Pros: Soundstage, imaging, high resolution, details, clarity, treble, extended bass, natural sounding
Cons: Unforgiving, DAC/Amp picky, very fatiguing, poor isolation, poor fit, uncomfortable, unconventional/unpractical, low-value
The Sony MDR-EX1000 is truly a legendary IEM but in a world of its own. Not even the latest XBA, or XBA hybrid Z series could rival its intimidating large single-dynamic driver setup.
After having used it for almost 4 years, I would like to give the Head-Fi community and anyone reading this a well thought out, simple, relatively short yet heartfelt review, based purely on experience.
I purchased these on my 17th birthday, with my saved up allowance from Amazon. It was an upgrade from MDR-EX082. Back then I wasn't a seasoned audiophile, and had no idea what I was getting into. Immediately I thought I got ripped off, because I played 256kbps iTunes mp3 directly from my Sony A818. Everything sounded boring, rough, lacking bass and the lushy mids I had hoped to hear from the EXK. A quick share of these remarks with a friend who was an audiophile and Head-Fi member at the time thankfully steered me on the right path, and told me about all the magic (science) behind hi-fi sound.
Since then I have used the MDR-EX1000 with over 20 types of different high quality brand-name tips, stock EX600 cable to RK-EX1000LP cable upgrade (from Japan), plusSound Audio Exo Series cyro-treated custom cables, from a variety of different source + amp combination. All kinds of music genres, bit-rates and formats were thrown at them. I have also done comparisons with numerous other contemporary high-end IEMs. I have to say I've come to a stop with trying to unleash the full potentials of the MDR-EX1000. No matter how well I customize them for me personally, or how well I try to perceive them, all the drawbacks and extensive issues of this cult IEM refrain me from keeping them as my favourite IEM title.
I'm not gonna get into the sound too much, there are way too many reviews everywhere for that, as there should be. The EX1000 is the best sounding single-dynamic driver IEM in the world. Period. Not even the beautiful wood HA-FX700 could beat it in absolute terms of sound quality. Its out-of-the-head soundstage rivals full-size headphones, and will wow you. Be careful though, they are extremely unforgiving and picky with sources. Feeding them the wrong DAC, DAC + AMP combo, or music files will have you thinking they are $20 Skullcandy, not even Monoprice. The EXK is by no means a must-try IEM. If you never had the chance to hear it, don't be disappointed by that.
I am one of those who think sound quality isn't the whole deal for a headphones' selling point. In fact, what breaks the deal for EX1000 is its ridiculous impracticality as a "stage or studio monitor," as marketed by Sony. For the current street price of around $300 USD, you can get yourself a pair of much better IEMs instead, often multiple-BA driven with excellent performance-to-price ratio. It's hard to say it's not from a subjective view, since people have different priorities for an IEM. An "IEM" should be noise-isolating, comfortable for at least 2 hours of continuous wear, and non-fatiguing aurally. In all regards, the EX1000 is poor as an IEM according to my criteria. It is only savored by its superior, distinctive and highly-resolving sound quality.
The EX1000 is a poor performing IEM as a whole. Its inadequate design and weight causes your ear and ear-canal to ache no matter how well the cable or tips fit you. Its housing with 2 huge vents will leak sound in-and-out worse than earbuds with some decent foam. Wind-noise is one of the biggest issues; wearing these outside is as smart a choice as driving a sedan off-road. Many people would prefer slight but well-managed cable microphonics over having all kinds of other noises directly affecting the quality of your music. (on a side note, I've tried sealing off the vents/holes with a few different kinds of tape. It was a stupid idea, don't try it.)
Sony EXK is loaded with many other trifles that are very perplexing. The housing is rather easy to chip and scratch, despite the excellent material and craftsmanship. The outer clear coating will degrade if not stored within a casing at all times. The nozzles are long but cannot be inserted deeply: IF you do manage to get a deep insertion, chances are the sound will not be improved either, instead your ear-canals might become mildly damaged. There are more problems I've had with the EXK, but these are just rants I'm throwing out; I know a lot of friends whom share the same passion for the EX1000 as I did, but they are willing to make daring sacrifices for its sound. I, on the other hand, am just fed up with them.
To summarize, the EXK might be your perfect IEMs, but I think it more likely went like this: you try them, liked the sound but hated every other aspect of it mentioned in my lengthy review, and sold them off. I've used my EXK daily for 4 years now, and I think this review have summed up all my mixed feelings for the EXK. I enjoy them greatly in libraries, in-n-about the house, and other quiet public places while being stationary. However, any other application will be a disaster and worsen your listening experience.
Thus, I believe those who've read this review would agree with me (to a certain degree?) that perhaps a portable or a smaller over-ear headphone, such as the Sennheiser Momentum, would be a much better choice overall. I am currently using a ATH-CK10 and Westone UM3X RC side by side, and I'd have to say they are much better investments as IEMs than what the EXK has to offer. The EXK has qualities and potential that fail to deliver in the better way, no matter how hard I've tried to stick with them.
Thanks for reading my review, I appreciate any comments or feedback! Have a nice day.