Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sony MDR-710LP review

Recently I was handed as part of a deluge of other gear a pair of MDR-710 headphones. I didn't actually get around to opening it for a few weeks, but closed mini-phones are something that I'm quite keen on. So, with the 710 being targeted squarely at the PX200 and the AKG K26P, I thought I'd give it a go.


In the UK at least, the price for these phones is about the same as the AKG and the Sennheiser competition. The earcup diameter is very similar between these phones with the AKG being the biggest, the Sennheiser being the thinnest and the Sony being somewhere in between with an earcup diameter identical to the PX200 but with a thicker cup assembly.

The phone arrives in a ball, shipped along with a plastic puck-shaped case.


The folding mechanism is easily the most fiddly when comparing between this, the AKG and the Sennheiser. First the bottom part of the phone has to be folded out, then the top bit folded out and the adjusted into position.


Takes a good deal of time longer than the AKG or Sennheiser, and also is fiddlier to hold in an unfolded position, as it doesn't have enough self-support to prevent it from going into an 'auto-strangle' position.


It's not actually a bad phone to look at, and personally I think it has a fresher look than all the miniphones out there bar the Audio-Technica ATH-ES5.

Because of the extensive creases in the earpad cushions, the phone is not able to form a seal around the earlobe like the K26P or the PX200. And it's not just that - there's actually an opening around the area which the earcup pivots whic lets in /out sound. Which means that rather like the Audio-Technica ATH-ES5 I reviewed a long time ago, the earcup assembly is not actually as acoustically closed as the K26P or the PX200. This also means that it leaks sound outwards significantly more than the AKG and Sennheiser competition, although I couldn't call it an offensive level. While the K26P and PX200 are inaudible at normal volumes when my 'test head' is held out at arms length, the MDR-710 was clearly audible.

A weekend's burn-in being over, I stuck them on my head. I went outside, started walking, cued up Diana Krall's Night In Paris album on the NW-E005 and pressed Play. I didn't even get to the opening cymbals before I made a face. The audience clapping at the start had a dreadful, enclosed tin-can aspect. This is 'closed phone honk' at it's worst. The phone delivers the usual musical frequency range without problems but the treble takes a back seat while the 'tin-can' midrange and the bloated lows take centre stage. The soundstaging is not bad with a fairly spacious feel to the sound, but the overt roughness which is spread throughout the frequency range has an odd 'downsamping' effect, where the song feels like a lower bitrate than it is actually recorded at.

Pros in comparison to PX200 / K26P:
Looks - Rather "90's Japanese Mecha-Anime". Just the sort of headphones the partially armoured, large-gun-toting scantily clad schoolgirl about town might wear. The PX200 has dated and the K26P looks rather bulbous.

Cons in comparison to PX200 / K26P:
Less isolation, more leakage, heavier than the PX200 with no higher potential durability, lower quality sound, more fiddly to fold/unfold, less practical folded form factor, one year less manufacturer's warranty.


You know, what with some products recently I'd hoped that with the MDR-710 Sony might be making a worthy competitor to address the PX200, a phone that's proved very successful for Sennheiser. Alas, the ball remains dropped. No doubt by dint of their still considerable marketing muscle, Sony will still shift bucketloads of these phones... but the fact remains that the MDR-710 is a distinctly subpar mini closed phone.

While the Audio-Technica product in this category (the ATH-ES5) has superior sound quality to partially make up for the fiddlier folding mechanism and the lack of isolation / increased leakage, the Sony has no such advantage in it's bag. Apart from the visual aspect, the MDR-710 is inferior in every single regard to the AKG and Sennheiser miniphones. Buy them instead of this.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sony BMG Settlement

Usally I don't put non-original material up on this blog, but the more news gets out about this the better... The settlement reached by Sony/BMG regarding the stealthed exploits (aka rootkits) that their audio CD's dumped on PC's upon insertion. These guys need to be punished for their contempt for the public in the only way a corporate knows... via it's bottom line. If you're affected, go claim.

(Spotted on

Saturday, February 25, 2006

More updates. Zen Vision M with Napster To Go, amped or unamped progress

Hello everyone. Just another brief update about what I'm up to these days.


I've now got the Zen Vision: M working with the Napster subscription service, Napster To Go. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with, and it included various gotchas like your DAP's clock having to be basically exactly synced with the PC. But now it's going, it's going very well indeed. I love effectively having a Virgin Megastore at my fingertips... it's fantastic and I'm kicking myself for not getting involved with this earlier. If I like a download enough I order it from Amazon on CD, simple. No worried about the download quality in the end (for the CD-buying reason), and since I can have the music on the player for as long as I like provided I pay the subscription fees, I buy no duds. Compared to this, iTunes is somewhat lame for the avid music lover. I can spend all day on Napster which is bad for productivity, but so far so great.


And what about the Zen Vision:M? Is it the iPod Killer? So far, yes and no. It's the closest thing out there which isn't an iPod. It does more, and some of what it does is clearly superior. Other things, a notable step down.

I would suggest that the hype already occuring on some boards about the Vision:M having significantly better sound quality than the iPod 5G is just that, hype. I'd say overall it's pretty similar to the iPod 5G, iRiver H3xx and the iAudio X5, with the Vision:M being somewhat smoother (some might say 'boring' but I quite like 'boring') than the iPod. You might say "Hey, it claims 97db SNR, that's got to be better, STFU!". Well, in which case I'd be asking at which point are you actually hearing anywhere near the claimed SNR of these players? And the answer to that is unless you're amping, never. And in any case, we're talking claimed SNR, something that I'll get to the bottom of when I do my now standard measurements after the listening tests. The EQ, rather like the EQ on the Muvo flash players I've used recently, are rather suspect in terms of slightly excessive sound quality degredation. I'll get to the bottom of that while doing my writeup.

The video feature is good. If you choose carefully, you can download most P2P content, stick it on the Zen without time-consuming transcoding and be on your way. If you 'roll your own' MPEG2's using a PVR card or whatever, in my experience with a Hauppauge card, you're out of luck a bit... the files need transcoding. And in this instance, the Creative video conversion software is awful but third party solutions as easy as Videora for the iPod must be available.
I haven't got around to battery testing music yet, but I was pretty surprised to discover that both Apple and Creative more or less exactly hit their claimed video playtimes. Contrary to published reviews, I'd say that videos surprisingly look a lot better on the iPod than they do on the Zen under actual portable use, but you can't beat that actual double playtime if you're a video enthusiast. The Zen Vision:M also offers the intriguing possibility of battery-powered hookup to an external monitor, which could give the guys who carry around bulky headphone amps shivers of delight, because now they can carry a bulky 7" portable LCD monitor too. It's not something I intend to try, but who knows... I'm a curious guy as the readers of this blog must know.

The photo features are fine, but... er... how do I attach a camera? No? Not supported? Well that's a bit moronic isn't it that a Photo player in this day and age ships without USB-OTG.

More in the forthcoming writeup.

I've got all the equipment back and am currently in the middle of my side of the writeup. Looking at my colleague's notes on this so far I think we'll have an interesting disparity of opinion to present with this review. Both of us can be pretty clear about why we arrived at why we preferred each solution, so I expect this to be a pretty informative article. Once again sorry it took so long, I know it was announced in December but we really haven't had the opportunity to get together often, and there was a testing miscommunication about halfway thorough.

The next post will be the amp article. I just hope I don't keep you in suspense (yeah... as if) for too long.

Monday, February 13, 2006


The amp article should be done in 2-3 weeks time. Sorry it took so long, but you should know my frequently glacial pace by now. I'm about to swap gear with my colleague this weekend, and I'll have some time to myself during the two weeks after that so I'm doing writeups.

I was planning to write a few words about the recent Sony players, but I've shelved the article. The NW-A3000/1000 looks great and I love the way they sit in the hand, but unfortunately that's about all I like about them.


Yes, there'll be an iPod comparison.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Update on the 'amp or upgrade' article

Just thought I'd let you know that I think we're about halfway through the article.