Although the headphone market continues to burgeon with new models, it can be surprisingly tough to find a decent, fitness-friendly pair. A few companies, such as Sennheiser, have stepped up to the plate with sport-branded earphones that feature design attributes meant to keep them secured on the head during activity. Now, we can add Sony to the list. The company has released an impressive array of Active Headphones, the $20 MDR-AS20J among them. These interestingly designed earphones are suitable for the gym, although not all users will be able to get a good fit, so runners should take heed. Also, they're not the best-sounding set in the Active line, but they are the cheapest, making them a solid option for fitness buffs on a budget.
Each model in Sony's active line is distinguished by a slightly different design element meant to keep the earphones secure during activity. The MDR-AS20Js are the least adjustable of the bunch, so fit could be an issue for some users. A plastic earbud similar to those found on stock sets juts out from a molded ear loop that surrounds the entire outer ear. The loop is bendy, but it cannot be adjusted to ear size, and so it felt unsecure on my small ear. Although it stayed in place during a jaunt on the elliptical trainer, thanks namely to the stability offered by the earbud resting inside the ear, it had a tendency to fall out while I was jogging. However, this should not be an issue for those with average-size ears, as that is what the MDR-AS20Js are sized for. Also, I found them plenty comfortable for about an hour or so, but could see the hard plastic 'buds irritating some ears.
Like the other headphones in the Active line, the MDR-AS20J is mostly black in color with some minimal silver and red accents--it's an understated look. The earphones also offer the detachable shirt clip for keeping the cable out of the way during activity. Unlike the other models in its line, the MDR-AS20J features just a single cord measuring 46 inches long, as opposed to a modular cable with an extender option. The cord terminates in an L-shaped plug.
The sound quality offered by the MDR-AS20J earphones is nothing to write home about--it's roughly what you get from a slightly above-average pair of stock 'buds. On the one hand, bass response is admirable for such an inexpensive set. It's not thumping, but it is nicely noticeable. Mids tend to sound a bit tinny and bright, and the highs can be jarring at times. The biggest problem, though, is that many tracks have a slightly muffled quality, as if you're listening underwater or through a tube. Still, it's not terrible, and the audio will certainly be passable for listeners who are used to listening to stock 'phones, but now want something that's suitable for the gym. One thing's for sure: the MDR-AS20Js get loud enough to drown out machine whirs and disturbing human grunting.