Reviewed on May 11, 2018

Sony MDR-1A HEADPHONES REVIEW

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
6.6
Mixed Usage
7.7
Critical Listening
6.0
Commute/Travel
6.0
Sports/Fitness
6.4
Office
6.1
TV
6.7
Gaming
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

The Sony MDR-1A are comfortable, critical listening over-ears that deliver a satisfying and well-balanced sound quality. They have a sleek-looking design, and they're surprisingly lightweight for their sturdy and durable build quality. Unfortunately, they do not block ambient noise very well, so they won't be ideal to use in loud environments or for commuting.

Test Results
Design 7.0
Sound 7.8
Isolation 5.9
Microphone 6.5
Active Features 0
Connectivity 5.5
Pros
  • Great audio reproduction.
  • Lightweight and sturdy build quality.
  • Comfortable fit.
Cons
  • Poor noise isolation.
  • Slightly bulky and unstable design.
  1. Update 2/16/2018: Converted to Test Bench 1.2.
  2. Update 10/2/2017: The microphone has been tested with our new methodology, as explained here
  3. Update 8/10/2017: Converted to Test Bench 1.1. Learn more about our new versioned test bench system here.

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7.0

Design

The Sony MDR-1A have a well-designed and polished look that reflects their premium price range. They're sturdy and incredibly lightweight headphones, with ample padding on the ear cups that make them one of the more comfortable headphones we've tested. However, they're not the easiest headphones to carry around on your person without a bag and they're not stable enough to use while running or jogging. They also have a limited control scheme that doesn't have any volume buttons which is slightly disappointing.

Style

The Sony MDR-1A have a sleek and polished look that feels high-end. The ear cups are slightly similar to that of the MDR-100AAP or the MDR-ZX770BN but with considerably better padding and build quality. The headband is also well padded and coated with a faux-leather material that further exuberates the premium feel of the headphones. They come in an understated yet stylish black and gray color scheme with red accents and a textured back on the ear cups. There's a silver and brown variant, but it comes with an integrated DAC and costs a bit more than the regular MDR-1A.

8.0 Comfort
Weight : 0.49 lbs
Clamping Force
:
0.7 lbs

The MDR-1A are a lot lighter than you would expect when looking at their build quality. That and the excellent padding on the earcups and headband means they deliver a comfortable listening experience that's not fatiguing even if you have them on for a while. However, the padding of the earcups creates a relatively small opening for your ears so they may not fit as comfortably for all listeners.

5.3 Controls
Ease of use : Decent
Feedback : Okay
Call/Music Control : Yes
Volume Control : No
Microphone Control : No
Channel Mixing
:
N/A
Noise Canceling Control : N/A
Talk-Through
:
N/A
Additional Buttons : No

The control scheme for these headphones feels lacking. They only have one Call/Music button to pause, play and skip tracks. You won't have any control over the volume level which is a bit disappointing, but at least the button has good feedback, and it's easy to use.

6.5 Breathability
Avg.Temp.Difference : 5.5 C

The Sony MDR-1A are about average in terms of breathability for an over-ear. They have a good seal which prevents airflow to your outer-ear. This will make them relatively warm after an hour-long listening session, but it's better than some of the other closed back critical listening headphones we've tested like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

6.0 Portability
L : 7.9 "
W : 7.3 "
H : 1.8 "
Volume : 104 Cu. Inches
Transmitter required : N/A

The Sony MDR-1A are mid-sized, over-ear headphones, with large earcups that do not fold into the frame for a more compact format. This makes them a bit cumbersome to carry around on your person, especially without a bag. They're not the most portable headphones, but at least the ear cups lay flat, which may come in handy in some situations.

6.5 Case
Type : Pouch
L : N/A
W : N/A
H : N/A
Volume : N/A

Comes with a rugged pouch. It won't shield the headphones from drops and impact but it will protect them from scratches and minor water damage.

7.5 Build Quality

The Sony MDR-1A have a sturdy yet lightweight build quality. The headband is reinforced with a thin metal and plastic frame that's sufficiently flexible to handle a decent amount of physical strain. The ear cups although fairly lightweight are also a mix of metal and plastic that will withstand a couple of accidental drops without getting damaged. The hinges are a bit loose but there aren't a lot of them, reducing the potential weak points of the design.

6.0 Stability

The Sony MDR-1A are not the most stable headphones. They stay put during casual listening sessions and the audio cable will detach if it's hooked on something, but unfortunately, they will quickly fall off your head if you use them for running or working out.

Cable
Detachable : Yes
Length : 4 ft
Connection : 1/8" TRRS

They come with two cables. A 1/8" TRRS-TRRS with inline controls and a simple 1/8" TRS-TRS audio cable.

Top
Headshots 1
Headshots 2
7.8

Sound

The Sony MDR-1A is a good sounding pair of closed-back over-ear headphones. These headphones have an excellent, deep, punchy, and powerful bass, but without sounding muddy or cluttered. They also have a great and well-balanced mid-range, a good treble and great imaging. However, their bass is slightly heavier than neutral, which fans of bass may like, their mid-range could sound a tad thin on vocals, and they don't have a speaker-like soundstage. They also tend to sound sharp and piercing on S and Ts, especially on overly bright tracks. Overall though, these are very good and versatile headphones that are well-suited for a variety of genres from bass-heavy EDM, to vocal-centric rock and indie.

8.6 Bass
Std. Err.
:
2.03 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
:
10 Hz
Low-Bass
:
2.32 dB
Mid-Bass
:
2.45 dB
High-Bass
:
1.51 dB

The Sony MDR-1A have an excellent bass. LFE (low-frequency extension) is at 10Hz, which is great. Low-bass, responsible for the thump and rumble common to bass-heavy genres is flat but 2dB above our neutral target. Mid-bass, responsible for the body of bass guitars and punch of the kick drums is also flat and 2dB above our neutral target. High-bass, responsible for warmth, is overemphasized by 1.5dB, but most of that is happening below 200Hz, so it doesn't add muddiness to the bass. Overall, the bass of the Sony is deep, punchy, and slightly heavy, but without sounding boomy or cluttered.

9.1 Mid
Std. Err.
:
1.19 dB
Low-Mid
:
-1.54 dB
Mid-Mid
:
-0.65 dB
High-Mid
:
0.41 dB

The mid-range performance is excellent. Low-mid is underemphasized by 1.5dB which thins out vocals a little bit, but it also creates more room for punch in the bass range. Mid-mid and high-mid are nearly flawless and within 0.7dB of our neutral target. Overall, the mid-range of the Sony is clear and well-balanced, which is quite important for vocals.

7.7 Treble
Std. Err.
:
3.73 dB
Low-Treble
:
-1.51 dB
Mid-Treble
:
-0.08 dB
High-Treble
:
-3.86 dB

The treble performance is good. Low-treble and mid-treble are slightly underemphasized, and the dip around 5KHz negatively affects the detail and presence in vocals/leads. But the effect will be subtle. The peak in the sibilance range at 9KHz however, means these headphones could sound noticeably sharp and piercing on S and T sounds, especially on overly bright tracks.

7.8 Frequency Response Consistency
Avg. Std. Deviation
:
0.44 dB

The frequency response consistency of the Sony MDR-1A is good. In the bass range, for some reason the right ear cup shows more inconsistency. But the maximum deviation is about 4dB, which although noticeable is not too bad, especially since it's mostly happening in a narrow region. In the treble range, these headphones show more consistently (below 10KHz), except for narrow deviations between 5KHz and 7KHz.

7.8 Imaging
Weighted Group Delay
:
0.27
Weighted Amplitude Mismatch
:
1.6
Weighted Frequency Mismatch
:
2.61
Weighted Phase Mismatch
:
6.15

The imaging performance of the Sony MDR-1A is very good. Weighted group delay is at 0.27, which is within good limits. The GD graph also shows that the entire group delay response is within the audibility threshold. This results in a tight bass and a transparent treble reproduction. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were very well-matched. This ensures an accurate localization and placement of objects (voices, instruments, video game effects) in the stereo image.

5.8 Soundstage
PRTF Accuracy (Std. Dev.)
:
2.04 dB
PRTF Size (Avg.)
:
4.34 dB
PRTF Distance
:
8.0 dB
Openness
:
4.5
Acoustic Space Excitation
:
3.7
Correlated Crosstalk
:
0.0 dB

The Sony MDR-1A has a sub-par soundstage. The PRTF graph shows a good amount of activation (pinna interaction), and the interaction is decently accurate too. However, there's no 10KHz present. This results in a soundstage that is perceived relatively large and natural, but located inside the listener's head. Also, because of the closed-back enclosure, their soundstage may be perceived to be less open as that of open-back headphones.

7.0 Total Harmonic Distortion
Weighted THD @ 90
:
1.656
Weighted THD @ 100
:
15.168

The harmonic distortion performance is decent. The amount of harmonic distortion in the bass range is slightly elevated, but low-frequency distortion is not very audible to humans. However, the peaks in THD around 1KHz and 5KHz could make the treble on these headphones sound slightly harsh and brittle.

5.9

Isolation

The Sony MDR-1A only isolate passively. They create a decent seal around your ears so they're not too leaky even at higher volumes but unfortunately, they don't prevent ambient noise from seeping into your audio. They're not well suited for loud environments and won't be ideal if you have a noisy, daily commute or if you're a frequent flyer. On the upside, at moderate volumes, the leakage level won't be distracting to those around you.

5.5 Noise Isolation
Isolation Audio
:
Overall Attenuation
:
-12.3 dB
Bass
:
0.09 dB
Mid
:
-7.47 dB
Treble
:
-30.01 dB
Self-Noise
:
0 dB

The Sony MDR-1A has a sub-par isolation performance. In the bass range, where the rumble of airplane and bus engines sit, they don't achieve any isolation. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, the isolate by about 7dB, which is below-average. In the treble range, occupied by sharps sounds like S and Ts, they isolate by 30dB, which is good.

6.8 Leakage
Leakage Audio
:
Overall Leakage @ 1ft
:
41.13 dB

The leakage is decent. The significant portion of the leakage is between 500Hz and 5KHz, which is a relatively broad range. The overall level of leakage, however, is not very loud. With the music 100dB SPL, the leakage at 1 foot away averages at 41dB SPL and peaks at just above 50dB SPL, which is around the same as the noise floor of an average office.

6.5

Microphone

Integrated
:
No
In-line
:
Yes
Boom
:
No
Detachable Boom
:
N/A

The Sony MDR-1A has an average microphone. In quiet environments, speech recorded or transmitted with this in-line mic will sound relatively thin and lacking in detail and presence. It may also be prone to pops. In noisy situations, it will struggle to fully separate speech from ambient noise in loud environments like a subway station but would do OK in moderately loud places like a busy office or street.

6.5 Recording Quality
Recorded Speech
:
LFE
:
479.46 Hz
FR Std. Dev.
:
1.56 dB
HFE
:
4122.85 Hz
Weighted THD
:
0.126
Gain
:
17.32 dB

The recording quality of the in-line microphone is about average. The dip between 100Hz and 400Hz makes the sound of recorded/transmitted speech a bit thin. But the bump in low-bass makes this mic prone to pops and rumbling noise. The HFE (high-frequency extension) of 4.1KHz results in a speech that lacks some detail and presence. But this won't affect the comprehensibility of the speech, since speech intelligibility is mostly dependent on the 500Hz-4KHz range.

6.5 Noise Handling
Speech + Pink Noise :
Speech + Subway Noise :
SpNR
:
17.13 dB

The in-line microphone of the MDR-1A is average at noise handling. In our SpNR test, they achieved a speech-to-noise ratio of 17dB, suggesting they are best suited for quiet and moderately loud environments since they would struggle to fully separate speech from ambient noise in loud places.

0

Active Features

These headphones have no active features and therefore do not require a battery. They also do not have a dedicated app or software support for added customization options. 

N/A Battery
Battery Type
:
N/A
Battery Life
:
N/A
Charge Time
:
N/A
Power Saving Feature
:
N/A
Audio while charging
:
N/A
Passive Playback
:
N/A

These are passive headphones with no active components and no battery.

0 App Support
App Name : N/A
iOS : N/A
Android : N/A
Mac OS : N/A
Windows : N/A
Equalizer
:
N/A
ANC control
:
N/A
Mic Control : N/A
Room effects
:
N/A
Playback control
:
N/A
Button Mapping : N/A
Surround Sound : N/A

The Sony MDR-1A do not have a compatible app or software support for added customization options.

5.5

Connectivity

The Sony MDR-1A are not Bluetooth headphones and do not come with a base or dock. They have a wired 1/8TRRS connection with an in-line microphone that will work with your Xbox One or PS4 controller. Unfortunately, since they're wired, they won't have the range and convenience of wireless headphones for gaming or watching movies, but on the upside, they have practically no latency like most wired headsets.

0 Bluetooth
Bluetooth Version
:
N/A
Multi-Device Pairing
:
N/A
NFC Pairing
:
N/A

These headphones are wired and do not have a Bluetooth connection. If you want a good Bluetooth headset for more casual use, check out the Sony WH-1000XM2.

9.1 Wired
OS Compatibility
:
Not OS specific
Analog Audio
:
Yes
USB Audio
:
No
PS4 Compatible
:
Audio + Microphone
Xbox One Compatible
:
Audio + Microphone
PC Compatible
:
Audio + Microphone

The Sony MDR-1A come with a non-os-specific audio cable with an in-line remote and microphone that is compatible with consoles. They will provide audio and voice chat support when connected to your PS4 or Xbox One controller, but you may need a headset adapter for PC if your PC does not have a 4 pin audio jack like tablets and phones.

0 Base/Dock
Type
:
N/A
Optical Input
:
N/A
Line In
:
N/A
Line Out
:
N/A
USB Input
:
N/A
RCA Input
:
N/A
PS4 Compatible
:
N/A
Xbox One Compatible
:
N/A
PC Compatible
:
N/A
Power Supply
:
N/A
Dock Charging
:
N/A

These headphones do not have a dock. If you need a headset with a dock that also has a wired connection for gaming or watching movies, then consider the SteelSeries Arctis 7.

0 Wireless Range
Obstructed Range
:
N/A
Line of Sight Range
:
N/A

These are passive headphones that do not have a wireless range since they're wired. If you want a good wireless headset for critical listening, consider the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2.

10 Latency
Default Latency
:
0 ms
aptX Latency
:
N/A
aptX(LL) Latency
:
N/A

The Sony MDR-1A have a simple wired connection with practically no latency. Unfortunately, this also means that they're limited by the range of the provided cables.

In the box

  • Sony MDR-1A Headphones
  • Carrying Pouch
  • Audio cables (x2)
  • Manual

Compared to other Headphones

The Sony MDR-1A are very comfortable critical listening closed-back headphones with a sturdy but surprisingly lightweight design. They look great and deliver a well-balanced sound quality that packs a good amount of bass without over-powering the instruments and vocals in the mid-range. They can sound a bit sharp with some already bright tracks due to the peak in the treble range, but overall they're a good option for critical listening as long as you don't mind losing a bit of soundstage since they're closed-back headphones. Unfortunately, although they're a good choice for most listeners, they are a lot more expensive than some of the options available below. See our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones, the best closed-back headphones and the best bass headphones.

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0/HD1 Over-Ear
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

The Sony MDR-1A are a slightly better headphone than the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0. The Sonys have a much more comfortable over-ear fit than the Sennheisers. They're also a bit better built with durable materials that are a lot lighter than the Sennheisers' build quality. They also have a better sound quality that's more balanced with the higher frequencies and does not sound as dark. On the upside, the Sennheisers leak a lot less which make them a bit more suitable for noise sensitive environments like the office.

Sony MDR-7520
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

The Sony MDR-1A are a better closed-back critical listening headphones than the Sony MDR-7520. The 1As are a lot more comfortable and sleeker looking than the 7520s. The 1A also have a better-balanced sound than the 7520s. They pack a bit more bass and do not sound as sharp on already bright tracks. On the upside, the 7520s feel a bit more durable than the 1As.

6.6 Mixed Usage

Average for mixed usage. The Sony MDR-1A are best used for critical listening but deliver a comfortable and lightweight design that's not too leaky at higher volumes. They're a decent option for the office and a suitable choice for gaming since they have an audio cable with a microphone that will work with your consoles. However, they do not isolate enough for some loud environments so they won't be the ideal headphones for commuting and since they're wired, they won't be as convenient to use on a daily basis as the other wireless headphones we've tested.

7.7 Critical Listening

The Sony MDR-1A are great headphones for critical listening. They have a well-balanced frequency response that packs enough bass without drowning the instruments and vocals on any track. They're also lightweight and super comfortable so you can have them on for hours and not feel the fatigue that some other headphones induce after a long listening session. However, they have a closed-back design, so they won't have the same ambiance as open headphones, which some critical listeners are looking for.

6.0 Commute/Travel

Mediocre for commuting. They do not isolate well in loud environments, so they won't be ideal for the level of noise typical on public transits. However, they're comfortable and have a simple to use if slightly limited control scheme.

6.0 Sports/Fitness

Mediocre-at-best for sports. They're comfortable and easy-to-use but do not have a stable enough fit to exercise with. Also like most closed back over-ear headphones, they are not the most breathable and will make you sweat a bit more than average during more intense workout routines.

6.4 Office

Average for office use. The Sony MDR-1A don't leak much at moderate volumes and have a comfortable design you can wear for hours without getting tired. However, they do not block a lot of ambient noise so if you have a loud and lively office then they may not be the most suitable headphones for that use case.

6.1 TV

Above-average for home theater use. They're super comfortable headphones with a great sound that caters well to music and movie watching. However, since they're wired headphones, they won't have the best range. Unless you have an extension cord for the audio cable, they won't be the best headphones to comfortably watch tv from your couch.

6.7 Gaming

Decent for gaming. They have a good sound, a comfortable design, and a somewhat decent in-line microphone that will work with the PS4 and Xbox One. However, they won't be as convenient as wireless gaming headsets, and they are not customizable, so you won't be able to tweak their sound profile to match what the game you're playing.

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