Japan is rightly feted for its wonderfully peculiar innovations, but we've got hold of the most unusual in the mainstream audio market since . Sony's new PFR-V1s aren't headphones if Sony has its way -- they're 'Personal Field Speakers'. Whatever you call them, they look bloody weird, but they sound hella sexy.
Kudos to the bloke who designed these, because he thought a little outside the box and attacked the headphone market at an unusual angle. True, the result makes you look like you forgot to take that morning's brain medicine, but audio connoisseurs will appreciate they bring something a little out of the ordinary to the world of music.
Firstly, let's explore what these do. Two small drivers sit inside spherical enclosures, each propped a couple of centimetres from your ears. The two prongs that prop the speakers in this way are actually hollow bass ports, letting bass travel naturally from inside the speaker enclosure, and out of a small hole into your ear.
What this unusual design delivers is a much more open sound than can be achieved from conventional earphones or closed-back headphones. But what they add to this openness is a sense of hearing audio as if it was being produced by speakers at close range. The fundamental goal of these 'phones is an out-of-the-head listening experience.
They leak audio like no-one's business, however, so they're completely unsuitable for the commute or in quiet working environments. And since this suggests usage only at home, why the Hello Kitty wouldn't you just use normal speakers?
Well, for one, speakers are far, far noisier than these; and for two, they can be considerably more expensive.
At £230, Sony's brave new 'phones offer superb sound quality, albeit a little delicate on the bass. Our first thoughts were that they create a bright, crystal-clear sound, with decent mids and clear, subtle lows. They struggled to deliver the booming bass line underneath Pendulum's Granite, but Jenny Owen Youngs' Porchrail was reproduced beautifully.
However, within minutes of using the PFR-V1's at our desk instead of at home and in our labs, this IM from chief sub Nick Hide popped up: "Your music. I hears it. Those must be the leakiest 'phones in the world." He was several metres away. Safe to say they really aren't for use around other people, raising the question of whether, despite giving excellent sound quality, are they just completely pointless?
We don't think so. They're an expensive choice and we didn't find them invisibly comfortable, but they do provide a unique sound, especially with live music, and they are extremely detailed. Our final opinions are saved for our full review, which you can expect very soon. Until then, we're going to lock ourselves in a sound-proof room.
We've prepared a super-deluxe gallery of close-ups for you to peruse at your leisure. Click through for some moist-making visual hotness. -Nate Lanxon
Update: Read our full.
Here's a little speaker all close, like.
And here's one of the hollow bass ports.
Once again, the bass port, but this time from an artier angle, since these are rather arty headphones.
This size-adjustment mechanism keeps things lightweight, though a little delicate.
This would be me listening to Tool, and looking like one too.