Alex Reviews a Headphone: Sony h.ear on MDR-100AAP

I see you over there, Fire Extinguisher. I’m keeping an eye on you!

I’ve been interested in this headphone ever since it launched late last year. Could Sony really deliver a “hi-res” over-ear headphone at a $200 dollar price point? Would their new titanium-coated driver out-perform the aluminum ones in the more-expensive MDR-1A? Could they find the right mix of durable and light materials to prevent the headphone from feeling cheap?

Could all the hype in this head-fi thread actually be justified for once?

The answer to all these questions is a yes. A resounding yes.

The MDR-100AAP is the best portable headphone I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. And that comes, hilariously, not that long after I said the M50X was the only headphone you’ll ever need. The M50X is still a great headphone. But this one is better. And only a little bit more expensive.

Design

The h.ear on’s are impressive in their simplicity. They have a smooth, curved profile that doesn’t stand out on the head. They’re the opposite of the chunky appearance of the M50X, and not at all as brash or bright as other fashion headphones. They come in five colors: black, blue-green, yellow, pink, and red. The headband is a plastic-and-metal unit that’s very much like the headband on Sony’s Extra Bass headphones. It feels cheap at first touch, but it’s also quite light and has just the right amount of padding. The adjustment mechanisms are meaty and secure, and I have several extra clicks even on my giant head. It’s sturdy, and it grew on me.

In contrast to the headband, the ear cups immediately feel luxurious and expensive. They’re unlike any other fashion headphone ear cup. They’re made out of a machined metal alloy, and feature no logos or markings whatsoever. The color finish is brilliant and seems like it’ll last a long time. Very classy.

The pads are big enough to fit around your ears with that classic Sony comfort, but the overall girth of them is smaller than I’ve seen on any Sony headphone. It’s like they somehow figured out how to shave their trademark pads to the smallest possible size while still retaining all the comfort. They seal fine over my glasses.

Even the cable is nicely designed, with a basic one-button remote/mic that works on both Android and iOS devices. It uses standard 3.5 mm connectors, though the headphone end slots a little deeper and locks into place. It’s slightly microphonic at the headphone-end, but if this bothers you many other cables will fit, such as the Sony MDR-1A cables. The device-side plug has a cool metal accent ring that’s there just to make it look nicer. Look at this!

There’s a metal ring in this plug. It’s awesome! Look at that!

This is the kind of detail, styling, and quality you don’t normally see at this price point. Heck, I have headphones that are more expensive, and they aren’t as nicely designed. The M50X maintains its low price by using a very utilitarian, largely plastic design. The MDR-100AAP has a better blend of design, quality, and price.

Each headphone also comes with a color-matching, surprisingly good bag. Nicely done Sony.

Sound

Well crap, I’ve gone on and on about design and haven’t talked about sound. These sound great! They’re nicely balanced, with plenty of bass extension and oomph. The highs are crisp and detailed, but not annoying. The sound is more refined and a little less…flumpy than the M50X. In fact, these sound so pleasing and nice that they compete with more expensive headphones.

They’re less bassy and less sparkly than the MDR-1A, but without sacrificing detail. They’re clearer than the Bose QuietComfort 25’s. They’re even clearer than the Blue Mo-Fi’s, and more comfy over long listening sessions. They have a sound that’s quickly becoming my favorite. If you want a balanced, pleasant sound that’s still detailed and capable of bass, these are your headphone. They won’t please hardcore bassheads, or people that want the brightest treble. They’re slightly warm and very “realistic.”

This impressive sound quality is probably down to Sony’s new Titanium-coated driver. Much like on the MDR-1A, the ear pads here are transparent and you can look through right to the driver. The aluminum driver on the 1A had a golden, swirly appearance. The MDR-100AAP’s titanium driver is like a polished silver mirror. It’s striking to look at, and striking to listen to. I’ve never been able to see my own reflection inside a headphone’s driver before.

Width and detail is really impressive for a closed headphone. You’ll be able to hear different instruments easily, and everything has a natural sound. Soundstage is impressive and detailed, like on Sony’s more- expensive headphones. Isolation is great for their size. They pass the coffee shop test. I’m using them just fine in a cafe right now. Next to that fire extinguisher.

Conclusions

I’m floored at how good these sound for the price. These are my new go-to recommendation for people that want a great-sounding headphone they can also wear in public. They’re light, and fold down for compact storage into their plush bag. If you need the absolute cheapest option, then the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro or Audio-Technica M50X are still great choices, but if you can swing $200 bucks, these will reward your investment with huge returns. Highly recommended, without reservation. It’s the cheapest hi-res- capable headphone on the market, and also one of the very best.

There’s also a wireless version of this headphone that includes noise-cancelling, but it’s quite a bit more expensive ($350 dollars) and a bit heavier as well. Unless you really really need those features, stick with the wired option.

If you want to read more about this headphone, here’s Sony’s official site.

Now, here’s one more photo of me staring down the fire extinguisher in this coffee shop.

These have a really classy, understated look. Even when you’re staring at a fire extinguisher.