Anyone dismissing the Sony MDR-X10 headphones as simply yet another bombastic, over-the-top, celebrity-designed fashion statement for teenage bass junkies would be wrong. Easily forgiven, but wrong.
While most of those descriptive terms ring true — the big, lurid cans apparently received design input from none other than big, lurid entertainment personality Simon Cowell, and they’re definitely aimed toward the bass-obsessed — the X10s differ significantly from their brethren, and actually stand out prominently against an ocean of boom.
In other words, if you’re looking for bass-heavy headphones, this is your first stop; but even if you’re not, the X10s are so good they might win you over anyway.
Out of the Box
The set wears its allegiance on its sleeve — there’s no hidden agenda or frilly additive to be found here. No active noise-reduction or extra value-added frills. The only concession to convenience is a microphone for phone calls and a backup cable; there’s a cable with microphone, volume and track controls (though the volume controls won’t work with Android phones) and an extra cable without enhancements.
If you’re a DJ, the cans pivot easily for monitoring the track with one ear and the room with the other. If you’re not a DJ, that same pivot helps contort the massive cans into a deceptively small travel-worthy package; the X10s easily produce the most impressive size transformation — from large headphones to travel-sized pouch — of any set I’ve played with so far.
Although the set is constructed from both metal and plastic, Sony managed to keep the weight low, which helped the set feel more comfy on the ears and head during longer sessions.
The X10s’ earcups are a bit unusual. It’s really a very large supra-aural set, because the cups have a layer of fabric that stretches across the cup and sits on the ear. It’s comfortable, and very warm (see below). Perhaps expected due to the nature of the cups, the set actually does a good job of preventing sound from both entering and leaking out from the cups.
So far so good — but it’s really all about the X10s’ limitless bass.
The quality of bass reproduction from the X10s’ oversized 50mm drivers can be described in one word: sublime. Or perhaps two words: sublimely smooth. Heck, I’m just going throw them all out there: sublime, smooth, luscious, creamy, buzz-free, superbly detailed and, yes, bombastic. For sure, it’s not a sound that jibes perfectly with all types of music. But when I listened to tracks with a deep, driving bassline — like Hybrid’s Formula of Fear, Moby’s Honey, Me, I’m Not by Nine Inch Nails or pretty much anything by The Police — the results were spectacular, grin-inducing and unlike anything I’ve heard on any other set. Deep details usually muddied or harsh on other sets were clear and beautifully rendered with the X10s.
Deep details usually muddied or harsh on other sets were crystal-clear and beautifully rendered with the X10s.
Where a track’s bass was already boosted to the point of obnoxiousness, like in M.I.A.’s Bucky Done Gun, the trick was to use an equalizer setting that de-emphasized the bass a little. This easily-accomplished little bass-taming tweak allowed the nuanced, low-frequency deliciousness the X10s are so capable of to entertain rather than assault. And just to be clear: Doing this with other bass-heavy sets doesn’t produce the same pleasing result.
That said, the X10s are obviously not universally appealing. For those who like to listen to a wide range of music and only have enough moolah for one set of headphones, this is not that set. The X10s weren’t too overwhelming, for example, when listening to classical or country. Then there’s the in-you-face styling — though the black version probably mitigates this somewhat.
The there’re those weird earcups. Yes, I found them comfortable enough in the usual sense; but wearing them for more than about 20 minutes on hot days made my ears start to sweat. On other hand, Canadians will probably be thrilled.
(Very) minor quibbles: Where plastic is used, it feels surprisingly cheap; the cables feature a twist-and-lock method to keep them in place, and replacement cables without the feature won’t fit properly.
Whether the MDR-X10s were crafted by Simon Cowell, a design team in a hidden room at Sony or Batman’s grandmother, Sony has ended up with the absolute best bass-forward headphones on the planet for the money.
|Product Name: Sony MDR-X10 X Headphones.
The Good: Beautifully silken, hair-raising bass like you never imagined. Weird earcups surprisingly comfy.
The Bad: Not for listening to piano concertos. Weird earcups sometimes make ears sweat.
Verdict: An outstanding set of bass-forward, DJ-style headphones that will appeal to everyone except the bass-allergic.
Buy from: Sony