It may be hard to believe now, but Sony used to rule the portable audio world. And if the company keeps turning out quality headphones, it may keep a share of that world. Sony's latest pair of low-profile earbuds, the MDR-EX90LP, stand to help the case. These $100 'phones aren't jaw-droppingly new or advanced, but they do provide quality audio, a comfortable fit, and an understated design, making them a suitable choice for any on-the-go listener.
The MDR-EX90LP earphones stick to basic black with some shiny silver accenting just at the earbud. The cord is roughly four feet long, though the right 'bud's cord is slightly longer so that you can wear the cable down your back and out of your way. This length is just right for on-the-go use but insufficient for listening at home on your computer or stereo system--a cable extender would have been a nice extra. Sony does throw in a good leather case and a stowing insert (for wrapping the cable). You also get three sets of silicone eartips in different sizes, and although these are comfortable, we found that they don't really make a seal with the ear as models from Shure do.
So the MDR-EX90LPs aren't noise-isolation earphones--nor does Sony claim them to be. The downside is that extraneous noise can seep into your music-listening experience; on the other hand, this means that you can still hear what's going on around you, which is probably safer in most cases. Another negative is that bass isn't as present as it would be with a proper seal. However, the MDR-EX90LPs provide a rather tight low end, it's just not as thumping as with noise-isolation models (or full-size headphones, for that matter).
In general, sound quality provided by the MDR-EX90LP earphones is superior. All genres of music sound equally good, making these 'phones a great choice for a wide variety of listeners. The MDR-EXX90LPs offer great high-end detail and clarity, and we were rewarded with a rich and warm midrange. Of course, plenty of worthy competitors are in this price range, but now you can add one more option to the list.