In the world of headphones, there are few companies that have the legacy that Sony does. The tech master had their hand in about every industry feasible in the realm of technology and still manages to crank out great products.
No matter how great the product, Sony has quite the line-up and their current catalog of over 25 pairs of cans (ranging from $19.99 to well over $2,000), it can hard to decide which pair is the best. Today, we aim not to establish how good Sony headphones are, but instead which ones are the cream of the crop. I evaluated each pair of the line-up with the features that are the most important to my personal needs. So, your preferences may differ.
To evaluate each of the pairs, I tried to aim for a few different areas. Upfront, the headphones had to offer exceptional value for money (so that rules out the $2,299 Z1Rs). Outside of the value, I’m looking at the convenience of the connectivity of the headphones, the overall frequency response and curve of the frequency spectrum, the noise-canceling or noise isolation capabilities, and the comfort. So let’s get into it and break down the top 3 Sony headphones.
#1: Sony MDR 7506 Headphones ($99)
A quick search on Google of “Sony headphones” and the MDR 7506 will pop. This pair of over-ear cans is perhaps the most iconic in the Sony line. While not officially listed on Sony’s site, these headphones cement a legacy in the world of professional audio.
The most attractive aspect of the Sony MDR 7506s is the incredibly flat frequency response, spanning from 10Hz-20kHz. For this reason, the MDR 7506s have become a staple in any recording studio around the world, and, despite their age, are still being purchased to this day.
However, compared to the over headphones, the MDR 7506s fall short in almost every category. The earpads will remind you of those dollar store headphones you used in school, and Bluetooth and NFC capabilities have been completely tossed out the window. If you’re looking for a modern, sleek pair of headphones then the Sony MDR 7506s are not for you.
Out of their current range, the MDR 7506s may look a bit unattractive with uncomfortable pads and a tacky design. However, this pair of headphones proves that sometimes the most important thing in a piece of audio equipment is the sound coming out of it.
Despite these shortcomings, I could not forgive myself if I left the MDR 7506s off the list. For any critical listening application, these headphones are by far the best in the Sony line and still beat out many other headphones on the market at only $99. For this reason alone, the Sony MDR 7506s shine out among the line-up, being not just another pair of headphones, but something truly special.
#2: Sony XB950BT EXTRA BASS Bluetooth Headphones ($199)
Coming back to a more modern take, I can’t find a better pair of headphones in a decent price range than the Sony XB950BTs. While the extra bass could turn off some people, many modern listen to demand that the low-end shakes the headphones off of their ears with each pound of the kick drum. While this is the most expensive set in the EXTRA BASS line, I found they were the best-rounded and offered up the most features, making them still an incredible value.
The most interesting feature of the Sony XB950Bts is the absolutely monstrous frequency response range. Sony claims that these headphones span all the way from 3Hz-28kHz. Yes, 3Hz. While this marketing claim may produce closer to a brown note effect than actual music, it is still impressive to see and promises that the low-end of these cans are solid. While I won’t even try to claim that I can hear anywhere near that low, these headphones pump like crazy and are as satisfying as any other headphone with an extended low-end.
To push the headphones even further, Sony includes a “Bass Boost” button which uses DSP to enhance the already tough low-end.
The main draw of this set over the less expensive sets in the range is the inclusion of Bluetooth and NFC in the headphones. For my money, Bluetooth is one of the most convenient features in a pair of modern headphones and the inclusion here makes the Sony XB950BTs not only a joy to listen to, but a joy to use.
With an around-the-ear design and very cushy leather pads, the XB950BTs win out in comfort and noise isolation. While the headphones don’t sport any noise-canceling technology, the design and pads offer enough isolation to block out most sounds while listening to music. The pads are stuffed with thick and cushy plush and wrapped in leather. The pressure-relieving design means that these headphones will mold around your ears instead of trying to fight them.
#3 Sony 1ABT Bluetooth Headphones ($399)
For those looking for a more sophisticated pair of cans than the EXTRA BASS line, look no further than the Sony 1ABTs. While not the top of the line, this pair of headphones offers top-notch quality and features at a relatively inexpensive price, making the value outstanding. If you’re an audiophile demanding the most high-quality listening experience, then the Sony 1ABTs may be for you.
This pair of headphones far beats out the XB950BTs in frequency response, spanning from 4Hz all the way to a claimed 100 kHz. While the range does come up from 3Hz to 4Hz (I know, bummer), I think this pair can still kick out the bass. They didn’t have the extended low-end response of the XB950BTs but instead featured a more nuanced and accurate low-end, a mark of the quality of these headphones.
The most attractive feature of the Sony 1ABTs though is the support for high-resolution audio. That means if you listen to high-resolution digital music, then the 1ABTs may be the pair for you.
Outside of that, the headphones still fair well. The 1ABTs will upscale compressed audio, restoring the highs and lows lost in compression. This technology, known as DSEE, will squeeze every last drop out of the quality of compressed music.
Of course, these headphones also feature one-touch connectivity with Bluetooth and NFC. The NFC One-touch connectivity make makes connecting this pair to any device a breeze which a huge plus, especially at this price point.
While not in the criteria, one of the features that stood out to me about the 1ABTs is the touch-sensitive ear pads. By swiping or pressing on the outside of the pads, you can access all the media functions of your device without ever having to touch it.
The 1ABTs fit around the ear as well but isolate music even better than the XB950BTs. The soft leather design molds to your ear comfortably and snuggly, making them seem like the perfect fit. That combined with the seamless stitching of the ear cups and the head pad, and these headphones are some of the most comfortable I have ever tried.
Sony has one of the most diverse product line-ups on the planet and their range of headphones is no different. They have a pair of cans sporting almost every feature under the sun. Despite our recommendations, I would urge you to check out their full line to see which pair is best for you.
All of these headphones (with the exception of the MDR 7506s) are part of larger product lines, meaning you can save money if certain features (like Bluetooth) are not as important to you.
Overall, my favorite pair of headphones from the line are the 1ABTs. For superior sound quality, design, comfort, and connectivity ease, it’s hard to beat these headphones in Sony’s line-up and even in the whole headphone market.