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.

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