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Sony MDR-1A review

Andrew Williams




  • Recommended by TR

1 of 10

Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A
  • Sony MDR-1A


Our Score:


Key Features

  • Removable 3.5mm cable
  • 40mm dyamic driver
  • Faux leather-coated pads
  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Review Price: £169.99

What are the Sony MDR-1A?

The Sony MDR-1A are the updated version of the MDR-1R we reviewed a couple of years ago. They’re over-ear, full-size headphones with more than a hint of sophisticated Sony design.

While claims they're made for Hi-Res Audio are potentially misleading – these are fun, rather than totally accurate, headphones – they offer top-notch comfort and highly enjoyable sound. And given they’re available for a similar price as the Beats Solo 2 at £160-170, they’re good value too.

However, if you don’t care too much the Sony style or the super-soft fit, the Audio-Technica ATH-50X still trump them in some respects for less money.

SEE ALSO: Best Headphones Round-up

Sony MDR-1A – Design and Comfort

Sony produces bucketfuls of headphones, and the Sony MDR-1A are among the most stylish. Full-size headphones can often come across as too large, comically so in some cases, but the relatively slimline profile of this pair and its very deliberate styling mean it pulls off its design.

They are also age-agnostic. Style headphones often skew towards a younger crowd, but the Sony MDR-1A are low-key enough to avoid such associations, especially in their silver and brown version, which we’re looking at here.

While the outer design hasn’t changed much in the two years since we reviewed the Sony MDR-1R, there was no reason for it to. For those after a slightly more aggressive look, the black version with red trim is stylistically a bit closer to the look you get with sets like the Beats Studio.

The sophisticated look has a lot to do with convincing you the Sony MDR-1A are high-end too, because the materials used are largely concerned with keeping the headset light. The outer parts of the cups are covered with cast aluminium, as the parts you’re likely to touch most often, but the rest of the set’s seemingly metallic outer parts are plastic.

In our review set there was a tiny bit of creakiness when stretching and twisting the arms, but our pair had already been put through the wringer by a previous wearer. You don’t get the all-out luxury feel of, say, the Bowers & Wilkins P7 here, but it only becomes apparent when you get your hands involved — they are certainly eye-pleasers.

The light construction also helps make the Sony MDR-1A among the very most comfortable headphones in this class: they are extremely comfortable.

Very soft protein (ie synthetic) leather pads large enough to encompass most ears and a fairly low-tension headband make the Sony MDR-1A fit quite sumptuous. These are headphones you can wear for an 8-hour stretch without feeling any discomfort. In the trade-off, they are not perfect for exercise.

While they should stay in place for joggers, we just don’t think the headband has quite enough tension to keep them in place during vigorous exercise.

The Sony MDR-1A are not the most portable set in their class, though. While the ear cups swivel by 90 degrees to make the headphones ‘flat’, the cups do not fold inward (into the headband) to save space. There’s also no case supplied.

The cable is removable, however. It snakes out of the left ear cup and uses a common 3.5mm jack rather than something proprietary. The bundled cable is the classic 1.2m portable length, and doesn’t offer any kind of remote or handsfree housing.

These are pure, plain headphones – no wireless, no noise cancelling, no extras. However, there are some more advanced, and expensive, models in the series too. The MDR-1ADAC have an inbuilt DAC to let you get the digital feed from a computer or USB audio-enabled phone (like an iPhone 6), and the MDR-1ABT offer Bluetooth.

No flashy features here, then, but the Sony MDR-1A cable is pretty thick – more so than smaller portable headphones. Sony also says the lead is balanced, giving each channel its own ‘sub’ cable and ground cable.

Sony MDR-1A – Sound Quality

Sony talks pretty confidently about the MDR-1A sound, positioning it as a good complement for Hi-Res Audio – digital audio rendered at a quality higher than that provided by good old CDs.

However, we think that’s slightly off the mark. These are great-sounding headphones, but not necessarily perfectly suited to the kind of anal listening that Hi-Res Audio would benefit. Of course, Hi-Res Audio is quickly devolving into a marketing exercise, but that’s an issue for another time.

The Sony MDR-1A are headphones that marry an overemphasised bass with otherwise refined sound. There is some resonance to the bottom-end that stops it from sounding entirely balanced. It is quite obviously ‘larger’ than intended, especially when doling out dance beats.

This kind of bass emphasis is of course the norm among style headphones, but is a sign that the ‘Hi-Res’ tag is there for the most part because these are supposedly ‘high-end’ headphones and that Hi-Res Audio is the current buzzword in hi-fi. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x offer greater bass control and a ‘higher-resolution’ sound for slightly less money, for example.

However, Sony has clearly made some improvements in the two years since the old MDR-1R.

Two years ago we complained of too-easy-going treble, but the MDR-1A provide detailed but smooth treble that offers plenty of higher-frequency information while sticking within a harshness-fee signature. Once again, though, if you like your treble with a bit of bite the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X offer more of it, as well as somewhat superior treble detail.

Are we trying to point you towards the ATH-M50X instead of this pair? To an extent, yes. They offer a slightly higher-fidelity sound at a lower price.

The Sony MDR-1A have one important win, though. They offer a wide and expansive soundstage that is not only involving and, well, big-sounding, it also helps to stop the chunky bass from sounding like it’s drowning everything else.

The tone of the mid-range is great too. They are pretty-sounding headphones that are able to make voices – both the spoken and sung king – sound natural.

As long as you’re not after lean, accurate bass we think most people will sink into the Sony MDR-1A very happily. In balancing a warm, fairly easy sound with a nice mid-range tone and sophisticated-sounding treble, it offers sound that reflects the characteristics of the set’s look and ear-hugging comfort.

Should I buy the Sony MDR-1A?

The Sony MDR-1A are very enjoyable headphones from a number of perspectives. Good-looking, extremely comfortable and a price that’s a good £100 less than the over-ear competition from names like Beats and Bowers & Wilkins, they are easy to recommend.

If you’re lured-in by the promise of high-resolution sound, we recommend considering the Audio Technica ATH-M50X instead. They offer better bass control and greater treble definition.

The ear candy factor is its own lure, though, and the smooth, expansive-sounding Sony MDR-1A are a great choice if enjoyment is a greater concern than pure accuracy.

SEE ALSO: Best USB Headphone Amps Round-up


Sony’s supremely comfortable headphones offer better value than most fashion pairs.

Overall Score



February 1, 2015, 9:12 pm

First off, comparing it to the M50X is bs, they're made for different crowds.The new ATH MSR7 is competing with the MDR 1A, and by what I can tell from your obsession with the M50X sound, you wouldn't like the MSR7 either, and it's slightly more expensive than the MDR 1A.

Secondly, and MORE importantly, this review has a huge mistake in it. You said that it doesn't come with a case and a cable with built in mic for smartphones. That is pure BS. The MDR-1A standard and only retail package comes with a ballistic-nylon-type soft case and 2 cables - one without a mic and one universally compatible (ios-android) mic cable.


March 2, 2015, 5:24 pm

It is not slightly more expensive than the MDR-1A. It is slightly less expensive.

The MSR7 also got a 9/10...so your comment is way off.


March 2, 2015, 5:46 pm

At my local retailer, and at many others, the MDR 1A is 230 euros, and the MSR7 is 260 euros.

I've tested and held them both (ended up buying the MDR 1A). The MDR 1A feels and is built much better, unlike the MSR7, it has higher grade plastics, better padding and doesn't creek. Due to an odd design decision, the MSR7's cable constantly rubs against your shoulder (and I've tested it on the staff at the store also). It's a combination of the jack's position and the long thick connector. The MDR1A has an angled jack input (as see in photos) and veers clear of your shoulder.

On the audio part, the MSR7 is clearly made more as a studio monitor, which is good if you're monitoring, but it has some pretty big disadvantages as compared to the MDR1A for the portable listener. Also the MSR7 has less volume with portable devices due to its higher impedance (32ohm vs 24)

It's significantly less comfortable, creating a hotspot at the top of my head, has quite a bit less isolation (due to the big ports), and that is aggravated by a clearly diminished bass response, which is useful when in noisy environments to block some noise. It also sounds tinny and too treble friendly, as opposed to the relaxed, laid back signature of the MDR1A, which is better for long listening. So, basically, the MSR has clear characteristics of studio monitoring, sounding closer to the Sony V600 (one of sony's studio monitors.

Taking all that info, driven from personal experience, and couple it with the fact that, as I specified, the reviewer wrongly said that it does NOT come with a smartphone cable when it clearly does, how am I way off?

PS: Saying that the MSR got a 9/10 is quite irrelevant, as it's based on a personal opinion firstly, and this TrustedReviews review is clearly done superficially without too much details about sound quality, etc, unlike other more relevant review sites that concentrate on high fi audio equipment.


March 2, 2015, 11:17 pm

The hotspot on the head is consistent with what others have said. As well as the cable rubbing against you. The MDR1A has more bass for sure, but the MSR7 should NOT sound tinny at all. The MSR7 is also said to have much better build with aluminum design (some plastic) and almost everybody agrees that is has better sound isolation than the all plastic Sony's.

That said, Sony's comfort is basically unbeatable.

I tried the Sony at a local store and the mids and highs were not present enough. The vocals got lost in the instruments. I prefer something that brings the vocals to the front.


August 19, 2015, 4:36 am

I agree BarKohba. I had the M50X headphones for a couple weeks and ended up returning them as they sounded TOO "closed-backed" for my taste. Sounded like I was listening to music in a bubble. The 1As are closed-back with an open-backed sound, and sounded like it too! Not only are they just as if not more comfortable than the M50Xs, they have a much wider soundstage, and they DON'T need an external amp (when playing from a smartphone) to get loud enough either. No way would I recommend the M50Xs over the 1As. Never.


December 13, 2015, 2:47 am

Does it cancel out external sound? Like an annoying co worker or airplane buzz?


January 13, 2016, 8:56 pm

no, it doesn't.

Eric Chavez

June 29, 2016, 12:22 am

OMG! hahaha "the kind of anal listening" hahaha seriusly Who uses that kind of listening??

wolff philippe

August 5, 2016, 3:57 pm

now the MDR1A is easy to find for 145 € everywhere.


October 11, 2016, 10:29 pm

Yeah bought mine one week ago for 140 € best value headphone at this price !

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