Sony makes a variety of MDR-1 headphones, from the excellent "standard" model, through to an older overpriced noise-cancelling model and, now, with the arrival of the MDR-1ABT, a wireless Bluetooth version.
Built around the familiar design complete with large and comfortable earcups, these over-ear cans come from a strong heritage. But with a price tag approaching double that of the standard MDR-1A model, is the Bluetooth feature really worth that extra chunk of cash?
We've been listening to the Sony MDR-1ABT almost non-stop for four weeks to see whether they're our new number one cans.
Just like the MDR-1A, the Bluetooth model features giant foam-padded earcups, which dominate the design much like a Basset hound's floppy ears. The contrasting metallic exterior is altogether firmer than said pup's droopy eyes, giving a firm form that, once slotted over the head, feel big and airy (they'll be too big for those with smaller heads though).
If you have larger lobes, however, then you might find some slight contact with the outer flesh and the 1ABT's interior mesh. It's not exactly uncomfortable, though, as we've found from extended periods of wear over the last month, including long-haul plane journeys, extensive desk typing sessions, and when on-the-go through London town.
That's down the soft finish of those giant earcups, which is marshmallowy soft and avoids the vice-like grip of some lesser headphones. Having just swapped over from the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H8 on-ear cans, the advantage of the MDR-1ABT is that it's an altogether lighter and more comfortable wearing experience.
The design is slightly different this time around compared to the standard 1A though; the 3.5mm headphones jack slots into the base of the left earcup rather than blending into the design where headband meets earcup fixture. Next to this is a Bluetooth power-on button, while on the other earcup there is a small plastic flap covering a Micro-USB port to charge the interior battery for Bluetooth listening. If that battery depletes then passive listening is still possible, so long as you have the provided cable with you.
However, the battery doesn't mean there's noise-cancellation on board, so you can't completely drown out the hiss and drawl of the surrounding world with these cans, unlike with the older NC version, which, oddly, was of a similar price.
And price is one of the Bluetooth model's main points of contention: the MDR-1ABT cost £299, which is £130 more than the standard 1A model. That's a serious leap for the sake of Bluetooth.
Just like the MDR-1A, however, the 1ABT provide sublime sound. It almost makes the large price tag worth it.
The earcups deliver an excellent spatial experience given how big they are, surrounding the ears with quality audio. Big scale translates to big bass, but never at the cost of snappy mids and popping high-end. Positioning the earcups relative to your ears is crucial for the best possible listen, but we've found them to sit successfully in place.
Delivering the audible goods are 40mm drivers in each earcup, capable of providing a 4-100,000Hz frequency response, which is way beyond human hearing capacity at both the low- and high-ends.
Sure, we know there's psychoacoustics and all that, and the MDR-1ABT are compatible with high-resolution audio (240bit 192khz if you have the source material), but whether that's your level of listening or not, we think that everyone will find these Bluetooth over-ears a crisp and quality listen.
Sculpted vents are employed to maximise airflow and a aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm are both fancy ways of saying the bass kicks nice and loud. But unlike with some recent headphones that we've tried, the balance of the Sony sounds spot on for a variety of genres. Bass isn't overwhelming, but even if bass-driven music is your thing then you'll get the suitable low-end rumble. From mids-heavy guitar rock, to vocal ballads, experimental ambience and genres beyond, we've been suitably satisfied with the sound of these headphones throughout.
They're wonderfully loud too. Unless, that is, you pop Bluetooth on, whereby the volume drops to what sounds like almost half the output of the wired equivalent. A bit of a shame, especially given the price bump required specifically for the Bluetooth feature.
Which, ultimately, is the sticking point of the MDR-1ABT. You're not gaining audio quality over the 1A model, while the price hike is a bit steep in our view.
The Sony MDR-1ABT Bluetooth over-ear headphones are not just big in size, they're just as big in the audio department too. Delivering big bass without being over-the-top, there's oodles of all-round quality and excellent balance to be found here, albeit at a price point way beyond their non-Bluetooth 1A counterparts.
So while we love the quality, the lack of noise-cancellation at this price point, Bluetooth playback that's quieter than via wire, and a large scale which won't suit all, are all minor drawbacks.
If you've got deep pockets, Bluetooth is a must and high-resolution audio tickles your fancy, however, then the Sony MDR-1ABT are in with a shout of being among the best over-ear cans out there. Just like the earlier MDR-1A the BT model sounds absolutely ace.
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