Product Type: Sony headphones
Newest Review: ... with an iPod in-line remote with the ability to adjust the volume, play, pause, fast forward and rewind your tunes. They are compatibl... more
Sony Buds Prove A Senn-sible Replacement
Sony MDR EX38IPB
Member Name: Hishyeness
Sony MDR EX38IPB
Advantages: Great sound performance. iPod friendly design. Useful in-line remote.
Disadvantages: In-ear form factor may not be to everyone's taste. A couple of niggly design flaws.
When my excellent Sennheiser CX400 II in-ear headphones started playing up, I reluctantly began looking for a replacement. Having bought the Senn's for a knock-down price of around £18, I was dismayed to find that they had risen to around the £40 mark, so I set about finding a comparable pair for around £20. I have had a good experience with Sony Fontopia in-ear headphones in the past, so, encouraged by a number of positive on-line reviews, and its suitability for the iPod, I settled for Sony's MDREX38IPB model.
A few clicks of the mouse later, and a pair were winging their way to me from Amazon for £17.79 (reduced from around £40). I was very happy with my CX 400's, so was very interested to see how Sony's effort would compare. I tend to be quite brand loyal, and it felt like something of a betrayal to buy Sony instead of Senn. As such, I was almost subconsciously determined to find fault with them to confirm my fickle folly. That said, these 'phones seemed almost as determined to prove themselves worthy.
IN THE BOX
The product arrived in a heat-sealed blister pack (the kind that takes half a toolbox to get into), and includes a small instruction leaflet, a selection of interchangeable silicon ear buds (small, medium and large), a cable tidy, and a small pouch to keep the 'phones in when not in use. The silicon on the inside of the ear bud - which attaches to the nib on the headphone - is colour coded to avoid confusion. The product comes with the medium buds fitted, but replacing them with the larger or smaller versions is easy enough. They pop into place securely without making you feel like you are forcing the issue.
DESIGN & FEEL
The 1.2m cord is quite generous, and to keep it from getting unmanageable, Sony have provided what they call a "cord adjuster". This is a relatively unsophisticated bit of hardened and rubberised silicon which looks vaguely like a docking cleat on a boat, but with two notches at each end of the cleat, which are used to secure the cable. To shorten the cable, you wrap as much of the cable as you need around it. It's useful and secure, especially as one of the biggest issues with in-ear 'phones is the "rustling" noise that can transmit along the cable when it hangs loose. Less cable means less interference.
That said, even though it is light, it acts as a bit of a dead weight on the cable, swinging pendulum-like unless you can secure it. This is where it compares a little unfavourably to the CX 400 - which had a clip on clip that allowed you to secure the cable on you to prevent it from moving around too much. Suffice it to say, I have solved the design problem by cannibalising the clip from my Senn's to use with these 'phones from Sony, but most will not have this quick fix available.
At a Y-junction, the cord splits into two symmetric cords, terminating in the left and right ear buds which are clearly marked. There is also a small slider which allows you to adjust the cord after the split. On the left cable, about two thirds of the way up, is an in-line "remote" - essentially a rocker switch which allows you to adjust volume, pause a track, go back a track or skip forward a track. The volume up/down are indicated clearly by a +/- symbol, and the rest of the functions are used by clicking the middle of the switch either once (pause), twice (go forward a track) or three times (go back a track). The switch is pretty responsive, and you can feel a discernable click as you depress it. The only issue - for me at least - is that the remote is a little too far up the cord, so its just out of my sight line. I have to hunt for it with my hand and bring it to eye level to operate, which sometimes makes me inadvertently tug the ear bud loose.
That said, even with this minor irritation, it is a vast improvement on my Senn's, which had a tricky and imprecise in-line volume slider with very little variation in volume, and no other functions. The Sony is clearly built with the iPod in mind (and is advertised as such) and the ability to control it without having to keep diving into your pocket is a big plus and a major selling point. Make sure to check your iPod model for compatibility as only the newer versions seem to be supported (Nano 4th Gen, Touch 2nd Gen, Classic 120GB and Shuffle 3rd Gen).
IN THE EAR
My musical tastes are pretty eclectic and stretch from thrash metal, 80's synth driven electronica, classic rock, and jazz to classical music, so I need my headphones to be able to cope with System of a Down as deftly as Miles Davis and Rachmaninoff. Fortunately, the Sony delivers very nicely on all counts. The key is to ensure you have selected the right ear buds to get a good seal and prevent sound leakage. You will know if you haven't, as the output will be quite tinny and seem a little distant. With the buds properly in place you get a good, deep bass, and vibrant treble. The "Gladiator" official soundtrack which features a good contrast of booming martial drum and brass set pieces and quieter moments of more contemplative strings and wind instruments is a good benchmark - and these 'phones pick out the nuances impressively.
The silicon makes them really comfortable to wear, and provided your ears are clean, they stay in quite securely. I have never got on with the standard iPod headphones, which I find uncomfortable and tinny - so these make a very worthwhile upgrade. They tend to be fairly good at isolating noise, so they are perfect for use on the tube and train, managing to block out most sounds so you can concentrate on the music. It's good news for the ears all-round, as this noise reduction means you can listen at lower volumes. The only down-side is the interference you get from the cable rubbing against your clothes, but that's a "feature" of this kind of design and one that should be accounted for if you are thinking about buying them. These buds are best used when you are relatively stationary so avoid this kind of design if you're looking for an exercise pair.
CONTENDER OR PRETENDER?
After five months of almost everyday use, these Sony 'phones have really grown on me, so much so that I don't miss my superlative Senn's one little bit. Apart from a couple of design niggles (positioning of in-line remote and lack of clip) these 'phones deliver a significant aural upgrade on the standard white ones packaged with Apple products, and represent excellent value for money - provided that you can find them for less than the £40 RRP. Although the Amazon deal I bought them on has long since expired, they are still available at the time of writing (March 2011) for £17.79 from Play.com with free delivery.
© Hishyeness 2011
Summary: A great, value for money replacement for Apple's iPod headphones.
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