well.

Alondite's picture

I've heard wonderful things about Ety's ERs. I'm thinking of adding them to my collection at some point, but are they worth the asking price? How do they compare to Vsonic's GR07? I have a pair of GR07s that I absolutely love. The sound is so...effortless and fatigue-free. I'm aware that that isn't the signature of the ER, which is largely why they are on my list of potential BA IEMs (Along with the CK10, DBA-02, and HF5). I'd like to have an array of sound signatures within my headphone collection.

In the case that you haven't had the pleasure of hearing the GR07s, I highly recommend giving them a listen sometime. I'd love to hear what you think of them and see how they measure (if for nothing more than to have a point of reference to compare other headphones to). Just make sure you give them time to settle into their sound (at least 50 hours) because they are quite horrid straight out of the box.

Thanks in advance!

13mh13's picture

Nice review, Tyll!

Especially like the published Measurements. Can you try to add a Measurement-comparison engine ... i.e., like HeadRoom's "Build A Headphone Graph" ?

How do the EX1000 compare to ... Senn. IE-8 (which is also a dynamic -- and a personal fave)? Have you (Tyll/anyone) compared the EX1000s to JVC700. Radius models look similar to Sony's dynamic design -- so any comments here?

Tyll/anyone ... while I've got your attn ... any thoughts on EarSonics EM3 or "ES sound" in general?

In the Sony review, Shure 535 were mentioned ... I don't like Shure sound overall -- amped or unamped. E.g., I WAY prefer IE-8. I own the 530s which are probably close enough to the 535s to warrant an opinion on the newer 535 model.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
There is some work going on with a graph comparison tool. I think we'll just have to be a bit patient there.

I think the IE8 is a little loose in the bass, but haven't done a serious review yet, so can't say with surety.

Funny how I've heard so many negative comments about the Shure SE535, maybe I'm going to have to re-listen, but I've loved my experiences with them.

Haven't heard the EarSonics, but I'd like to.

13mh13's picture

Tyll: Thx for your response. The IE-8s sound very balanced to me. The FR seems to corroborate this. Overall, this SQ attribute ideal for most of my apps, but I like to try new/diff. designs, too. E.g. analytical vs. laid back.

i recently gave my long-put-away 530s a re-listen. Pretty much can't stand them ;) ... but they are faster than my IEM std., the IE-8 (WRT dynamics, decays, transients). The IE-8s are almost as fast and do a lot more right, IMO. This ("FASTness" or PRaT) is one of my top subjective metrics. May be impulse-response related. Too bad the Shures get so much else wrong.

How about the Grado GR10 ... comparison-wise amongst various models: EX1000, Shure 53x, IE-8, etc.? Graph-tooling 530 vs. 530 seems to suggest 530s are flatter. That said ... FR isn't everything.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Your points are totally valid, and for me to respond apropriately will take months.

i've been doing full size seal for a little while. I'll be moving into IEMs soon. The IE8 needs to be measured yet, and I was surprised at the Grado measurements. I'm working on it.

13mh13's picture

Tyll: Take as long as necessary.

Seems like everybody and their brother is subjectively reviewing cans these days. Most, IMO, are a dime-a-dozen and possibly even counter-productive: e.g. have led to some personal buying decisions that were far from optimal!

When I used the Head Room Graph tool (and studied the published metrics/graphs on IF and http://sonove.angry.jp/ ) a lot of my subjective experience made sense. E.g., why I like the IE8 above all other I've hear thus far can be tied to its SMOOTH, relatively FLAT FR and (i.e., concurrent with) low THD. "But...", some would say, "...what about that huge non-linear bass hump?" I'll argue that it is important for psych-acoustic reasons: IEMs w/o that EQing sound loud and "shouty" to my ears. Shure is an example (tho the old E2C had better spectrum IMO).

Too bad headphone objective tests are so under-utilized!

This prompts a question: is headphone test equipment expensive? And/or otherwise difficult to use/master? The private site from Japan http://sonove.angry.jp/ *seems* to indicate that a DIYer can test, too. That said, dunno if, e.g., Sonove is univ. student with *access* to scientific instruments (or works in the headphone/electronics industry and also works on "government projects" ;)

3ox's picture

This is also why "objective tests" can be so misleading. I had IE-8 and didn't think they were that good at all as, to me, the critical mids were overwhelmed by the bass/midbass. And that is a subjective opinion, to be sure.

But calling the IE-8 response flat? Well... there is almost 15 db of variation between 10 cps and 1 kc. The only "flat" part is between 1 and 2 kc, after which they slope off a bit to a dip at 5 kc before recovering to 10 kc. I also suspect the some of the smoothness (not all) is due to the measurement technique used at the time of the Headroom charts, the I-F charts seem to be more resolved/less averaged.

The Sony MDR-1000 reviewed above varies only 5 db over the range of 10 cps to 2kc (!) and have dips around 4kc and 6 kc. To me, these are MUCH smoother and flatter than the IE-8, especially through the critical range up to 2 kc where most musical fundimentals reside.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to compare distortion measurements as the Headroom distortion measurements were only taken at one spot frequency while the Inner Fidelity measurements are true swept charts (excellent job, Tyll). It should be mentioned that the Sony's measured mostly below .5% over the measured range, quite a good result. Parenthetically, I have also wondered why Stereophile's otherwise excellent measurements do not show distortion charts...

I was not able to find IE-8 charts on Sonove as your link did not take me to the specific measurements for them. And, since I don't speak/read the language, I cannot personally comment on their measurement techniques.

At any rate, measurements may be objective, but the users interpretaion of them and the measurers decision of what to measure may not be. Warning, I own and like the Sony MDR-1000, so I may be falling into my own trap (LOL).

Best, Kevin

13mh13's picture

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rich tanaka's picture

Tyll writes a great report on the Sony EX1000. It is a great sounding earphone and I agree with him totally. This IEM by Sony is one of their best ever made. They did make many headphones and in ear phones all through the years compared to others.

His illustrations of how various earphones fit the mould of a human ear is interesting. Many manufacturers and designers should pay attention to his insightful ideas of how an IEM should preferably fit and sit on the human ears. Shure got this right. The Shure 535 sits nicely in the ear and should be emulated by others.

In Japan, it is surprising that people looks to imported hifi gears as being better both sound wise and in functions. I think it is about sob appeals. Japanese audiophiles love the McIntosh, JBL etc. For IEM, they love the Shure and other US makes. Local brands are for the poorer salaried men.

So it is with some surprise that Sony's EX1000 (a local brand) is a runaway best seller here in Japan. Many salaried men or high school students will not mind skipping their lunch or outings with their GF to save and buy this earphone.

Today, many Japanese audiophiles use this Sony to listen to their portable devices or over more expensive rigs at home during night hours so as not to disturb their family or their neighbors. It is rapidly growing into a cult IEM. Many heavily modified the phone with silver cables as the earphones' cables in line with industry trend are usable replaceable. It is not uncommon to use third parties cables though I personally think the ones that come as standards with the set are good enough. Perhaps, third party silver cables are a little brighter and is that is your cup of Japanese green tea, that is your choice.

We usually as a rule do not use this Sony EX1000 for our MP3 whether FLAC or lossless. I think the lower price Sony are more suited for these players. We can only do justice to the EX1000 with better gears and with headphone amps. In my opinion, the phone sounds at it's best with SACD sources and coupled with a class A headphone amplifier like the one from Musical Fidelity. But as sonic tastes are different with different listeners, a bit of experimentation will help.

Regarding the EX1000, the only gripe, I have is the seal of the phone to the ear. The solution is to try the various vast array of tips that come with the set. The problem with most IEM listeners is they are always in a hurry. Hurry to listen before finding the right ear tips for their ears. They also hurried to put the earphones into their ears.

At a recent hifi show, audience were told that the human ear and canal are very different for everyone. Next, the angle and the tilt of the openings of the earphone tips in the ears also dramatically affects the sound quality. So try not to rush when inserting the tips into our ears. Take your time and you will be rewarded with better sound. Better bass is a function of tightness of the fit. But better mids and highs are function of the way the openings are tilted in the ears.

Personally, the Sony EX1000 is without any doubt one of the best earphones available. Many had written at length on how this earphone sounds and I cannot outdo the lavish praises they made. If you have already bought this, I suggest you buy a second pair of cables (1.2 metres) in reserve just in case the current pair of cables wears off through everyday usage over time.

Enjoy.

Peterlovemusic's picture

Hi,Tyll

i'm green for headphone,as you can see the price in EX1000 and EX600 differ is huge,but from the measurement result they only have the slightly difference in frequency response,50hz and 300 hz square wave,isolation,impedance etc.(I didn't look those information so carefully) but I wonder that the will soundstage,clarity be the same?

good luck,good health

Thank you!

Peterlovemusic's picture

I only own the ipod classic and I don't own any amplifier,so if I use the EX600/1000 on my ipod will the ipod to be harsh to drive the EX600/1000?And will they perform not as good as come with the amplifier?

Thank you,

Peter

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think the EX600 is the way to go; the 1000 is a bit bright. I think the EX600 should do just fine straight out of an iPod. Sure it will get better with a good amp, but if keeping the cost down is important, the EX600 should do well.
engelhaft's picture

Hi Tyll,

Do you know if the cable for the ex1000 has 4 conductors? I would like to try it with a balanced cable.

Do you know if there is a place where I can get a better cable for this earphone?

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