New Kid on the Block
Closed back, circumaural headphones are the most common kind of cans you will find on the market. But a good pair is extremely hard to manufacture. There are a number of factors which need to be considered and balanced. Sony got quite close to a good mix of quality audio, premium comfort and pricing with the Sony MDR-1R. A year later today at IFA 2013, they've introduced the Sony MDR-10R as another product in the same product range.
Design and Comfort Matters
You expect new products to exhibit a gradual evolution of design and aesthetics. The new MDR-10R completely breaks from the looks of the older MDR-1R, even though Sony states that they are part of the same extended series. We find the newer model to have a greater sense of refinement and it also looks less ungainly.
It is also evident that the frame of the MDR-10R is a bit more oval than the MDR-1R while the headband has trimmed down in thickness. The shape of the ear-cups has been re-imagined into more ergonomic contours, cushioning seems to be plusher and the faux leather covering is quite soft to the touch.
With a big departure in terms of design and aesthetics, there is also a huge difference in the fit and comfort levels of the Sony MDR-10R and the Sony MDR-1R. We certainly preferred the more contoured and ergonomically shaped ear-cups of the MDR-10R as opposed to the loose and overly large ear-cups of the MDR-1R. The faux leather cushioning on the new model also provided a better fit and was less prone to causing over-heating of ears when compared with the older model.
However, we were not fans of the MDR-10R’s thinner headband. Sure it won’t mess up your hairdo, but it fails to provide adequate contact with the top of the user’s head. On the whole though, we still feel the new MDR-10R one-ups the MDR-1R in terms of overall comfort.
Hardware and Features
Much like the older Sony MDR-1R, the Sony MDR-10R comes equipped with 40mm drivers. Sony also states that the new headphones feature "Beat Response Control". This term refers to the optimized diaphragm movements, which according to Sony delivers better controlled airflow resistance when the headphones are pumping out bass notes. Ideally with such a feature, we should expect better pacing and rhythm for the low frequencies.
It is also interesting to note that the MDR-10R has an impedance of 40 Ohms. Conventional wisdom suggests that 32 Ohms is approximately the upper limit for a load that can be comfortably driven by source devices such as smartphones, tablets and notebooks. The Sony MDR-10R seems to be a little over this limit and ideally you would prefer to pair it with an external amplifier.
But the headphones come with a 3.5mm plug, as opposed to the 6.35mm connector which amplifiers more commonly accept. Take note though, the MDR-10R can be twisted to a flat profile and comes with a soft carrying pouch. This seems to suggest that users are supposed to pair the cans with their smartphone or portable music player. As such, we’ll have to see if the impedance rating has any implications with regards to casual performance in our later test segment.
Finally, the Sony MDR-10R has a feature titled "High Resolution Audio". Top quality disc recordings have a resolution of 96kHz/24-bit. Such tracks contain more information when compared with the compressed MP3 files most common users listen to. High Resolution Audio is meant to enhance compressed audio and re-introduce the color and the nuances that have been pared off, somewhat like how Creative's Crystalizer function tries to 'add' lost detail of compressed audio files.
The Sony MDR-10R seems to sound out its credentials as an audiophile headphone with its specifications and features. But the proof is always in the pudding, so we tasked the cans to handle our usual MP3 test suite.
Starting off with Melt My Heart to Stone by Adele, the Sony MDR-10R displayed good trebles which impressed us with its clarity. However, the highs and mids slightly lacked the characteristic warmth of the track in this rendition. In our opinion, the clear tone of the headphones was much more suited to Hotel California by The Eagles. The guitar work on the track sparkled and came to life thanks to the MDR-10R’s proficiency with the high frequencies. A wide and spacious soundstage also helped bring the live atmosphere of the track to the fore.
Sail On Soothsayer represented a slight hiccup in terms of performance for the MDR-10R. While the attack of Buckethead’s chiming guitars was spot on, the rest of the composition was not done justice. The heavy distortion did not have the desired impact and we felt that it could have benefited from greater definition.
With regards to bass, the Sony MDR-10R displayed controlled and defined low frequencies on Elements of Life. However, this is achieved at the expense of deeper extension and impact. "Bassheads" would most definitely not be impressed with the headphones. The pacing of the headphones for the techno track was spot on, but we have heard headphones with a better sense of rhythm such as the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ears. In our opinion, the "Beat Response Control" didn't really impact our test findings.
On the other hand, "High Resolution Audio" seemed to have worked as advertised. The mix of Elements of Life was done justice. In fact, we could hear nuances and elements of the song which are generally inaudible when using other headphones in this class. We would not go as far as saying that the feature turned our MP3 track into CD quality audio, but there was noticeable improvement.
|Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele||7.5|
|Elements of Life - Tiesto||7.0|
|Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead||7.0|
|Hotel California - The Eagles||7.5|
|Overall Audio Performance||7.5|
Concluding Thoughts - Old vs. New
Seeing that the Sony MDR-10R is similar in hardware to the older Sony MDR-1R and from the same series, it's hard to not compare the audio performances of the two headphones against each other. The first thing that hits you is the discrepancy in volume levels. The MDR-1R has a sensitivity of 105dB/mW while the MDR-10R has a sensitivity of 100dB/mW. In layman’s terms, this means that the former should be slightly louder than the latter when both are heard with the same volume settings.
However in practice, the MDR-1R was significantly louder than the MDR-10R. We can only surmise that this was due to the fact that the older headphones have an impedance of 24 Ohms, which could easily be driven by our source device, as opposed to the more load intensive 40 Ohm rating of the MDR-10R.
In terms of audio quality, the MDR-1R casts a better first impression. It has a fuller sound, warmer trebles and much deeper bass which instantly catches the attention of the listener. However over any extended duration of listening, the new Sony MDR-10R wins out. Sure it may not be as impactful as the MDR-1R, but it veers more towards a neutral tone. The clear, balanced trebles and controlled, tight bass as well as the MDR-10R’s attention to detail make it the better headphone in our opinion. Not to mention, comfort levels of the newcomer are also improved.
The Sony MDR-10R headphones will only be available in November. Going to the Sony USA Store shows that the headphones are ready for pre-order and the estimated shipping date for the product is 10th November 2013. The stated price for the MDR-10R is also given as US$199.99 (prices for Singapore are unavailable as of yet). When compared with the MDR-1R, which has a price-tag of US$299.99, you realize that the new cans are a full US$100 cheaper.
We may have used the MDR-1R as a reference point for categorizing the performance of the MDR-10R, but the pricing shows that the two products are aimed at different markets. The MDR-1R is billed as a premium product, while the MDR-10R is priced at a more competitive price-point to reach a broader range of consumers. Both cans belong to the same MDR range but are meant to appeal to two different consumer profiles.
Along with the MDR-10R, Sony has also released the following variants of the MDR-10R headphones.
- The MDR-10RC is compact and foldable to appeal to travelers
- A Bluetooth enabled version with NFC support is available with the MDR-10RBT (US$249.99)
- A noise-cancelling capable MDR-10RNC (US$269.99)
With regards to the true “successor” to the MDR-1R, Sony is planning to release a follow-up model named the MDR-1RMK2 which will be launched in mid-October.
The MDR-1RMK2 will also feature High Resolution Audio which the new MDR-10R sports. The new MDR-1RMK2 will also be available in Bluetooth and Noise Cancelling.
We have managed to obtain pricing for the MDR-1R Mark 2 headphones, which can be found below. Do note that this is the US pricing and Singapore prices may not be direct conversions. Sony also stated that the older MDR-1R will still be available for sale alongside the new MK2 when it is released, so there will not be a phasing out of the first model.
- Sony MDR-1RMK2 (standard version): US$299
- Sony MDR-1RBTMK2 (Bluetooth version): US$399
- Sony MDR-1RNCMK2 (Noise cancelling version): US$499
With So many MDR headphones hitting the market, we wish you good luck differentiating them in retail.