Meet and Greet:
Just a quick refresher for those who already forgot what the MA900 is; it’s one of Sony’s more recent headphones and uses 70mm angled drivers. Styled after its predecessor, the F1, (or hints at the SA5000, but more so the F1) the MA900 is Sony’s current open flagship headphone (not saying much, but bear with me). Originally released at a price tag of $299, it seemed like only minutes before it settled into its street price of around $199. Only problem is, there’s stiff competition in that range, and Sony headphones in general seem to slide under the radar more so than competitors. Plus, it doesn't make it any easier when you have tried-and-tested headphones like the 598 dominating the $200 price range. Not to mention, the 598 was very popular with me (I even wrote a review on it) so this may be quicker than I had originally intended. Well, for the 598, that is.
Alright, enough intros, let’s get right to it!
For those of you who know or have seen the MA900, what’s the first word you can think of that describes its build quality? Now, I probably agree with what you just thought, but I’d like to clarify some things. For those not quite on the same page yet, the MA900 quickly built a reputation for having a pretty mediocre build. Laughable, some say. For a $300 headphone, many will voice that’s not acceptable. And while I do indeed wish that wasn’t the case, it sort of is. Let me explain.
First, let’s go over the material. The headband and earpad material seem very similar, if not the same. Not velour, obviously not pleather, but more of a cloth type material with an interesting textured pattern. Is that bad? Well, I don’t really know. If we’re talking endurance here, nobody really knows yet since the MA900 is still relatively new on the market and also in my possession. How does it feel? Well, “good enough”, for now anyway. I could see it being slightly itchy for some due to its texture, but I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable; it just doesn’t give off a very quality vibe. Speaking of the headband, that big chunky part that rests on your head seems a bit too big in proportion to the arms, and also doesn’t feel too durable if bent/stretched (you can feel a really thin piece of “something” inside under the cloth). Minor nitpick I guess.
Second, let’s discuss the frame. Extremely light is something that comes to mind. Now obviously, that has two sides. Being “this light” gives an impression of being/feeling “cheap”, but on the other hand, it also reduces the weight when on your head, enhancing comfort. The arms feel very stiff and I’m not quite sure if they’re plastic or not, but I’m not too worried about them snapping or anything. The earcups also feel of the same material. Can’t really call it a negative, because I’m liking the super light design. Regarding the cable, I find it perfectly adequate. No memory retention, no microphonics, equals instant win. Yeah, a bit thin and rubbery, but I don’t mind. I’ve definitely seen worse, much worse. So bottom line is, while seemingly cheap build, it’s not really a deal breaker.
Third, and finally, the headband adjusters. This is something that gets on my nerves the most. I’m relatively picky about headphone adjusters, and get extremely paranoid when executed poorly. The MA900 is a great example. Basically, they just don’t give off any satisfying “clicks”, meaning they don’t hold their position incredibly well. While you can hear the faint clicks on some parts of the extension, other areas just seems to slide. It becomes a bit uneven as you go down the extension. The tactile feel isn’t really present here either. Regardless, it’s probably obvious I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, as they still function perfectly fine (and don’t prohibit me from listening to my music due to a mechanical malfunction or hindrance) but none the less, I’m still annoyed. But I simply just need to accept it, and stop complaining. It’s all about the music, not the headphone. Right?
If this thing is the successor to the F1, comfort BETTER be its priority ;)
Perhaps a year or so back, I thought the 598 was the most comfortable full sized headphone. In more recent days, that spot could be equally shared between the AD700/AD900, HD600/HD650 (stretched), and the AE2. But then came a point, I craved for something even lighter and more comfortable; eventually landing on my current comfort king, the PX100-II, but that’s another story. So, it’s already been established before I even place the MA900 on my head that it would go up against the abled 598 in terms of comfort. While never having the honoring privilege to own or use the F1, I can say the MA900 not only doesn’t disappoint, it excels. Quite frankly, the 598 doesn’t stand a chance. It’s got a much tighter clamp, more claustrophobic cups, and is heavier. The MA900 has minimal contact with the ears, and has that giant opening in the rear of the cup to provide maximum airflow. The pads feel good “initially”, but I haven’t gotten around to testing them for long stretches, so I hope the material doesn’t end up as irritating. The headband, well, it’s a headband. Not the softest, nor the best shape/design, but it serves its purpose. (I’m uber strict on headbands anyway, so I’ll leave it alone). Initial comfort is probably the best I’ve experienced from a "full sized" headphone. Plus, if you wear them more forward on your head, your ears get even more room, making it even more comfortable. But in doing that, it really alters the sound... fun to mess around with though.
The tonal balance of the MA900 is utterly fantastic for my tastes. And in fact, it’s one of the best I’ve heard, bar-none, if not the best. It makes the 598 sound strangely dry and fatiguing to me, and even had me grimacing at times when comparing to either the 598 or PX100-II! Bass, midrange, and treble all have a wonderful balance. Easy to listen to, yet involving. Soft and smooth, yet detailed. Excellent harmony. Not to mention, it has perhaps one of the best midrange presentations I've heard from a headphone. How’d they do it? Not sure, but I haven’t even mentioned the MA900’s signature attribute yet.
All right, so here we have it. The MA900s secret weapon. The very quality that sets it apart from every single headphone I’ve heard to date… its presentation. It simply puts similar open/airy headphones like the AD700, Q701, and 598 to absolute shame. This is THE open headphone. It makes my beloved PX100-II sound more akin to an IEM, and the 598 sound like a claustrophobic closed headphone! If you’re one who enjoys ambient/soundtracks/instrumental type music, I struggle to give a better recommendation. But for everyone else? Let’s discuss. Because it’s greatest strength also exposes its biggest flaw.
I personally thought the 598 was unbeatable at what it does well… basically everything. It’s probably one of the most versatile sounds in existence (at least I think so -- it and the HD600 come to mind) yet doesn’t quite enamor the listener in any given aspect. The MA900 though, enamors me in its presentation AND nails the tonality of the signature, even a little better than the 598. So then what’s not to like about the MA900? Is it a clear winner over the 598? Perhaps even a worthy upgrade? I'll cover that, but first, it's flaw.
A lot of angled driver headphones seem to be a hit or miss regarding presentation. The Bose AE2 is a prime example. While having a surprisingly balanced sound, it sounded “incoherent” or “confused” with a lot of music; as if specific components to the music didn’t know their place and just kind of floated around in a cloud-like formation. A musical fog, yet not necessarily muffled sounding. With the MA900, I’ve found this can definitely be the case, but on very rare occasions. The center focus seems ill-defined at times, making it hard to connect the dots with the music. Perhaps this is simply a result of its marvelous spaciousness, in which I’ve never heard in any headphone before, making it tough to compare or benchmark to anything else. Sometimes vocalists sound fantastic, while other times they sound nearly too holographic, or too “spread out”. Guess it just depends on the music, the listener, and how accustomed the user is to its sound. Regardless, when the MA900's “double-edged sword” presentation works in your favor… I guarantee you’re in for a real treat.
Compared to 598:
Like the rest of my comparisons, I find it better to go from the “more preferred” sound to the “less preferred” one. After quickly establishing the MA900 had the advantage, I started comparing. Listening to any song on the MA900 followed by a quick switch to the 598 reveals this. First the 598 felt collapsed in comparison. I’m almost willing to call the difference bigger than going from a closed headphone to an open one. Quite shocking considering the 598 has a great soundstage and very open sound. Second regards more to the sound signature itself. The 598 is suddenly bright and even harsh/fatiguing on many songs; reminding me of a typical Grado signature, (no surprise there, since the 598 is basically Sennheiser adding a little “spice” to their sound). Somehow, the MA900 really uncovers the 598’s “Grado” side. This harshness brings raspy vocals, which don’t sound as bodied as the MA900. I could describe the overall sound as rough/gritty in comparison, even a bit mundane. Again something I normally wouldn’t have said against the 598, but the MA900 seems to bring it out in its rawest form. The once “excellent at everything” 598 has turned into just “okay at everything”.
So, is the MA900 the “default” over the 598? More yes than no, but still some no. Both vary a bit in terms of their sound, and mostly their presentation. Bass is pretty similar, MA900’s midrange simply kicks butt, but the 598 is no slouch, and the treble is much easier to listen to on the MA900. The 598 has your standard, run-of-the-mill type presentation. It basically sounds like a headphone. Fair enough. That may be what people want. It’s also slightly more “direct” sounding, due to its upper mids and/or treble. The MA900 simply doesn’t sound like your typical headphone. Users coming from something more direct (or less open sounding) like a Grado, a closed headphone, or even any IEM; may have a hard time adapting. It may sound strange, unnatural. “Getting used to it” can usually turn that around, but then again, some may simply not like it. Other may adore it straight out of the box. Just depends. But generally speaking, I can’t recommend the 598 anymore with the MA900 present.
I’ll admit, it feels like I’ve been at this hobby for quite some time. In most recent times, I’ve been increasingly frustrated at my dissatisfaction toward this hobby. I was annoyed that all headphones, well, sounded like headphones, and that I was basically just paying for a different signature and ergonomics from model to model. What I wanted was something “new” brought to the table. Something novel. And Sony did just that. While it ultimately may not replace my PX100-II (insane value) or simply gets superseded by something in the future, one thing is absolute certain; it will always represent a very special achievement in audio for me. Without a doubt, one of the best headphones I’ve ever encountered.
+ Fantastic tonal balance
+ Very easy to listen to, while being detailed
+ Unparalleled open and spacious sound
+ Nearly unrivaled initial comfort
+ Excellent midrange!
- Mediocre construction quality
- Occasional lack of focus, coherence
- Too holographic/spacious at times
- Very relaxed Treble (can be considered a pro)
Edited by Katun - 4/15/13 at 3:44pm