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Sony MDRV55 review: Sony MDRV55

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Look up Sony's website, and all its portable or iPod-related earphones seem to be in-ear types. Nonetheless, its MDRV55 headphones do a decent job of being get-about on-ear models.

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Sony MDRV55

The Good

Generally very good sound. Excellent value for money. Excellent comfort.

The Bad

Some vocal sibilance. No in-line iPod remote control. No pouch.

The Bottom Line

The Sony MDRV55 headphones provide generally good quality sound and comfortable wear at a relatively low price, but miss out with no iPod inline remote.

At 225 grams, these are fairly heavy headphones. Yet, they didn't feel it. The shape of the padded headband, its reasonable breadth and the soft padding around the ear-pieces seemed to make the headphones feel lighter. They are "on-ear" in design — that is, they rest on the surface of your ears rather, than surround them with the padding against your head — but the pressure is fairly gentle. Consequently, they were comfortable, but didn't seal against external sounds very well, despite their "closed" design.

They felt secure, and even when we shook our heads fairly violently, they remained properly in place.

The headphone cable is tangle-resistant flat-type, 5mm wide and only 1mm thick. On the review headphones we received, they were a slightly sickening aquamarine colour, with a small amount of matching trim against the black of the bulk of the unit, but you can get this trim in red instead, or white (the ear pads are also white with this model), or the entire headphones in white.

The headphones fold up to into a reasonably compact bundle, but you don't get a carry pouch with them. You don't get a 3.5mm to 6.5mm plug adaptor, either. The cable is fixed, attaching to the left earpiece only and it uses a 90-degree plug for a snug attachment to a portable music player. There is no in-line remote option, which is a drawback for portable use. We found ourselves having to poke around in pockets for the iPod more than we liked. Likewise, without a microphone, they also cannot serve as a chunky hands-free option for a phone.

Performance

Sony permits itself to boast a little about their high power handling capacity: 1,000mW (ie, 1 watt) it says. By way of comparison, the output of a 4G iPod Touch into a 40 ohm load is about 20 milliwatts. We're not so sure that boast is such a good idea if the other specifications are correct. It says that their sensitivity is 105dB for a milliwatt of input. Even an iPod Touch should therefore hit up to 118dB with these headphones. As for a thousand, that'd be 145dB, and airport runway levels. Which, it almost goes without saying, is not to be recommended if you want to retain your hearing.

The 40 ohm nominal impedance seemed to be a sweet balance for our iPod Touch (4G), allowing it to deliver plenty of power without being drawn into distortion. Although, we should note that the headphone amp on our Yamaha home theatre receiver provides a slightly cleaner result.

The sound balance was generally very good. The human voice on podcasts was properly level across the midrange. Likewise, the headphone sounded clean and accurate into the treble. Clarity on the voices — both male and female — on podcasts was excellent. The only issue we had on this aspect of performance was with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, where there was an occasional touch of sibilance from Cave's voice due to, it seems, a slightly forward mid-treble of the headphones, which isn't noticeable with my loudspeaker system. To be fair, though, we were pushing Nick through the headphones at an inappropriately high level.

The bass was very well defined and extended into the low reaches — revealing some bass content I had not previously experienced. At times, we thought the bass was, in fact, boosted a little in its lower registers, but going back to some much-loved Janice Joplin blues (to check some known bass spurious noise on a particular track), the balance here sounded excellent. It was suitably strong for hip-hop as well. On general rock, the headphones sounded nicely responsive to dynamics, allowing drums to rise above the mix as they should.

If your tastes run a century older, classical music delivery was pretty impressive as well. We'd suggest good quality recordings as the headphones were pretty revealing of defects. The 1956 Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording of Scheherazade sounds alternately sweet and balanced, and crunchy and confused with these headphones. But with the 1982 recording of Glenn Gould's version of Bach's Goldberg Variations, you can very nearly make out the pianist's mutterings.

Overall

While you don't get a pouch, you do get generally very good sound (a touch of sibilance aside) at a very respectable price. The Sony MDRV55 headphones are excellent value for money

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