Sony's new $499 top-of-the-line "ear receivers" feature a unique design aimed at solving the two biggest problems - fit and comfort while delivering full-frequency reference-quality sound. Unlike most ear buds, which depend on a tight fit in the ear canal to work properly, the MDR-EX 1000 offers an alternative fit where the phones sit comfortably in the ear, instead of being jammed into the ear canal. For people who often have trouble getting ear buds to fit tightly and comfortably the MDR-EX 1000 offers an exciting alternative.
Manufactured in Japan, the MDR-EX 1000 employs Sony's rigid 16mm diameter liquid crystal polymer film diaphragm, high-energy neodymium magnets, a magnesium housing, and detachable oxygen-free copper cabling. It comes in an elegant shaped leather and fabric case that includes a removable insert for wrapping the cable around. Sony included seven different ear tips to insure an optimal fit for everyone. Sony also tried to address the fit issue by coming up with a new way for the MDR-EX 1000 to fit lightly in your ears, held in place by the flexible cabling that curves above your ear and follows the shape of your head. Instead of relying on friction or pressure the MDR-EX 1000 stays in place with only a little help from gravity.
I have freakishly small ear canals. Many otherwise fine ear buds don't work for me because I can't get a good fit. With both the Shure SE535 and Etymotic HP-4P ear buds I need to use the small triple-flange tip to get a decent fit. The Sony MDR-EX 1000 doesn't include a triple flange tip so I was concerned as to whether any of the Sony tips would work for me. But since the Sony is designed to sit next to, not pushed into your ear canal, it depends on a good seal outer edge rather than inside the canal. I tried all the tips. For me the largest of the "noise isolation" tips delivered the best fit. Once installed, I was delighted by how comfortable the MDR-EX 1000s were, even after several hours of listening. Even my custom-molded Ultimate Ears Reference ear buds aren't as comfortable for long-term listening. But there's a trade-off. The Sony MDR-EX 1000 doesn't deliver anywhere near the same level of outside noise attenuation as an ear-canal design, such as the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors.
Once in place I was impressed by how smooth yet articulate the MDR-EX 1000s are. Unlike many ear buds, especially those marketed to the pop music crowd, which have a happy-face frequency curve where the frequencies above 8 kHz and below 200 Hz receive some extra emphasis, the MDR-EX 1000 has a much flatter response curve better suited for a wider variety of music. If you listen to complex music you will immediately appreciate the Sony's resolving abilities. While not the most efficient ear bud I've used, even an iPod Touch has sufficient juice to drive it into the high-volume danger zone. And when driven hard the MDR-EX 1000 holds up nicely, adding only the slightest amount of grain to upper frequencies.
As with most ear buds the MDR-EX 1000 cabling has some microphonic tendencies, but after the first couple of inches Sony's new soft cable material is essentially non-microphonic. Even though it's replaceable, the MDR-EX 1000 cable is not a quick-disconnect style, like the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors. If pulled hard, due to its fit, the MDR-EX 1000 ear buds should come out of your ear well before the cable breaks.
Like the Etymotic ear buds the Sony MDR-EX 1000 uses a foam "equalizer/filter" in its front housing. But unlike the Etymotics, the Sony filter is not a user-replaceable part. It remains to be seen whether the filter will clog after long-term use as the Etymotic does.
Read about the high points and the low points of the Sony MDR-EX 1000 on Page 2.
• One of the more sophisticated sounding ear buds I've heard. They are smooth yet revealing, with a balanced harmonic balance and excellent frequency extension.
• They are beautifully made. Sony's special soft cable is one of the least microphonic headphone cables available.
• Their well-designed case that makes the MDR-EX 1000 phones easy to store, carry, and use.
• The MDR-Ex 1000 comes with seven different ear tips to insure an optimum fit.
• The installed cable will be too short for some applications.
• Not the last word in bass. If you're a "bass freak" look elsewhere.
• Getting the MDR-EX 1000 to fit properly will require experimentation.
• If you need an ear bud that seals completely and attenuates outside noises the MDR-EX 1000 will not be your best choice.
The new Sony MDR-EX 1000 proves that Sony can think outside the ear canal when it comes to ear bud design. It combines comfort with high performance to deliver an experience that is hard to beat, especially if you want to be able to hear your surroundings and wear your phones for long periods. With their neutral harmonic balance and unhyped frequency extremes the Sony MDR-EX 1000 makes an attractive alternative flavor to Shure, Etymotic, and Monster ear buds.