I’d put money on the fact that Simon Cowell has never heard these headphones and possibly doesn’t know of their existence. If he does, or has, that gives me serious doubts about his ears.
I find the looks of the MDR-X10s to be... interesting. I’ll leave that judgment to you. The mixture of plastic and metal gives alternating impressions of well-built and cheaply-built depending on what part of the headphone you’re scrutinizing.
While they appear to be oversized on-ear headphones, the flat-looking pads actually push inwards, acting as an earcup. It’s an interesting design actually. Lauren felt it might take a little getting used to, but like myself, found the comfort to be acceptable. They’re lighter than they look.
Inside are 50mm drivers driven by neodymium magnets. The flat cord is nearly impossible to tangle, and feels pretty solid. However, the in-line control buttons are only a few inches down from the connection with the headphone, too high up to be able to see what buttons you’re pressing. I suppose this isn’t a big deal as you can more-or-less navigate the three buttons by feel, but it just seems a little odd.
But all of this is like arguing about the paint job on a Pinto. It’s clear the designers of this headphone wanted to supply lots of bass. I’m often kidded (mocked?) by Brent and Berk for my affinity for slightly more bass than is strictly accurate. I know this, and mention it when I talk about what headphones or speakers I like. But there’s such a thing as too much bass and there’s such a thing as bad bass, and the MDR-X10s have both. The bass is nearly overwhelming, but lacks any semblance of definition. It’s just a blump blump blump. Lauren described it as “muddy” and “thuddy.” I’d add “boomy.”
Brent was mildly conflicted, “I have to confess my bias here vis-a-vis Simon Cowell. I love the Teletubbies, and he produced a Teletubbies album, so anything he endorses automatically has tremendous cred with me.” With Sue Matthews' rendition of "I Fall In Love Too Easily," Brent felt “it sounded like the bassist needed to turn down about -10 dB, but turn the midrange control on his amp up about +6 dB. The bass was plodding and boomy, and obscured what sounded like fairly decent midrange and treble.”
I had a similar thought when I put on “Starálfur” from Sigur Ros’s Ágætis byrjun, it was just this wall of boom. The piano and vocals had a tad more harshness than I’d like, but given how objectionable the bass is, the minds and highs are pleasant by comparison.
Brent’s next track was Meshell Ndegeocello's cover of "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." His first thought was “‘You'd fire this bass player,’ even though I just saw her live last week and she's a terrific bass player. The ‘phones didn't groove at all, they were just a big fat boom.”
I thought maybe something that’s intended to have lots of bass would work, so I tried “The Son of Flynn” as remixed by Moby for the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured album. I suppose if someone is just looking for thump, these headphones would work, but the bass is so sloppy that it really is just thump. The bass on this album has a lot of tight punch, and there’s none of that through the MDR-X10s.
Brent gave the MDR-X10 one last try, this time using the “Bass Reducer” on his iPod touch. He found that, “Much more of the spatiality came out. There's a little bit of upper-mid emphasis that makes voices sound somewhat rough, but otherwise it's a decent headphone once the bass is tamed. It sounds like they designed a good headphone, then said, ‘We better boost the bass on this thing so it competes with Beats.’”
I measured the MDR-X10 using essentially the same techniques I used for the MDR-1RNC.
The MDR-X10’s frequency response are somewhat unusual in that they have a 1.5-octave-wide peak centered at 800 Hz. Most headphones show a smooth and mild reduction in output going up in frequency from the low 100s to about 2 kHz. This will likely provide an audible midrange emphasis. Bass response is essentially flat. There seem to be significant discrepancies between the right and left channels between 100 Hz and 1.2 kHz. Adding 70 ohms output impedance to the V-Can’s 5-ohm output impedance to simulate the effects of using a typical low-quality headphone amp has practically no effect on frequency response.
Total harmonic distortion (THD) at 100 dBA is very low above 100 Hz, but a little high in the bass, rising to 8.5% at 20 Hz. Impedance averages about 25 ohms, with a mild impedance peak centered at 45 Hz. Isolation is astonishingly good for an on-ear, maxing out at about -30 dB at 4 kHz, and even delivering significant ambient noise reduction as low as 500 Hz. Of course, the MDR-X10 is the largest on-ear we’ve tested, so we’d expect it to be better than average.
Average sensitivity with a 1 mW signal at 24 ohms rated impedance is 101.2 dB from 300 Hz to 6 kHz. — Brent Butterworth
I like bass. This is bad bass. It’s just too much muchness, sloppy and overpowering. There are plenty of headphones that deliver lots of great low end, but in a far better-controlled fashion than these. Simon Cowell should stick with what he knows.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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