Headphone Remorse

I was at Best Buy last night with a couple gift cards looking for something to buy. I’ve been needing some headphones for my Rio Karma for a while, as my pair of cheap Sony MDR-E828LP‘s were damaged last semester. I’ve wanted to have a very nice set of headphones for a while, so looking on the shelves of Best Buy I found a pair of Sony MDR-EX51LP‘s for $40. I figured $40 would be a nice pricepoint for me to move from my $10 headphones, but still keep from spending $100+ on serious earbuds. I had read to stay away from the EX51LP’s, but these warnings were posted on audiophile forums. I have a pretty critical ear, but surely I’m not as critical as these people… I have never listened to a pair of $300 headphones, so I figure my benchmark for good sound is quite low. The EX51LP’s have a sealed earpiece that squeezes into the ear canal, supposedly offering superior bass. I’d love to have some more bass for my techno, so I figured I’d give them a shot.

I checked out of Best Buy, depleting my gift cards and spending $6 of my own money. I got out to my car and extracted the headphones from the packaging. I loaded A Snow Capped Romance by 36 Crazyfists into the playlist on my Karma and slipped the earbuds into my ears. The $40 Sony EX51LP’s were some of the worst headphones I have ever heard. I played with all EQ settings on my Karma, but nothing could rid the music of the shroud of muddiness. Highs were sloppy and lows were lacking. That’s right… headphones that advertise superior bass performance actually reproduced very little bass from the recording. I loaded up other albums and played with the EQ more, but nothing could be done for these headphones. I slipped everything back into the packaging and walked back into Best Buy. I returned the EX51LP’s and grabbed a trusty pair of E828LP’s, the same pair I had before, for $12. I listened to them immediately, and was very pleased with what I heard. They don’t sound perfect, but they will hold me over until I can afford quality earbuds. I’m glad I tried the EX51LP’s because I’ve been curious about them for a long time. I just can’t understand how Sony can make both of these earbuds, and the $12 pair can so dramatically outperform the $40 pair.

Of course, this is all according to my ears, and your own results may vary.

[Edit] Looking back and reading others’ experiences with these headphones, I’ve concluded that a number of things may have affected my experience. First of all, I may have not had them inserted into my ears far enough, or my ear cannals may not be shapped properly. Second, I may have had a defective pair. If you are interested in these phones, I suggest picking them up at a brick and mortar store with a good return policy so you can see how they fit you for yourself.

Chris Owens


  1. Sony make some pretty awful headphones.

    Just check the spec on the back, for the frequency range and they’re already looking sader than the $10 less equivalent from Philips.

  2. At that pricepoint though, you really can’t believe anyone’s charts. Most of the frequency range they list isn’t produced at a volume loud enough to be audible to the listener.

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