Closed Portable Circumaural Shooting Gallery – Audio Technica ATH-M50, Sony MDR-Z1000, AiAiAi TMA-1 Studio, Sennheiser Momentum, Logitech UE6000, Sony MDR-1R
Over the years I’ve been on a bit of a quest to find a good closed circumaural headphone for portable use. I’ve realised that I own enough of the candidates now that I can actually offer some useful comparisons between them.
I think that in such a comparison, trying to nail down which one is definitively “the best” is a personal thing that tends to cause all kinds of knife fights to break out.
My quest in trying to find a closed portable circumaural is as much about the sound as it is about the ergonomics. I want something that sounds good, doesn’t look stupid to wear around town, and doesn’t feel like it is either crushing my skull or is going to fall apart in my backpack.
I know that a lot of you might scoff at these considerations, as no combination of portable amps, cargo pants and rubber bands seems too impractical for some people-of-headfi, but for me this is an exercise in efficiency. What’s the best sound I can get in the most convenient package?
In that spirit I thought I would just briefly give my impressions of each model as well as listing what I see are the major pros and cons of using them day to day.
These are my personal opinions, bourne out of personal use. I’ve come to recognise over time that I do prefer a darker tone on my headphones (though not necessarily a warmer one). Individual preferences may vary, so ask your doctor if these headphones are right for you.
All my listening is done with either a ODAC+O2 desktop combo, or an unamped iPhone 5, with a mix of lossless and 256k+ lossy files.
AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-M50 [RRP: $199 USD / $219 AUD]
Ahh, the M50: at the time of writing this is the 3rd highest ranked circumaural headphone in the Head-Fi gear guide. When I joined Head, the M50 was the headphone that was the go-to recommendation for new members alongside the HD25-1. (I think it probably still is for many people).
Since most members of the portables forum have heard these or have heard of these, they’ll basically be the reference point for the following comparisons.
From the cable to the earpads, the M50’s are chunky, black and brutal. They don’t look particularly fancy or expensive, yet at the same time feel reassuringly solid. You can tell that Audio Technica really did design them for professional/studio use instead of just writing “designed for professional use” on the box and then calling it a day. They are dependable, and that has to be one huge reason why they are so favoured on Head Fi.
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY USE
Here’s where my biggest quibbles with the M50 as a portable headphone emerge. I have the straight cable version of the M50, and a 3m cable is absurdly long and unwieldy. The headphone jack, while admittedly very solid with its coiled spring and solid metal shield, is also too long to have sticking out of the top of your pockets. The jack threatens to jab you in the hip if sit down with it plugged into the top of your phone. This is even worse if you wear skinny jeans with shallower pockets, which I do with great enthusiasm.
Maybe the M50 with the coiled cable works better, but coiled cables have their own issues with portable use because of their weight, which makes them swing around in odd ways and pull on one earcup.
This might not be such a problem with the M50’s, because of their strong and stable clamping force. In fact I find the clamping force on the M50 to be a little bit too tight!
Finally, because of their industrial chunkiness (both the earcups and headband are quite large), they do look every bit like you are wearing large studio headphones in public. While some people might wear this as a badge of pride, I do tend to think that it makes you look somewhat anti-social and slightly unhinged. Not in the, “I just blew $500 on a pair of celebrity endorsed headphones” unhinged, but the “behold my impenetrable fortress of audio solitude!” kind of way.
Of course, this all comes down to the fact that the M50's are a studio can, and in a studio context they are great! They are sometimes recommended as a portable can, which I think is not such a great idea.
They fold up nice and small, which is a plus.
The aforementioned ergonomic issues I have with the M50’s are a real shame, because in terms of sound I can’t think of many headphones that have such a great price/performance ratio. The M50’s sound like they look; beefy, but at the same time professional. That is to say, they have a definite warmer tilt, but have enough technical clarity and speed in the mids (and to a lesser extent the treble) that the warmth is a matter of ‘character’, not deficiency.
The M50’s stay true to the Audio Technica lineage by rendering female vocals with clarity and at times a dry breathiness, which comes out of a warmer and woollier bass /mid-bass tone.
I used to think that the M50’s treble could be a little harsh out of my iPhone 3G. This was true, but turned out to be the fault of the dismally weak headphone-output of the 3G, which would distort like the dickens. Out of the O2 and the iPhone 5, the treble is fairly subdued and maybe a little grainy. Weaker sources need not apply.
At times the M50 can sound a bit congested in complex passages, and sometimes the notes have a slight plastic timbre. It’s not a huge issue, but the M50’s definitely do sound more warm than natural to me.
- Durable and well designed.
- They fold up!
- Warmish tone and good technicalities that most would be reasonably happy with.
- Fairly unwieldy for portable use.
- Not good with weaksauce weak sources.
- Probably on the warm side of neutral for some.
I’m sure that the M50’s will continue to be a good recommendation for a bang for buck headphone that will start people off on their Head-Fi adventures. Sadly for me they are consigned to stay at home during my own adventures. Bottom line, I find them impractical for portable use.
SONY MDR-Z1000 [RRP: $549 USD, Discontinued]
When I bought the Z1000, I thought I had found my perfect headphone. However, over time my initial enthusiasm waned. This is a real shame, because I have a soft spot for Sony and would have loved these to be a game-ender. (Also, I paid more for these then any other piece of gear I’ve owned, which makes me all the more bitter.)
By far the best aspect of the Z1000’s is their build quality. The whole assembly oozes understated class and quality, from the beautiful magnesium earcups to the supple cable. It’s all premium materials and clean lines, monolithic and unfussy; Sony industrial design at its best. If the Z1000 was a person, he/she would be a clean shaven and practical executive. That’s to be expected, because I think that’s who Sony was trying to sell these to; despite being badged as studio headphones I doubt many recording studios would shell out this kind of money.
They seem just as durable as the M50’s, but at the same time I would feel worse about letting these get too beat up just because they seem so darn classy.
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY USE
In terms of ergonmics, the Z1000 are again pretty much a slam dunk. The synthetic leather earpads are soft, supple and quite breathable. The clamping force is secure but comfortable, the overall weight is reasonable, and despite having an earcup size almost as big as the M50’s they keep a much lower profile on the head because of their elegant design and much thinner headband.
They would be ergonomically perfect if they folded up. Also, when wearing them around the neck, the longer earcups of the Z1000 (they are longer than the M50’s) impede neck movement. That’s more of an observation than a real complaint.
In Mike’s review of the Z1000’s over at Headfonia, he describes the Z1000’s as a more refined version of the M50’s, and I think that is correct with some real caveats.
The Z1000 has an overall warm tilt, though compared to the M50 the mids and treble are more sparkly and also more liquid. Female vocals have a bell tone kind of fullness to them. For quieter passages and acoustic music, the Z1000’s are marvellous. They have a nice timbre for mid-band instruments, though like the M50’s they don’t sound particularly open.
The real issue I have with the Z1000’s is that for a rather expensive headphone, the way they render bass is pretty unacceptable. Both in terms of quality and quantity. Bass notes sound loose and flabby, with audible distortion at higher volumes. Frequency response graphs for the Z1000 bear this out; the Z1000 barely performs better than the ZX700 despite the benefit of all the premium materials. (To be sure, I did compare the ZX700 and the Z1000 when I bought the Z1000, and I thought the Z1000 did sound better).
The weak bass response means that the Z1000 can sound brassy or nasally for some tracks, and particularly for modern studio recordings which use a lot of synthesised tones below 100hz. This is an issue that Sony seems to have been aware of, since the MDR-1R was apparently engineered to improve on this area.
As it stands, the Z1000 is a relaxing and soothing listen with almost all tracks, but it doesn’t really impress with any particular technical ability.
- Beautiful and durable design
- Comfortable and practical ergonomics
- Easy to live with warm tone
- Anaemic sub-bass response
- Not particularly clear in tone
- Bad price/performance ratio
Every time I hold the Z1000's in my hand, I fall in love all over again. When I put them on my ears though, I have pretty mixed feelings. If it's critical for you to have a relaxing sound and listen to a lot of slow or acoustic music, and you want something very durable and portable, I think the Z1000's are still a great choice. Otherwise, I would like at some of the newer options which are coming next...
AiAiAi TMA-1 STUDIO [RRP: $250USD, $350 AUD]
The TMA-1 Studio is, in my mind, the most headphoniest headphone that ever headphoned. That is to say, the design is the distillation of the the form and shape of headphones down to the bare minimum; it is the Platonic ideal of a headphone. I can unashamedly say I have always wanted to own one because of their design, and when the chance arose I could not resist.
The Studio’s build quality is a mixed bag for me. For sure, they seem mechanically durable because they are made of so few parts; soft touch plastics and a nice, chunky detachable cable.
However, the earcups (of which included in the box are a PU foam and pleather variants) are fragile because they wrap around the earpieces entirely. This means that holding or manipulating the earpad (which might happen when you are attempting to change them, or simply from catching the edge of the earpad on some surface) pulls the earpads away from the earcups.
This is especially problematic for the PU foam pads, because the earpads are secured to the earcups via a plastic disc, and the plastic disc is secured to the foam of the earcups simply by a layer of glue. As mentioned on numerous reviews of the TMA’s, the first time I tried to changed the earpads I tore away the foam from the glue. Contacting AiAiAi’s friendly customer service, they had heard of this issue and were very happy to promptly sent out a new pair of earpads which supposedly took care of the problem of a first batch of earpads with flimsy glue. However, in the middle of writing this very review the earpads have come apart again, and I’m not even sure why this time.
Luckily I’ve fixed up my original pair of PU Foam pads with construction adhesive, and hopefully that should hold. I would love it if some enterprising soul would find the best adhesive to secure the earpads to the disc (polyurethane foam to plastic) but honestly I do not think any amount of glue will fix this kind of design issue.
The pleather earpads do not exhibit this issue because they are attached to the disc in a different and far more secure way. Unfortunately the pleather earpads are less breathable and less comfortable because they actually touch the ears instead of being hollowed out like the PU foam pads. They are more or less supra-aural as opposed to circum-aural, despite being the same size as the foam earcups. They also make quite significant changes to the Studio’s sound, which I will get to later.
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY USE
The TMA-1 Studio’s are very comfortable and light weight. Earpad issues aside they are easy to take around and stuff into a bag or the nice included zippered bag.
One issue with the standard version of the TMA-1 is that the coiled cable is quite heavy, and coupled with the light weight and relatively low clamping force of the headphone means that the coiled cable is unstable for portable use. The two cables included with the mic version of the studios should be much lighter, though I haven’t tried them. I’m on a waiting list for the TMA-1 straight cable from AiAiAi, apparently the mic cable cannot be offered separately because of contractual obligations with the mic-manufacturer. (Apple?)
I’ve been trying to source a third party cable that might fit, but the entry point of the cable into the earcups on the TMA-1 is barely wider than the circumference of the actual plug, which rules out every single candidate I’ve seen. Again, if some enterprising soul has a good idea I’d love to hear it.
On a final note on day to day use, the TMA-1’s have such a shameless brashness to their huge earcups and monolithic design that they actually emerge somewhere on that hipster-irony spectrum towards the end of kind of sort of awesome. Yes, you will look fashionably nerdy with them.
So what can I say about the TMA-1 Studios? Well, first things first, I cannot imagine that these are studio reference sound. With the PU Foam pads, they are dark and almost V-shaped, with fast and sparkly highs and a solid, chunky bass tone – though oddly sub-bass is a little subdued. With the pleather earpads, they sound warmer and a bit more balanced / mellow in both the highs and lows, though they end up sounding less engaging as a result. I prefer the PU foam earpads for both comfort and sound.
The best way I can describe their sound is like comparing an electronic drum kit to a real drum. The Studios sound punchy, sparkly and synthetic, without ever sounding strident or harsh. They sound amazing for modern studio pop recordings because they emphasise the form and texture of the machine music at the expense of natural tone, and conversely they sound terrible for acoustic and classical. They can sound a bit wooly and congested with the wrong tracks. If you have ever heard La Roux’s debut album, imagine the slick studio sheen of that album applied to a headphone.
The TMA-1’s sound fast and dark, and I happen to like fast and dark quite a lot. (The SM3’s, FXD80’s and XBA4’s are fast and dark IEM’s that I like, that a lot of people quite patently do not).
- Very comfortable!
- Fun enthusiastic sound.
- Too cool for school design.
- Flimsy earpads
- Does not sound natural
- I go to an art school and I am afraid someone else might come to school with the same headphones and it will be so embarrassing ohmargawd
The TMA-1S is an odd beast, just because it tends to make hot studio pop recordings sound fun. It's hardly a critical listening headphone though. If you want something super stylish to wear around town, comfortable for long periods, and listen to a lot of pop, the TMA-1 is a nice choice.
Sennheiser Momentum [RRP: $350 USD, $399 AUD]
So, this is the first of this group of headphones that really represent what is the state of the art in this category. (The others being the UE6000, MDR-1R, and M100, all being released quite recently). The Momentum's in particular are the ones with the strongest pedigree, the highest price, and the highest expectations. This is also the first Sennheiser product I've owned, though I have always loved the HD650 and HD800 each time I've heard them. (Less so the HD25, which was too harsh for me). So, what are you getting for the money?
First off, the build is nice. It's not Z1000 nice, but then the fit and finish is still pretty superb - particularly in the headband with its metal and stitched leather. The cables are thinner but are nice and supple, and the variable angle jack is both cool looking and useful! The whole headphone is obviously a premium product with a really charming retro feel. The only thing that would have made the build of this headphone completely blow me away is if the earcups were actually made of some kind of metal like the Z1000's and the Amperiors. Of course, there would be an associated weight penalty, and I do think the engineers at Sennheiser were really thinking of this as a complete package.
I would still not be particularly confident about chucking these around compared to the M50's and Z1000's though, because the construction is still overall quite delicate.
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY
The Momentums are light. Very light. The Sony MA900 open circumaural's I regard as feeling almost flimsily weightless at 195g, and the Momentum's are 177g in comparison. (Of course, the Momentum's are also much better constructed than the MA900's.) Coupled with the supple leather and the low profile of the earcups, as well as the gentle pressure of the clamp, the Momentum's feel more snug and reassuring on my head than any other headphone I've tried.
The earpads are definitely on the smaller size; if they were any smaller I would consider them on-ears. That's not so bad, because my ears are swallowed up by the supple leather like some old inviting sofa. I used to get a similar feeling when I had the B&W P5's, though they didn't sit nearly as intuitively comfortably on the head as the Momentum's.
The few complaints I can make about the ergonomics is that because the earcups are so small and make contact with my ears so much, even with the breathable leather they can get a little stuffy. It's summer at the moment in Australia and as comfortable as the leather is, I'm still wrapping my ears in a foreign material.
Also, I have longer hair, and like all sliding headband mechanisms (especially like the Koss Porta Pro) it tends to try and eat my hair. Which sucks.
When I read some other impressions of the Momentum's floating around on Head Fi, I was expecting to hear the P5's all over again - stuffy and overdamped. (Apparently the earlier production P5 I had had an issue with the foam in the earpads interfering with the sound, so that may not be a particularly useful comparison). Instead, of what I got was something that is sweet, natural and absolutely effortless and authoritative in sound.
Certainly, the Momentum's are warmer in sound; particularly in the way treble is the most subdued part of the signature. But the Momentum's make the case very strongly for "actual detail" in their amazing handling of transients and detail, compared to the "apparent detail" you tend to end up hearing in cans like the Z1000 where treble is more forward. Instruments pop in and out in space, and there is a real visceral nature to what you hear.
If you can't tell, I do really like the sound of these. The one drawback though is that because treble (and particularly upper treble) is a little subdued in the Momentum's, they don't sound as spacious as I might like. Still, they sound throaty and intimate - exactly as their industrial design might suggest.
If you are a treble lover, I don't think these are for you. But there is real, delicious and articulate detail to be found in these cans.
- Beautiful design and build quality
- Great comfort
- Stunning, natural sound
- Leather can get a little stuffy
- Still don't sound as open as an open can. (That this can even be thought possible is saying a lot).
- Hungers for my hair
I just wanted to write a little overall note about the Momentums: this is how you design headphones. Even if the signature is not for you, you can tell that Sennheiser has thought about every aspect of the design, from the fit and finish, ergonomics, to making sure their fundamental reputation for good quality audio is intact. People might scoff at lifestyle headphones as not for 'serious' listeners because of countless crimes committed in the name of portability, but honestly I wish that more headphones were like the Momentums.
Logitech UE6000 [RRP: $200 USD, $299 USD]
The UE6000 is an interesting first, since it represents the direction Logitech is going after their acquisition of the fabled UE. For a moment, it didn't seem like Logitech was going to do anything with the brand; the TF10 was kinda sorta superseded by the UE700, and the Super Fi 5 got a name change. Then, suddenly, like a Phoenix from the ashes: lifestyle headphones, iPod docks, and the UE900! So, what's this Swiss purveyor of fine peripherals doing with Jerry Harvey's (other) legacy? Let's find out!
The UE6000 (which is almost identical in build to the UE9000) is an interesting beast, and certainly looks the part. I've never seen so many different material choices in one headphone; high gloss plastics, soft touch plastics, metal headband, metallic plastic accents, translucent plastics, pleather earpads, fabric inner lining. Actually, the total effect is a real Aperture Science vibe - it's immediately striking and unique. What you might not expect though, given it's youthful looks, is how fundamentally good the build quality actually is. The UE6000's feel quite solid, and the folding headband mechanism in particular should be praised for how sturdy it feels.
One little issue I have is that the detachable cable feels a little cheap / flimsy. Luckily it terminates on both ends with a 3.5mm jack, with no special plug on the headphone end, so replacement should be quite easy if it breaks.
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY
The UE6000 is quite comfortable, though the strange shape means that it takes a little time to work out the best way to perch it on your head. Since the earcups are quite large, they do not hug the ears like the Momentum's. In that respect they are almost as breathable and comfortable as the TMA-1S. However, because the UE6000 is quite heavy and also quite bulky / high profile on the ear, it does not feel as steady on the head as something like the Momentums or Z1000. That is to say, they are comfortable when in a stationary position, but you can feel their weight on your head as you turn from left to right. A sudden turn of the head would be enough to dislodge them entirely.
The weight can partially be accounted for because of the Noise Cancelling circuitry and two AAA batteries in the left earcup required to support it. I haven't had the chance to really test the effectiveness of the NC circuitry, but honestly it changes the sound so much (it makes me suspect there is also an EQ circuit as part of the NC system) that I'm happy to stay with passive isolation.
This is the bit that really surprised me. For a headphone with such aggressive styling, I expected these to be a bassy mess. In actual fact, in many ways the UE6000's strike me as being quite neutral - at least as neutral as the ATH-M50 and more neutral than the Momentums! Bass is polite (but still quite present); treble is pleasantly shelved but at the same time quite extended. In many ways the UE6000's actually sound like the Momentum's with less bass and more treble, though the tone is overall a little drier. These are still warm cans, but again they are tasteful.
The emphasis on the signature actually seems to be on the mids / vocal frequencies, with a dry clarity to the vocals that works nicely with female voices.
In terms of articulation and detail, they are not quite as articulate as the Momentum's (which I would pretty much consider a reference, at least in the bass / mids). However, 3D placement and soundstage are still quite strong, and the additional treble energy lends a spaciousness to the sound that the Momentum's lack at times.
The NC switch turns these into headache level bass cannons, but interestingly leaves the treble and mids the same. Essentially the NC switch is also an EQ switch for phat beats, so it's nice if you like that kind of thing.
My one comment on the sound is that at times it can sound a little grainy, similar to the Z1000. However, they really are surprisingly good cans audio wise, and if you get over the gaudy looks (I chose white especially because it looked so striking) you are actually getting a lot of performance for your money.
- Good build quality with a compact folding mechanism
- Comfortable on the ears
- Good all-round signature with warmth and finesse
- A little heavy on the head
- Can sound a little grainy at times
If Logitech made a version of the UE6000 without the NC circuitry, dropped the price and weight, and kept it circumaural (the UE4000 is an on-ear) I would actually declare these a winner. As much as the Momentum's sound great, the UE6000's have great value and portability. It seems like Logitech took their experience in making ergonomically sound peripherals and delivered quite a nice headphone. This is a headphone you could probably recommend to most people!
Sony MDR-1R [RRP: $299 USD, $299AUD]
I think this is the part that everyone has been waiting for. I was very excited when I heard about the MDR-1R, particularly because it looked like Sony was going to address my issues with the Z1000. Sony is pushing the MDR-1R quite heavily; I've seen multiple Sony BMG music videos in which the artists are using the MDR-1R's (in the hip black colour as opposed to the classy silver finish). Some see the MDR-1R as another headphone that demonstrates that Sony, financially distressed and overstretched, has abandoned the high end market in face of consumer products. There is probably a lot of truth to this. Still, consumer is not an ugly word: it tends to translate to competency and practicality. If the Sony can deliver both at this price point, I'm all ears.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm a bit of a Sony fanboy (though I try to be even-handed about everything, I have some real nostalgia for the company since various gadgets that I loved during childhood). This year I joined a social networking program that Sony Australia runs. Essentially, the program selects fans of the company who are also active users of social media, and offers them discounts and promotions. Note that there is no requirement to say anything nice (or anything at all!) about the company to be part of the program, but they do select geeky people who are more likely to talk about their purchases (as I am doing now). I was encouraged to write this review by anyone (other than you kind folk), but I thought I should be completely honest and disclose that I got this MDR-1R at a significant discount (well below 50% RRP). Just so you know.
BUILD: The MDR-1R is a well built headphone; build quality is almost comparable to the UE6000, but mostly plastic and pleather, unlike the nice soft touch plastics in the UE6000. Final elements of finishing are a little average on the Sony; plastic join seams on the headband arms, or the slightly loose detachable cable input that other users have noticed. Still, the headphone feels solid and durable, and the interestingly serrated cable feels especially strong with a great strain relief design on the jack end, similar to the chunky strain relief on the Z1000. In silver, the Sony MDR-1R looks every bit the gentleman's can, though it pales slightly in comparison compared to the Momentum's premium materials. (Side note: if they made a MDR-1R but swapped all the materials with the Z1000's, I think I would swoon.)
ERGONOMICS / DAY TO DAY: The MDR-1R is undoubtedly the most comfortable of the headphones on test here, with wonderfully soft earpads, a breathable earcup volume, light weight and reassuring clamping force. The headphone cable has very fine serrations (think a round version of an old PATA cable) running along its length, supposedly to stop it from tangling; while I can't really scientifically prove if this works, my impression is that it does - and additionally feels a heck of a lot better than those awful (but cool looking) flat cables that are all the rage nowadays. The Sony also folds flat for easier storage - personally I would like it more if it folded into an even smaller ball like the UE6000 and M50 does, though that would probably come with some weight or durability penalty.
Again, the slightly loose detachable cable input reported by other users on this forum is present in my unit. Essentially it means that the cable makes a slight noise when moved. Blu-tac is the suggested solution (thanks Ra97oR!), but I'm disappointed that this is even an issue compared to the rock solid locking mechanisms of the TMA-1, Z1000 and Momentum.
SOUND: HERE is where it gets interesting. Right off the bat, I think everyone wants to know whether or not the Momentums or the MDR-1R's are better. My answer to you? It depends. (At this point the author cackles wildly.)
The MDR-1R is a definite and noticeable improvement over the Z1000. Though they do not share exactly the same signature, there is definitely a family resemblance in terms of the warmed up sound. The main differences are that the MDR-1R has a smoother and more subdued treble region and a much stronger bass response, which translates to an overall darker sound. The MDR-1R also sounds cleaner and less congested than the Z1000 with a slightly wider soundstage.
The MDR-1R is a warmish sounding headphone; it displays more of a mid-bass hump than both the Momentum and UE6000(!). The UE6000 sounds cleaner in the mids and tighter to my ears than the MDR-1R, particularly because of the UE6000's seemingly more extended treble and less boomy bass. At the same time, the MDR-1R still sounds quite a bit more engaging and natural compared to the slightly artificial sound of the UE6000. Levels of details are similar between both. I can pretty easily say that I like the MDR-1R more than the UE6000, just in terms of signature preference.
Where it gets trickier is the comparison to the Momentums. Hands down, the Momentum's are better in the technicalities. The Sennheiser's have a laser like focus with transient detail, and that translates to magical things popping in and out of the soundstage and overall just a much cleaner sound; bass in particular is much, much tighter and more visceral than the MDR-1R (which is no slouch!). The Momentum also has a more treble sparkle compared to the MDR-1R, which seems to have a broader treble peak that works nicely with female vocals.
However, where the MDR-1R wins out over both the UE6000 and Momentum's is in the overall naturalness of the soundstage. I don't normally like to speak too much about soundstage because it gets even more abstract and hard to define, but this is a point of difference between these models. I don't know if this is a result of the angled driver (though I suspect it is), but the MDR-1R gives you a more holographic and immersive soundstage that projects slightly to the front of the ears, compared to the Momentum and Sennheiser's soundstages that feel more panned left/right between the ears.
However, because transient detail is better on the Momentum's compared to the MDR-1R, it varies from track to track which one actually sounds more realistic. This is something I actually found very confusing when trying to compare the two, because sometimes the Sennheiser would impress me with its ability to define the texture and shape of sounds in a near black space, whereas the Sonys would impress me with their 'dip your face in warm water' sense of putting you more 'in' the music. Mind you, neither of these headphones sound like open headphones or speakers - the Sony just feels a little more spacious.
So it comes, as it always does, to preferences. For dense, fast passages, the Momentum's reward careful listening with detail and texture. For simpler music, the Sony's natural atmospherics and signature work to create a beautiful illusion.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me which I preferred (and I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that), I would say I liked the Momentum's more, but only by the smallest of margins. I'm definitely happy to keep and enjoy both, if that means anything.
- Very comfortable, light and secure fit
- Practical folding design
- Relaxing, immersive sound
- Lacking that final 10% in detail. (Which is what you pay for with the Momentums).
- Bass is still not as tight as the competition
- Build quality not as good as the Z1000
The MDR-1R is a step forward in terms of sound over the Z1000, but a step backwards in terms of build quality. Given that the MDR-1R is being introduced at half the RRP of it's magnesium sibling, this makes sense. It would be nice if Sony released a higher end version of the MDR-1R with a build closer to the Z1000, but that seems unlikely. As it stands the MDR-1R is a relaxing and sweet sounding headphone that I think is probably the easiest to live with out of all the headphones in this comparison.
OVERALL CONCLUSION (for now)
Writing this comparison, what strikes me most is just how good this segment has gotten in such a small amount of time. As much as everyone maligns Beats / Monster, they proved that consumers and not just crazy audiophiles are willing to put down large sums of cash to wear good headphones around the house, on the train, and just as neck jewellery. Now, almost every company is making a lifestyle headphone, including companies like B&W that are just dipping their toes in the water and finding out that it's not in fact water, but delicious, delicious liquid profit.
As much as the forum seems abuzz with a select few of these headphones, there are other headphones released even just in this year that I have read nothing about and could in reality be very good: the Yamaha Pro 500s, those Harmon/ Kardon strange looking thingies, various celebrity-spawned tie ins, and of course big players like AKG and Denon. So far the odd one out seems to be Audio Technica - but perhaps they are just waiting to spring a ES11 with a iPhone remote and set the forums ablaze.
Still, I'm going to call it a day here, not because I don't think things can get better, but because I'm satisfied that between the Sennheiser and Sony I'm going to enjoy my tunes around town. The UE6000 is also a fantastic option at this price point, and I really encourage people to have a listen to all these models before making up their minds.
Thanks for reading!
Edited by a_recording - 12/20/12 at 2:58am