Sony MDR-EX1000 Review

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Reviewed Aug 2011

Details: Sony’s dynamic-driver flagship monitor
MSRP: $499.99 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $450 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 108 dB | Freq: 3-30k Hz | Cable: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids, generic bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Sony Hybrid silicone tips (6 sizes), Hybrid silicone+foam tips (3 sizes), and carrying case (Note: US version includes an EX600 cable; non-US version ships with a nicer 4′ cord plus a shorter 2′ cable)
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The EX1000 housings are constructed of magnesium and plastic and styled in the typical Sony manner, with the driver positioned vertically outside of the ear. The detachable cable is held in place by a threaded bit, which seems pretty fool-proof except that I found myself gripping the threaded bit when removing the earphones, thereby unscrewing the cable a bit each time. The cord itself feels slightly underwhelming for a $500 product. It is very flexible but a little thinner than the Ortofon e-Q5 cord. The “memory wire” section is likewise very flexible, so it is more of a “suggestion wire” in practice. It can take a bit of time to settle into the desired shape and doesn’t retain form very well under its own weight. The cord is terminated with a slim 3.5mm L-plug
Isolation (2.5/5) – The nozzles of the EX1000 seem rather long but the earphones are not well-designed for deep insertion. Isolation is mediocre with the standard Hybrid eartips and very slightly better with the supplied foam-stuffed tips. Wind noise can be an additional issue when used outside
Microphonics (5/5) – The native wear style is over-the-ear and cord noise nonexistent in the soft cable
Comfort (4/5) – Though housings designed around vertically-positioned drivers often feature angled nozzles or other ergonomic improvements, the EX1000 is actually a straight-barrel earphone. It is quite large and tends to protrude farther than most earphones when worn, looking a bit like the ridiculous PFR-V1. On the upside, the long nozzles position the driver far enough away from the ear not to cause discomfort. The fit is not as secure as with most other high-end monitors but the soft memory wire works well enough in conjunction with the cable cinch. Still, I would prefer a little more ‘memory’

Sound (9.3/10) – The MDR-EX1000 slots in above the studio-oriented MDR-EX800ST/MDR-7550 in Sony’s lineup, competing directly with Sennheiser’s IE8 and JVC’s FX700 for the title of top consumer-oriented dynamic. Never having heard Sony’s previous flagship, or indeed any model higher up than the lowly EX300, the EX1000 was a complete mystery to me. What I found was a truly top-tier dynamic-driver earphone with a slight – but not unpleasant – treble tilt.

The low end of the EX1000 is accurate and controlled. In typical high-end dynamic-driver fashion, it is detailed and textured without losing body or fullness – clean, but relatively soft in the way notes are presented. There is no bloat and while the depth is not as immense as with the Monster MD or JVC FX700, the EX1000 is not severely rolled-off, either. Compared to the VSonic GR07, the Sonys skimp on speed just a little bit in favor a smoother and slightly softer presentation. The warmer, boomier Sennheiser IE7, on the other hand, is left completely in the dust by the bass control and detail of the EX1000. Not a bad tradeoff at all and one of my very favorite bass presentations among all universals.

The midrange of the EX1000 is neutral-to-bright, with a slight gain in emphasis towards the top. It is balanced very well with the bottom end, which is not quite something I can say for Audio-Technica’s dynamic flagship, the CKM99. The GR07, on the other hand, is a touch less prominent in the midrange, sounding flatter across the spectrum and slightly more neutral in tone than the EX1000 – not a huge surprise considering its pro-oriented tuning. The ATH-CK10 also sounds a bit flatter through the low end and midrange but treads on the brighter side of neutral, just as the EX1000 does, albeit without the benefit of dynamic-driver fullness. As expected, bass bleed is nonexistent with the Sonys and the smoothness is very impressive. The EX1000 is easily smoother and lusher than the GR07 and nudges the warmer, less clear, and noticeably less textured IE7 on both counts. Clarity is top notch, as is resolution, and there is only a very small bit of microdetail missing compared to top-tier BA-based earphones such as the CK10 and 1964-T. Overall, the detailing of the Sonys is very good but not very aggressive, which allows the earphone to remain extremely refined and liquid. The overall refinement is especially obvious next to a lesser dynamic such as the Sennheiser IE7, which lacks clarity and detail compared to the EX1000 and loses out by a fair margin in overall realism. Only in comparison to the 6-driver, custom-molded, hugely expensive UM Miracle does the EX1000 start to sound a little thin and lacking in note articulation.

The EX1000 picks up emphasis towards the upper midrange and treble but manages to keep its top end in control far better than the CKM99 does. Despite the moderate amount of emphasis, the EX1000 is only a hair hotter than the GR07 and manages to remain extremely smooth and refined without giving up crispness or resolution. It is not harsh and almost never sibilant. Over long listening sessions, the EX1000 can be a little more fatiguing than the GR07 but again not due to harshness or sibilance. Rather, it is the overall tilt towards treble that may grow tiresome for some listeners. Coming from the CK10, however, I wasn’t at all offended by it, though I prefer my treble emphasis higher up. On the upside, the EX1000 does an excellent job of conveying treble energy, which laid-back dynamics such as the RE262 and DDM2 simply cannot do. Interestingly, top end is only on-par with the GR07 in dropping off a bit earlier than my CK10.

Whereas the signature of the EX1000 is lively and energetic, the presentation follows a more laid-back approach. Its soundstage is not quite the widest in absolute terms, but it is very spacious, airy, and open. There is not a hint of the confined, closed-in feel prevalent among stage monitors – the 1964-T, for example, sounds downright intimate in comparison. Surprisingly, the same can be said for the dynamic-driver Sennheiser IE7, though to a slightly lesser degree – the Sennheisers sound constrained and congested next to the Sonys. At the same time, the soundstage of the EX1000 is layered better than that of the GR07. The EX1000 also has an upper hand in dynamics, timbre, and overall refinement, though the GR07 is admittedly a bit more neutral in tone. Imaging and positioning are generally good but lag slightly behind a couple of the top-tier armature IEMs I’ve heard. Those who want to be enveloped by the presentation will not get that ‘on stage’ feel with the EX1000 – the EX1000 tends to distance itself slightly and offers a higher degree of left-right separation. A stage monitor such as the UM3X, SM3, or 1964-T will give the on-stage feel in spades for those who require it. Personally, I do find that more coherent and centralized imaging provides a more realistic and involving listening experience but only my UM Miracle is capable of making that highly obvious in the Sonys without sacrificing airiness or soundstage size.

Value (8/10) – Blisteringly expensive when first announced, the Sony MDR-EX1000 has since dropped enough in price to compete with other top-tier universal dynamics. In terms of sheer performance, Sony’s flagship readily asserts its dominance over the hi-fi mainstays – the newly-developed liquid crystal polymer driver is one of the best dynamic transducers I’ve come across, alongside those used by HiFiMan and JVC, and the tuning showcases its abilities beautifully. The sound is clean, quick, airy, and dynamic – everything a high-end earphone should strive toward. The design is reminiscent of the higher-end Sony monitors of yesteryear but introduces replaceable cables and native over-the-ear fitment. Isolation is only moderate and wind noise can be an issue but those who are willing to suffer through the fit and aesthetics of the thing will be rewarded with what may be the finest dynamic-driver universal on the market.

Pros: No cable noise; amazing combination of clear, detailed, open, and spacious sound
Cons: Average isolation; fit can be frustrating; wind noise can be an issue


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

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