Disclaimer: The Sony MDR-1RNC Review was sent to us as a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We would like to thank Sony USA for this opportunity.

To read more on Sony products we have reviewed on headfonics you can click here.

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7.3
7.3
Score

I am kind of baffled by what Sony has been up to lately, cranking out so many good headphones really makes me feel almost uncomfortable.  I am not used to reviewing so many products from one company in a row that are all heavy hitters.

Not long ago, I reviewed the stellar 950BT and the 1R from Sony, both were fantastic and they’ve done it again with their MDR-1RNC.  Bose really has something to fear at long last…

The headphone is actually quite heavy and bulky, unexpectedly so and this happens to be one of the only Sony headphones currently available that I’d not experienced prior to a review.  Sony sent this to me sight unseen and I am happy they did.

Sam ( my Sony contact ) is just about the best at what she does and I’ve got to say, after working with so many other audio companies over the years, none even comes close to Sam.  She is on the ball 100% of the time and I just couldn’t possibly ask for a better Media contact than her.  Cheers, for all the great headphones so far Sam!

The Noise Cancellation

I sit here wondering why the MDR-1RNC hasn’t made waves in the audio community, it seems like the headphone pretty much all of us want for traveling, yet have never received.  I took this headphone to Best Buy ( a US-based large retail store outlet ) where they have a large Bose demo stand available for anyone interested in buying their headphones.

On their display, they have a large speaker set up that pipes out the same low-end noise that you hear while flying in a plane that constant low-end rumble and muffled engine whine type of a sound.


Bose proudly displays their QC-15 and QC-25’s for all to hear, they ask you to put the headphone on and press a button, the button activates an audio track that speaks to you and tells you about the product a little, but once the track tells you about the plane noise and how great it is on flights for the owner, it asks you to take off the headphone so you can hear that rumble sound most planes give off to passengers inside.

That sound had been playing the entire time.  Really cool setup for Bose but those headphones cost $300 or so and don’t sound nearly as nice as the Sony 1RNC’s do, despite Sony’s exact same price.  I swapped the Bose headphone for my Sony MDR-1RNC during the plane noise test and the experience was pretty much the same with noise-canceling quality.

6

ANC Performance

Gotta admit this Sony headphone has done a great job with their active noise cancellation quality.  For reference, my cat likes to sleep on me while I rummage through the Internet, she snores loud enough to wake herself up sometimes and with the Sony MDR-1RNC’s NC mode active, I can’t hear my cat at all who is less than 2 feet from my face.

Pretty good when considering that the sound quality of this model rivals the 950BT in solidity, but also rivals the standard 1R in sound quality like a happy accidental pregnancy of the 950BT and the 1R.  Funny, I mentioned that I wanted this type of sound in both of my past reviews of those headphones, so now that I have it I am a bit lost of what to actually do with the headphone.

As the Joker from The Dark Knight said: I am like a puppy chasing a car but wouldn’t know what to do with it when I actually did catch it.  Or, something along those lines.

Like the Bose headphones, this MDR-1RNC has trouble with high-frequency active cancellation, high pitched sounds are indeed muted and plenty quiet while listening to music, I can’t hear cars go by while sitting outside, but those same higher-end sounds are noticeably less muted than the lower frequencies when no track music is playing.

There is also a slight hiss when the track is muted and it is not coming from the source player, it is just battery/voltage hiss or something to do with the active NC creating some floor noise.  Bose has Sony beat on that front, their headphones remain very silent without music playing and with their NC active.

The Build

The headphone retains the same great headband design that hardly any other audio company seems to want to implement, wow does this make me angry to see some companies insist on using leather straps and radar dish designs in 2015.  It doesn’t belong, please stop.  Take notes from Sony and Oppo because the designs they’ve used are simplistic, elegant and extremely comfortable.

That nice U-shape in the headband design makes sense, half-circles don’t and there is no reason for them to exist, same for the Audio Technica Flying Wing design.  Ugh.  As Elsa from Frozen said: Let it go, let it go.

True, the MDR-1RNC is the heaviest Sony I’ve ever used I the portable realm of their headphones, that great headband design makes up for it and allows for the proper balancing on my head without needing excessive clamp.

5

Pads

I am not fond of the earpads, they are actually right in the middle of the depth of the 950BT and the thinness of the 1R pads, somewhere in that center thickness area and it feels a bit odd to me.  Maybe this was a proper choice for the noise cancellation needs but I would prefer a deeper earpad.

Quality aside, which is good leather, the pad is just too thin for me and next to the 950BT’s fantastic ( FAKE LEATHER ) pads that are super deep and plush, both the 1R and 1RNC fall short despite using real leather pads.

Outside of the pads, the build quality is very good, the same metal frame and solid plastic cups with a hefty feel were used in this MDR-1RNC’s design as they were in the other 1R series models of the past.  Sony is on the ball with this type of thing.

Cable

Sony still includes a thin, lower quality cable that I just can’t stand.  I prefer fabric laced, something strong and that lets others know the cable is at least trying to appear higher class…death to the standard rubber casings.  It is 2015, let us move past this already!

Sound Impressions

As mentioned before, this MDR-1RNC is the best sounding 1R so far to my ears, combining the authority of the 950BT with the spaciousness and clarity of the 1R before it.  I am actually quite shocked by the bass depth and responsiveness it was capable of, which is more than the Focal Spirit Professional ( another $300 headphone ).  True, the Focal’s are more clean and clear, reaching deeper as well, but none of the three in the Focal lineup offer NC.

Using NC

With that NC capability in mind, once active, the entire experience thins out too much to justify the price tag of $300.  It reverts to a sound similar to the 1R and 1A before it, something with less firmness and power, paling in comparison to the 950BT’s epic authoritative physicality.

This is a bit of a problem, especially during the launch time when the headphone was first released.  For those prices above $350 for this headphone, the NC absolutely ruined what was great about the headphone and it is really sad to me because I would absolutely buy this headphone just for its normal non-NC capabilities.

It is better than the 950BT and the 1R, but once the NC is activated with the flip of a switch on the left cup, you get a downgrade in sound that takes it too far away from the original sound quality the drivers offered.  It is bad?  Nah, not at all.  It is still better than the 950BT when I side by sided them in my comparisons, I just feel like the sound quality dropped too much to justify the current price tag.

Without the NC active, it is worth $300 if you need the full package deal: a comfortable, portable headphone that sounds great without NC, but also for those that want NC as an option.  For those who don’t want NC, I’d opt for the Focal headphones instead, which outperformed the Sony’s at the same price tag, but again those Focal’s don’t have NC nor a portable friendly design.

Bass

The low of the 1RNC is moderately potent with good firmness factor, but it isn’t nearly as interesting as its little brother’s bass ( the 950BT ).  It is a nice, neutral ground experience that can thump hard, as well as be polite when the track calls for it.


What bugs me is the neutral tone, I prefer a slower, more weighted bass than the harder, firm and fast-hitting sound the 1R series offers.  Testing with the TEB Bassgasm Bass Test proves the headphone can hit harder and deeper than most, but it doesn’t respond well to EQ boosting and remains generally the same from +1dB to +5dB.

Not much changes in the way of quantity, but the experience gets muddier beyond +5dB, which is a normal capability in most headphones of today…so…nothing special to report on the low end sadly.  From a musicality standpoint, I found it more than acceptable and fun to listen to.

Despite being what I consider neutral in tone, the overall firmness and quantity made the experience fun for me, it is never lacking, nor it is overblown.  If you are an entry-level bass enthusiast, you’ll enjoy it.

Preferences

Dubstep lovers might want to veer away from this one, I feel the texture to be a bit too boring and lacking anything interesting.  It is almost monitor like, but not quite.  This type of bass texture is more like a Hifiman, which are headphones I very much dislike to use with anything bass oriented.

That is subjective though, you’ll have to decide what type of texture you prefer for bass tracks in general.  Actually, I think you can swing by using this headphone as a studio monitor, as it retains the same general sound signature as most of the Shure headphones, but only that much more improved over the likes of the 840 and similar headphones that were popular over the last few years.

1

Mids

The midrange is again forward and lively, thankfully.  No U-shape occurring on this model and as a result, the vocal experiences are generally accentuated, not at all masked by the moderately powerful low end.  It is on the same level playing field as the treble and feels a lot like a more firm 1R, vocals are rounded and unfocused but still plenty enjoyable.

Again, this sounds like a studio monitor with a darker background and a brighter sense of the upper midrange and into the treble, so I classify this as a more analytic sound in tone that is noticeably more neutral than the normal 1R version…odd.

It feels a bit weird to have a prominent bass like this without a bloom effect in the midrange, I would expect the vocals to sound larger and more lively, but they are actually a bit flat sounding in locale.  I found the treble to be roughly on the same level playing field with the mids, which really made the headphone sound boring and less intriguing than I’d originally hoped it would be.

Is that a bad thing?  I am not really sure, it is my preferences at play though, you might feel otherwise due to the prominent and plentiful bass.  True, the low end doesn’t blur the midrange, nor does the midrange blur the treble, but I think the headphone is a bit too reserved and it could have achieved a really nice, cohesive experience if it had been tuned a little differently.

Midrange Pop

As with the Sony 950BT and 1R, the midrange pops more, but this 1RNC is more linear from the midrange on and upward into the treble.  It makes for a relaxing sound signature for sure, so maybe that is what they were aiming for?

I can certainly see how this type of sound would be very desirable to those traveling a lot and on extended plane flights, you don’t want a punchy or oddly setup sound signature.  You’d want something with a solid low end, but a flat midrange and treble that isn’t fatiguing.  That is pretty much what this headphone is: a non-fatiguing, yet plentiful from top to bottom headphone.

Treble

Treble is a bit of a problem, especially so when the NC is active.  Things really take a nosedive in quality and you can feel the overall muffled haze waft in as soon as you press the button.

Very odd, because the NC really helps the low end out so I would assume that the low end would get muffled, but it doesn’t.  The treble does.  Very weird, but I really can’t complain since even with the NC active it still outperforms the sound quality of the Bose headphones.

If screaming guitars are your thing, I would avoid this set.  If you are into the more relaxed sound signature type tracks, then, by all means, pick it up.  I think travelers who want a relaxing experience will enjoy it for the most part, but note that the treble sibilance increases with NC active, it is not painful or anything that severe, it is just dropping from good quality to acceptable quality, which again is still better than most if not all other NC headphones at this price point.

Imaging

Less than the 1R, more than 950BT for sure.  Once again, a middle ground effect taking place here with pretty much every aspect of the headphones qualities.  The stage is not as deep sounding as the 1R, nor as wise.  However, it is still a very good experience and trumps the likes of my AKG K267.

I think Sony could have squeezed more out of this if they really tried, maybe some angled pads or drivers might have helped, but I definitely want to see more imaging prowess happening here.  For what it is and the price tag, I expect a bit better.

Things really take an odd turn when you activate the NC due to the treble becoming more icy and pokey, the staging properties also drop in quality, the background lights up a little and there is some of that noticeable haze occurring.

All of that combined makes the experience sound more closed in, but this is typical of most NC active headphones so I can’t deduct points for it.  It is expected, although Sony is probably the only company who would be willing to make a spacious NC enabled headphone.  Maybe, in the future we can see one?  Here’s hoping Sony! Make it happen and name it after me.

4

Final Thoughts

Pros

Sony is wrecking the house, no doubt about that.  The MDR-1RNC is a solid entry to the world of active noise-canceling headphones and it remains one of the better headphones in the $300 tier when you disregard the quality drop that happens when NC is enabled.

There were a few models from Audio Technica in the past that cost the same as this, yet didn’t sound nearly as nice, Bose also is no longer the best all-around NC headphone on the market.  This MDR-1RNC performs almost the same as the Bose QC series headphones did during my tests, but I admit that my tests were not extensive.

With that in mind, I’ve never used an NC headphone that I felt to be immediately on par with or potentially just as good as any Bose NC headphone.  This is the first headphone I’ve felt to be worthy of playing ball with Bose, so Bose, you better be looking over your shoulder because Sony is trying to corner the market.

The 950BT is a great budget headphone, probably the best around for fun type of sound anyway, the 1R is one of the best $199 headphones available and now this MDR-1RNC is one of the best noise-canceling headphones I’d yet heard.

Cons

On the flip side, the MDR-1RNC is bulky, those pads could use an upgrade as well.  One other thing that bugged me was that the standard cable is just that standard.

At $300+ I would expect a fabric cable, something a lot tougher and suited for travel.  You don’t want the cable to split while you are somewhere far from the nearest cable shop, so I would expect a much better cable than the one provided.

I would prefer a more lively treble experience that made the MDR-1RNC sound more like the spacious normal 1R headphone, but instead, the MDR-1RNC offers a more toned down, reserved approach to the sound signature.  I found it really boring, but that doesn’t speak for the quality of the headphone, which is top-tier for the price tag.  Again, it definitely sounds better than the 950BT and the 1R before it, but I felt like Sony played it safe with this one.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a noise-canceling headphone, this MDR-1RNC is worth investigating.  It is firm, but not overly so and offers a relaxing sound signature for the most part.  I feel like this headphone was tuned with plane passengers in mind, something to offer a non-fatiguing experience for hours on end while drowning out those annoying kids or engine hum on long flights.

If that appeals to you, I highly recommend this headphone…I don’t think Bose is the king of the hill for NC anymore…sounds like Sony just dethroned them.  Sony lists the MDR-1RNC with an MSRP of $499, which is absolute nonsense with regard to sound quality, but when you take into account it sounds better than the Bose flagship and also offers NC…it might be worth purchasing used or refurbished.  Amazon and some other retailers are selling it for $299, at this price it is an excellent deal.

MDR-1RNC Technical Specifications

Audio

  • Driver Unit: 50 mm, dome type (HD, OFC Voice Coil) Liquid Crystal Polymer Diaphragm
  • Power Handling Capacity: 100 mW
  • Selectivity : 3 distinct noise-canceling modes for use in three acoustically different environments (Airplane, Bus, office)
  • Noise Level: ON/OFF switch on ear-cup
  • Sensitivity (db) : 103 dB/mW (when power is on) 100 dB/mW (when power is off)
  • Frequency Response : 5 – 24,000 Hz

General

  • Case Type: Travel Case
  • Type of Use: Noise-canceling
  • Design: Supra-Aural, noise-canceling
  • Headband: Yes
  • Plug: Gold-plated, four-conductor L-shaped mini plug
  • Magnet : High-energy Neodymium (360 kJ/m³)

Hardware

  • Headphone Type: Closed supra-aural, Dynamic
  • Cord : 1.5 m,Single-sided; PCOCC cord, detachable

Power

  • Power Source : DC 3.7 V Built-in Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery Life (Approx) : Up to 22 hours with built-in Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery Indicator: yes

Speaker

  • Impedance: 52 ohms at 1 kHz (when power is on) 16 ohms at 1 kHz (when power is off)
  • Weights and Measurements
  • Cord Length (Approx.): 47 1/4 in. (1.2 m.)
  • Weight (Approx.): Approx. 11.7 oz. (330 g) – included rechargeable battery
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2 Responses

  1. jeff k

    i’ve given up on nc headphones. they’re very bulky to transport and the sound isn’t that good. i bought ety4’s and got custom tips [$80 with the ety coupon]. better music and better isolation, albeit at a slightly higher cost – $380 for both the earphones and tips. ety4’s with comply isolation tips would be even cheaper and probably give at least as much isolation as the nc headphones.

    of course the ety’s won’t screen out bone conduction, but neither will the nc headphones.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      I’m with you on that. I dropped a sickening amount of cash on my Noble K10 just to bypass this annoyance with the bulk.

      Reply

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