I have a collection of headset mostly because I like to listen to music and audio books as well as watch videos any chance I can find a small window of alone time. Over the years, I’ve been able to amass different brands of headset looking for that brand that meets my personal preferences: lightweight and portable, good sound isolation, and most of all  not overly expensive.

My current brand of headsets at home include a Sennheiser, Bose, Beats and AudioTechnic. I was recently offered a chance to try out the Sony MDR-1R. Sony markets the MDR-1R as “prestigious” family of premium headsets. There are three models in the Sony Store. The unit I have is the entry model priced at HK$1,880.
The Sony MDR-1R over-ear headphones speak volume about what’s important to the target audince for this series of headset: size, fit and comfort. The MDR-1R is light but has a very sturdy feel. It speaks of premium quality. One of the things I dislike about my Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headset if the skull-pinching after just an hour of use.
The earcups are mounted with three-dimensional flex. It takes a little bit of getting used to but once you find the sweet spot (fit), you are hooked.
Included in the box is a carry pouch and two serrated, non-tangle cables. One includes a remote for use with iPhones. The shorter length cable fits most other devices.
In the weeklong test of the MDR-1R, these have traveled with me on the MTR, on trams, buses and just plain walking around town. When indoors (even with the TV blaring my favorite program) listening with the MDR-1R is heaven. The cups provide some isolation sufficient to create the illusion that you alone in your very own theater listening to your favorite music tracks or watching a video with surround sound.I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination. However I do enjoy good music and my pet peeve are headsets that can block out outside noise, including human chatter in an enclosed area. Unfortunately I suspect all headphones are designed this way to keep the user from accidentally getting run over by a passing motorist.
WHAT I LIKE
I love the experience of using the MDR-1R indoors. It feels like I am in a sound-proof room where all I can hear is the music I am listening to or the video I am watching – nothing else. I love not feeling like my head is stuck between the jaws of a bench vice. The feel of the soft leather is difficult to put into words.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
My single biggest gripe about the Sony MDR-1R is its inability to block external noise when used outside of the quiet comfort of your room. These are not your walkabout headsets.
CONCLUSION
At HK$1,880 suggested retail price, the Sony MDR-1R is priced to compete against the fashion-driven Beats headset overpriced headset. Without a doubt the MDR-1R bested the Beats headset IMHO. There is sufficient detail (clarity) in the sound quality using your standard iPod or portable music device. If you want a heavier base, more thudding in your head, consider using one of those portable amplifiers.
For my money, the Sony MDR-1R is comparable value to many of today’s mid to high headphones. These are comfortable, stylish and a great addition to your home entertainment system or when you just want to quietly listen to your favorite music.
PHOTO GALLERY

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TECHNICAL SPEC
Type
Headphone Type Closed, dynamic
Power
Power Handling Capacity 1500 mW (IEC*)
Audio
Driver Unit 40 mm, dome type (HD, OFC Voice Coil)
Impedance 24 Ω at 1 kHz
Sensitivity (dB/mW) 105 dB/mW
Frequency Response (Hz) 4 Hz – 80,000 Hz
General
Mass (g) Approx. 240 g (without cord)
Supplied Accessories Inline remote and microphone cord for iPod/iPhone/iPad (1.2 m cord, using PCOCC, Four-conductor gold plated L-shaped stereo mini plug) (1)**
Carrying pouch (1)
Operating Instructions (1)
Remark
Remarks
** Not compatible with all iPod/iPhone/iPad models.
I recently did an inventory and discovered I’ve amassed a respectable hoard of headsets – wired and wireless – over the years. While I confess that I am no audiophile, I do use headsets to listen to music or audio books and watch movies either on my phone, iPad or computer. I use my headsets mostly to and from work or when I am traveling alone.
One of the few gripes I have living in Hong Kong is noise pollution. Whether it is on the elevators, escalators, trains, taxis or buses, Hong Kong is overflowing with noise – human and man-made. Most in-ear headsets can only muffle the noise a little. This is whether active noise canceling are a blessing to have. Most active noise canceling use active noise control where anti-noise signal is generated to cancel out ambient noise heard within the enclosed volume of the headphone.
During my search for a reasonably good headset with active noise canceling, I spoke to a number of retailers in the Wanchai Computer Shopping Mall. Whilst most shops sold active noise canceling headsets from Sony, Audio Technica and Philips, at least one retailer admitted that the Bose active noise canceling headsets were the best. So I went to the Bose showroom to listen for myself.
The Bose Quiet Comfort (QC) is a family of active noise canceling headsets. Bose’s implementation of noise cancelling technology involve the use of a pair of microphones on the outside of the headphone units. These sample the background noise and then uses this as a comparison with the audio from an audio source. A corrective signal is applied to the reproduced audio which cancels out sustained external noise like engine or track or road noise.
What I Like
The QC3 is a smaller version of the QC15 and QC2. Bose did not compromise on the comfort or noise-canceling capability of the series despite making the headset smaller. The headset ear pads are very soft and comfortable providing reasonably snug fit without the discomfort normally associated with many on-ear and over-the-ear headsets. The ear pads rotate 90 degrees allowing the headset to flatten and snug firmly on its case.
The cable is removable. One end is a 2.5mm stereo jack that plugs into the left earpiece. The other end is a standard 3.5mm stereo jack.
You buy Bose because the product has a strong legacy of very good sound reproduction and this comes out very well with the QC3. Audio quality is excellent with the QC3 producing rich bass. An audiophile, again I ain’t one, will probably notice some clippings of the top range of vocals as well as cymbals.
What I don’t Like
The QC3 uses a small Lithium rechargeable unit (the box comes with two units so you always have a spare) that slides into the top of the right earpiece. The battery pack can be charged by way of a separate, included in the kit, charger.
I mentioned that the cable is removable. For such an expensive headset the cable, for me, is a let down as it feels like a cheap implementation and I suspect this will be the first thing you need to replace over time.
The headset needs to be powered on in order to work. So if you happen to forget to bring the spare battery or by stroke of misfortune you run out of juice, you might as well pack the QC3 back in its case and read a book because these babies become nothing more than ear warmers.
One More Thing
I personally favor in-ear headsets because these are very small and easily fits into most pockets. When you use the QC3 you need a bag to put the case in whilst using the headset. That said the QC3 produce very good sound reproduction and is able to get rid of much of the ambient noise sufficiently enough to forget that you are in a noisy environment.
And as with all Bose products – these are not cheap buggers.
Other People’s Reviews
How Stuff Works
iLounge
Video Review
Product Photos

Bose QuietComfort 3

The most expensive headset

I’ve collected a number of headsets over the years even back in the days when Infra Red and RF were the only game in town. Wired headsets offered reasonably good sound quality and usually had one big drawback – the cable. Whether it’s made of rubber or cotton or nylon, the cable tangles, takes time to stow away neatly or is a mess when trying to untangle for usage. Then there is the jack at the other end of the headset.

Over the years I’ve replaced my wired headsets because the cable on the jack end is broken. The worst offender for my money is Ultimate Ears. I can’t believe ey charge you Hk$200 (~US$25) to replace faulty cable even if the ear pieces are still in warranty. I was told several times that cables are not covered in the one year warranty. Consumer protection advocates please hear my plea.

Wireless headsets have their own problems. The earliest models were bulky or unreliable. Bluetooth was meant to correct the range, connectivity and fidelity problems but it’s not been my experience so far – at least not with stereo headsets designed to both listen to music and pick up the call when the phone rings. Sure the Plantronics headsets I’ve had the fortune of using were great for calls especially the Plantronics Discovery 975 with a carry case that also acts as a charger. But my experience with the Altec Lansing Backbeat 906 and the Jabra BT3030 hasnt been as rewarding. Then my wedding anniversary came and my wife got me the Sennheiser MM 450. This is not my first Sennheiser but I hope it would be my last. The MM 450 are over of the ear design and can be folded for neat tucking away for storing in it’s own zipped pouch. This is the first headset I’ve seen that is designed to be used either with or without wires, with or without noise cancellation. My Bose Quietcomfort 3 doesn’t work without switching on the noise cancellation which necessitates the need to have a standby battery nearby in case you run out of juice.

The entire headset construction feels very solid without feeling heavy (106g). The swivel joints on the cups allow for folding when you need to stow away the headset for traveling. The controls are all on the right cup so you don’t need to remember which controls are on which side of the headset. The MM 450 is a Bluetooth headset with a built-in mic so you can use it to listen to your favorite music and be able to answer incoming or outgoing calls as when the need arise. But there will be occasions, like when on airplane, that you aren’t allowed to use the wireless option. On these occasions the MM 450 is equipped with a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable jack. The MM 450 offers reasonable sound isolation. I am inside TimeSquare shopping mall in Hong Kong listening to a Bette Midler album as I typed this blog review. I can hear a faint hint of noise within the mall but surprisingly I barely notice kids laughing and running near where I sit. Much of this is thanks to Sennheiser’s NoiseGard technology which sufficiently mutes my surrounding.

One additional feature of NoiseGard is the “talk through” feature which allows you to momentarily suspend noise cancellation, activate the mic so you can listen to everything around you, and suspend the music. This is great when you need to talk or listen to someone for a few short period before returning to listening to your favorite music. What I also found interesting is you can use NoiseGard even when you are not using the Bluetooth feature of the headset (I.e., using the cable to listen to music). “Talk Through” still works as long as you have battery.

Using the MM 450 with the supplied cable turns it into a standard headset meaning you lose the ability to make calls with the headset. NoiseGard and Talk Through still works though as long as you got battery. In the event that you eventually lose battery, the MM 450 becomes a normal wired headset. So whether you got juice or not this headset will work. Of course it’s best to keep an extra battery around. Speaking of battery, the MM 450 has a removable or user replaceable battery.

Three buttons control the MM 450. The center of the right ear cup has a blue light blinking every three seconds. Press it for a couple of seconds to turn on and off. Press it for 5 seconds if you want it to go into discover model. A nice welcome for me is that one it’s been paired with my phone or my iPad I don’t need to go into discover mode again in the future. The Jabra BT3030 requires you to set it to discover mode each time you power it up if you want to use it to make and receive calls. The center button is the power call answer/end and is surrounded by volume control and track skip buttons. All are very responsive, again very welcome change from experience with Jabra and Altec Lansing. At the bottom of the right cup are two additional buttons: one to activate NoiseGard; the other for Bluetooth.

Battery life depends on what feature you are using: Bluetooth only is 10 hours; Bluetooth with NoiseGard is 8 hours; and NoiseGard only is 20 hours. Just remember when you run out of battery, you can still use the MM 450 like an ordinary headset. How is that for versatility?

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