The year of Sony is here.
Sony is taking more, and more time in the limelight. The beautiful Xperia Z 5” Android smartphone, the upcoming PS4 and the PS Vita are some examples. Headphones have been a strong area for the company for ages, and I still remember the in-ear headphones I got for my Walkman some fifteen years ago. The top tier of their headphones segment is called Prestige, and there is a good reason for it. The products are both expensive, and come with great specs. The pair I am currently testing is the noise cancelling MDR-1RNC. Yeah, product names are perhaps not their strongest area of expertise.
The 1RNC is a massive set of on-ear cans with built in NC-circuitry. They look absolutely gorgeous with black leather, black metal and some bright metallic red details. They have class and style without getting lavish or vulgar. The build quality is great, and there is no squeaking or creaking when moving using these. I also find them to be extremely comfortable, and easy to wear for hours. The headband is properly padded, and absorbs most of the weight without me noticing it. There is however one aspect that is quite uncomfortable: the NC microphones inside the earcups protrude and poke me when I adjust the headphones.
You can use these with, or without the NC-circuitry engaged. A small switch on the bottom of the left earcup turns it on, and off. A light shows when it is active. Using a micro-USB cable at the bottom of the right earcup does charging. The built-in battery lasts for ages. Specified at 22 hours, but I can’t confirm nor deny this as they have yet to run out in the two weeks I have used them. Sure I haven’t tallied the hours, but that is with normal usage of perhaps one to two hours a day. The rest of the time I have used them with the NC off.
The sound is rich, and balanced without any aspect of the sound taking over. These are no Beats by Dr Dre where you get an headache after the first hours of fun bass. Instead you get a really rich experience where jazz works just as well as some Skrillex. There is however quite a difference in experience whether you use the NC-circuitry or not.
With the circuitry engaged you get a kind of spacey sound that is quite common for this tech. It is not as bad, as the Bose QuietComfort series that make me feel like I am underwater. I would still only advice you to use the NC where it is needed to get rid of unwanted ambient sounds. Humming fans, airplane engines and distant chatter is removed quite successfully. Immediate sounds such as someone speaking to you will not be removed at all. My kids are having quite a conversation with me, as I am writing this despite having music and NC on.
Without the circuitry the sound opens up much more, and bass gets more pronounced. It gets much more fun to listen to music. The passive noise isolation by the sheer design, and thick padding of the earcups blocks out quite a lot of ambience. Actually I found that voices are drowning better because of the fuller bass sound.
Why should you get the more expensive NC-version of the MDR? You fly frequently, you work around a lot ambient noises or you just want to have the beefiest version of these headphones. For most users I recommend getting the less expensive, but just as fun and premium MDR-1R.
The MDR lineup from Sony features three premium sets of headphones much in the same style of Ultimate Ears: one normal, one NC and one Bluetooth. You can’t go wrong with any of these models, but just make sure you get the version that applies to your needs. If you need something to compare to the Ultimate Ears range is easy, as they come with almost the same features and equally great sound. The range from Sony looks more classy though with a metal/leather finish.