- Aug 14, 2009
Before I begin, its important to know this review is subjective. Its my opinion and nothing more, some may agree and some may disagree. Ultimately, it is up to you, the reader to get this headphone on your head before you make any decisions. Its not for everyone, but those it is tailored and tuned for will be extremely happy.
Sony decided to sell the MA-900 for $299US. I am not sure this is a fair price in the current market. With so many Audio companies raising the bar in the last year, I am not sure if the new $300 crowd can aim to please most these days. I was not fond of the AKG K550, also $299. However, I was impressed by the Philips Fidelio L1. All three headphones sell for $299 and you can read my review of that model here. Ultimately, both this Sony MA900 and the AKG K550 fell far short of the Fidelio L1 in most areas, but trumped them both in a few others.
The gear I used for this review included
-a Bottlehead Crack minus the Speedball upgrade
-entry level tubes that have a nice spacious sound
-Hisound Audio Studio V portable Dap
-Monoprice RCA cables
-Philips Fidelio L1 / JVC DX1000 / AKG K550
-Fiio E10 Dac
-Foobar2k with mostly high quality .Flac
The MA900 immediately shocked me with its lightweight form factor and overall design. Unquestionably the most comfortable headphone experience I've had in many years. If you have never picked the set up and decide to purchase it cold turkey, you will be in for a surprise. The set boasts a super light housing, one that strikes up a bit of confusion due to your sub conscious telling you it must be heavy with those 70mm drivers. Normally, you don't see headphone housing and headband designs of this type used with 70mm drivers. It is perfectly natural to assume extremely large drivers will be heavy and as a result, the housing and headband brandishing a geometrically proportionate design. And of you that know me personally should be laughing right now or smirking at the very least, as there is little else I hate in the audiophile world than large headbands. I just do not get it. If the cup housings are large, why does the headband too have to be large...just for the sake of proportion? Has anyone here ever worked as an authentic DJ or a sound mixer in a studio, whom is forced to sit in a cramped and hot studio for 10+ hours a day every day with extremely large cumbersome headphones on their head? I have. I used to be a DJ in my late teen years into my early 20s, touring around Cleveland and jamming out at concerts. I also worked as a sound engineer for a few months to help out a friend who owned a small recording studio. Nothing fancy, really. But, my point is that I know what its like to have to wear headphones for a long period of time. No real DJ wants to wear giant bulky things on their head unless they care more about attention than actually doing their job. Most mixers are forced to wear and use studio gear. Companies like Ultrasone and Shure don't actually use their own headphones and I don't think I've ever met a real Audio Engineer who actually wants to wear something huge and uncomfortable on their head. I've also not met anyone who wants to mix audio for hours every day via headphones that provide a weighty, thick sound. Most seem to want a physical and sonic fatigue free experience. Thankfully, Sony answered our prayers with the MA900.
I don't need measurements to tell me there is some distortion going on at the low end of these headphones. The Bass dips all the way down to 5hz and up through 40khz. Impressive, actually in a numbers game, but I am saddened to report it does not live up to expectations. This set was rumored to be an improved F1, or at least on par with a Sennheiser HD650. In my opinion, they are not. But, my opinion is just that: An Opinion. I very much prefer if you, the reader decide this for yourselves. I owned the F1 and HD650 for many many years and could spot them blindfolded at a headphone meet without a problem. Their sonic qualities are burned into my skull. In this case, I prefer the low end of these two headphones very much over the MA900.
The Bass on the MA900 is light and forgiving. Earlier here on the forums, I had mentioned the bass as being absent of slam. I was wrong. This is only true at low volume levels and during the burn in experience. Beyond 75 hours, I noticed the bass slam increase. Its the only piece of sonic quality I noticed audibly change over the course of my time with it. Slam can get a bit annoying and pokey if you EQ, if not, don't worry. Slam won't bother you, its on the lighter end without any EQ and through my Bottlehead Crack, which has very good bass all around, the experience was lacking deepness, rumble and fun factor. Sony told me that this set was supposed to have excellent bass due to its revamped Bass Reflex tech. So, why not pit it against my JVC DX1000 and Fidelio L1 since both of these set have insanely stellar bass?
Vs The Fidelio L1 by Philips
The Ma900 falls incredibly short in every way: Clarity, responsiveness, deepness, rumble, slam, broadness, fun factor. All significantly lower in quality and quantity. But, don't take this as a bad thing, as the MA900 was not designed to compete with Bassy headphones. I'd expect more from the Sony since its the exact same price as the Fidelio L1. Bass quality is simply inferior. The L1 hits so hard and so deep sometimes, I can't help but to feel immensely satisfied. I've yet to experience satisfactory bass with the MA900.
Vs The DX1000 by JVC
Well, now I am being extremely unfair. The DX1K is regarded as having one of the highest quality and fun factor Bassy experiences ever. And rightly so. Bass is perfect on this headphone to my ears. It just does it right. I was told the same thing about the Audeze LCD2 but we all know how that went for me ( LOL ). This headphone does not have Bass as potent as the warmer than usual Bass on the Fidelio L1, nor is is as omnipresent. In the case of the L1, the fantastic low end bass is there no matter what, at all times, ever present. Without EQ and via my Studio V Dap which is known for having a more balanced sound signature ( lacking bass ) the L1 still seemed very potent in the low end. This is not the case with the DX1000. The DX1K will provide bass as it should be and is one of maybe 3 headphones I've ever used that can switch up between thick hard hitting, slamming bass tracks and immediately sound lush,broad and enveloping in a classical or jazz track. It does anything you ask. In the case of the MA900, its very lack luster. Its on the top end of being bass light, or even the very low end of bass moderate. Its not broad, either. Its very dry and noticeably less warm and lush than both the L1 and DX1K by a significant degree. This is ideal if you want a fatigue free experience, one that you can mix audio with all day and never get tired of the bass slam or potency getting in the way. Neither of the other headphones mentioned should be used in a studio. Both are fun and lively. The Ma900 is ideal for studio use which seems to be a common trend with Sonys latest headphones.
The midrange reminds me of the Sennheiser HD598, which I very much enjoyed. Not too distant, not forward. My DX1000 is forward, the MA900 certainly cannot be expressed as a forward mid range. Depending on your gear, it is very well suited for amplification or sources that are regarded as sounding great with Sennheisers. The sound presentation is very similar. Via my Bottlehead crack ( which is known for being one of the best amplifiers for Sennheiser sound ) paired incredibly well with the Sony. Clarity is just good, not great. The Midrange on my L1 and K550 are noticeably more clear with and without amplification. Its not broad. Vocals are smaller than I expected on a 70mm headphone driver. Yet, one that is also angled, the experience is lacking. Certainly not bad, but do not expect " Giant Killer Midrange "
The Highs are also quite dry. The set all around is "Dry". Thats the best word I can use to describe it. Its not the set of headphones you want to use for listening to music and trying to enjoy it. But then again this is Head Fi. To some around these parts, Analytical and cold sound is a good thing, Dryness is desired by some. Thats great if you enjoy these qualities, I am not one of these people. I prefer a warm and fun sound. Proof that it can be done in the hifi world is in the JVC DX1000. It seems like the more expensive you get, the more analytical things get. Not always the case, but most of the time it is. The more expensive, the harder to drive and sometimes even getting very uncomfortable or heavy. Such is the path to destruction for the future of Audio in my opinion. Lighter, more efficient, easier to use is the way I hope things turn out in the next decade or two. The Ma900 highs have a hint of brightness but not at all harsh or enough to state its annoying. Again, the set is relatively dry and fatigue free all around.
Soundstaging was the only reason I was interested in this headphone. As I loved my F1 and HD650...the Ma900 fell way short of both of these other models. Its not small by any regard, its quite large. But, not special. Its not lively or dynamic. But, it is one of the lightest and more air filled I've heard in the past few years. Once again, Ideal for monitor use. Separation qualities are just as good as my HD600, not as good as the HD650, L1 or K550. All of which have more space between instruments, but these all also have a much more thick and heavy sound versus the Ma900 that has an extremely satisfying and relaxing tonality to it.
This headphone performed on a stellar level for online gaming and general internet browsing. I would never wear any headphone I've touched for the past decade for gaming. Not even the AD700. The Ma900 bested them all for gaming enjoyment and relaxation. You can wear them indefinitely and never get soar or tired. Clamp factor is very low, it rests on your head very easily and stays cool due to its breathable mesh like earpad and headband fabric covers. I enjoy sitting outside with these headphones on, its a dream come true to have $300 sound quality in a full size headphone that I can literally go for a walk with. Yes, they are open back and leak a ton, but if you are lucky like me, have a deck or porch or similar places you can take walks around and nobody will bother you or even see you, then this headphone is a godsend. It feels amazing to wear the headphone outside. From a front and rear view, the headphone seems so low profile and skinny, nobody would ever think twice to make fun of you! Its great. The cable is also unacceptable, take a look at the Fidelio L1's stellar cable: Fabric laced, tough, detachable, beautiful...the Ma900 cable is generic and flimsy. It can and should be improved.
Overall, the set is one of the best relaxing and monitor headphones out there. I won't be recommending anything else to mixers or engineers in the near future, nor anyone else looking for an excellent gaming and media headphone. It slammed the competition in that regard, however, the set is again so darned dry and boring, I cannot use it for musical enjoyment. The set is not musical to me. But I am sure there are some who love this sound and it offers a great alternative for anyone who wants something more laid back and easy to use. Sony has been doing a fantastic job and I am very excited to see and hear their new gear coming out in the near future. Thank you to Melissa and Carla over at Sony. You both were incredibly nice and professional, thank you so much for the demo and chance to review this headphone for you.
* Note: A video overview will be posted very soon as well as an interview with Sonys Design team about the future of Audio and their thoughts on the MA900. Please comment and rate if you have a free moment, I very much enjoy reading other peoples comments and thoughts and will answer questions to the best of my abilities. Thanks for reading.