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My Sony MDR-V6 review (EXTREMELY long!)

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 
MSRP:
$99 or so, which is what I paid. It can be had as low as $60 on the 'net.

Equipment used:
Headphone jack on a Technics SL-P3 cdp (circa 1986!)

Packaging:
Nothing too unusual, save for the glittering red satin cloth the V6 nestles in. That gaudy bit gives the packaging a definite 80's feel.

Look & Feel:
The V6 is an older design, and it shows. It's very different from the all-plastic designs common to other inexpensive Sony headphones. The headband is wrapped in pleather, with minimal padding. Length-adjustable metal strips attach the earpieces to the headband. The driver housings are of some kind of black metal. The cups are covered in crinkled pleather. The coiled cord is one meter long at rest, but extends to three, and attaches to the left earpiece. The plug is a mini; the 1/8" adapter (included) screws on, to prevent accidental extraction. Both plug and adapter are nickel plated, rather than gold, which is the only visible sign of the V6's relatively low price bracket. The V6 folds, in the manner of some of Sony's other headphones; that is, the ear pieces swing up under the band, to form a more compact package. After this treatment the V6 fits into the black pleather bag it comes with.

On the whole, the V6 is a rugged unit. It feels infinitely more solid than more recent designs, and I have no qualms about casually throwing it around.

Sound:
To paint a comprehensive picture of the V6’s sonic character, I listened to 10 different tracks, representing a thorough cross section of my usual listening habits.

---------------

I began with track 11 on Hybrid’s ‘Wide Angle’, “Finished Symphony”. Hybrid is a group of three guys, who weave a complex flavor of electronic music, using samples recorded from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, effects boxes and synthesizers, and live drums.

Cymbal smashes were piercing and fake-sounding. An instrument I thought was a high drum accents the bass line, but a quick test on the HD580 showed it was something else entirely (I’m not sure what). The combination of stringed instruments that dominates the midrange was poorly resolved. The exception in the soupy mass was a cello counterpoint, which stood out clearly.

Within the first two minutes of the track are a couple of monstrous bass drops. The V6 flinches with neither, delivering a breathtaking downward-sliding tone. Not all is well in the low registers, however: the bass line is very fast, and the V6 was caught a bit flat-footed. Perceiving the pattern took some effort (by contrast, it was immediately evident on the SR-325, though it bore much less gravity).

---------------

The next test was track 3 on BT’s ‘ESCM’, “Flaming June”. BT is a virtuoso producer in the realm of electronic music. He recommends the Sony MDR-7506 by name in the case insert for this disc.

The main melody in this song is expressed via piano. This was lush, beautiful, but not particularly nuanced or realistic: more an abstraction of a piano. The melody is set against a number of sweeping sounds and whooshes, and paced by a punchy and vigorous bass line. The V6 exhibited a masterful control, holding these elements together yet apart, so that they never bled into each other, but retained their individual character. The headphones didn’t sing, or present an abstract painting. Instead, they gave me a line drawing, perfect in its cleanliness, which sent chills down my spine.

Interestingly, the high registers of this song sounded nearly perfect, and the low completely so, but the midrange was a bit muffled, especially on the border with the true lows. There’s a buildup with some drums that sound chiefly in the low mids, and it sounds woolly. This breaks into a passage that is dominated by deep lows and high mids, which sounds much clearer by comparison.

---------------

I turned to Pink Floyd next. My 70s era Floyd discs are in another city right now, so I had to use ‘The Division Bell’, an album I don’t really care for. I chose track 8, “Coming Back to Life”.

The guitar has an exaggerated twang, which jarred me every few notes. The solo near the end seemed to emanate from within a can. Drums sounded hollow. David Gilmour’s voice was a bit grainy; sometimes it sounded quite real, but at other times was overly smooth. I could hear him draw breath before nearly every line.

---------------

It was time for something different. I chose track 2, “Sweet Lullaby”, on Deep Forest’s ‘World Mix’ disc.

The sampled cricket sounds at the beginning were mechanical: all were at the same volume. By contrast, the HD580’s presentation of the same varied their volumes, making for a more natural sound.

The foreground voice seemed placed in front of the chorus. Individual voices within the chorus were also well resolved, showing that the V6 is not entirely incompetent in the midrange, though this is in the upper end of the mids, and the earlier difficulties were lower.

The soundstage wraps around the head. The call and response between lead voices sounds directly in one ear, then the other (on the HD580, the voices are placed much further in front, though still to the sides). There is some depth (the chorus sounds further back, though not much), but it arcs around the face and doesn’t extend far at all.

One thing about this song bothered me: at points there seemed to be a man’s voice singing or humming along for a few bars in the foreground, very quietly. I’ve never been able to tell if it’s really there or not.

---------------

Next up: Enya. On many of her more recent songs, her voice is passed through some kind of filter, which renders it bland and acceptable to almost any grade of equipment. I wanted her voice alone, so selected track 8 off of ‘Watermark’, “Evening Falls”. It’s very simple: her voice takes center stage, backed by an unobtrusive handful of instruments.

Immediately upon pressing PLAY I was assaulted by sibilance of the worst kind. Ss and Ts had an irritating little tail. Enya’s voice was unnaturally dynamically uneven: it changed volumes arbitrarily and against the natural flow of the music. The instruments behind were indistinct and difficult to separate. All told, this was a disappointing presentation of one of my favorite songs.

---------------

Perhaps the quality of the recording was partly to blame. I decided to test this with Loreena McKennitt: I picked track 7 off of ‘Mask and Mirror’, “The Two Trees”, both because I like the song for itself, and because I like Yeats (the song is actually his poem of the same name, set to music).

It opens with a passage played on an Irish instrument called (I believe) the Uilean pipes. These are naturally strident, I believe, but a few of the notes here are especially so, crossing the line between sharpness and pain.

The sibilance was worse here than on the Enya track: not only were Ss and Ts done great injustice, but Ds and Js were also wronged. The piano, meant to serve as primary accompaniment, was too timid before McKennitt’s voice. The strings were barely audible behind voice and piano. In what was becoming an unpleasant trend, low mids were swallowed, in this case by excessive upper midrange and highs.

---------------

I was not content with the abuse I’d heaped on the V6 thus far. It was time to administer a real beating, so I reached for the classical music. First came some newer material: track 3 on the ‘Gladiator’ soundtrack, “The Battle”.

The bass drums were thrilling, rivaling a roller coaster for sheer adrenaline. The bass drop at about the first minute was simply amazing in its depth and control. The layering of horns was hard to spot: sometimes they sounded like one playing alone. When a single horn was playing, though, it sounded quite lifelike. The male vocal was rather grainy.

The V6 struggled to make sense of things, especially at low volumes. The music often degenerated into a vaguely menacing mass; sometimes, though, particularly low or high instruments would break free, and sound distinct. Control of the lower registers was spectacular, though the presentation was otherwise unimpressive.

---------------

In a sharp turn away from the powerful sweep of ‘Gladiator’, I turned to the quick and delicate ‘4 Seasons’ of Vivaldi, settling on track 10, the first of the winter set.

The violins were very harsh. The harpsichord was decent, but overshadowed by the blaring strings. The top end was cold, metallic, and too prominent beside the lower strings (which cowered in the midrange). Volume shifts seemed reluctant. The V6 doesn’t breathe. There was no staging to speak of: everything was in my head. It was all there, just not spaced out properly. None of the performance’s nuances came through clearly: the track sounded like a middling quality synthesizer job.

---------------

Not content with the lashing the V6’s had taken thus far, I decided to rub salt in the wounds. This final torment took the form of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. This is a Telarc disc with astounding dynamics.

The V6 struggled from the outset, incapable of getting a handle on things. It sounded muddy: individual instruments fled, leaving behind vague impressions. Dynamics were simply not present: loud passages built too slowly, and didn’t explode into near-silence like they did on the HD580, making for a very un-dramatic presentation.

Once again, there was some forward depth, but no lateral projection. It was as though the musicians huddled right up around the conductor. Some of the “wall of bass” effect was evident. This is what I call low tones that sound unlinked to instruments, presenting an indistinct tonal shadow across the music.

---------------

After all this, I needed a track to restore my faith in these headphones. I loved them at some point; surely it had not been in vain. I popped in Enigma’s first album, ‘M.C.M.X.C.A.D.’, and jumped to the third track, “Callas Went Away”.

The reasons for my fondness rushed back to me. The birdsong and rushing water at the start were very lifelike. The wordless vocal sounded distant, while the hoofbeats moved across in front of me. For the first time, I heard real depth, and even a hint of a proper soundstage. The positioning of “strands” was superb, with so few to manage. The singer’s voice was comfortably nestled in the embrace of the music.

Piano nuances and dynamics were almost perfect – maybe just a little flat. The percussion was tuneful and lovely, the bass delicious. The main vocal was perhaps a tiny bit grainy, though the Operatic element was very clear and pleasant. Everything was clear without being harsh, the sound effects especially so. I was surprised at the liquid nature the V6 exhibited with this song.

Conclusion:
At the very top end, the V6 tends toward harshness and sibilance. This turns into a grain in the upper midrange. The lower midrange is recessed and somewhat murky. The lows are very deep and controlled, and I consider them this headphone’s greatest strength. It’s amazing what irregularities I’m willing to tolerate higher up, when the music is anchored by such an impressive low end. Even the lows aren’t perfect, however: they lack the urgency and the verve that those of the Grado family are known for, and will be confounded by the very quickest material.

That said: I now use the V6 only for electronic music. It is somewhat capable of dealing with up to a few instruments at a time, but large groups (as in full orchestras) escape its clutches. It has difficulties making sense of the midrange, especially, blending the individual characters of all instruments. When combined with the bent and compressed soundstage characteristic of most closed ‘phones, this lack of resolution makes the V6 unsuitable for most classical music.

The V6 manages to show most of the details in music, but one must frequently work to pick them out. Some elements seem unnaturally quiet, while others are too loud. The V6 seems to resist exposing dynamics actually present in the music, instead introducing some of its own erroneous emphases and minimizations. Everything in the music is played, but it often fails to gel into a cohesive and enjoyable whole.

Though my review is, on balance, rather critical, I still feel this is one of the best sub-$100 headphones. I believe it’s more versatile than the Grado SR-60, one of the most often recommended in the price range. I like the Sony E888 earbud a little better (it never does anything wrong, though it leaves many things undone), but full size cans are, in my opinion, more practical for home use (the isolation of the V6 is also a plus). Even classical music doesn’t sound that bad on the V6, except in direct comparison to my HD580 (which, in such a confrontation, is within its strongest domain). Is it any surprise that a $60 headphone cannot match the greatest strength of a $120+ headphone?

It also remains to be seen what the Sony D-25s CD player, and quality amplification, do to the V6. The former will be here in a couple of days, at which time I will write an addendum to this review.

If you’ve read this far, you have my thanks, and my apologies that this review isn’t better written. Though I write quite a bit, this is my first serious review of an audio product. I hope you find this informative, and perhaps even a bit enjoyable.
post #2 of 40
Great review, gloom! Very detailed and thorough. Looking forward to your follow-up with the Sony D-25S.

post #3 of 40
Great review!!!
post #4 of 40
This is exactly what I thoght, as well.. Couldent've said it better myself. If their bass werent there to save them, they definatly wouldent be reguarded as a value at any price.
post #5 of 40
Very thorough review, gloom! I don’t know the V6, though.

But let us all hope that Mike Walker doesn’t see this, or the future of this thread might be, uh, gloomy.
post #6 of 40
Excellent review. My only comment is that the sonic characteristics may be a function of the headphone out of the CDP, not the v6 per se. I notice source differences much more when using my v6/7506's. In fact, more than any other phones I have owned. The reason I say this is that your description of the sound parallels very closely my listening experience with early mid-fi Cd players.
post #7 of 40

great reviw

That was a great review. I just picked up a set of these for $25 and wondering if they will sound just the same. I agree that comparing them to the Senns with classical music (their strong point many people say) is a tad unfair, but you need a refrence to compare to, right? My one question is how long did you break these in before doing this critical listening test? Some people swear by break-in and others barely notice a difference. Just wondering. I'm looking foreward to your update also.
post #8 of 40
After reading your review, I immediately want to try a pair of Grado SR80 and see how it stands against my Sony MDR-7506.

I have great interest in the grados and I have to agree with you that the Sony is in fact not too dynamic.

Anyway, it was a great review, I agree with you to a certain degree because there are still many things that other people can see (including you) in the sony's that I've yet to experience myself.
post #9 of 40
Nice review! The follow-up, w/ better upstream equipment, should be interesting.
post #10 of 40
Thread Starter 
Finleyville: These had been my only headphones from late August to late December. I put at least an hour a day on them during that period.

Morphsci: I am a bit suspicious of my source as well: the sibilance and metallic highs, in particular, I've heard thrown about as a characteristic of mediocre early gear. This is all I have, though... for now. I paid a guy in Florida $5 for a photocopy of a review of this player from Audio magazine, which I should receive next week, so I'll get someone else's opinion on it, which should be interesting.

This will destroy what little credibility remains to me, but I think the HD580 doesn't sound half bad from the same jack: it's clear and articulate yet smooth, with only the lightest touch of sibilance and no harshness, and its rendition of classical music, especially, stuns me. It's not perfect, in that the low end sometimes sounds a bit sloppy (though low frequencies are always loud enough, they are occasionally poorly-resolved). Resolution in the midrange is superb, though, and I've heard that a lack of it indicates the HD580 isn't getting enough power. Whatever the case may be, I am in love with the sound already, and can't wait to involve a dedicated amp (I'm still trying to decide how much I can afford to spend).

As I said, a D-25s is en route to me even as I type this, and by all accounts it's an excellent source in general, and a few have commented especially on its synergy with the V6. I expect to regain some of my lost love, and I can't wait to be rid of this old Technics beast (outside of sound, it has a few quirks that bug me... skips on certain CDs in perfect condition, that sort of thing).
post #11 of 40
i use my v6 out of my sony d-777 pcdp and don't notice many of the artifacts you describe. with the d-777 as a source highs are smooth and liquid, and the bass is accurate and tight. the mids are slightly recessed and there is a mid bass hump which adds a little kick to the drums, but otherwise i find the v6 (with the d-777) a very smooth and enjoyable phone, and a steal at $69.

thanks for the good review.
post #12 of 40
Great review!!!

I love honest reviews, thanks a lot for sharing that with us!
post #13 of 40
Wow, impressive review. I didn't read your review word for word, but you spent a lot of time listening to the V6. I am glad you point out the weaker points of the V6, but praised it for its value.
post #14 of 40
Quote:
Originally posted by Tomcat
But let us all hope that Mike Walker doesn’t see this, or the future of this thread might be, uh, gloomy.
Lol, Tomcat!
post #15 of 40
Gloom, what a great review. You managed to explained some very specific (and hard to explain hehe) problems the 7506s have.

quotes:
-----------
The combination of stringed instruments that dominates the midrange was poorly resolved...

The bass drums were thrilling, rivaling a roller coaster for sheer adrenaline. The bass drop at about the first minute was simply amazing in its depth and control.

The layering of horns was hard to spot: sometimes they sounded like one playing alone...

The V6 doesn’t breathe. There was no staging to speak of: everything was in my head. It was all there, just not spaced out properly.

I now use the V6 only for electronic music. It is somewhat capable of dealing with up to a few instruments at a time, but large groups (as in full orchestras) escape its clutches.

----------

Yep, that's how it sounds.

Very honest, detailed, and clear review, I love it.
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