Editor’s Note: This pithy post is a prelude to impressions on the new Sony in-ear products flooding the Q4 2014 market (and bursting into 2015) in typical Sony fashion. But before extolling the future, we must pay homage to the past — one that may never return.
Hybrid dynamic/BA IEMs are all the rage these days, and Sony knows it. They started off with the XBA-H1/H2/H3 (read Lachlan’s review), and now have gone onto the XBA-Z5, purportedly their ultimate expression of hybrid driver technology. While Sony has done a decent job of integrating the two driver paradigms, the hybrid sound has had its challenges.
The EX1000 was designed with a simple principle in mind: a bigger driver (16 mm) creates a bigger, bolder sound. Take that well-slung, moving coiled diaphragm, coat it with a few layers of liquid crystal polymer, and the result is even better.
Incredibly resolving and transparent, the MDR-EX1000 lays in a realm of dynamic drivers that knows few other peers. These days, it’s very difficult to find dynamic driver earphones this resolving. The only reasonably-priced IEM with abilities that even approach the EX1000, aside from its lower-priced brothers the EX800ST and EX600, is perhaps the HiFiMAN RE-400 (read Lachlan’s review) — but even it falters in the light of the EX1000, and, as a sin of commission, its bass often feels way too tightly wound to sound natural. The pricier bigger brother, the RE-600, feels less stodgy in the low end, but fails to convincingly improve on its much lower-priced predecessor. Even the Dita Audio Answer (Truth, or whatever… seems like something Allen Iverson would wear), priced at over what the EX1000 was at MSRP, doesn’t seem to match the Sony former flagship’s magic. China’s VSONIC has announced the VSD5, designed specifically to lay down the gauntlet on the EX1000, but it hasn’t yet come out en masse.
When it comes to bass, naturalness is the theme of these big-driver Sony models. Meghan Trainor would be proud. And if you too are all about that bass, you must appreciate the EX1000. The bass is endlessly deep, never sluggish, and its impact seems to move radially outward, rather than inward — just the way it should feel.
I sit here writing this post, with the EX1000 in my ears. It’s a shame I don’t keep a store of forties around (but Nate at Ohm Image just might… *just maybe*), but I really have the urge to pour out a little bit for Sony. The days of Sony creating a product that serves only a sub-segment of a sub-segment in a niche of audio are over. Prior to last year’s announcement of the XBA-Z5, Sony had not had an in-ear halo product for a while. The all-balanced armature XBA-40 was poorly-received by critics and users alike, and while the XBA-H3 was a fun, enjoyable listen, people lamented Sony‘s departure from the very high end of things. The Sony MDR-EX1000 was the last Sony in-ear that received universal praise, and, to this editor’s ears, are the last of a dying breed of “purist” dynamic driver IEMs.
In that vein, the EX1000 is unapologetically audiophile. The shape is impractical, it doesn’t isolate worth a damn, and its treble spikes assume the average age of the hi-fi listener is over sixty.
But I love it.
I freaking love it.