I have to admit, I really like sounds. When I go to the movies, I seek out that sweet spot in a theatre so I get the full surround sound experience. I want to hear the sand and debris from onscreen explosions raining down behind me, while the bass of car engines and machine guns rumble the floor in front. And I demand the same quality out of the sound from my games and music. I need to hear every footfall or gunshot directionally in-game, and give me a full, wall-of-sound experience when I blast my tunes. The majority of my listening time — games, music, Netflix movies — is spent using headphones. At work, I use either big over-ear headphones or my own noise-cancelling ones to drown out the office chatter, listen to some smooth tunes and focus on the task at hand. At home, I have a wicked setup on my computer, with a high-end sound card funneling audio into another digital amplifier/enhancer unit, and then into some Sony headphones. The rest of the time, I’m plugged into my iPhone with a set of earbuds, setting the soundtrack to my life… which, thanks to my daughter fooling around with my playlist, now apparently includes Taylor Swift and Shakira. So, it was with ears a-tingling that I got to try out not one, not two, but three (cue the Count from Sesame Street’s laughter and a clap of thunder) sets of around and in-ear headphones from Sony’s new h.ear premium hi-res audio brand.
What the FLAC?
I planned on testing the three headphones — the h.ear on over-ear, h.ear in in-ear buds, and noise-cancelling earbuds — in a variety of places and situations, and with variety of formats and audio files. These are “premium” and “hi-res” babies, so it was recommended I figure out how to turn my CD music into FLAC files to ensure I’m squeezing every ounce of digital sound out of them. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and it’s a format that’s gaining in popularity among audiophiles. For the intents of this review, you just need to know FLAC is a less “lossy” format than MP3, and offers bit-perfect copies of CDs except at half the size. It is compatible with many phones (including the iPhone, but with an app), portable music players like the PonoPlayer, and hi-fi components. FLAC files are also available for about the same price as the same MP3 in online stores and do sound much better.
Sony h.ear on over-ear Stereo Headphones
Let’s get the technical specs out of the way first. The h.ear on headphones (MDR-100AAP) has a closed-back, over-the-ear design, featuring 40 mm dome-type drivers that supports hi-res up to 60 kHz. They come in five vibrant colours — my demo pair came in “Bordeaux Pink” — and out of the box it comes with a detachable cable, in-line multifunction button and microphone, plus a canvas-y carrying pouch (also in that same pink shade). They match my new Taylor Swift playlist wonderfully. If you’re familiar with the Beats headphones all the hipsters and kids are sporting these days, it’s pretty obvious out of the gate that the h.ear on is Sony’s entry into that premium marriage of sleek style and hi-res sound. They are collapsible for portability and easy storage; are light, but feel sturdy enough for the kind of everyday use I’d put them through. I like how snug they fit around my ears. Many over-ear headphones engulf my ears, yet still sit too low because the headband is too big. These are just perfect for my head shape, and the cushy foam ear pads are very comfortable, even after extended wear and use.
The diaphragms have titanium-coated domes, which doesn’t mean you can fight off the X-Men’s Wolverine with them, but rather that they suppress unwanted sound vibration for clearer audio. After taking a couple of my favourite CDs and turning the files into FLAC format, I downloaded a player, sat back and listened to some Bach, Beatles and the occasional Latin-inspired pop of Shakira, again thanks to my daughter. I really have to put a password on my computer. I tried flipping back to CDs straight out of the drive, back to FLAC and then to YouTube or music streaming services I frequent. Yeah, as an audiophile, I can say the FLAC files offer amazing fidelity. It’s bell-clear and very natural-sounding. The bass packs a gut-rumbling punch, and the highs sing sweet and piercing like they were meant to be heard. And the h.ear on delivers on those hi-res sounds. The audio was perfectly balanced and clean, full and immersive. But along with sitting around absorbing hi-fidelity files through hi-res cans, I also wanted to put the h.ear on through everyday stuff. Not everyone is going to be listening to FLAC with these, but I am happy to report that everything sounded great through these premium headphones. Games, movies and my iPhone all sounded awesome. Plugged into my phone, I could use the handy microphone to make calls, and it supports voice command apps. And I really like how portable they are, easily collapsing for storage in the pouch.
Sony h.ear in ear bud Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones are essential for anyone who does work from home and has kids, or if you work in an open office environment where there’s always a lot of chatter going on around you. I got a pair of over-ear noise-canceling cans for Christmas, and I swear by them. This Sony h.ear in model is an in-ear, bud type that features dual noise sensor technology. It also has a 9mm high sensitivity driver that supports high resolution audio. I’m not too sure about the fit for my own ears, I’m very conscious of them when they’re in there as opposed to the differently shaped default buds that come with my phone. The part that’s sticking out basically lets you hear only your music, with the AI Noise Canceling assessing the level of background noise and automatically choosing the best setting for making sure you’re immersed in your tunes. I have to say the noise canceling works quite well, even comparable to my Sennheiser on-ear pair. The sound, though, is where the Sony h.ear in shines, though. Again, these are pretty great sounding buds. From the super hi-fidelity of FLAC files, to all the videos and music I listen to every day on my iPhone, these are worthy replacements for two sets of headphones I use daily. They came in the same five colours as the over-ear set — this one was Cinnabar Red — and features a tangle-free cable with inline remote and mic so you can take calls in-between tracks. It also charges by USB cable, which is included in the package, along with a nice and sturdy black carrying pouch.
Sony h.ear in Stereo Headphones
What can I say about these? These are essentially the same as the noise canceling earbuds, except without the noise canceling technology and USB charging. These came in black, and also have a nice canvas carrying pouch out of the box with extra little plastic ear nub thingies conveniently included. They’re a little bit smaller than the noise canceling h.ear in version, and seem to sit more stably, in my ears at least. Again, the 9mm high sensitivity driver supports high-resolution and wicked fidelity sound, so everything I tested it on came through loud and clear, full and natural. I’m also really starting to like Shakira after testing all three sets of headphones.
Despite the puntastic name, the Sony h.ear headphones are serious about sound. They’re stylish and versatile, and absolutely deliver crisp audio reproduction that anyone can appreciate. I kind of like that there are three different options in the brand, although the clear winner for me was the h.ear on over-ear cans. The sound was better, and although I tend to use earbuds the majority of the time, I could see myself switching sides just based on these… even in pink. They just fit my head so much better, and are super comfy. They don’t even have noise canceling tech, however I found they drowned out everything. Of course that could just be because I listen to music kind of loud. The noise canceling h.ear in earbuds are definitely going to replace my own bulkier noise-canceling phones, and I can get used to their slightly larger than usual size. It’s just got better sound. And since they, also let me use my phone, I don’t really need the other h.ear stereo headphones, however if you just wanted something to replace your default earbuds without any fancier features, I’d definitely consider these. I guess it all comes down to your own personal use, but if you are looking for an alternative to the Beats and Skullcandy crowd, you should h.ear what Sony has to offer. See what I did there? I can do puns, too.