If you want your music hard, aggressive and unforgiving, then skip the EX1000 - they're hopelessly romantic. Otherwise you may just have found your perfect IEMs.
Here's my provisional comparison to the Westone 4.
There's also a Sony MDR EX1000 Appreciation/Discussion Thread which can be found here.
EX1000 loaner tour
I'm loaning my EX1000 to some fellow members to get more opinons. Here's an up-to-date overwiew of the loaner tour with links to where folks started posting their impressions.
Note: you can also scroll down to post #2 to read selected quotes from the loaner tour feedback.
Thanks to Mike from Headfonia for his excellent review that got me interested in the first place. I won't even try to cope with all the technical mumbo-jumbo he's telling, but I found his sound descriptions (on page 2) pretty much spot-on.
Single 16mm dynamic driver with liquid crystal polymer diaphragm
Magnesium alloy housing
Weight: 7g w/o cord
Long and short detachable cords included
Bought via Musica Acoustics
In the Box
For the rather hefty price you get a classy looking cardboard box that holds the phones, a generous selection of silicon tips, a carrying case and a short spare cable. Sorry for omitting to take a picture of the box and case, but you can see the case in the Headfonia review. It looks (and smells) like real leather and has a practical size. Stowing away the phones is a time-consuming task, though you could just ditch the red inlay if you're the impatient type.
The short spare cable is a heaven-sent accessory for folks like me who like to carry their DAPs in a breast/shirt pocket. Back then I waited three months and paid premium for the optional IE8 short cable, so finding this already included with the Sonys was kinda like Christmas and Easter at the same time.
Oh, and last but not least I present to you the most generous selection of tips I've ever come across, all of them useless for my ears. But we'll come to that later...
Design and build quality
Almost everything about these phones screams quality, from the lightweight and sturdy magnesium alloy housing to the soft and flexible ear guides and high quality cables that are somehow reminiscent of the IE8's and similarly unsusceptible to tangling. Moreover, everything seems very well thought out: using soft material instead of stiff wires for the ear guides. Securing the detachable cables with a screw-nut (though it has to be said the proprietary connector is a bit fiddly. A chin slider that really stays in place. I'd really like to see some of these audiophile companies (*cough* FAD *cough*) put half as much thought into usability as a mainstream player like Sony. Though admittely these are no mainstream phones...
Y-splitter with chin slider and straight plug (short cable):
(I won't comment on that "China" tag, but presumably some of you will ;-)
Contrary to the short cable, that's obviously designed to be used with some microphone accessory to make phone calls, the long standard cable has an L-shaped plug. I didn't take pictures of it, but you can see one in fellow Head-Fier kelv's post here, together with lots of useful infos and comparisons to the EX600 and EX800. Great research, thanks!
Though you can wear the EX1000 downwards, I believe they are designed solely for over-ear (the ear guides being integrated into the cables). I have no issues with microphonics that way.
Fit and Isolation (aka "big ears, no-go")
Well, you can tell I was pretty impressed by the looks of these IEMs and wealth of included accessories, but that pretty much vanished into thin air when I actually tried to put them on. I have to stress that I'm quite unused to fit problems from my previous IEMs, so the Sonys were an unpleasant surprise. Sparing you a lengthy report about agonizing hours of trying - bottom line, I finally had to admit that I couldn't get a seal with any of the 10 pairs of included tips. Why? I honestly don't know, it certainly has to to with my rather big ears and wide canals, though I've never experienced anything like that before. Moreover, the Sony Hybrids are my favorite tips with several other IEMs. Yet together with their own EX1000 they stubbornly denied me a good seal.
To be fair, my experience is most certainly a rare personal issue, some unlucky mismatch of housing/nozzle design and ear anatomy. My trusty old UE silicons and de-cored Olives didn't work either. Here's what I finally struck gold with, after hours of desperate trying:
^ Eureka, the hand-crafted, ultra rare James444 "megaphone tips"! Patent pending. Finally a decent seal with the EX1000.
Ok dude, cut it short - who's interested in your Dumbo ears anyway! How's isolation? Sorry to say, only acceptable. Even with a good seal these phones isolate less than average, compared to a GR10 or e-Q5/7 and much less than a SE530. But on the other hand better than my FX700 or DDMs. So considering these are vented dynamic IEMs, isolation isn't altogether bad. I've been using them on the subway and (contrary to the FX700) can live with their isolation for commuting.
One last word about fit, once you have them in they stay put, due to their angled design and well-designed ear guides. They should be suitable for running or any kind of sports activity.
Update: dfkt pointed out to me that the EX1000 are very prone to wind noise, and he's right. I happened to wear a beanie during my first winter weeks with the Sonys, therefore I didn't notice. Anyway, these can get pretty annoying (depending on wind force) and are definitely not recommended for cycling.
Disclaimer/words of caution: I don't hear much above 16kHz, so take my comments about highs with a grain of salt. Moreover, the tips I use are as non-standard as it gets, so if my impressions deviate from yours it might be due to them. I have no means of telling how these phones would sound with their stock tips.
I've had the EX1000 for about a week now and spent a considerable amount of time comparing them my other IEMs, like the FX700, GR10 and e-Q5. Though I usually wait at least to weeks before posting my reviews, I decided to be earlier this time because there seems to be a strong demand for more info on the Sonys. Since there hasn't been any noteworthy burn-in effect or other significant change of sound characteristics during the last week, I feel reasonably safe in doing so.
All music was auditioned unequalized straight out of my Cowon i9. I discontinued my prior habit of repeating the audition with a second source, because tbo I've never noticed a significant difference in the past. Here are some of the songs I picked and the listening notes I made:
Al Stewart – Hipposong (Famous Last Words, Folk/Rock)
Those of you who've read my earlier reviews may already know that I'm an avowed fan of the Singer/Songwriter Al Stewart, so let's kick this off with one of his ingenious songs. There’s some nice tuba on this track, illustrating the hippo’s ungainly waddle. (Don’t know why that song always comes to mind right after the holiday season ;-)
I was surrounded by a large hippopotamus
And nine of its friends who declared quite a lot of us
Are feeling rather blue
And we don't know what to do
I turned away but the large hippopotamus
Said that his pit of despair appeared bottomless
Are not supposed to cry
I said "My, my,
Other people's problems do get tedious by and by
You can never solve them no matter how hard you try."
This brought a tear from the large hippopotamus
Who said in a voice that was growing monotonous
You cannot get the sense
Of how it feels to be immense
The sleek and the slim make fun of a lot of us
And creatures who fly through the air sit on top of us
Even in the pool
We are faced with ridicule
I said "My, my
Other people's problems do get tedious by and by
you can never solve them no matter how hard you try."
I came back as a large hippopotamus.
Nice! Very lifelike alternating deep tuba bass and tambourine percussion with Al’s nasal voice right in the middle. I know exactly how this unique voice oughta sound like and the Sonys are spot-on. Timbre on these phones seems to be excellent, as is detail resolution. What’s there of acoustic guitar in this short song sounds pretty good too, but this is only a short warm-up. Let’s move on... oh, one more thing: presentation feels very transparent and 3D, like being right there next in front of Al.
I wear the JVCs with a loose seal since they have less bass and better balanced mids that way. Having said that, bass has still easily the same quantity as the EX1000’s. The Sony’s have strikingly good texture and the JVCs seem only a tad below in this regard, though still awesome. Tambourine percussion on the other hand is noticably more forward and Al’s vocals are slightly tipped towards brightness. With the FX700 being my current king of timbre, I predict this is going to be an interesting fight for the throne. Acoustic guitar is as natural as on the Sonys and I’d say detail is on par too. Transparency and soundstage are similarly pleasing, which is quite a soundstage accomplishment for the Sonys since the JVC’s are more open and less isolating.
Again nice bass texture from the tuba, while weight is a tad below the former two. Tambourine sounds very clear, though maybe a tiny bit more simplistic compared to the JVCs and Sonys. This is something I keep observing with moving armatures, their treble appears ever so slightly less refined as compared to the best dynamics. Nevertheless the difference is minute and the Grados hold their own very well. Al’s voice has realistic timbre and acoustic guitar sounds natural with impressive detail. Excellent transparency and airiness are a treat as well with the GR10, only soundstage is slightly smaller than with the Sonys and JVCs.
No big surprise here, these sound like GR10 siblings. Good bass texture, but compared to the two dynamics in this contest they definitely hit with smaller boxing gloves. Highs, overall timbre and detail are more or less a spitting image of the Grados, while soundstage seems maybe a tad more generous, but still not up to JVC/Sony level.
Ok, enough of this repetitive tuba waddling, I’m feeling rather dizzy now. Next up is my pretty badassed sibilance test…
Stacey Kent – So many Stars (Breakfast on the Morning Tram, Female Vocal Jazz)
A wonderful atmospheric recording featuring a gorgeous voice and nice sparkly cymbals, regretfully spoilt by bad mastering. It has sibilance written all over it and even occasional clipping artefacts. So let’s hear how the contestants are going to handle thisssss…
Wow, you shall not jump to conclusions based on frequency response graphs! I’d have expected the Sonys to be aggressively sibilant, yet they handle this song with surprising grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless there’s no compromise in treble detail and extension, and rendering of cymbals sounds extremely realistic – how do they do that? Granted, their sparkle may not be on CK10 level, but these were heavily sibilant with this track when I had them. Hats off to the EX1000, I believe I’ve never heard a pair of IEMs that sound better with this difficult track.
Ok, that’s more like I thought the Sonys would fare … “ssso many starsss” … “ssso many songsss” … ok, I’m exaggerating, but the JVCs are significantly less forgiving than the Sonys. Cymbals sparkle only a tiny bit more and they seem to be pretty much on par in treble detail and extension (both excellent), which makes the EX1000 all the more impressive.
Not much surprise with these, all moving armatures I’ve heard are rather forgiving with sibilant recordings despite their great clarity and the Grados are no exception. If I were nitpicking I’d say they’re still more prone to it than the Sonys, but I am not … wait - did she just sing “starss”? Cymbals sparkle very nicely, still their rendering isn't quite as realistic and slightly less detailed than on the former phones. As for sound signature, Stacey’s voice sounds a few degrees cooler with the GR10 than with both dynamics. Not a striking difference, because both the EX1000 and FX700 aren’t overly warm in the first place, but noticable.
Why on earth did I redundantly include both these and the GR10? Alright, because folks wanted a comparison – well it will take better ears than these to work out the nuances between them. There’s again slightly more ambience with the Ortofons over the Grados, but this could easily be due to different fit. Cymbal sparkle is maybe also ever so slightly more pronounced. The rest of the sound signature, as well as sibilance levels, are the same to my ears (meaning equally enjoyable).
So how do these phones fare with older recordings? Let’s find out with one of my favorite tracks of all time…
Joni Mitchell – In France They Kiss On Main Street (Shadows and Light, Folk/Jazz)
One of the musically most impressive live recordings in my collection, a gathering of six equally brilliant musicians on stage. If you haven’t heard it already, go check it out. Jaco’s bass playing alone is worth the whole record, but the others don’t fall short in any way.
The song kicks off and almost instantly toes start tapping, head bobbing. Resistance is futile, lol! The Sony’s bass is something to behold, fast, deep and with just the right quantity and quality! Sorry dear Ortofons, I’m afraid these here are going to take over from you the title for best bass I’ve ever heard… they go quite a bit deeper and have equally great texture. Not a trace of bleeding into the mids... Speaking of which, mids are slightly warm and forward, very smooth. Same smoothness goes for the highs, I second Mike@Headfonia's impression that Sony have intentionally tuned these phones to sound smooth and non-fatiguing while at the same time not compromising in detail and overall sound quality. Presumably something similar to what Earsonics had in mind with their SM3, yet those have thicker mids and less forward treble compared to the EX1000. A question of personal preference no doubt, but I prefer the EX1000. Oh and btw, soundstage is grand, just like on the SM3 but with more forward projection - yet you're still pretty close to the musicians. While I frequently would feel like being placed on stage by the SM3s, the EX1000 seem to offer me a first row seat.
Wow, the JVCs belch out an equally infectious groove, though their bass has a tiny bit more emphasis on the upper regions and texture is slightly less defined. Still excellent bass though and nicely separated from the mids. I don't think mids are recessed on the FX700 (as some say), at least not with my loose seal. Joni's voice is clear and has great timbre. Having said that the Sonys are definitely a bit more forward, but I'm not missing anything with the JVCs either. Highs are where I hear the biggest (but still not vast) difference, the FX700 sound more aggressive. Mostly noticable in Pat Metheny's guitar, though he's not exactly renowned for aggressive playing, lol. But the Sony's were buttery smooth and you get the picture, for really beefy electric guitars you'd probably pick these over them.
Bass is again one or two notches lighter than on the Sonys, but its excellent texture provides still enough incentive for toe-tapping. The Grados are very clean and transparent and render the song in a slightly more analytical manner than the EX1000. That's not to say that the Sonys are missing out detail, they just seem to present music more as a whole, whereas the GR10 keep calling your attention to detail. Of course their slightly brighter sound signature is partly responsible for that. Mids are still a tad more forward (or just clearer?) than the Sony's and highs are somewhere between these and the JVCs, as far as aggression is concerned.
Though the Ortofons sound pretty similar to the Grados again, I keep getting the impression that their bass does hit half a notch harder. Might be their rigid aluminum housing vs. the GR10's half-plastic, or just my imagination, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever the difference, it's definitely negligible compared to the dynamics, who have both more quantity and extension at the low end. The mids are pretty much identical to the Grados in my book, whereas treble seems slightly less aggressive with this song. If I had to rate treble aggression it would be FX700 > GR10 > e-Q5 > EX1000 with very minor differences for each step.
Ok, enough from those heavyweights of music history, let's put on some lighter stuff now...
Marina and the Diamonds – Obsessions / Hollywood (The Family Jewels,Pop/New Wave)
My favourite pop record of 2010. Strong rhythms, lots of keyboards and Marina’s unique voice make for a highly attractive mix. She played such a great concert in Vienna, while I stood there amongst all these kids less than half my age, feeling both happy and out of place at the same time.
Omg, I'm really smitten by these Sonys, they have wonderful timbre with vocals! Marina's singing style is varied and at times close to acrobatic, yet the EX1000 follow each of her vocal bends and curves with natural ease. Bass and drums stay nicely separated from the voice and when the synths set in they wrap everything into a fluffy silk cocoon - but even then detail remains highly intact and nothing gets smeared or smothered. Speaking of synths, the Sony's supersmooth rendering fit's them exceptionally well, at least if you (like me) prefer a more romantic presentation. Last but not least a very good soundstage and ambience are the icing on the cake with this kind of music. Did I mention that I'm impressed?
Ok, the JVCs strike back nicely, yet I can't help but admit that I liked the Sonys just a tad better. While soundstage and ambience are pretty much at eye level, the EX1000's bass is even slightly more impressive and infectious. Synths sound a tad less smooth and fluffy and more edgy on the FX700 - alright, that's a personal preference thing. But timbre! I'm having a hard time believing that the FX700's timbre can be bettered, yet here side by side the Sonys sound even more natural and absolutely wonderful. Sorry dear JVCs, my long time timbre favourites, but this round goes to the EX1000.
Not bad in any way, but the GR10's presentation is slightly less dynamic, emotional and infectious than the Sony's. This song is driven by bass and drums and these just sound a bit more spectacular with the dynamics. On the other hand tiny details like e.g. some background whispering from both sides are easier to make out on the Grados. Same goes for the synths, they're nowhere near as supersmooth as with the Sonys, but separation of vocals and rhythm instruments remains perfectly clear even after the keyboards set in. There's slightly less warmth to the voice, a little less naturalness, but timbre is still very good. I'm sure I'd miss nothing about this song if I solely heard it with the Grados, however the EX1000 left me spellbound.
Pretty close to the Grados (am I repeating myself?), but this time I'm sure the e-Q5 have slightly more bass punch. Drums have definitely more impact and the groove feels more infectious than with the GR10. Moreover the synths are also a bit more airy which I prefer with this song. Still these are small differences between very similar phones and comparing both to the Sonys the differences are much more pronounced. Bottom line, what's been said for the GR10 vs. the EX1000 would apply here as well.
Well, so let's conclude the audition with something a little bit more serious...
Gustav Mahler – Movements IV+V (Symphony #2 "Resurrection" [Rattle], Classical)
Not much to say about this, except that it's one of my dearest classical pieces. From faintly hushed passages to thunderous full orchestra blasts, dissonant crashes to heavenly harmonies, this one has everything. A tour de force in emotion and dynamics, superbly recorded, a formidable challenge for any headphone.
Stunningly transparent, natural and lifelike. Timbre is very very realistic. Moreover, the EX1000 manage to create absolutely convincing ambience. Closing my eyes I can easily picture myself in a concert hall. Mike from Headfonia made a remark about the Sony's imaging being “all over the place”, one of the few things in his review I can't quite relate to. To my ears the placement of instruments is very precise both in width and depth. May be due to my special tips, who knows ;-) But then again he was comparing to the JH16 and I haven't heard these. Back to the music, the Sonys have me spellbound again. They scale most impressively with the piece's extreme dynamics and in doing so manage to sound almost like fullsized headphones, very likely due to their 16mm drivers. I didn't bring the FI-BA-SS into this comparison and I'm pretty sure those have higher detail resolution, but it will be interesting to see whether they can cope with the EX1000 in dynamics (I guess they won't). Speaking of detail, again the Sonys do not draw your attention to anything in particular, but aren't missing out anything either. Thereby they remind me a bit of the IE8, all the detail is there but you have to look for it.
Classical is where the JVCs feel at home. They sound equally natural as the Sonys to my ears and I honestly can't say which of them has better timbre here - and that's a big compliment to the EX1000. If pressed I'd say the EX1000 feel even a tiny bit more lifelike, but both are nothing less than brilliant with this record. The FX700's 10mm driver is able to scale admirably with dynamic music because of their generous vents, but I think in the end the Sonys would have even more brute force up their sleeve. Talking about decidedly unhealthy volume levels though... Ok, no need to go into more detail, let's just call it a draw between the JVCs and Sonys in timbre, ambience and soundstage with very slight advantage to the Sonys in transparency and dynamics.
First thing that comes to mind is clarity. Now, both the JVCs and Sonys are absolutely not veiled, but these moving armatures have a striking clarity and crispness in their presentation that suits classical music particularly well. These are perfect phones for analytical listening that nevertheless convey a lot of emotion. Where they do fall a bit short in comparison is ambience and soundstage, they're just not that much out-of-head and 3D like. Dynamics are pretty impressive for such a tiny phone, as the GR10 are able to cope with ear splitting volume. There just not as effortless in doing so as the Sonys and JVCs and sound a little bit strained when things get extremely loud and busy. More analytical listeners than me may still prefer the GR10 over the EX1000, but I'm a soundstage junkie, so I'd pick the Sonys.
A noticably wider soundstage than the GR10, but take this with a grain of salt, because soundstage is often dependent on tips and fit. Still I like the Ortofons slightly better than the Grados with this classical piece. They're a tiny bit less light-footed with a more substantial low end, which makes their presentation a tad less analytical and more powerful. Minute differences of course, but they're noticable. Yet during those thunderous full force orchestra blasts they also tend to feel a bit strained and breathless, just like their technological siblings, the GR10. But just to put things into perspective, notwithstanding their individual strengths and weaknesses I'd rate all of these four phones as highly enjoyable with classical music.
Final thoughts / Conclusion
I like the EX1000 and I like them very much. In the beginning they were a nightmare for me to get a good seal with and in the end they turned out being a so much better phone than I'd dared hope for. Perhaps what they are now to me has it's explanation in those weird tips that finally are able to give me a good seal, I don't know. But it's a fact that I've not experienced the sibilance that was to be expected from this frequency response graph and that others have reported. To the contrary, with my tips and to my ears the Sony's treble is amongst the most forgiving and refined I've ever heard. Moreover, I haven't found them having too fast decay like I've read elsewhere, with pianos or strings sounding lifeless. To the contrary, even though they're (like the FX700) pretty fast for dynamic drivers, they're full of life and extremely natural to my ears. Again, all this may well be tip related in some strange way. Like I've said before I have no means of telling how they would sound with stock tips.
I've never been a big fan of Sony IEMs, skipped most of their past phones and the EX1000 was nothing but an impulse buy after reading the Headfonia review, with only limited expectations. However, within a single week these IEMs managed to take over my title for best bass from the e-Q7 and best timbre from the FX700. Time to admit that Sony can build pretty good IEMs if they want.
But hold on, before we're kicking off a new FOTM I tell you once again what they are not: analytical, revealing, aggressive, unforgiving. I'd recommend these neither to the audiophile equivalents of pixel peepers, nor to the headbangers who want their guitars to sound like chain saws. Sorry folks, the Sonys just won't cut it for you. They're hopelessly romantic, smooth, soft, mellow, musical. However, if you happen to be into this kind of sound signature, you may just have found your perfect IEMs.
Edited by james444 - 10/30/16 at 9:58pm