People love lists of things! People also love comparisons! So, here’s a showdown between Sony’s flagship consumer headphone, and their new mainstream model!
Today’s competitors are: The MDR-1A (staring at $299) and the MDR-100AAP (starting at $199).
Both of these headphones feature a striking design. The 1A has a classy, refined look, inspired by the last few generations of Sony headphones. It has smooth lines, a seamless combination of plastic and metal parts, and it comes in two colors: Black and Red, and Silver and Brown.
The MDR-100AAP has a more subtle look that counters the garish headphones made by Beats and other fashion headphone companies. Its logos are hidden in the headband, and its clean lines make it stand out less on your head. It comes in five different colors, designed to help you accent your own fashion sense.
The 1A has a more premium feel in the hand. The plastic and metal parts of the 100AAP are clearly evident, and at first blush they feel a little cheap. However, they both have a durable build: it’s just obvious that the 100AAP is designed to be a hundred bucks cheaper.
Both have solid adjustment mechanisms on the headband, though the materials used on the 1A are nicer. The 100AAP has exposed seams in its headband, and its rotating adjustment joints aren’t quite as smooth.
Winner: The MDR-1A, by a hair. I actually really like the design of both of these headphones, but the 1A has a classier look that’s equally fit for home, studio, or portable use.
Both headphones are exceptionally comfy. Sony knows better than anyone else how to make a comfortable headphone. They each feature a different take on Sony’s patented plush ear cups. The cups on the 1A are a touch larger, and designed to acoustically reflect sound around your ear. The 100AAP cups are the most compact ear cups on the market which I’ve still found comfy.
Each one is perfect for long listening sessions, and will practically disappear on your head. The 100AAP is a little lighter, and as a result its headband isn’t as cushy because it doesn’t need to be. So many uncomfortable headphones exist in the market. It’s ridiculous! Comfort is extremely important, because if you’re just thinking about how crummy your headphones feel, you can’t enjoy the sound coming out of them.
Both headphones fit perfectly on my giant head with some extra adjustment clicks to spare, and they seal just fine around my glasses. If you have extra- large ears, you might find the 100AAP cups a little snug, though they’re still big enough for most ears, I think.
Winner: MDR-1A, again by a hair. I have to give the 1A the nod just because its ear cups are a little bigger and its headband is a little more plush. The 100AAP is still quite comfortable for long-term use.
Here’s a dirty little secret about headphones: they’re like tools. Every pair is good for different things. The more headphones you try, the more this becomes apparent. Past a certain threshold of quality, it’s hard to say whether a particular headphone is “the best,” because each person will have subjective preferences. I’ll do what I can to describe these headphones.
The MDR-1A has a big sound, with strong representation of lows, mids, and highs. Some people in the audiophile community have described the bass as “bloated and overpowered”, but I think they sound really fun. Imagine sitting in a nicely-equipped movie theater, and you’ll have a good idea of their signature. The sound is wide and impressive in scope. They’re still nuanced enough to handle acoustic music, but the pianos might rumble a little more than you expect. They produce a warm rich blanket of sound that doesn’t sound muffled. Perfect for movies, games, and most genres of music.
If the MDR-1A is a movie theatre, then the 100AAP is a mixing studio. They sound more analytical, precise, and a touch less warm. You’ll still hear all the frequencies, but they’re a bit more balanced, and a bit less exciting. Bass is just as impressively deep, but not as present. Width is just as good as the 1A. If I had to pick one of the two to use for production tasks, it would definitely be the 100AAP. It is a little closer to the elusive “neutral” sound signature that audiophiles like to chase after.
Both headphones are capable of producing the harmonic frequencies necessary to play back hi-res audio, if that’s something you’re concerned about. I can’t really tell a difference with those tracks, but if you want to give it a go, then both of these headphones will work for that.
Winner: A tie. These are better for different things, and it’s down to personal taste. The 1A is best for a fun sound, and the 100AAP takes the nod for precision and balance. Neither headphone is so far from neutral that the sound feels unnatural. This will be a personal preference for most, they both produce fantastic sound in their price ranges.
Both headphones are marketed for portable use. The standard 1A comes with a phone-compatible cable, and a nice carrying bag. The 100AAP also comes with a phone-compatible cable, and a nice carrying bag. The bag for the 1A is a little nicer. The 100AAP collapses into a tiny size, and is really light. The 1A only folds flat, it doesn’t get any smaller.
Each headphone features different models. The base model 1A is $299, and comes with both the phone cable and a regular cable. There’s also a bluetooth model and a model with an included DAC/amp combo. Both are $399. The 1A-DAC features several cables for connecting to a variety of digital audio sources, including a lightning cable for iPhones. It’s the version I personally bought, because I’m a crazy person. The included DAC is great. It works well with my iPhone, Chromebook, and PC, though the PC required a driver. It even supports playback of DSD files, which are essentially digital studio files. I don’t know why I’d ever need to play those back, but I totally could.
The 100AAP base model is $199. It comes with just one flat phone cable. The step-up model features bluetooth and noise cancelling for $349. It’s also a little heavier. Honestly, I think the base model is a much better value, because the 100AAP competes much better at a $199 price point. There’s nothing in that bracket that can touch it. Once it has to compete in the $300–$400 range, it’s up against some of the very best stuff on the market. It still holds its own, but it’s not quite that caliber of product. Nor was it ever meant to be.
Both have really nice cables. They’re supple, and removable, and tangle-resistant. The 1A cable will actually work in the 100AAP.
Winner: 100AAP. The 100AAP is more portable, and represents an excellent value for the money. Simply superb. However, the 1A’s step-up models are better. I almost called this a tie.
So, these are both great headphones, and it was hard to compare them to each other. The 1A is a classy flagship that still maintains portability and should serve most people well. The 100AAP is a portable beast that punches way above its weight vs. its price. They’re both very comfy and very nice to listen to, and I’m certain you’d be equally happy with either one. If you want a fun sound and a more classy design, pick the 1A. If you want portability, more color options, or like a more balanced studio-style sound, then the 100AAP is the finest choice in its price bracket. And it looks much better than most “studio” headphones.
If you want a thumpy, dance-club-in-your-bowels sound, then buy the Sony Extra Bass 950 headphones, which were not featured in this roundup. They are great and profoundly stupid.
I’ve become a big fan of Sony’s audio products in the past year, during my descent into audio madness. They’re clearly looking at the market and making some smart moves. One of these days I’ll check out the legendary MDR-7506, a budget studio model which I believe has been in ongoing production longer than any other headphone out there. UPDATE: That day finally came. Not that you’re checking out this old article. But if you are, here’s that link!
Until next time!