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Sony MDR-V6.

Manufacturer: Sony, Sony Drive, Park Ridge, NJ 07656; 201/930-1000;

Price: $110

Source: Reviewer's spouse purchase

Reviewer: Howard Frestler

Actually, my wife has owned these phones for some time and I had assumed they were no longer available. However, when I recently saw a pair advertised in a J&R Music catalog for about $70, I checked with Sony and discovered that they are back in production (no doubt due to popular demand).

From what I gathered after making that phone call to Sony, the current version is the same as the older one. (The company's automatic phone answering/routing system is the most Byzantine electrical mechanism I have ever encountered, Windows 95 notwithstanding, but you can get through if you persist). Consequently, although I had originally intended to merely use the phones as a reference, I am reviewing them here, along with the phones that were supplied to me for testing. Note that the MDR-V6 is similar to the MDR-7506, "pro" model that many recording engineers happily use. The similarity was confirmed during the call to Sony.

Normally, my wife uses the V6s while riding her exercise bicycle, because that device generates too much noise for decent speaker listening and the phones do a pretty good job of masking outside racket. However, she also uses them for listening to assorted "talk" movies on her A/V system, while I am at the same time watching what she calls "mindless mayhem" movies on the big system in another part of the house. (We go our separate ways on Saturday nights). Even when I am not making noise elsewhere, she occasionally uses them for enjoying assorted PBS, British mystery shows she has taped, because they help her handle the dialogue better than speakers can -- any speakers. During my movie-watching digressions, she also occasionally uses the phones to listen to music, but like me, she is basically a speaker person.

This digression on family listening practices aside, I will note that the MDR-V6 is a spiffy looking item. The fit and finish is quite good and the ear pads are kind of a semi-around-the-ear design, that seals out noise fairly well without completely covering the ears themselves. They are reasonably lightweight, and the connecting cord is a coiled design, which some users will like and others will maybe not like quite so much. The cord has an unstretched length of about 6 feet, with a stretch limit of about 9 or 10 feet, although it feels genuinely awkward to pull it out that much. The plug at the end is a dual-use design, with a small mini-plug connector for connecting to a walkman or certain VCRs, plus an adaptor that fits over the mini-plug for interfacing with standard microphone-type jacks. Virtually all the phones reviewed used this kind of double-plug arrangement.

Factory specifications for the MDR-V6 include a 63-ohm rated impedance (at 1 kHz), a power-handling capacity of 1 watt (more than enough to thoroughly stew your inner ears), and a frequency response of 530,000 Hz (no tolerance stated). These were the specs as listed in the 1985-vintage, printed operating instructions that came with them. In fine print at the bottom, is the note that the "design and specifications subject to change without notice." I assume that this means that the models I have could be different from subsequent versions, but we will go on faith here (fortified by what a Sony parts guy told me on the phone) and assume that the company was satisfied enough with the earlier V6 model to leave things be.

Superficially, there are two ways to deal with headphones: you can either listen to them or you can measure them. However, a third way is to do both and then combine your impressions and measurements and come to some kind of rational conclusion. Number three is the one I chose.

A straightforward listening evaluation with the V6s was easy, because I have heard these phones off and on for a number of years and am pretty used to what they can do. Overall, they are rather bright and detailed sounding -- almost hot in the mid and upper range -- but still with surprisingly good subjective bass, flat down to maybe 40 Hz, with decent response to 35 Hz or so. Probably one reason that recording engineers like them (or the 7506 variant) is that they really are revealing, and can allow technicians to spot recording errors, particularly in the midrange, with important consistency. No doubt there are a lot of really expensive, high-end models that can do as well, or better, but the V6s (and no doubt the "professional" MDR-7506) combine this ability with a rough-and-tumble quality that make them hard to beat for monitor-room use.

The coiled cord was always easy to handle if I sat reasonably close to the connection jack, but at times it seemed a tad heavy. At somewhat longer distances, it did not have the comfortable reach of the other cords, particularly the lightweight and supple one that came with the Sennheisers, although when push came to shove it could extend almost as far as the latter. Well, it could reach pretty far, but the coiled nature of the thing always meant that the phones were being tugged on. Consequently, the maximum effective distance was really only about 6 feet. To comfortably hook up to a more distant source, one would have to employ an extension cable, and this does solve the tugging problem when my wife uses them. However, even the extension does not eradicate the somewhat heavy quality of the coiled, compact massiveness of the primary wire.

My measuring technique was not a match to what is done by really serious measurement enthusiasts, who probably would utilize a special template and shaped cavity around the microphone tip to simulate the effects of the outer ear. Most likely the manufacturers of "serious" headphones use something like this when voicing their products, and there is little doubt that for the very best results, this is the way to go.

I took the quick and easy route and flush mounted the CM-10 microphone that comes with my AudioControl, SA-3051, one-third-octave RTA through a small hole cut into a piece of heavy, dense cardboard. The mike and the cardboard template were then clamped into a home-made jig that was stabilized from behind by a stack of heavy books. The array was then turned into a surprisingly inert mass by means of several elastic-cords, that were carefully wrapped around the thick, book/cardboard/microphone combination.

With this synthetic "head" completed, I then was in a position to fit any headphone I cared to test over the volleyball-sized book stack, making sure, of course, that the microphone was dead center under the ear piece. A pink-noise input was then fed to the channel being measured, with a 20-second-averaging reading being taken by the SA-3051 to help give me a uniform picture of what the microphone was picking up.

The results with the MDR-V6 were heartening and gave me the impression that the test jig was reasonably able to determine the frequency-response ability of the phones, at least over a moderately wide bandwidth, because what I measured correlated nicely with what I had been hearing.

The V6s measured quite fiat, with a response variation of only +/- 2.5 dB from about 300 Hz on out to 10 kHz, with a 5 dB dip at about 3 kHz. If it were not for that dip, the response would have averaged +/- 1.5 dB. The overall output was actually rising moderately as the frequency climbed out towards about 5 kHz. The response above that point then fell off gradually on out to the 10kHz point. The latter was about 2 dB down from the average level.

This moderate tendency to rise toward the upper midrange would account for the somewhat bright, midrange-rich quality of the phones. The overall response was as good as what I have measured from a lot of pretty fine speakers over that range, including some models that would be considered high end, and was probably responsible for the well-etched clarity I heard in my listening session.

Below 300 Hz, the response took a 7 dB dip, centered at about 250 Hz, quickly rising back to +5 dB in the 80-100 Hz range, and then returned to the reference level at 50 Hz and fell off to 5 dB down at about 35 Hz. The response above 10 kHz (where as I previously noted, the output was already down 2 dB) continued to fall off smoothly, and was 7 dB down at about 12.5 kHz. If this were a speaker system, I would say that it had pretty darned good performance and would only be in need of a subwoofer to get into the reasonably big leagues, despite the attenuation above 10 kHz.

Yes, I realize that the treble above 10 kHz was a bit weak. However, with a lot of recordings this is not an outrageously bad thing at all. Indeed, many good speakers are intentionally rolled off that high up to help tame recordings that are on the "hot" side. Quite a lot of recordings, both old and contemporary, are in the hot category.

Overall, the MDR-V6s sounded pretty good with a variety of recordings. I listened to an older transcription of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (Telarc 80068), and found the headphones to be forward, detailed and clear. Indeed, with this still fine-sounding recording, they were very transparent. On Korngold's Symphony in F-Sharp (Delos 3234), I got a similar impression, with the orchestral detail very well defined. I also tried Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (London 410 124), another oldie but goodie that has a tendency to sound a bit overly full and reverberant (some might say boomy or bloated) on certain speaker systems. Here, the Sonys were in their element, and the mix of clarity and controlled bass tended to tame a recording that can sound pretty overwhelming at times.

Overall, my impressions of these phones, even though I had grown used to their sound with assorted listening sessions over the years, were very positive and I would have to recommend them very highly.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Sensible Sound
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Article Details
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Author:Ferstler, Howard
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 1999
Previous Article:Headphones: Are They High Fidelity?
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