Sony MDR-1RBT Headphones

One of the benefits at my new company is an employee discount at the Sony store. Most stuff is 15-20% off, some things more than that, some things no discount at all. Some time during my first week I check it out. I'm looking at all the stuff that I have no need for and I notice that I can buy my old standard headphones (MDR-7506's) on there for a little cheaper than elsewhere. Good to remember.

I've always wished they made these in a bluetooth model so that I could go without the heavy, jangly cable, but it seems that no one is interested in making bluetooth headphones that actually sound good and work well. Lo and behold! Sony has a new headphone model that supposedly has the same or similar drivers as the MDR-7506's, but bluetooth! This model, MDR-1RBT, is not cheap though. $400. For this item my discount is 50%! Still, $200 is a lot for headphones so I look around for reviews.

Getting great reviews! Lots of favorable comparisons to the MDR-7506's, too. And they fold flat, which is one of the only complaints I have about the 7506's. I'm sold. I order at the end of May. They must be selling well because they were out of stock for two months.

Once they finally arrive... disappointment. :( They sound pretty good, but nowhere near the 7506's. And it wasn't the compression artifacts, either. The bass was really overbearing, to the point of muddy. Maybe they have crappy amplifiers in there? My dad said the microphone worked really well for telephone calls. But I'll be using them to listen to music 99% of the time so that doesn't make up for the so-so sound.

As far as the Bluetooth of it, it worked pretty well pairing to everything I tried (iPhone 4S, work Mac, home Mac) just so long as it was paired with the one device. Switching the pairing between the devices wasn't seamless, which I was hoping for. There were a few drop-outs, not many, but I was hoping for perfect connectivity. There was also a really annoying latency when changing tracks, volume, etc. It may be have have been my devices, or maybe it's simply unavoidable with Bluetooth. I think I could learn to live with it, but I'm going to guess that other devices don't have this problem.

It has an obnoxious blue LED that flashes every few seconds while paired which I HATE. If I'm going to use wireless over-the-ear headphones I'm already treading the dorkiness line, I don't need any more help looking like an asshole. I have an old pair of Motorola headphones that have something similar that require a special button-combo to turn the lights off, but there doesn't appear to be any way to turn this light off on the MDR-1RBT's. Having visual feedback in the "interface" of the device is nice, but a much better idea would be to discreetly put those lights on the inside of the ear cups.

They do fold flat, which is nice, but they fold so that if you put them around your neck they fold with the ear cups facing outwards/up. That's a problem for three reasons. First, the way they sit on your head means that the spring action plus the folding causes the ear cups to naturally very slightly pull backwards on your head. That's bad for comfort. Second, this tension encourages the mechanism to throw the phones off your head if you are jolted. Third, it means that when the headphones are around your neck the most sensitive part of the device and the part that directly touches your skin, the inside of the ear cups, is exposed to the elements (not to mention that it makes them stick out and press up against your neck/chin in a weird way). Having the inside of headphones hanging out in the air like that just feels wrong. Headphones-around-neck is a very common way of temporarily wearing headphones so getting the ergonomics of this right is important. If they reversed these side hinges it would be so much better. It's a simple design flaw that really hurts the ergonomics of the device.

One smart feature they did include was a direct-connect jack so that you could use the headphones without pairing. Since my platonic ideal headphones would require a direct connection for music recording, this was a great feature to include. Except they used a 2.5mm jack. WTF? Who actually puts 2.5mm connectors on things these days? They included a 2.5mm to 3.5mm (1/8") cable. What would have been much better is to have a 4-conductor 3.5mm jack that supported Apple's volume up/down & play/pause resistor signaling + microphone like my Sony earbuds do.

In the end, I realized that the flaws in the device (muddy bass sound, substandard pairing/connectivity, annoying LED, 2.5mm jack, backwards hinge) all added up to me likely never using them, so I sent them back. $200 was more than these things were worth, I can't imagine someone being satisfied them for $400. I will applaud Sony's tech support and returns process for being pretty easy and efficient, though. Maybe a future version fixes these problems but for now I'll stick with my old standard, the MDR-7506's.

One other note: I recently purchased a pair of velour ear pads to replace the dying, flaking ones I have on my 7506's... THEY ARE AMAZING. So comfortable. The original pads are very good, but even after a few hours they start to get sweaty. These velour pads are excellent. I believe that I could use them for a 16-hour recording bender without them ever being uncomfortable. And the installation is as easy as can be, just carefully pull the edge of the pad over the outer lip of the ear cup and it's securely on.

So that's my new recommendation for headphones: Don't bother with the Sony MDR-1RBT's until they do some fixes. Go for Sony MDR-7506's with Beyerdynamic velour ear pads. Amazing sound, excellent comfort, for only a little over $100.