Sells for $180Review (Click to show)
The Sony MDR-MA900. MA900 for short. Modeled after Sony's own F1 and SA5000, the MA900 (like the F1) stands out in that there is a huge opening between the drivers and the rear side of the pads. I can honestly say I have never seen any other headphone with such an obvious lack of seal/isolation outside of the AKG K1000. It comes equipped with humongous 70mm drivers, which may be repurposed from the Sony XB1000, though unlike the XB1000, the MA900 is not placed in the Extra Bass line of Sony headphones, with good reason. I was always interested in the F1 for gaming/comfort purposes but I never took the plunge. I've since outgrown the desire to try the F1 and went on to pursue other ventures. With the release of the MA900, my interest in such a peculiar design was resurrected. The overwhelmingly positive impressions and reviews was the final straw, and I knew I just had to try them for myself if only to satiate my curiosity.
Upon first glance, the build quality is suspect on the MA900. It is essentially two massive drivers surrounded in a black plastic-looking magnesium/aluminum alloy (it looks and feels like plastic to me) cups held by an incredibly thin headband that looks out of proportion with the massive cups. The cups are quite large, though for housing 70mm drivers, I expected, and have seen bigger. The color scheme is classic Sony black with silver Sony logos placed on the center of the outer cups with a thin silver accent separating the outer grill with the rest of the cups. The styling is pretty barebones overall. Not really what I'd call an aesthetic marvel, but they are inoffensive to the eyes, and won't bring attention to itself. I find the cups themselves to look quite nice, despite the basic, somewhat retro look.
The thin size adjustment mechanism is pretty standard fare, if a bit too loose for my taste. There are no markers/notches, so if you're OCD about having both sides at exactly the same length, you may need a measuring tool of some sort. On the center of the headband is a wider section covered in the same cloth material as the ear pads. The padding isn't generous nor is it horribly thin. It could stand to be a bit thicker, but with the MA900 being so incredibly lightweight, the headband is ultimately quite comfortable, if just a hint of a minor annoyance in comparison to everything else on the headphone.
The ear pads are placed on an angled portion of the cups (thus angling the drivers for optimal sound quality), and like the headband padding, are made up of a very breathable, cloth material. The pads used, paired with the huge cavity between the pads and the drivers ensure that your ears will stay cool for many hours. The ear pads are quite thin and lack density, and will flatten out quite easily. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the MA900's design in terms of comfort. That's not saying much, as even though the pads flatten out, the pads are still incredibly comfortable. Still, had thicker, taller, denser pads been used, it would've improved the comfort to a legendary level. The driver cover is also made up of similar cloth material. Placed normally, your ears will more than likely press against the driver cover lightly, but for the vast majority of people, it won't be an issue.
The left cup houses the relatively thin and lengthy non-removable cable which terminates into a 3.5mm plug (6.3mm snap on gold-plated adapter included) with 'Thailand' embedded on the plug, letting everyone know where the headphones were made. The cable, while on the thinner side, isn't of the horrible, 'grippy' rubber material, and is instead smooth, quite flexible, and very lightweight. Neither the plug, nor the entrance to the headphone itself have robust strain reliefs, so I'd be careful in yanking the cable.
I believe they went with such a thin, seemingly frail design with some concessions made to it's build quality in order to keep the MA900 incredibly lightweight and non-intrusive on the head and ears. I don't expect the MA900 to fail me in terms of it's build, and I'm moderately careful with my headphones. So, it's not the sturdiest headphone, nor is it just going to crumble in your hands. I personally feel like they can be tossed around in a bag without too much worry. I'd mostly just be careful to not trip/run over the cable. In the end, I forgive Sony for going with this design, because I'm an absolute fan of their comfort. So much, that the MA900 is now the only headphone I wanna put on my head. Seriously.
This is perhaps the single most defining trait of the MA900. The MA900 is undeniably, and inarguably the most comfortable headphone I have ever worn. It seemingly weighs absolutely nothing when you put it on. The headphone just rests on your head with just enough clamp to keep them from slipping and sliding around unlike the 3d wing design and incredibly loose fit of the Audio technica AD700. No, really. You can compare with some other top tier headphones in terms of comfort, and the MA900 will still put them to absolute shame.
Is it PERFECT? No. The headband could be just a little more plush to make it truly disappear on the top of the head. The pads can stand to also be more plush, to both keep from flattening out, and to keep the ears from lightly touching the drivers. That being said, the driver cover is of similar cloth to the pads and headband and won't crush your ears, so it won't offend the ears compared to something like the premium Beyerdynamic DT770/880/990 which have a tendency on crushing ear due to their shallow pads. Every once in awhile you'll have the urge to readjust the MA900. That's about the only real gripe I personally have.
Despite these very minor annoyances, there's arguably no real competition from all the headphones I have worn (and I have worn many). The MA900 truly stands alone as the king of full size headphone comfort.
The MA900 has a few things that I feel are worth noting. When adjusting the size, I STRONGLY advise on actually holding the headphone on the exposed rubber pieces where they extend, and adjust the headphone by holding the solid arm piece with the other hand and pulling. Don't just yank the cups down while they're on your head, and don't adjust the size by holding the headband and pulling down on the cups or the arm piece as you can cause the rubber pieces to slip out of the headband and expose the wires. Protect the rubber piece between the headband and the cups by holding that specific piece tightly when adjusting. Trust me on this.
Also, as previously mentioned, the cable doesn't have a proper strain relief, so make sure not to yank on it from either the entry point to the headphone itself or the headphone jack. With proper care, the MA900 shouldn't have any build quality issues despite it's thin, light design. If you're somewhat abusive to your headphones, then perhaps the MA900 is not for you. However, I don't see an issue coming up with tossing them around. Just be careful with the cable itself.
Finally, this may not really be an issue, but I need to mention that the MA900 is sensitive to ear placement. It's possible to reduce bass and make the MA900 slightly more holographic sounding by placing your ears closer to the rear side of the pads. I personally recommend wearing the MA900 in it's natural position, with the ears as close to the center as possible to ensure you get the intended sound quality. The one benefit I find by wearing the MA900 with the ears close to the rear, is that your ears will breathe a little more, and won't touch the driver cover.
The MA900 comes with a 6.3mm gold plated adapter attached to the plug. It also comes with a rather gaudy looking gold carrying pouch. The pouch doesn't even have a Sony label on it, but at least it's functional. I would've preferred a black, cloth pouch like those that came with the Sony XB500.
I'll make this easy for all of you. If you're looking for isolation and noise control, skip every open ear headphone, especially ones as open as the MA900. The MA900 by design is incredibly open, to the point of having a large gaping void between the pads and the driver housing. This means that the sound of the MA900 will leak out as much as if you're holding the MA900 in your hands with the cups spread apart. If holding a pair of headphones in the air with the cups spread apart is too loud for you (at your listening level), then the MA900 won't help matters.
The Sony MA900 has comfort and price in the bag. Does the sound hold up? Absolutely. The Sony is what I consider a true all-rounder, doing many things well, with no glaring flaws other than a slightly polite treble response. It won't be the best at any one thing, but do all manner of things well. Tonally warm, well balanced, with some fantastic imaging, and a large, spacious soundstage. The MA900 in all honesty, shares a lot with the HD650 with some key differences, which I'll touch upon in the comparison section.
The MA900's bass is actually quite impressive. For an open dynamic headphone with such a large leakage point in the hole between the pads and the drivers, the bass is surprisingly pretty competent and hits with convincing authority. It hits hard when a song calls for it, and is well in line with the mids every other time. Note that there is a noticeable sub bass roll off, so don't expect a massive low end rumble from these. Mid bass is more than plentiful, and could even be seen as ever so slightly emphasized. More bass than the AKG Q701, and about on par with the K702 65th Anniversary, despite the latter having more linearity in the bass that extends and reaches lower. Feed the MA900 some music that asks for bass, and the MA900 won't disappoint for anyone looking for good, balanced bass. Bassheads need not apply.
This is without a doubt the star of the MA900's show, and it's greatest strength. The MA900's warm, organic tonality is thanks mostly in part due to it's realistic voicing, and fleshed out mid section. Thankfully, the mids don't come out as shouty or over-emphasized due to the mid bass staying relatively on par with the mids, giving the MA900 a linear curve that doesn't particularly add emphasis to anything. The large, spacious soundstage places some distance between you and the vocals in the virtual space, so the MA900's mids aren't as intimate as something like the LCD2, HD650, and K702 Anniversary. It is however still the area in sound that brings to the most attention to the MA900, with zero mid recession. If you love natural sounding, clear vocals, the MA900 is a safe bet. One of the best mid sections out of all the headphones I've owned.
If anything can be considered to be the weakest area of the MA900 and the least likely to grab attention when it comes to the sound signature, it would definitely be the treble region. The MA900's treble is not the final word on energy, sparkle, and aggression. However, it's definitely not veiled or overly rolled off. The MA900's treble is on the smooth side, inoffensive, and almost entirely non-fatiguing. It doesn't extend as well as brighter, more treble oriented headphones, sacrificing some hyper detail and upper clarity for overall listening comfort. If you want a headphone to analyzing hyper details, the MA900 is not it. However, if you're looking for a headphone that won't shatter your ears with sibilance, and instead give you a pleasant amount of non-fatiguing treble, the MA900 will be right up your alley.
Following in the footsteps of my HP-800 review, the MA900 follows suit as a tonally warm headphone with smooth treble still manages to have a large, spacious soundstage. The smoother presentation causes instruments and sound effects to sound thicker, but a little less defined, and less cohesive in the virtual space (like the K702 Anniversary). However, this is in comparison to the more analytically inclined headphones like the AD700, K702, and other, more treble oriented headphones like the DT990.
This shouldn't come as a surprise due to the fantastic imaging, large, spacious soundstage, and very balanced sound: the MA900 has some fantastic positional cues. While the positional cues aren't as tightly defined as other headphones like the K701 and AD700, placement is spread apart, and easy to locate in the virtual space. Like the K702 Anniversary, the notes are on the thicker side, just robbing positional cues of just a little bit of breathing room, but when there is already so much available virtual space, it's nothing truly to be concerned about. The MA900 makes for a fantastic competitive gaming headphone, with no sacrifices made to it's immersion for fun oriented gaming. What that means is that if you're looking for a headphone that will easily locate enemies, or other sound effects, yet do great with other forms of gaming, the MA900 makes a compelling argument for your hard earned money.
Thanks to the MA900's fantastic mids, and overall linear response, there really is nothing that blocks the vast majority of details. The treble's smooth and inoffensive nature may bottleneck and mask the upper range's last bit of extension and hyper detail, but as we all should know by now, mids are where the vast majority of sound is, and the MA900 has plenty of it. There is plenty of clarity otherwise. The MA900 may not be the most refined and technically proficient headphone out there, but for most uses, clarity is not going to be a problem.
For gaming, there's not going to be anything that performs well above the MA900 in terms of sound-whoring, unless you want to sacrifice the realistic tone, immersion, and pleasant signature for pure analytical use.
The MA900 has a very interesting design, in that there is an impedance compensator, allowing the MA900 to be used with basically any standard headphone amp without having to worry about the output impedance altering the MA900's frequency response curve. The MA900 is actually quite efficient, and incredibly sensitive to boot. A portable amp would be basically all the MA900 needs. For gaming purposes, nothing in addition to something like the mixamp would be necessary.
At $180, the Sony MDR-MA900 represents one of the greatest values I've seen for ANY headphone. There is so much it does right, with very few caveats, which really aren't even based off it's fantastic sound. In my opinion, the MA900 stands uncontested in the under $200 price bracket. You get a serious headphone for your money.
Vs the HD650:
As mentioned earlier, the Sony MA900 bears a lot of tonal similarity to the Sennheiser HD650. More than any other headphone I've used to date. Similar tonality, mid bass hump, excellent mids, and smooth treble. However, the MA900 is faster, the soundstage reaches further out, with more space between instruments. The MA900 is also not reliant on amping the way the HD650 is, although the HD650 scales up more, and is definitely more refined, fuller in body, and more detailed overall. However, you can buy two MA900s before one HD650, with some money left over, and the MA900 is arguably close enough to the HD650 in sound signature with some strengths over the HD650 that warrant an additional glance if you're looking to buy either one.
The key differences is that the HD650 is considerably more intimate and upfront in presentation. Slower, more seductive, with a fuller figure, and more refined. It is classy, mature, and confident in it's abilities to produce sound, without overdoing any one thing. It also knows how to handle the responsibility of power. The MA900 is like the younger, inexperienced sibling, attempting to outclass the former with a large sense of space and quicker speed, but doesn't exactly know what to do with more power. It doesn't quite reach the maturity, level of refinement, or detail retrieval of the HD650.
Ultimately, the MA900 has a few wins over the HD650: soundstage, speed, comfort, price, and amping requirements, while also being considerably better for gaming use. However, the HD650 wins in the even more organic quality and body of sound, with more potential, and sexier approach to sound in general. If basing your purchase between the two purely on sound quality, the HD650 has more potential. However, the MA900 puts up a great fight for a fraction of the cost, with a better chance at impressing gamers in both positional accuracy and long term wearing comfort.
Vs the mid-fi favorites:
The MA900 is not a giant killer. The long-standing, popular mid-fi favorites like the DT880/990, K702, HD650 and even the newcomers like the Fidelio X1, Mad Dogs and HE-400 all are technically more proficient and refined overall. However, they are all a little to a lot more expensive, require more power, have frequency response bumps and dips (i.e. too much bass or treble), and may be more situational in use. The AKG K702 65th Anniversary (and I assume the K712 Pro as well) are about the only one/s that I can safely say is/are the next evolutionary step up from the MA900 in terms of sound quality, and general all-around versatility/use for music, movies, AND gaming. The MA900 however, is superior in almost every single way to the Sennheiser HD558/598/PC360. It essentially makes the current 5xx line of Sennheisers obsolete.
Great sound, truly amazing comfort, minimal amping requirement, and relatively affordable price. It also does most forms of music genres, and all forms of gaming very well. What more can you ask for? The build quality and incredibly light weight doesn't inspire the most confidence in terms of durability, but with some care, I don't see the build being problematic. The Sony MA900 will now be my baseline and point of reference for all headphones in this price range and onward. If you have around $200 and want a well balanced, warm, and non-fatiguing all rounder, this is the first and possibly last headphone you should look at. The MA900 is quite possibly the easiest headphone to recommend for anyone that isn't a pure basshead or in need of isolation.
Fun: 8 (Great. Warm, immersive, and balanced bass that kicks with authority when asked for. The sub bass is a weakness in terms of immersion, but when so much content focuses on mid bass, it really isn't a detriment to the MA900's fun factor.)
Competitive: 9 (Amazing. The large soundstage, paired with great balance, and fantastic positional cues make the MA900 a truly sublime, competitive gaming headphone. The positional cues aren't as incredibly well defined as some of the more analytical or treble emphasized headphones, but overall, there is little to complain about for competitive use.)
Comfort: 9.5 (Amazing. Despite the minor annoyances of the thin headband padding and ear pads, and your ears touching the driver covers, there just isn't much out there that stack up to the MA900 in terms of long wearing comfort. Incredibly light and heatproof make the MA900 an absolute comfort legend.)