New Sony MDR-A35G vs. Sony MDR-A44L vs. Radio Shack 33-1133 vs. Koss Sporta-Pros
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markl

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There wasn't room enough for the complete title of this thread, but it should be: "Work-out phone shoot-out: New Sony MDR-A35G vs. Sony MDR-A44L vs. Radio Shack 33-1133 vs. Koss Sporta-Pros".

Beyond my Sony R10, I need a good work-out phone, and vertical-style phones have been my preference for this purpose ergonomically, but it's been a very very challenging trek trying to find good sound-quality vertical phones for this purpose.

After many years of trying to find the right vertical phone, I've lately been using the Koss Sporta Pros (not a vertical-stryle phone) for the last 10 months or so. In that time, the pads have grown quite grunge-y, have ripped, and needed to be replaced. I have many ergonomic complaints about the Sporta-Pros-- they're heavy, they don't fit preciseley over the ears, they get tangled up easily, the cord length is all wrong for me, they're ugly as hell, and so on. The only thing they have going for them is sound quality which is equal to the best vertical phones I've heard up until now, but that's not saying a whole lot per se.

In my quest, beyond the vaunted Koss Sporta Pros (allegedly same driver as the well-loved KSC-35/50), I've owned many many vertical phones. Originally, on this board, I compared the SportaPros to my "lowly" Radio Shack 33-1133 phones (of which I am still very fond, this is a great "sleeper" phone). I've also owned numerous Sony yellow vertical phones of various models over the years, but a constant problem I've had with them is their inability to deal with the sweat that inevitably builds up in the ear canal during a heavy work-out. My relatively high sweat-levels have caused these Sony phones to short-out in one or another ear during an intense work-out. Sometimes the sound never comes back. They just seemed unable to deal with sweat in my particular case, YMMV.

The Radio Shack 33-1133 ($19.99 at Rat Shack), in addition to providing surprisingly good sound quality, never had a problem handling my sweat. As a result, I've owned several pairs of these over the years. But damn-- these phones are ugly and seem to have been designed in the late '80s.

I've also owned a couple pairs of Kenwood-branded yellow vertical phones (who actually made them?) that were OK sound-wise (but not great) and handled my sweat well.

So-- here's the thread that contains my original review of these Radio Shack vertical phones vs. the Koss Sporta Pros in its entirety: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showt...ertical+phones

I will summarize my findings here:

Quote:

This is by no means a detailed review.
I've got a pair of cheapie vertical phones from Rat Shack that I think are *overall* slightly BETTER than the lauded Koss work-out phones. No, I'm not joking.
Here's the original thread on my rat shack phones with some supporting comments from a few others (yes, this pre-dates the current Sony A44L controversy--I'm really not joking around):
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showt...vertical+phones

After comparing the Rat Shack phones to a brand new pair of Koss SportaPros, I'm surprised to find I like the Rat Shack better.

We pause for the gasp. OK, feel better? Good, let's continue. Now, I'm not going to even suggest that these rat shack phones are better than the HD600s, CD3000, or the Stax Omega. However, in the world of crappy vertical phones for work-outs, they're actually not so bad.

Backstory
My old reliable Sony am/fm radio that I used forever for workouts died. I replaced it with the Aiwa CR LD101, a "lighter-sized" radio. This is apparently the best little am/fm radio on the market today with a friggin' belt clip (the Sanegan doesn't have one!!!!!!). Still, reception is not as good as my old Sony.

Anyway, since I had budget left over for some new phones, I decided to go with the herd and get a pair of Sporta Pros that supposedly use the same drivers as the beloved KSC-35.

Well, here's my quickie comparison:

1. The Koss is woolier and thinner than the rat shack
2. Koss' bass distorts horribly when the Aiwa's "bass boost" is engaged. The Rat shack phones have "less" bass than the Koss, but do not distort when bass boost is used. I leave the bass boost on when I have the rat shack phones on. It's really not necessary with the Koss, as bass is OK normally.
3. The rat shack phones have more, clearer treble and something that actually resembles a soundstage. Midrange is more "present" on the rat shack phones.
4. The Koss still have that "headphony" sound. The rat shack is more "natural" in terms of tone and timbre.

Overall, nod goes to Rat Shack! These are the best vertical phones I've heard (no I haven't heard the Sony A44L). However, if I hadn't heard the rat shack phones, I'd still be relatively pleased with the SportaPros.

And, no, I didn't do any listening through my microZOTL for this test as that would be silly. Also, this is based on one day's worth of listening to the SportaPros, but that's all I needed.
So what does this prove? It says to me that there are some hidden treasures out there in headphone land that do in fact beat out some other COMPARABLE headphones that are lauded on this site. So there.... or something!


Later, I posted this:

Quote:

I have to confess that I've been listening more to the Sportapros these days. I might have been a bit hasty in giving the nod to the Rat Shack. The Sportapros have a lot of things going for them, they're not bad at all.


OK, so flash-forward to today. The pads on my Sporta-Pros are just disgusting and need replacement, otherwise I need a new set of work-out phones. I see a Radio Shack flyer that shows the "new" Sony MDR-A35G vertical phones for $19.99. I did a search, and indeed this phone has never been mentioned on Head-Fi yet, but it appears to have been released in April of this year. I hustle over to my local Rat Shack and purchase these phones rather than the Rat Shack replacement ear-pads for my Sporta-Pros.

Sony MDR-A35G ($19.99 retail) impressions: http://www.sonystyle.com/home/item.j...=&itemid=30618

For the last 5 days or so I've been using these phones during my work-outs. I'm listening to them right now as I type.

Source: Aiwa CR-LD101. This is a $50-$60 AM/FM radio with digital display that is about 50% the size of a pack of cigarrettes and highly vaunted. It's a great work-out radio and of relatively new vintage with a fairly high-powered jack.

Ergonomics of the MDR-A35G:
These are *extremely* light-weight phones and very very flexible, yet they stay comfortably in your ear. These are hands down, the most ergonomically-friendly work-out phones I've tried, compared to the Rat Shack 33-1133 and the Koss Sporta Pros. They also have no problem handling my sweat-- a big feature of theirs is a new "Moisture Gaurd Mechanism" which I believe is responsible for this. But be warned-- these phones are easily manipulated and require careful positioning within the ear to get best sound performance.

Sound of the MDR-A35G:
If your source does not have a "bass-boost" or "mega-bass" button, I can't recommend these phones. Sound is thin and very very trebly. But my Aiwa has a "bass-boost" button that shifts the frequency spectrum downwards, and with it engaged, I must say the sound is quite remarkable for a small vertical phone. Unlike the SportaPros, which instantly distort when the "bass boost" button is pressed, the Sony MDR-A35G keeps it together and delivers! This tells me that these phones are very versatile in terms of frerquency response and also very source-dependent in terms of performance.

The MDR-A35G has a very very "forward" and "dynamic" sound compared to the relatively "laid-back" Koss Sporta-Pros. Detail retrieval with these Sonys is so much better than with the Koss phones, it's not even funny. Surprisingly, bass response with "bass-boost" engaged is at least as good and probbaly better than the much larger Sporta-Pro drivers. Tone and timbre is quite good as well and at least equals the Koss and Rat Shack phones.

Given my very positive experience with these "new" Sony's, I decided to order the Sony MDR-A44L, an older headphone that retails for $24.99, and that Vertigo-1 recently made famous: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showt...ertical+phones

The only difference revealed in the specs between the MDR-A35G and the MDR-A44L is the frequency response. The MDR-A35G has the standard 20Hz-20KHz rating, whereas the A44L has a 10Hz to 23 KHz frequency response, plus they're about $5.00 more exspensive.

OK, I haven't yet received my A44L's yet so this review is not yet complete. But I'll post my results as soon as I receive them (should be late next week). Watch this space!


Mark
 
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Eagle_Driver

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markl, I gave a negative review of the A35G a little while back (out of the package) - but now that the A35G is broken-in, I'd say that they're actually pretty good for small $20 headphones. The A35G is enjoyable, but a little coloured.

Moral: Don't judge vertical headphones straight out of the package; they'll sound wretched at first. Give them at least a few hours of break-in.
 
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markl

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EagleDriver,
If possible, please re-post your thoughts on the Sony MDR-A35G here. For whatever reason, they don't show up in the search results.

Mark
 
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Eagle_Driver

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markl

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OK, I'll re-post your thoughts:

Quote:

BTW, I also saw two new Sony headphones at Best Buy - the MDR-A35G VITE's ($19.99) and the MDR-G57LP Street Styles ($29.99). Maybe the A35G's will sound similar enough to the MDR-A44L's to satisfy a "Vertigo-1" in us, but the G57's (sound-wise) are the typical Street Style crap that Sony had been peddling all those years.


If you'll forgive me, EagleDriver, this is fairly scant info...

Mark
 
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Eagle_Driver

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markl,

Here is my original mini-review of the MDR-A35G, titled "Blech! MDR-A35G "S2" VITE's":

Quote:

Earlier today, I went to a local Best Buy and (out of impulse) bought a pair of the new S2 white, gray and orange Sony MDR-A35G VITE's for $19.99. Guess what? These VITES are bass-heavy, boomy and muddy! The highs are about the same as the MDR-A44L VITE 'phones that I use as my reference here - but the entire low end is muddy and bloated! And the A35G's bass vibrates my inner ears annoyingly, to boot!!
(To illustrate just how crappy the MDR-A35G's sounded, a pair of "old" Koss KTX Pros - in the guise of the RadioShack PRO-35's - sounded almost as boomy, bloated and muddy as the S2 VITEs.)

Bottom Line: The MDR-A35G really makes the Sony Street Styles sound good in comparison!
When I bought the A35G, I had expected heavy showers and/or thunderstorms after I left work. And now, I work in the same shopping center as where that Best Buy is located. And since I can't use most good-sounding headphones in the rain anyway, I really wish I would have spent a bit more $$$ for the "Street Style" version of those S2's, the MDR-G57G. (That 'phone still sounds a bit muddy - but at least its bass isn't waaaaaay overblown like that of the MDR-A35G VITE's.)

Oh, well... At least the MDR-A35G is physically more comfortable to wear than other VITE headphones.

NOTE: I'm comparing only cheap portable headphones here. Keep in mind that they all reaaaally sound like poop compared to my Sennheiser HD 600's (and especially my Etymotic ER-4S's).


And that was MY impression, out of the package. My opinion - and the A35G's sound, as well - has changed since then.
 
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markl

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Thanks EagleDriver. IMO, the MDR-A35G are actually "pretty good phones". Can you confirm for the record, and state where they stand relative to other phones, in your experience?

I expect the A44L to be even better than the A35G, and I'll report on these once I get them. The main question with the A44L is their ability to handle sweat. Soon I will know...

Mark
 
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markl

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After re-reading EagleDriver's comments, it strikes me just how much two people can disagree about a given headphone, in this case the Sony MDR-A35G. EagleDriver's heard virtually every low-cost phone and his opinion carries a lot of weight with me, yet we seem to disagree here.

This either illustrates the importance of the source/amp, the shape of a person's ear-canal, or psychological factors that affect how we perceive sound. It's been argued on this board that the nature of vertical phones makes them especially prone to individual response based on the basic geometry of your ears. I'm also using these phones with FM radio signals, not a CD/cassette/MP3 source, so that may also be a factor.

Quote:

These VITES are bass-heavy, boomy and muddy!


These phones had zero bass until I engaged the bass-boost on my Aiwa LD101 AM/FM walkman. They were bright as could be and very "tinny", "thin" and "synthetic"-sounding prior to bass-boost.

Quote:

The highs are about the same as the MDR-A44L VITE 'phones that I use as my reference here - but the entire low end is muddy and bloated!


To my ears and from my source, bass is powerful and punchy, but not "bloated" or "muddy". I quite like the bass response I get out of these tiny phones-- it's quite surprising. The dynamic bass of these phones is a positive boon for me in their intended application as work-out phones. On aggressive fast-paced music, they really help me keep my momentum during a work-out.

Quote:

And the A35G's bass vibrates my inner ears annoyingly, to boot!!


I can sort of see what EagleDriver is saying. These phones fit so snugly in the ear canal that there is an interaction with the ear itself, but this does not bother me.

I will say that these Sonys do have some coloration. They sound more like whizz-bang "hi-fi" and sound more "crisp" than the more natural-sounding and "realistic" Koss Sporta-Pros. They have a bit of a "synthetic edge" that doesn't bother me that much overall because it makes them more dynamic and rhythmic. At this point, I'd still give them the nod over the Koss phones due to ergonomics and their dynamic, punchy sound.

I'll get the A44L's on Wed. Can't wait!

Mark
 
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I have the Aiwa CR-LD101 and Sony MDR-A44L combo. I never use the bass boost, but I think the combination sounds pretty good for casual listening. The Sony tends to lessen the FM-radio bass emphasis one hears with male voices, which is worse with most cheap cans, and smooths out any top end noise. A syngergistic combination, actually, as neither sounds as good with better equipment. The A44L is not a giant killer, IMHO. But I compared them to my son's Koss KSC-50s, and I think they're more listenable out of the Aiwa.

They've replaced the Aiwa radio with a new model, by the way. The new one has an alarm. I've seen one in a Sharper Image store, but haven't listened.

There are two AT ear-hook cans to be released this month, which look like the KSC-50 on steroids and metal. AudioCubes has them listed, and one HeadFi'er has them on order.

And, finally, I saw a set of Phillips verticals in BestBuy earlier this month. They looked pretty neat -- well-built and larger than the norm. I wasn't going to try them, however, as I had already wasted 45 minutes standing in the return line for something else!
 
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kerelybonto

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markl, you're confusing me. How do you post back to back comments like these: Quote:

These phones had zero bass until I engaged the bass-boost on my Aiwa LD101 AM/FM walkman. They were bright as could be and very "tinny", "thin" and "synthetic"-sounding prior to bass-boost. ... To my ears and from my source, bass is powerful and punchy, but not "bloated" or "muddy". I quite like the bass response I get out of these tiny phones-- it's quite surprising.


Was the second set of comments about the cans sound with the bass-boost on? If so, you're reviewing your bass-boost, not the headphones.

kerely
 
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The Sony MDR-A44L's are my favorite "grab and go" portables. I grab 'em with my little Sony radio when I head to the ballgame, and I grab 'em when I head to the street with my MZ-E900 mini disc player. They're compact (fold), easy to wear, they sound great, and it's easy to move one driver to the side in order to converse with others...

I just received a second pair for back-up because these are my workhorse portable phones.

 
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I've recently switched from using Senn MX500s to using A44s. Because for one, they actually stay in my ear, and for another, they actually provide a small amount of noise cancellation.

But, they're certainly no Omega IIs.
 
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markl

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Quote:

Was the second set of comments about the cans sound with the bass-boost on? If so, you're reviewing your bass-boost, not the headphones.


Kerely,
Not sure why you're confused. The second set of comments was with bass-boost engaged. Originally, I said:

Quote:

If your source does not have a "bass-boost" or "mega-bass" button, I can't recommend these phones. Sound is thin and very very trebly.


No, I'm not reviewing the bass-boost, I'm reviewing the performance of the headphones with bass-boost engaged. The Koss phones, for example, can't handle the "bass-boost". The sound breaks up and clips. That said, the Koss' have enough bass without bass boost. The Rat Shack phones, OTOH also require bass-boost to be engaged to sound their best out my Aiwa.

In a portable set-up used in a noisy work-out environment, I don't think using bass-boost is so "evil" or "wrong".

Mark
 
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markl

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Wow, I must be missing something. I've used my new A44Ls during my work-out today, and I've been listening to them during the rest of the day...

Maybe these need extensive break-in, but they're nowhere near as good in my ears as the MDR-A35G was straight out of the box. I'm kind of bummed because I ordered these mail-order and can't easily or cost-effectivley return them.

Here's my observations about the A44L:
1. Muddy, murky, indistinct and tubby, echo-y sound. Sounds like I'm underwater. No detail. Bass is very muddy and too deep and pronounced with bass-boost on, but not strong enough with it off. Sound is too thin and brittle with it off to boot.

2. Stations don't come in as clearly with the A44L. How can this be? Cord looks the same as A35G, but not as thick as the Koss.

3. But hey- the A44L is comfortable.


Oy. Tommorrow I'm going to be checking out a new AM/FM work out portable from Panasonic and I'll do a comparison of the A35G and the A44L with that.

Just goes to show that vertical phones performance really does depend heavily on your ears' particular geometry.

Mark
 
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Eagle_Driver

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So, markl, at this point you'd say this:

MDR-A35G > MDR-A44L (to your ears)

 
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