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$9 Headphone Review: Sony MDR-ZX110

amirm

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This is a review of Sony MDRZX110 to figure out if a US $9.99 headphone on Amazon including Prime shipping has good performance. There are over 45,000 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.5 stars saying it has that. But let's find out!

I must say, as cheaply as the Sony is made, it doesn't look like kids toys as some do in this price range:

Sony MDR-ZX110 Review Budget Headphone.jpg


The pad kind of feels luxurious if you lower your standard somewhat:

Sony MDR-ZX110 Review Budget Padding Headphone.jpg



Due to very low eight (about 4 ounces) and rather soft pads, I found the MDR-ZX110 quite comfortable to wear. After just a few minutes you forget about it. It is certainly more comfortable than much larger headphones. There is a bit of sound isolation which was enough to get rid some of the high-pitch whine from my PC's fan. This obviously will different depending on your ears.

Naturally this is an on-ear headphone which should make it "fun" to measure.

Note 1: The measurements you are about to see are preformed using standardized GRAS 45CA headphone measurement fixture. Headphone measurements require more interpretation than speaker tests and have more of a requirement for subjective testing as a result. In addition, comparison of measurements between different people doing it using different configurations requires fair bit of skill. So don't look for matching results. Focus on high level picture.

Note 2: I worked for Sony back in 1990s for good number of years. So while I like to see them do well in these reviews, I have no attachment to the company or its products.

Sony MDR-ZX110 Measurements
The flexible artificial ear on my Gras fixture was a big help in getting something close to how a human would wear it, compressing under the load. Even with that help, I was getting measurements of each cup that was 4 to 5 dB different from each other and skewed in time (different path length to the microphone). I played around for a good while and right before giving up, I landed on one placement where both channels locked on top of each other. Figuring this was a good omen, I ran with it:

Sony MDR-ZX110 Frequncy Response Measurement.png


Due to fitment issues, I would not trust the order magnitude of shortfall in lower bass frequencies but for sure, there is insufficient energy there. Actually, there is insufficient energy in multiple areas. This may be the reason behind the success of this headphone: by not having too much energy in lower and upper treble, it is NOT going to sound bright. Then again it will sound dull because a lot of the sparkle, soundstage, etc. comes from those regions. We see the shortfalls if you subtract the response from our target preference curve:

Sony MDR-ZX110 measurement relative frequency response.png


Distortion graph looks simultaneously excellent and horrible depending on which part of the frequency range you look at:

Sony MDR-ZX110 measurement relative distortion.png


I don't know how much to trust the low frequency distortions but above 500 Hz, the response is actually excellent at 94 dBSPL and even 104 dBSPL, beating even state of the art speakers in this regard! Compare this to our recently reviewed, $3000 Abyss Diana V2:

index.php


See how much more distortion Diana V2 has in mid frequencies where our hearing is most sensitive? This $9 headphone runs circles around it there.

Let's look at the distortion using absolute level (rather than percentage above):

Sony MDR-ZX110 measurement THD distortion.png


Other than a blip or two, the MDR-ZX110 easily beats our 40 dB threshold for distortion.

Group delay is more or less clean which somewhat explains why distortion is so low in mid to high frequencies:

Sony MDR-ZX110 measurement Group Delay.png


sensitivity is on the high side:

most efficieny budget headphone review.png


However, the impedance is low which means you need a headphone amplifier that does well in my 33 ohm measurements:

Sony MDR-ZX110 measurement  Impedance.png


This is probably easier had on portable devices than headphones needing voltage.

Sony MDR-ZX110 Headphone Listening Tests and Optimization
My quick listen resulted in impression of somewhat muffled sound and slight over-presence of upper bass. Both of these are reflected in the frequency response. The main area of output is in 100 to 400 Hz so that dominates. Result is inoffensive sound but we can do so much better with EQ:

Sony MDR-ZX110 equalization eq.png


I went conservative with sub-bass enhancement as even with this amount, any track with that kind of content produced distorted notes. Without it, the distortion was not very audible but then again the notes where not that present either. In vast amount of music however, this bass enhancement was needed to balance the overall spectrum and benefits far outweighed the negatives.

The three other peaking filters were as the frequency response instructed (eyeballed by me and optimized by ear).

I must say, I was not prepared for the transformation that these four filters made. The result was an extremely accurate and audiophile headphone! If I performed a blind test, I am pretty sure many people would think this is a high-end headphone. It certainly beats out majority of speakers out there. I was most impressed with detail, clarity and spatial effects. The latter was also a surprise. Maybe the drivers sit an angle and provide for better results there. While you don't have a huge soundstage, the instrument separation is quite good and satisfying.

This thing sounded so good and was so comfortable that I kept listening to it last night and still doing it this morning! Here are a couple of example tracks that make your jaw drop with this headphone and EQ: Mercedes Sosa - Misa Criolla (track: Kyrie)


Mercedes' voice soars in this album. After a slow start the choir and instruments kick in and the result is a fantastic experience making you forget you are listening to a dirt cheap headphone. Even the deep bass is reproduced excellently at around 3:20. FYI the real track sounds better than this youtube version.

Deen Peer's Mars track sounds good on just about any system but there, I love the balance and clarity:


Conclusions
When I picked up this headphone randomly to test last night, I did not have high hopes for it at all. Cheap price and cheap feeling headphone. Can't be a good combination. Without equalization, it may be better than other junk headphones but otherwise, nothing I would use or recommend. But EQ this headphone and it produces reference quality sound! Yes, I know there will be riots in streets over this statement. But try it: it costs the same as a fast food meal.

What's that? You don't use EQ? Well, I don't want to hear. Actually, I don't even want to know you! You are wasting away your audiophile life without it. For zero cost you can transform a $9 headphone to a reference quality reproduction engine and you still don't want to go there? If so, I have nothing for you!

If you are not into headphones but want to know what the fuss is about for no money, buy this $9 headphone and put in my EQ. If you don't fall off your chair with excitement and get your pants wet with drool, I will come over and cancel out your audiophile credentials myself!

Needless to say, I highly recommend the Sony MDR-ZX110 headphone. Without EQ, it is acceptable but nothing I would rave about.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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amirm

amirm

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FYI I measured this headphone when I had the B&K 5128. Here are those results:

index.php


As you see, I tried a few placements. There is good correlation up to 1 kHz but above that clear we don't have the right target preference curve for 5128. It implies all is well there but it certainly not as the review showed.
 

Prutser

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Amirm said: “If you are not into headphones but want to know what the fuss is about for no money, buy this $9 headphone and put in my EQ. If you don't fall off your chair with excitement and get your pants wet with drool, I will come over and cancel out your audiophile credentials myself!”

Got the feeling all that fruit from the garden the end of the summer, shown to us, is not all dried and frozen but some of it was converted into a drinkable alcoholic substance by Amirm.

Thanks for the review.
 
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SJ777

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What's that? You don't use EQ? Well, I don't want to hear. Actually, I don't even want to know you! You are wasting away your audiophile life without it.
Wonderful line. Good equalizing of headphones is like good seasoning of food. Without it you are denying yourself. So shake that salt, shake that pepper and equalize those damn phones!
 

sweetchaos

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Doodski

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Great set of cans for the kids, for use where they may be broken and are disposable and for those on a budget. :D
 
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the_brunx

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what are the best eq options out there when using a streaming service on a mac?

...I'm thinking the headphone market can be revolutionised by a dac or dac-amp which offers a build in convenient eq solution.
even better with eq preset settings for different known headphones or a Database.
it really needs to be created.
 
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amirm

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"Misa Criolla's voice soars in this album".... It's Mercedes who sings I belive ;)
How embarrassing! :) Fixed. Don't know how I got that wrong seeing how I was reading about her yesterday....
 
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amirm

amirm

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what are the best eq options out there when using a streaming service on a mac?
If you are using Qobuz or Tidal, then the Roon player with its built-in EQ is ideal.
 

SJ777

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Did you mean to say majority of headphones or was this intended?
I suspect intended. You can experience top quality audio via phones at a fraction of the cost that you can via speakers.

Transparent DAC, transparent HPA and good headphones (or well equalized headphones that cost $10).
 
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amirm

amirm

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Did you mean to say majority of headphones or was this intended?
No, I meant speakers. This is the kind of sound I wish speakers would produce but very few do. I am trying to get diehard speaker guys to give headphones a try. :)
 
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