Alright guys, big post. The spoiler below is my review on the headphones. TL;DR: I don't like them, and I'm returning them. I tried doing the resistor mod, but you have to cut the traces in order for it to work. Since I'm returning them, I can't do anything irreversible.
Review (Click to show)
Sony MDR-MA900 Review: A different sound
Let’s get right into it:
My Audio Setup for this review:
Computer: Foobar2k, WASAPI, VST adapter component for Foobar, EasyQ parametric Equalizer VST plugin
A: Toslink-out from my computer into the Onkyo receiver I’m using. Using both phono-out and modified L/R speaker channels for headphone output.
B: USB-out from my computer into the FiiO E17 (gain 6dB, treble/bass controls flat)
Bass: Well, it’s there, but there’s very little of it. The quality is pretty good for a headphone as open as it is, but the bass really rolls off at around 80Hz. You can eq some bass out, but it won’t be very substantial. The most that I’d eq the low frequencies would be around 10dB. At that volume, you get a little mid-bass punch for very slight SPL reassurance, and it helps out a bit in EDM songs. There is a very good amount of speed, about the same as the AD2000. The amount of bass you get for such an open is very good.
Midrange: Odd. In my opinion, a midrange really blooms when you have some bass to compliment it, and that’s the problem with these headphones. Since these headphones have no bass, the midrange is just standing out there by itself with no support. To me, it sounds thin, light, and delicate.
I found that bumping 185Hz by around 5dB really helps out with the midrange, making it sound more organic, warm, and full. It still sounds thin, though.
Treble: Great. It’s nice and airy, has very nice extension, and it sounds very soothing. I have tinnitus in my right ear, and I find the treble very easy to listen to.
Soundstage and Imaging: Medium-large. You have a good sense of what’s around you, and it’s easy to pick out certain things. They aren’t as wide as I’d like them to be, but the frontward projection is great. The music tends to focus in front of you more than on the sides, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
The best part about these headphones is the imaging. Fantastic. The unobtrusive sound signature, and the way these headphones are designed, it’s very easy to figure out where stuff is coming from. The downside is that most of the stuff is in front of you, with sounds on the side being much less prominent.
Comfort: The cloth pads kinda scratch your skin a bit, but once you get used to it, they’re pretty comfortable. They don’t have that disappearing factor that my modified AD2000s have, but nonetheless, they are comfortable, lightweight headphones. My ears touch the cloth covering the driver, and that’s the main reason why I can’t seem to get that disappearing factor. If I slide the headphones back so that my ears are tucked in underneath the earpad, they don’t touch the driver, but doing so attenuates the treble a bit.
These headphones kind of feel like grados, but instead of the foam that’s on those headphones, you have a less rough cloth-like material.
Transparency: They’re just as transparent as my modified AD2000s, which is in the LCD-2 ballpark (that’s the most expensive headphone that I’ve heard). It’s easy to pick out sounds because there is no bass emphasis. Speaking of the LCD-2, the MA900s have basically the same treble as them. That’s where the similarities end.
Overall Sound: They sound relaxed, thin, and recessed. There is no emphasis on anything, and they sound dry and weak. The sound signature is very easy to get used to, and they pair well with music that is not focused on the lower midrange and below.
Amp friendly? Even with the compensating resistor network, I still find that amps with a high output impedance affect these headphones. The speaker outputs on my receiver, and my FiiO E17, two sources with a near-zero output impedance, sound best with these headphones. The phono-out on my receiver, which has a high output impedance, has the effect of making the treble sound attenuated and quieter than the E17/Speaker outputs.
Sensitivity: Surprisingly, these headphones aren’t as sensitive as you’d think, and they’re not nearly as sensitive as the specs on the headphones show. My modified AD2000s are much louder than the MA900 at the same volume level. Keep in mind that the modifications I’ve done to my AD2Ks doesn’t change the sensitivity of the headphones.
The low sensitivity is probably because of the resistor network on the MA900s. These headphones are relatively 10dB quieter than my AD2000s. How I came to that was I set a volume level for the MA900s, and I changed the volume on the AD2ks until it matched the MA900s. The result was around a 10dB difference. With that said, the specs on Sony’s website when it comes to the sensitivity is wrong.
How much power do I need? Despite the low sensitivity, headphones are very easy to drive, and something like a FiiO E7 will be all you really need. The drivers in these headphones are very weak and it’s very easy to blow them if you have them hooked up to a powerful amp. With that said, be weary on how loud you listen. If you hear an obtrusive flabby sound whenever the bass hits, then it’s too loud.
My EQ Setup:
This is a visualization of the equalization I was talking about in the midrange section.
Do I like them? While these are very good headphones, they just don’t sit well with me. I love a balanced soundstage, and I love bass. Both of those aren’t fulfilled with these headphones. I knew that these headphones wouldn’t have much bass before I bought them, but I was thinking that I could modify them to get the bass out. While it is possible, the quantity that I’d get would be nowhere near the quantity on my ad2000mkiv by a very large margin. While these headphones are around 10dB quieter, they also physically cap out about 10dB earlier than my ad2kmkivs. When you add those two together, you get a headphone with very little potential of improvement in the bass area. If you were enticed by the 70mm driver like I was, thinking that you could modify them to be bass monsters, look elsewhere. I’ve tried to, and it won’t happen. The drivers are too weak to pump the amount of SPL that satisfies me.
I was reading around on the MA900 Appreciation Thread, and many users have come to the consensus that the soundstage on these headphones is very large, larger than something like an HD650. Although I haven’t heard the HD600/650, I find the soundstage similar to something like the ATH-AD900, but more centered in front of you.
To try to illustrate the soundstage, it would be shaped like an isosceles triangle. Not wide at the bass, but it extends far in the front. On headphones like the Audio-Technica AD series, the soundstage is more like an equilateral triangle that’s wider on the l/r channels. Because it’s wider, the sounds that are projected in the front aren’t as concentrated as they are on the MA900s.
Easy to drive
Sounds like a high-pass filter is on
Low bass quantity
Not very sensitive
High output impedance amps will affect headphone performance
Genre limited (suited towards bass-light music)