Sony MDRHW700DS 9.1-Channel Wireless Surround Sound HeadphonesManufacturer: Sony
List Price: $499.99
Sony MDRHW700DS 9.1-Channel Wireless Surround Sound HeadphonesManufacturer: Sony
List Price: $499.99
Sony’s MDR-HW700DS surround headphones ($499).
This headphone is for home theater installations not for mobile devices, it uses a base unit that serves as HDMI switcher as well, and it should appeal to movie viewers rather than video game enthusiasts.
The headphone plays multi-channel movies with an immersive field effect and reproduces surround sounds with relatively accurate localization. It should be particularly suitable for living spaces that are not adequately insulated for the high volume levels of typical home theater speakers/subwoofers, such as apartments, dorms, and shared environments where a surround multi-speaker setup may bother others.
The headphones may be a solution to the hearing impaired, which is becoming a very high percentage of the US population, and who usually tend to increase the volume of the center channel speaker for better speech intelligibility on a movie, or all the channels, imposing his/her preferred higher volume to other viewers who maybe listening to the same source using the speaker setup in the same home theater. This headphone allows the control of the center channel and subwoofer separately.
The following are the specs according to Sony:
In The Box
Inputs and Outputs
Weights and Measurements
Wireless Cinematic Surround Sound
Hear cinematic realism with immersive 9.1 channel wireless surround sound headphones and processing that supports most HD formats and even 192 kHz/24-bit including Dolby® TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio files. Flexible connectivity let’s you choose between: HDMI® for HD formats and 4K pass through, traditional RCA’s for analog audio signals or the optical input for legacy equipment.
Virtual Digital Surround Sound
Enjoy immersive 9.1 ch surround sound thanks to Sony-exclusive Virtual Phones Technology (VPT). Building upon traditional 5.1 ch, the VPT circuitry adds two additional rear channels and two front-high channels for added vertical depth of sound effects to deliver a more realistic surround sound experience gives movies cinematic realism.
Selectable Sound-Field Modes
The MDR-HW700DS offers three user selectable sound fields modes. Cinema ensures an authentic theater like experience thanks to collaborations with Sony Pictures Entertainment. The multi-channel Game mode enhances the sense of direction for superior gaming experiences. Select 2-channel Voice mode for clearer voices during news or talking programs.
The compact transmitter with source and signal indicators offers a variety of inputs. Choose between 3 HDMI® inputs With 4K pass-through for connecting HD devices like a cable box, Blu-ray™ player or gaming console, traditional RCA inputs for analog signals or optical input for legacy equipment. The audio processor supports most HD formats with 192 kHz/24-bit uncompressed audio files including Dolby® TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
Enjoy long battery life
The built-in, rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery provides up to 12 hours of continuous playback on a full charge. A quick 30 minute charge using the included micro-USB cable provides up to 2 hours of use while full charging capacity takes approximately 3 hours.
Test and Review
Although the surround sound effect is DSP generated using just two 50 mm drivers to create the illusion of depth and to simulate multiple discrete locations of sound the resultant sounds and effects gave the impression of having several speakers around the head.
The headphones provided a clear sound representation of the environment when playing back movies or concerts, with a rather wide soundstage (perhaps too wide). I did not detect noise, hum, or hiss that interfered considerably with the audio performance or in moments of silence.
Although these headphones do not sound as good as some of the best headphones one may use for stereo music (my Grado pair comes to mind), one has to remember that they are designed for two different purposes, classical music and a stereo stage is not the apparent forte of this product, and I did not expect for it to be, unless you like the orchestra playing inside your head with a Cinema effect rather than in front of you like performers on a stage.
Center channel reproduction with clarity is a typical weakness of surround headphones. Most headphones reproduce voices of the dialogue on movies with an echo/delay that affects the intelligibility and the realism of the link between sound and image, particularly on close-ups where the sound is expected to originate from the front.
This is typically my main focus while evaluating surround headphones, the majority of them unfortunately fail that test, and although these Sony headphones are better in that area they do not replace the sound placement of a discrete center channel for dialogue. I did not expect Sony’s to be flawless, but yes superior to the competition in this area, considering its higher price, and it did.
As I mentioned before, center channel intelligibility is particularly important for those that have a hearing impairment. A surround headphone may be a good solution to avoid having to increase the volume of the whole set of home theater speakers to compensate for the hearing deficiency for voices, which may then be too loud for action passages in many movies; or just having to increase the center speaker volume and alter the sonic balance with the other channels, and affect the audio experience of other movie viewers listening thru the speakers in the same room.
The center channel depiction in the Sony was reasonably good but still with some echo, giving voices the appearance of coming from a larger/empty environment, however, the effect was not the artificial cave echo effect of most competitors, and the dialogue still felt as coming within the head rather than at front as a center channel on a home theater would reproduce.
The bass in general was balanced and sufficient for movie playback. The Neox setting sounded wider, while PLIIx setting gave less clarity to the center dialogue. The Game mode gave better localization of gun shots from all the directions on action movie content, I have not tested the headphones for a purpose of gaming, but I would not use that setting for a movie soundtrack, it was too vivid. However, every user has different preferences regarding which DSP modes please her/him more.
The Cinema setting conveyed a wide sound effect which also contributed to a dialog/center channel echo that affected dialogue intelligibility. Some settings brought more bass that I would have preferred to my taste, but on Cinema the sounds of various frequencies were more balanced, however, Beethoven Seventh’s symphony sounded better when the DSP was completely off, in other words when performing like regular headphones.
In contrast, Beethoven’s Seventh sounded beautifully with the multi-speaker speaker setup, decoding two channel-stereo to create DTS Neo or Dolby’s effects, enhancing the performance without ruining the front stage and the localization of the instruments. Was I expecting that this $499 set of headphones/DSP processor with just two small 50 mm drivers would sound like a $25,000 Theta preamp, four amps, and 15 speakers in my home theater?
Absolutely not, I expected for the Sony headphones to be much inferior considering the challenge of electronics and drivers, but I was gladly surprised that the sound was pleasant enough to continue listening thru the headphones even when I can blast my sound system on an insulated room.
Ergonomics, Features, Product Presentation
The headphones enclosure is made of a plastic that gives the appearance of a low quality product, and the price is not consistent with that. There is no case to protect the headphones when not in use. There is no stand for the headphones to be placed on while recharging like other headphones do. There is no charger adaptor, just the supplied USB/mini-USB cord, so the user has to furnish his/her own AC to USB converter to charge the headphone battery. The included AC adaptor is the energy source from a wall outlet to operate the base unit; it is not for recharging the headphones.
The headphones are not noise/sound canceling units, and they are not supposed to be, but are not insulated enough to completely leave out the sounds of the room, which merge with the sounds reproduced by its drivers.
If more than one person is viewing the same movie using the room speakers the headphone receives an echo/delay effect that interferes with its own internal performance, and that may prompt them to listen to the same soundtrack thru their own headphones or with the speakers at a volume that may be too low for an immersive experience. A solution may be to improve the isolation of the headphones, or to add a canceling circuitry to reject the external sounds, so they would not interfere with the internal sounds.
Battery replacement is not offered as a user option, and it was not possible to test (or to know) the battery longevity, nor the price of servicing the unit for battery replacement, if offered by Sony.
The headphones felt comfortable for prolonged wearing. I tested them for over a month, in one case viewing two whole movies back to back and never felt the need to remove the headphones from my head to rather listen to the actual home theater speaker setup, the surround effect was very effective and involving, regardless if the input signal was a two channel audio unconverted by the headphones with digital signal processing (DSP) or was a lossless DTS Master Audio or Dolby True HD discrete multichannel movie the base unit accepts and decodes, which is a rarity on surround headphones.
I would have preferred for the subwoofer and center channel settings to been able to be adjusted on any audio mode setting, a two channel stereo input signal with subwoofer may benefit from that feature.
No remote control is provided for the operation of the switcher/base unit, the user has to operate the small buttons on the headphones as remote, however, there are no headphone buttons for the Matrix and Compression settings of the base, so one has to stand up and press buttons on the base unit for those settings. A small infrared remote would have been ideal considering that the base unit is also an HDMI switch that may need to be operated without having to wear the headphones.
The main menu settings are only displayed on the TV connected to the base with HDMI, a single line LCD display on the front of the base unit would have been ideal so a TV would not be required to see the settings as they are adjusted, which is useful for audio only use.
Switching from headphones mode to TV or audio system mode takes the unit a few seconds after turning off/removing the headphones.
Two key questions arise: A) Does it really replace a 9.1 channel home theater performance with 10 amplified speakers in the room? And B) Does it justify the $499 price?
The answer depends on your particular need, the headphones can be a savior to your hearing problems/room situation, but they could be a luxury toy to others who seldom use them on occasion (my case, but I do not live on an apartment).
The price may be justified when the headphones are the only solution available to your problem. This product has very small competition in the surround headphones market, and the majority of those are oriented to video games, less expensive but with a lower audio quality, especially regarding the dialogue clarity.
Additionally, as I said before, no other surround headphone that I know can accept and decode lossless DTS Master Audio or Dolby True HD streamed soundtracks, so if you are looking to connect your Blu-ray player with HDMI to enjoy that higher quality of surround sound in private look no further.
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, April 25, 2015 6:53 PM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.