In 2012, Sony unveiled some of the world’s first NFC-enabled headphones. They belong to the same family as the headphones we’re looking at now, but this pair strips out all the wireless, noise cancelling tech nonsense to give you the best sound quality for the least money. The Sony MDR-1R cost £300 and are among the best-looking, most comfortable portable headphones money can buy.
Although £300 is a lot to spend on headphones, the Sony MDR-1R look and feel the part – you’d hope they would as part of the "Prestige" series. We’ve heard that some other pairs in the range (Bluetooth and noise cancelling options are available) are largely made of plastic, but the Sony MDR-1R feature a mixture of aluminium, high-grade synthetic leather and plastic.
This combo keeps the Sony MDR-1R light while ensuring they feel top-grade. The metal rears of the earcups fly the banner for the cool-to-the-touch feel of metal while most of the rest of the outer structure is plastic.
With a relatively slim-line profile for circumaural (over-ears) headphones, the Sony MDR-1R look superb. Our pair featured a classy silver/brown finish, but they’re also available in a more energised, youthful black edition, which is accented with red trim.
Here's what the red edition looks like
We have virtually nothing bad to say about the hardware design of the Sony MDR-1R. They look fantastic and don’t weigh too much, are well-made and exceptionally comfortable. Both the earcup and headband pads are thick and synthetic leather-lined.
Fake leather automatically brings up negative connotations, but in terms of softness and finish, here it’s virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Synthetic leather is often used to provide a regular internal structure – therefore more predictable in sonic terms. Plus not everyone likes the idea of wearing a cow on their ear.
The Sony MDR-1R are among just a few pairs of headphones that feel equally at home as on the streets. They’re comfortable enough for you to wear them at home thanks to those generous pads, and yet have the style-conscious look of a commuter set aimed at the 18-30 market. Noise isolation is good thanks to the closed-back design, and they will do just fine on the train without earning you embarrassed stares or angry glares from fellow passengers.
They win a few extra brownie points for functional extras too. The Sony MDR-1R cable is removable and uses a standard 3.5mm jack, and you can buy an extra, much longer, cable for next to nothing from eBay.
Sony has made some special tweaks to the Sony MDR-1R’s own cable, though. It features a slimline three-button handsfree housing and remote control for iPhones, letting you change volume and tracks on-the-go.
The plastic sheath of the Sony MDR-1R cable is ridged to maximise friction in one direction, with the aim of reducing tangles. Cables as thick as this are rarely all that tangle-prone anyway, but it’s an inoffensive tweak that may have had a hand in keeping us entirely tangle-free during testing.
Along with the headphones and the remote cable, Sony includes a couple of extra bits with the MDR-1R. You get an additional 1.2m cable without an in-line remote and a fabric carry case.
Sony makes all kinds of claims about the MDR-1R on its website – and all from a pair of 40mm drivers. The most dubious of the lost is that they achieve a 4-80,000Hz frequency range. That’s better than the £1000 Sennheiser HD 800. As is often the case, you might as well ignore most of the technical and marketing spiel surrounding these headphones.
However, the Sony MDR-1R offer sound that a wide range of music lovers will, well, love. It’s smooth, rich and bassy, without any of the sludgy low-end blanc mange we often hear is bassy headphones. Bass extension and low-bass separation is particularly impressive. Kick drum beats, electronic or otherwise, are well defined and punch.
The Sony MDR-1R is luscious and warm. We can imagine that few simply listening to music won’t get on with it. However, there are a few issues that stop it from matching the top performers at this £300 price.
There’s an artificial-sounding emphasis in the mid-range that provides plenty of warmth but also holds back separation and the ear’s perception of detailing. Treble presence isn’t that strong compared with the bass and mid-range either, with some roll-off occurring in the top registers.
The Sony MDR-1R are headphones to enjoy rather than master tracks to. Unless you do intend to use them in such a professional capacity, or are a true critical listener, they offer an excellent audio experience.
The best bit about the top-quality £300 Sony MDR-1R Prestige headphones is how easily they skip between roles as a portable and at-home pair. They look great, feel great and sound great too. You can get similar of better sound quality for less money, especially if you like your treble crisp, and we wouldn’t recommend using them in a home studio, but they’re tremendously easy to live with.