Considering that the English use the term “brass” to refer to money, it is ironic that these Sonys are made from brass and yet the cheapest that made it into our best earphones under $100!
Brass has been used to make musical instruments for centuries, but rarely in modern audio hi-fi and electronics.
So are these Sony MDR-EX650 worth the brass or simply made out of it?
Sony MDR-EX650 TL:DR Review
- Great delivery of most music with punchy bass and mid-range
- Comfortable fit and good noise isolation
- Lovely open sound stage
- Excellent value for money
- They are a bit weighty in your ears after longer periods wearing them
- No volume control on the remote
Design & Build
The big differentiator of the MDR-EX650 is the use of brass for everything from the enclosure itself to the internal sound path, and Sony are not afraid of showing this off!
The overall effect is a bit hit or miss; I love the tactile feeling of the brass and the nice, solid, weighty feel of them in my hands, but the looks are a little bit too blingy steampunk for me.
The construction is a lovely thing and the delightfully machined enclosure is a mini marvel. Inside is a single 12mm active driver, which I thought might be a little large and may struggle with the top end requirements, but again, Sony seems to have got this balance right.
These MDR-EX650 are also pretty large by modern IEM standards and the weight also made me wary that they might not be that good to wear, regardless of the sound quality benefits that the brass construction might convey, but as you will find out later, I need not have worried.
The cable is good too – long enough to allow free movement of your head and to look at your device, but not so long that you have yards of cable flapping around if you need to run for a train…or just want to go for a run!
The cable also has a nice rubber coating which does a good job of minimising the tangles without the horrible tacky feeling of some cables. The plug is a right-angled variety and fitted well and showed no signs of fraying or cracking while I used them.
The remote sits on the left cable and contains a single button to receive calls and the microphone. The lack of a volume control can be seen as cost-cutting, but in reality I rarely ever use it – you just set the volume you want and off you go. This also means it works with iOS and Android phones. The microphone worked well enough, with nobody complaining about the quality and no crackles from the cable.
Overall, these are a really nice pair of earphones that give a great first impression and come with all the accessories you would expect; enough buds to fit pretty much anyone and the obligatory carry case.
The bud mount is angled forward from the main body. This looks a little ungainly but the buds fitted into my ear beautifully, so it must work.
They also come with four different tip sizes and I found no problem getting a good fit and a secure seal.
The rounded end of the driver enclosure nestles nicely at the bottom of your ear and the bud sits in a nice position far enough in to create a good seal, but still very comfortable.
This makes them snug, secure and the most comfortable in-ear headphones I have tried at this price point and most others besides
Sony claim that these have a frequency range of 5Hz to 28KHz, well beyond the range of the human ear. Sony also say that the brass construction suppresses unwanted vibration and resonates less than housings made from more traditional materials.
This, they say, keeps the sound stable for clearer mids to highs and a smoother low-frequency sound. But how does this stack up in reality?
On first listen, there is no doubt that these Sonys have been tuned to the warmer end of the spectrum, as is common with dynamic drivers. The 12mm driver gave plenty of bass extension, probably the best at this price point, but with plenty of control – it is not just a noise, you can really pick out the bass notes.
The midrange is just as well controlled giving you a warm, powerful delivery driving the music along with a real sense of pace and rythm. So far so good, but many dynamic drivers will do this, but can overrun the higher range detail.
The treble is where I was expecting these Sonys to fall down, but I was very pleasantly surprised as these were also delivered with a nice smooth, coherent quality. Somehow Sony have got their single driver to handle the entire audible range in a way that they all play together well to create a very harmonious sound.
This is no mean feat as they let you hear the detail in the treble without the tizzy shrillness or muddy dirge that plagues many other headphones. Sony say that this is because their internal duct is around 15% larger than their competitors. If this is true, it works really well!
The MDR-EX650 can follow rhythms with ease; stick on The Prodigy/Public Enemy mash-up “Shut ‘Em Up” and you cannot help but find yourself strutting around as the beats kick in and the brass section sends shivers down your spine.
Putting on something acoustic like Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” and the soundstage they create beautifully immersive, you could swear the vocals and instruments are placed all around you, it brings out the reverberations in the guitar and the warmth of the cellos. This is helped by the excellent noise isolation of the seal, but it is so immersive.
They aren’t phased by bouncy pop like Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” either, they bounce along without ever sounding muddled or swamped bringing out the layers in the sound and the rythmic drive. The synths were clear and sharp and the drums were tight and snappy.
With pretty much everything I tried they conveyed deep bass with serious weight while never drowning out the rest of the range letting the mids and vocals shine and the shimmering highs come through.
Overall, my only complaint with the sound is that there is a slight lack of detail in the treble, but I really didn’t care. Sony have got the balance of these buds just right, they’re just so listenable and a screaming bargain!
As you can probably tell, I really like these earbuds. The Sennheisers just pip them on the sound, but they cost about 50% more, so these are an absolute steal!
OK, they don’t have quite the accuracy and attack of some of the Sennheisers or more expensive headphones out there, but for some people, this slightly warmer sound may even be preferable as they are less tiring on the ears.
They also fit really well, some of the best I have ever tried. Secure and comfortable rarely go together as well as these and the seal is top-notch and probably helps account for the excellent sound they manage.
My one niggle is the looks – the brass feels really good, but this much of it on display is a bit much for me. I would love them even more if they made them available in black too, but I am getting a bit picky here.
So in summary, these headphones deserve to go on anyone’s shortlist and we gave them our best value award in our under $100 group test losing out to the Sennheisers for the overall award. But if youchoice99% of the Sennheisesr’s performance for about 2/3 the price, these are a truly excellent choice