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, which 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 $100 MDR-AS100W among them. These mostly well-designed earphones are a good option for the gym, with an adjustable over-the-head band that should work for just about any person looking for a secure fit. However, this set is not as comfortable, compact, or inexpensive as the fabulous MDR-AS50G.
Sony clearly did a lot of research into what is required of a sports-style headphone. Each set in the company's active line is lightweight and stays securely on the head during activity--the MDR-AS100W is no exception. These 'phones feature a thin, adjustable headband that works to keep the earbuds in place without putting undue weight on the head. However, the earbuds themselves aren't the most comfortable we've used. They have a bit of a unique design, with the standard hard plastic discs you find on stock earbuds (such as those that come with the iPod), which rest just inside the cartilage of the ear. The discs feature protrusions to which you attach the silicone ear fittings, which are then inserted into the ear to port in the audio and achieve the best possible sound. Unfortunately, the discs pressed uncomfortably on our ears, and despite Sony including three sizes of sleeves, we weren't able to truly fit the tips into our ears. On the plus side, the headphones are stylishly understated, with a black and silver band and just a hint of red accenting, so if the Sennheiser Sport line was a little too bright and flashy for you, the MDRs are a good alternative.
The Sony MDR-AS100W earphones feature a few other physical attributes worth noting. First, the cable is modular, which is usually ideal for active applications, as it keeps the main cable short enough (20 inches, in this case) to use with an armband without a lot of slack cord. And Sony was smart enough to include a clip on the cable for dealing with the weight added when you connect the included extender cable, which adds an additional 26 inches to the length--plenty for keeping your MP3 player in a bag or pocket. Sony also includes a slim plastic case that's about the size of a Discman. It's a nice inclusion, though it's a shame the headphones don't fold down more compactly for storage.
During our performance evaluation of the Sony MDR-AS100W earphones, we took a couple things into consideration, not the least of which was their ability to stay in place during activity. They passed this test with flying colors, failing to budge during a jog and various other aerobic activities, including some rather ridiculously flailing dancing on our part. Sound quality was a bit of a different matter. While the MDR-AS100W offers an impressive amount of high-end detail--with strings, shakers, and acoustic guitar sounding particularly shimmery--we found that overall sound was a bit cold and bright for our tastes. This has a lot to do with the fact that without a proper seal with the ear, bass was quite deficient. When we shoved the 'buds in, we got the low-end, but it was a bit mushy. However, for working out--especially if you listen to a lot of podcasts while doing so--the earphones are passable. They certainly allow for plenty of volume to help you drown out the cardio machines and other bothersome gym noises.