- Table of Contents
- Active Features
In the box
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.
See our recommendations for the best Over Ear Headphones.
- Great audio reproduction.
- Lightweight and sturdy build quality.
- Comfortable fit.
- Poor noise isolation.
- Slightly bulky and unstable design.
Update 10/2/2017: The microphone has been tested with our new methodology, as explained here
Update 8/10/2017: Converted to Test Bench 1.1. Learn more about our new versioned test bench system here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 100% Avg.Temp.Difference
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 100% SpNR
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.
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.
These are passive headphones with no active components and no battery.
The Sony MDR-1A do not have a compatible app or software support for added customization options.
- 10% Bluetooth
- 32% Wired
- 10% Base/Dock
- 22% Wireless Range
- 25% Latency
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.
- 79% Multi-Device Pairing
- 20% NFC
- 0% PS4 Compatible
- 0% Xbox One Compatible
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.
- 13% Analog
- 9% USB
- 26% PS4 Compatible
- 26% Xbox One Compatible
- 26% PC Compatible
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.
- 4% Optical Input
- 22% Line In
- 4% Line Out
- 22% USB Input
- 4% RCA Input
- 9% PS4 Compatible
- 9% Xbox One Compatible
- 9% PC Compatible
- 2% Power Supply
- 13% Dock Charging
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.
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.
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)
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.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are not as premium looking as the Sony MDR-1A but deliver a sound quality with a better bass and treble reproduction. They feel sturdy and durable although they are mostly made out of plastic and do not have the lightweight aluminum alloy build quality of the Sonys. They're also not as comfortable. If you're looking for the best-sounding closed-back headphone for critical listening, then the ATH-M50x are a much cheaper alternative to the MDR-1A with a slightly better-balanced sound. However, if you have the budget, the Sonys are a great choice with a good sound quality, a more polished and comfortable design, and an audio cable that's compatible with your phone, console, and PC.
The Sony MDR-1000x are the older model of the WH-1000XM2. They have the same design but do not benefit from the app support of the newer model. However, they are wireless which makes them a bit more convenient for day-to-day use than the MDR-1A, although they're not as comfortable or as well built. they also have quite a bit of latency when watching videos, but on the upside, they do provide an audio cable in the box so you can use them wired like the 1As. Unfortunately, they do not sound as balanced as the MDR-1A, even when used wired so if you want the more comfortable and better-sounding headset overall, get the 1As instead. However, if you prefer the convenience of a wireless design, then the MDR-1000X are a good option with great noise canceling for commuting. But you may want to get the pricier WH-1000XM2 instead, which has less build quality issues and app support.
The Sennheiser HD 598 Cs are the closed back variant of the popular HD 598. They have about the same performance as the Sony MDR-1A but have a much cheaper build quality. They also do not look as premium, but they are about as comfortable with slightly more spacious ear cups. They do not sound as bright on some tracks as the Sony, but they have a little less bass. Unfortunately, both headphones are not ideal for commuting since they do not block a lot of noise, although they are a bit better suited to use outdoors since they come with an in-line remote to skip tracks when connected into your phone. The in-line remote is also compatible with consoles. If you want the better looking and more durable headset, then go for the Sonys. However, they are twice the price of the Sennheiser for a comparable performance in most use cases.
The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 are a well built critical listening headphones that are not as comfortable and do not sound as balanced as the Sony MDR-1A. They have a slightly bulkier and heavier build quality and feel a bit more durable than the Sony's, although the 1A's design looks more polished and high-end. They're also a lot more comfortable since they are so lightweight. On the upside, the Momentums deliver a deep and extended bass that will please fans of bass-heavy genres but can sound a bit dark compared to other closed back critical listening options. They also do better in quiet environments since they barely leak and they block a bit more ambient noise when commuting. The Momentums will do better than the Sonys when used outdoors but overall the Sonys are better and also cheaper.