Sony MDR-x10 headphones – awesome cans two years later
Yes, I’m a bit of a bass-head, so let’s just put that on the table upfront. I like big bass – and I cannot lie! But it has to be tight, smooth, and controlled. Not boomy and can’t overshadow the rest of the music – there needs to be balance. I spend about 80% of my work life in a ‘datacenter’. For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it’s a warehouse type place where companies rent space to put all of their servers. It’s loud and there’s equipment all over the place. The ambient sound is sort of what I would imagine being in the luggage compartment of a large passenger jet would be like during flight – but with a lot more computers. So I was after a pair of full cover (over the ear) headphones with a full rich sound and also had a detachable chord so I could free myself up to do intense physical work cable free with sonic protection. A cordless Bluetooth set would have been ideal I guess but at the time I was unable to find one I liked enough with the right comfort level and audio quality. Plus sometimes having one less thing to worry about keeping charged up makes daily life a bit less complicated.
I went into a Best Buy and tried every headphone they had (Beats, Bose, JVC, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, and did I say Beats? they had a ton of them) and having not found the comfort plus audio quality I was after I tried the Sony MDR-x10. I had initially ruled them out because they were sort of an “on ear” headphone and typically those hurt my ears after about 30 minutes. I was surprised to find the memory foam cups to be extremely comfortable and the band at the top not too tight so they didn’t pinch my noggin – they were just kind of perfect. I also knew within 10 seconds of playing ‘Low’ by Flo-rida the sound was exactly what I was, er, looking for, seeking, after… you get the point! Oozing with buttery smooth low bass, the kind that grabs you from underneath and makes your toes curl up! It’s like you can’t believe no one else is hearing this. Not boomy or overwhelming but authoritative, tight, and extremely satisfying. The rest of the sound stage was good – quite good – the balance between lows and highs seemed perfect. The foam cups also did a fantastic job of blocking out ambient noise with no active noise cancellation. So I said “Here!! Take my money!” and one receipt later my new cans and I were out of there.
That was two years ago and I have used these Monday through Friday for probably 5+ hours per day since then. After two years here’s what I’ve found.
- The bass reproduction is unparallelled – the sound in general is amazing – invigorating.
- Highly efficient 24ohm impedance with 50mm drivers – provides a BIG sound with any phone or media player.
- Are great for both music and movies – the sound stage is very 3D and detailed.
- Quite durable.
- Extremely comfortable – no ear pain during extended wearing sessions.
- Detachable chord is great for when you just want noise cancellation without a tether.
- Blocks ambient noise extremely well without any kind of active noise cancellation.
- Ability to be on phone calls in a very noisy environment – this is huge because I have to be on the phone in the datacenter often and these let me do that very easily.
- Memory foam cups don’t let your ears breath much so you get “sweaty ears” when working hard.
- Chord with mic and audio controls doesn’t work on all music players – so keep both cables handy.
- May feel flimsy to some – they are mostly plastic – I have beat the crap out of mine and they are still ok but your actual mileage may vary.
- Carrying case looks a bit like a makeup bag.
Both provided chords have a twist locking mechanism (at the left ear cup) which is great and not so all at the same time. As noted I have had the chord snag on things, like my pants, knees, feet, random nearby objects and had the phones ripped off my head many times. I experimented with leaving the chord in the unlocked position so it just detaches rather than the other, but it comes loose when moving around a lot and the sound will cut out. So now I usually run the chord under my shirt usually but sometimes I’m in a hurry and forget to do that which is usually when the cable gets snagged. After one particularly violent accidental unscheduled emergency headphone detachment routine I decided it might be a good idea to purchase a second pair of my precious headphones – in the event I ever did break them beyond repair. I found a pair on Amazon for $99-ish (they were $250 when I purchased them two years ago) and have been using the new set in the bedroom attached to my kindle for watching flicks at night. The old ones are a little more comfortable but I fall asleep with the new ones on all the time – so it’s only by a small margin. So now I thought I would do a little pictorial comparison of the old vs the new MDR-x10 headphones.
Obviously the most noticeable bit of wear is the detachment of part of the grey cover on the right ear cup padding. This doesn’t make them any less comfortable or change any of the audio characteristics in any way. It’s purely a bit of an aesthetic eye soar. The backs of the ear cup are aluminum in the center surrounded by a plastic housing. There are scuffs on the aluminum but not nearly as many as I thought I would have after two years of heavy use. The plastic swivels I was sure would break have held up exceedingly well.
The left ear ear cup padding cover shows wear but is intact. All in all they are in great shape for the amount of use they have had. I looked into getting new ear cup pads for these but Sony wanted close to $50 for them – so I opted to put that towards a whole alternate set of headphones.
Above the phones in collapsed form. The band at the top and the sliders on either side are in perfect shape.
Below the twist lock connector that’s taken a lot of accidental abuse – it looks perfect – but the 3.5mm plug fits a little looser than the new one.
The cables are like new! Literally zero wear on the microphone cable which I use 99% of the time.
focusing on the right angle end near top of image – that’s the one that takes the most abuse from me and it’s in perfect shape. I can barley tell it from the new one.
The flat cables are incredibly durable yet mailable and very tangle free. 1.3m long and the mic + volume control is about 8 inches below the left ear – perfect spot.
OK – here is the old vs the new. Obviously the padding cover on the old ones is detaching on the right ear as observed before but aside from that – they look very much the same.
Here again we can see the old pair does show some more wear on the padding covers – the new ones are smoother – totally expected and again doesn’t change comfort at all.
The old pair on the left does show some more wear – but very little in my opinion. Two years of near daily use Monday through Friday I think they look great.
I put my work pair away like this every time I quit for the day – I think this has helped keep them in as good shape as they are. When I hold up both pairs, the old set feels like a tad “looser” than the new ones but hey, that’s 100% expected and I am amazed really after some of the times these have been ripped off my head because I stood up while standing on the cable. I hate doing that, all wear issues aside, it’s so jarring but when I’m in work mode I’m moving fast and not always thinking about where that cable is. The memory foam on the old set is softer but it hasn’t broken down or started to disintegrate. I think the sweat from wearing them while working hard is what’s caused the glue to loosen that holds the grey lining on the padding. As I said the biggest con I can think of is the “sweaty ears” effect. I find I have to take them off sometimes to cool down a little – and dry my ears off. That’s because it’s 80+ degrees in some of the hot areas and I am doing a lot of laborious work.
So there you have it – with two years of mileage on the old pair they’re still in great shape. I have pairs of Audio Technica ATH-M50 and Vmoda Crossfade LP but I keep coming back to this Sony pair. They’re all I use now with the exception of the Vmoda’s for gaming with an amp attached. These Sony’s really don’t need an amp. I tried them with a Fiio e11k and didn’t notice a lot of difference in the audio quality – maybe a little punchier in the bass but not enough so I want to connect that every time I listen. The old pair vs new sound virtually identical to me – the old maybe a tad more relaxed but that might be some projecting what I want to hear.
The MDR-x10 is out of production now but they can be had on Amazon or Ebay for about $100 and they also come in a silver/black color scheme. If you don’t need to make calls with your headphones and want to save a few bucks you can pick up the MDR-xb800 (also discontinued but still in stock at time of writing this). These are basically an x10 clone which use the same 50mm driver but with an attached cable, no microphone, and are all black. Either set would be great, it just depends on what you want to do with them. Sony did a really nice job with these. They sound great, are very comfortable, and are very durable regardless of feeling a little flimsy at first touch. Don’t let that fool you, they do hold up quite well. Supplies are running out though, so grab them while you can.