Sony MDR-1AM2

lambdastorm

100+ Head-Fier
Sony strikes twice.
Pros: Good wearing comfort
Extremely lightweight
Very easy to drive
Did I mention how comfortable they are?
Cons: Maybe a bit too ez to drive
Prone to background hiss. behaves much like an iem in this regard
Back in the day, Sony produced the 1R series in the hope of introducing an audiophile model to the mainstream consumer market. The result was a headphone that sounds decent for the price and has superior wearing comfort. They later produced a Mk2 version, then the 1R evolved into the 1A. And then we have the 1AM2. This headphone has been on my buy list for a long time. It's very lightweight, it looks stylish, and I've tried the 1000XM series enough times to know how comfortable they are. I finally took the plunge last August. Now that I've had these for a half a year, I want to give them a fair and hopefully unbiased review (as unbiased as i can be harhar).

Comfort
Coming from behemoths like HE6 and Abyss, anything can be comfortable. But the 1AM2 still stands out as one of the most comfortable headphones I've owned. These weigh almost nothing and the weight distribution is excellent. The headband distributes weight very evenly on your head, and the pads provide just the right amount of clamp. Not too loose, not too tight. These feel very secure. Speaking about pads, did I mention just how comfortable they are? These are hands down the softest earpads I've touched. Sony went out of their way to create an earpad that softens up upon direct contact with your skin. Yes you heard me right, when you put them on your head, your body heat will soften the earpads and instantly transform them into the softest material imaginable. They conform to the shape of your ear and make sure you get a perfect seal. Overall I'd give it 10 out of 10 in the comfort department. One of if not the most comfortable headphone on the market. Sony really knocks it out of the park in this one.

Build
Build is pretty utilitarian. The housing is made of plastic, the headband and earcups are made of synthetic leather. Despite the simple choice of materials, they look very well put together. There are a few details that stand out: The hinge that connects the headphone to the headband doesn't squeak when you rotate it. Sony mentioned this in the product literature cuz a lot of users complained about this detail in the 1A. The headband extension mechanism also feels smooth and quiet when you extend/contract it. Very nice attention to detail. Overall, plain but by no means flimsy.

Sound
If I'm being honest, when I got the 1AM2 I have no expectation for sound quality. Not that I expect it to sound bad but for a headphone at this price I just don't expect too much. I was pleasantly surprised. Detail retrieval is actually pretty decent (for the price), and the amount of sound it blocks out is also impressive. Sony even included a 4.4mm pentaconn cable in the package in case you want to step up the amplification. Well I did try it on a hiby player but I don't think it really needs balanced amplification. Here's why.

First, this headphone is crazy sensitive. I have had many portable headphones and none are this sensitive. It almost behaves like an IEM in this regard --- on an iPhone I actually volume match it with my DD IEM and find the volume to be sufficient. On most desktop amps it will hiss. Again something that's much more common with IEMs than full-sized headphones.

Second, the frequency response. Oh my oh my the FR. Do I not like it. This headphone would actually sound good if it can retain its technicalities and go with a different tuning. The tuning on these is, well, how do I put it. Sony-esque. They are targeted at mainstream consumers so you already know it's going to sound bassy. But the mids and treble sound a bit too withdrawn. For pop music they are alright, but for any serious listening I think you're going to want something different, starting with more clarity, more mid and treble focus and less muddy bass.

Even within the realm of super boosty bass headphones, the 1AM2 is not a good example. They sound colored and artificial. Listen to any acoustic music and you'll see what I mean. It's such a shame because the technicality is not bad. They can retrieve a decent amount of detail, but the FR is too far gone to make it a solid headphone. I personally use it for watching YouTube videos and taking online classes, or just any multimedia purposes in general. That's where they really shine. Superior comfort plus low weight means I can wear them all day. As long as no serious music listening is involved, they're gucci.

Conclusion
Is a headphone still worth buying if it doesn't sound good? A year ago I would've said no, but for the 1AM2 I am going to make an exception. These headphones are so comfortable that I find myself using them every day despite their unagreeable FR. Multimedia applications are where they really shine. Put them in a bag, take them on a trip, bring them to a party. You'll find yourself much happier if you just use it as a regular headphone instead of an audiophile worship object. If you don't take the sound too seriously, you'll enjoy them a lot more. That concludes my review.

dooxtypoox

Head-Fier
Pros: + (Consumer + Audiophile)-friendly tuning
+ Works well with most genres
+ Splendid detail retrieval
Cons: - Soundstage is much wider than it is deep
- Sub-par isolation
- Soft carrying pouch does little to protect them for bag storage
Video Review
*This review has been updated as of 5th December 2020*

Price and specifications
Price: USD$299.99 (tested at USD$176)
Sony MDR-1AM2 official webpage

Weight – 187g
Type – Closed dynamic
Impedance (ohm) – 16Ω
Frequency response – 3-100,000kHz
Sensitivity – 98dB/mW
Cable – 3.5mm detachable silver-coated OFC
Cable length – 47-1/4”
Plug – Gold-plated L-shaped (3.5mm SE and 4.4mm Balanced)

photo_2020-12-05_22-58-11.jpg


Accessories
4.4mm male to 3.5mm male balanced cable
3.5mm male to 3.5mm male single-ended cable with mic
Soft carrying pouch

Comments on accessories
I love how Sony includes both sets of cables, allowing for flexibility between sources. The pouch contains a separate compartment to store the 2 different cables which is good thinking on Sony’s part.

However, this is also why they must be stored carefully. It is easy to create dents which take some time to subside. I would very much prefer to have seen a hard-shell case at the listed retail price point, as the soft pouch does little to protect these in the confines of a backpack full of junk; especially since the ear pads must be oh-so-dearly babied.

Build, comfort and isolation
The frame is light but the build quality remains sturdy without feeling cheap. It should be noted that the pressure-relieving earpads, while comfortable, may trap heat when wearing the headphones for about an hour or so. The earpads tend to flatten over a listening session; my ears gradually begin to touch the grills in front of the drivers when wearing these for more than 2 hours. I have to take these off for about 20min to let the earpads return to its original shape.

Despite providing the comfort I yearn for on long-haul flights, I swapped out to my CIEMs on a plane as the MDR-1AM2 passive noise isolation does little to block out the aircraft hum.

On a separate note, I have been taking very good care of the earpads by wiping them down with alcohol after a few uses so the synthetic leather earpads and headband have yet to start peeling. I'm doing my best to prolong its lifespan because changing earpads seems to be quite a pain with these since the earpads are permanently attached to the cans.

photo_2020-12-05_22-58-03.jpg


Sound
The MDR-1AM2 was tuned with Sony’s new house sound, a well-tuned V-shaped pair of cans with an airy, energetic timbre. It walks the fine line between being musical and analytical. It satisfies the average consumer, as well as the discerning audiophile, within the mid-tier price bracket.

The bass is elevated and extension is deep, with equal focus on both sub-bass and mid-bass. This attention to both aspects of the bass is realistic – the sub-bass rumble is well-controlled and the mid-bass does not mask its tone.【1】 The MDR-1AM2's bass presentation renders details of bass guitars that play alongside vocals exceptionally well. It has a clean playback while delivering that "kick" most people crave for in a rock mix.【2】

Possibly bolstered by the back vents at the top of each earcup, the DD has a nice physicality, with impactful sub-bass rumble and mid-bass thump that can be felt. Although the mid-bass lends some warmth to midrange, it is clearly balanced out by the upper midrange with a pinna gain that climbs from 2kHz to approximately 4.5kHz. The peak at 4.5kHz here definitely gives the vocals a boost in clarity; the magnitude of the upper-mid boost is well-controlled to avoid an uncomfortably hard, aggressive upper midrange. Taking the rise from 2kHz into account, the lower-mids are relatively recessed hence one can expect that higher pitched vocals will have more of an edge over deeper ones. 【3】

The mid to upper-treble boost works well with the gain in the upper-mids to give air and reveal fine details of recordings. I say that this is a well-tuned V-shape because it not only does bass well, but I also love that its treble also exhibits a distinct shimmery "crash" to cymbals and hi-hats.【4】Additionally, the MDR-1AM2 manages to keep sibilance well under-control despite the treble emphasis.

Technical Summary
Technical Summary.png


While it is all too common to see some manufacturers boost the treble for the psychoacoustic illusion of more details, the MDR-1AM2 is a specialist in bringing forth such detail of recordings while maintaining a pleasing tonality. However, the MDR-1AM2 does not keep up in the resolution department. As detailed as it sounds, these perceived details in different components of the mix are not as well-articulated and well-separated as I'd like them to be.

At the end of the day, the resolution is very reasonable and it's something that some listeners might not even have a problem with. But I have to bring this up because of what these headphones could have been for me. Its stellar tuning and detail retrieval can fit the bill for many and having the extra bit of resolution at this price point would have made these an even stronger contender in the mid-fi arena.

Possibly due to the fact that the lower treble is slightly recessed, the presence of instruments and vocals are set a distance away from the listener. Combined with its airy treble, this helps give the perception of a spacious sound although the soundstage is neither particularly wide nor deep. This is why I enjoy using the MDR-1AM2 for live performances as well.

Concluding thoughts
I also have to discuss the relevance of the MDR-1AM2 today in 2020. With the recent release of the Sony WH-1000XM4 in Aug 2020, it would be interesting to listen to how the wired MDR-1AM2 fares against its wireless counterpart. While I do not have a pair of WH-1000XM4 to make a definitive comparison at the moment, I intend to audition them one day to come to that conclusion.

Costing USD$50 more than the official listed price of the MDR-1AM2 (USD$349.99), it may be hard to justify an MDR-1AM2 if the sound quality isn't far off (considering ANC and wireless features in the WH-1000XM4). You might get more bang for your buck purchasing the MDR-1AM2 2nd hand as a secondary pair of headphones if you've already got a great setup at home for wired listening.

Thanks for reading! You may find more reviews on my Head-fi thread.

These are some of the notable tracks used to come to my conclusions for those who're interested (not exhaustive).
Sample tracks for reference: Artiste 1Song 1, Song 2. Artiste 2Song 1…
1. Falling In Reverse - Popular Monster. PVRIS - Nightmare, Hallucinations. Milet - Ashes
2. Imminence - Paralysed, Infectious. Architects - Animals. Bring Me The Horizon - Teardrops.
3. Of Monsters And Men - Stuck In Gravity, Wild Roses. Andrew Lloyd Weber - Memory, Amigos Para Siempre.
4. MY FIRST STORY - Missing You, With You, Home. ONE OK ROCK - Yes I Am, Taking Off.
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dooxtypoox
dooxtypoox
@OmniscientNihilist They are definitely boosted above neutral but I've never found there to be too much for my ears.
jb2unique
jb2unique
Any chance the above playlist is on some streaming service?
dooxtypoox
dooxtypoox
@jb2unique Thanks for the read! Unfortunately not, but everything except (14) is available on Spotify :)
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