MSRP: $29.99 (discontinued)
Current Price: $26 from amazon.com
Build Quality (5/10): The cups of the MDR-Q68 feel quite solid despite their small size. One of the main selling points of the is the retractable cable mechanism, which spools the cable into the earcups at the touch of a button. The spool takes up some room inside the cups, making them thicker than those on the Yuins G2A, but the Q68 is still very unobtrusive. The earclips swivel forward and out, make the headphones very easy to put on. When the earclips are displaced, the cord winding mechanism is disabled – a nice feature to prevent accidental spooling while wearing the headphones. The clips themselves are made of a tough but still somewhat flexible plastic covered partially in rubber. The left/right markings are stamped on the earclips and very difficult to see but, luckily, are completely unnecessary as the headphones are asymmetric. By far the biggest weakness of the construction is the noodle-thin cabling, which is undoubtedly necessitated by the size of the spool. The strain relief on the skinny 3.5mm plug, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and can take some abuse.
Comfort (9/10): Despite housing spring-loaded cable spools, the Q68 cups are no heavier than those of the Koss or Yuin clip-ons. The adjustable rubberized clips do a great job of keeping the headphones in place without pinching the wearer’s ears, though they may still irritate those who are not used to clip-ons after some time. My biggest functional complaint with the Q68 is the short 3.3ft cable.
Isolation (3.5/10): The isolation of the Q68 is typical for a small supraaural headphone. Though closed-backed, the little Sonys don’t really cover my entire ear, resulting in a lack of attenuation.
Sound (5.5/10): I’ve owned several low-end Sony headphones in the past, including some street-style portables and clip-ons. My lasting impression of them was that of excessive warmth, which is what I originally expected from the Q68. I was surprised, however, to find that out of the box these little Sonys lean heavily toward the cool side of the spectrum. They have tight and surprisingly extended bass with low rumble and quick decay times. Bass bleed is nonexistent as the low end transitions smoothly into the midrange. The mids boast bell-like clarity and possess surprising liquidity and detail for a headphone of this caliber. So great is the clarity that these Sonys make my PX100 and HD238 sound positively veiled in comparison. There is a noticeable peak in the frequency response in the upper mids/lower treble but somehow the sound remains inoffensive. Make no mistake – the treble of the Q68 is extremely pronounced. However, harshness and sibilance are not an issue for me. The treble is reasonably extended and boasts similar clarity and detail to the midrange, all the more so due to the greater emphasis.
Overall, the sound of the Q68 out of the box is slightly thin, almost anemic, sacrificing body for clarity and speed. The low end sounds slightly ‘sucked out’ and the treble is quite present. However, the little drivers Sony used in these are quite responsive to equalization. A bump at the low end and a dip in the lower treble take the Q68 to a whole other level, providing punchy bass with surprising gobs of texture and well-behaved, if still slightly aggressive treble. With a small time investment the little Sonys can be made quite balanced while maintaining the crystal clarity that sets them apart from much of the competition in the sub-$30 category. What cannot be equalized is their presentation, which can be summed up as “mediocre depth, decent width”. The soundstage of the MDR-Q68 is indeed relatively wide, with distance usually conveyed quite well. Depth, however, could clearly be better and the headphones don’t do a great job of layering out the sonic cues and instruments, resulting in a slightly flat sound. Personally I have no problem with a $25 set of headphones sounding slightly flat but I will admit that the PX100s have better dimensionality.
Value (7.5/10): The frequency response of the MDR-Q68 is far from even and a good equalizer is highly recommended to get the most out of them. When properly EQ’d, the MDR-Q68 is very complete package that beats out the similarly-priced competition in clarity, speed, and detail. Taking into account the convenience and portability of the retractable cable, the Sony MSR-Q68 is a great set of portable headphones, providing unparalleled compactness and a very unobtrusive look and feel coupled with a sound that leans toward the analytical side of the spectrum. In my experience analytical portables are tough to come by at any price – of all the portables I’ve owned, I can count the ones I’d call ‘analytical’ using the fingers of one hand, and none of them fall in the sub-$30 bracket. As such, the MDR-Q68 stands alone in a pretty populated market and that alone makes them worthy of consideration.
Frequency Response: 16 – 24,000 Hz
Impedance: 24 Ω
Sensitivity: 108 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 3.3ft (1m), j-cord, retractable; Straight Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: N/A