Sony MDR-1R 'prestige headphones' review

When a company sticks its neck out to brand its headphones as "prestigious" it's got to be pretty confident that they deliver in both the style and sound departments. The Sony MDR-1R over-ear headphones sure do look suave in their brown and silver makeup, but they also carry a whopping £300 price tag on the Sony Store. Are the MDR-1R over-ears able to deliver on their prestigious promise?

Design

It's love at first sight. From the moment the exterior sleeve is pulled off the packaging and the book-like case is unfolded, the revealed MDR-1R headphones speak for themselves. They may not be a total reinvention of a traditional over-ear design, but the subtle finish focuses on what's important - size, fit and comfort.

They're light, yet feel sturdy and well built in the hand. It's the right sort of weight to have clasped to the dome - they sit securely without skull-pinching so are perfect for long periods of wear.

At first we found the earcups to be a little too wide open, with enough room for protruding ears to sit against the internal driver mesh. As the enfolding earcup design totally shrouds the lugs this may not suit all, though we've tested these on a couple of others' heads - with very differing ear sizes, we might add - and it's been nothing but approval across the board.

Over time, too, we've become more attached to the way the 'phones fit - it's natural given the way the earcups are mounted with three-dimensional flex and once they find that "natural" position it feels spot on. It just takes a teeny bit of getting used to is all.

Included in the box is a carry pouch and two serrated, non-tangle cables - one with remote for iPhone use, the other a shorter length for other devices - that can be plugged in to the side of the left earcup.

Sound

Pocket-lint has lived with the MDR-1R for two weeks now. Instead of casually using them, we've listened to them on planes, trains, tubes, in the street and at home. They've gone everywhere with us from Hong Kong to Paris - and as much as that might sound like a lyrical quote from The Bay by Metronomy, it's not, though we did give that band a blast among plenty of other others across all sorts of genres.

Audiophiles might find the MDR-1R to be a bit over the top for their tastes. The sound isn't particularly neutral - but then the Sony marketing campaign showing dubstep's boy wonder Skream providing input to the Japanese engineering team was more than a clue as to that anyway. There are telltale signs in the audio too: the mids have a lot of that "clap", while the higher frequencies - said to output as high as 80,000Hz - have plenty of sparkle too.

Bass sits nicely in the mix towards the background, but it doesn't have quite as much impact at the far lower frequencies as might be expected; it feels as though the sub has been rolled off a little in this particular model. Now that's surprising as there's an airvent to assist bass output, which is said to output audio as low as 4Hz (which is inaudible, it can't even be felt; but from around 20-40Hz there ought to be some more notable impact).

Indeed touch the outer side of the driver and it can be felt kicking away to push the low end. But from the brief listen we've had with the MDR-1R's higher-spec noise cancelling MDR-1NC cousin - which we will review at a future date - we feel that the 1R model reviewed here isn't able to connect the low-frequency range so well. But then the higher-spec model does have yet better technology and a far higher price tag.

External sound interference can also be a small issue for the MDR-1R, though its environment dependent. Take the London Tube, for example, and that hideous rushing air sound took away some of the clarity where the low end was concerned - more so than would be found with a closed-cup over-ear such as the Sennheiser HD-25 II - but the MDR-1R can deliver the goods loudly so there's no trouble in cranking up the volume to counteract.

Which leads us to think that this particular Sony model is best suited for a sterling at-home listen, with the capacity to be taken out on the move too. If you're the kind to wire up an iPod and kick back in a big, cushy chair with loud music delivered directly to your brain then the Sony MDR-1R sure do offer one comfy, stylish and quality way of doing so.

In short: the MDR-1R delivers rounded, well separated sound with big, sparkly mid-high frequencies and subtle yet present mid-low bass that, while strong enough, slightly lacks impact towards its lowest frequency output range.

Verdict

Are the Sony MDR-1R "prestige headphones" worth the £300 asking price on the UK Sony Store? That's arguable. But the £200 price floating around on other major online retailers is far more, er, on the money. Taken in that context and we have heaps of praise for these over-ears.

There's a lot of detail in the sound, right down to picking out individual reverb amid the mix - it's a really great over-ear experience. It's far from neutral though, but for the wider market that will be a preferable sound that provides enough grunt from all frequency components. Bass feels well positioned, but isn't over the top - a little more subtle than the frequency output on the spec sheet might otherwise suggest. But, hey, we don't all want bass forcefully pushed out of our eyeballs.

Stylish, comfortable, an awesome home listen and, daresay, prestigious on all counts. Get them for the right price and they sure won't disappoint.