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Sony MDR-1R review: Rich sound with bass prominence

The MDR-1R headphones are rich-sounding, with a prominent emphasis on bass. Most recordings benefit from this type of sound, and the tonal balance makes harsh MP3s or streamed audio more tolerable than headphones with more treble detail.

Sennheiser's Momentum headphones sound crisper and clearer than the MDR-1Rs, but the Momentums also highlighted the ragged harshness of some MP3s.

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Next, I compared the MDR-1Rs with a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones. The P5s' sound was slightly more detailed, but more "closed-in," so the sound seemed stuck inside my head, and the treble sounded thin.

On the other hand, the MDR-1Rs sound more refined overall, spacious and natural; bass definition, impact, and power are much improved over the P5s.The MDR-1Rs also reveal more subtlety in the music, so you hear more of Amy Winehouse's vocal inflections on her live version of "You Know I'm No Good."

The P5s are small on-ear headphones, so I also put the MDR-1Rs up against something closer in size, the new V-Moda M-100 over-the-ear headphones. The M-100s are known for their outstanding bass oomph, but the MDR-1Rs had superior low-frequency definition.

The M-100s make a bit more bass, but the MDR-1Rs let you hear bass pitches better, and deliver more midrange and treble detail. The MDR-1Rs also have more neutral tonal balance than the M-100s, so they should appeal to audiophiles who listen to a wide range of music genres. Well-recorded drums, like the ones on jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter's new "Not Getting Behind Is the New Getting Ahead" CD, sounded more realistic on the MDR-1Rs. Stereo imaging for both headphone models is open and spacious, no differences there.

The MDR-1Rs' comfortable fit and wide-open sound also shone while I watched "The Big Lebowski" on DVD; the bowling-alley scenes and distant sounds of people talking seemed to come from off in the distance. Even The Dude's dialogue was crystal-clear.

The Sony MDR-1R Premium Headphones are beautifully designed, with a build quality that reaches higher than most competing models. Designed primarily to bring out the best in all types of music, the Sony MDR-1Rs are sonically some of the best all-around headphones I've tested, and well-deserving of my recommendation.

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