Sony MDR-MA900 Impressions and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by Hands, Feb 6, 2016.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    5,689
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    The Sony MDR-MA900 is certainly an interesting headphone. It is the spiritual successor to the MDR-F1, just sexier, sleeker, blacker, and with a bigger D(river). I believe it shares the same or a similar type of 70mm driver as seen in the Z7. Like the MDR-F1, this is an open-back headphone with an angled driver that is vented on the front-rear side of the driver. As Marv put it, this is similar to having a driver suspended in air in front of you. That said, the pads are relatively thin and seem to be made entirely of cloth + interior padding, so not only are your ears close to the driver, there's not much between you and the open drivers.

    Note: This headphone is discontinued, at least in the USA. You can still find used pairs and international pairs on various forums and eBay.

    Picture Time! (And Some Thoughts on Comfort)

    Let's look at some pretty pictures to make it easier to visualize. (These are random internet images, and I do not take credit for them. Just saving you time from having to Google them yourself.)

    Below we see the MDR-MA900 in its full glory. It looks nicer in person. Pictures make it look like a cheap, flimsy $30 headphone with huge drivers, if you understand how big they are to begin with. However, I've been told these use some sort of lightweight, yet strong, metal material in many parts of the headphone. Don't get me wrong, the headphone is flimsy and flexible, yet also feels like it won't break unless you purposely step on it with the sole purpose of trying to break it. Think of it as solidly flimsy. This isn't something you want to toss in a backpack full of crap, but it should last you a good long while if you treat it nicely at home.

    It's very comfortable to wear due to it being so slim and light, though the top portion of the headband could use a bit more cushion to help prevent any uncomfortable hot spots. If you bend the top part of the headband to better fit the bumpy, ugly curvature of your skull, it's mostly a non-issue.

    [​IMG]

    Here we see that vent I was talking about at the rear end of the angled driver. There's no real baffle that the driver is mounted in or on...it's just all driver on the front side. Plenty of space for even the largest ears.

    [​IMG]

    As you can see, the entire purpose of the rear-side vent is to push all sound through the rear of the headphone, bypass your ears, and send it towards the back of your head, where your hairs are most sensitive to sound. This makes for an interesting listening experience unlike any you've heard before. (In reality, this is what makes it like having a driver suspended in free air.)

    [​IMG]

    Subjective Impressions

    The MDR-MA900 is rolled off on the low end, usable only to about 50-60Hz, has a touch of an emphasis in the mid-bass through lower-mid area, and is slightly bright. I'm not talking HD650 level of mid-bass emphasis, nor am I talking HD800 or, say, AKG K7XX levels of bright. It's just as I said; It's slightly warm and slightly bright, yet close enough to a fairly neutral curve to still sound good.

    Staging is wider, a bit more curved, and sits more in front of you than the HD6X0 family. Naturally, if you're doing any listening tests or comparisons for staging and imaging, or if you get too turned off by the HD6X0s staging characteristics and abilities, the MDR-MA900 will serve you better. It's not the widest, largest, or airiest headphone I've heard, but it does well enough and makes for an engaging listen if staging is what you're after.

    In those aspects alone, I think Marv put it best when he said, "Think of it as an HD600 lite with [a] deeper and more open sound." In many ways, it does sound similar to the HD600. The most noticeable differences are the lack of bass extension on the MDR-MA900 and the leaner midrange. If you're like me, you'll notice the MDR-MA900 is not as emphasized in the upper-mids and lower-treble as the HD600.

    The MDR-MA900 does share a bit of the HD600's upper-mid/lower-treble bump, but whereas I find the HD600 too "hot" to listen to, the MDR-MA900 seems to push this emphasis up a bit further in the spectrum and with a less aggressive presentation. So, instead of "hot," it just adds to a sense of clarity and attack with the downside being it can make the MDR-MA900 sound a bit steely or splashy at times.

    When compared to the HD650, the HD650 sounds fuller and has a much smoother and slightly more neutral midrange and treble. The MDR-MA900 is thinner, cooler, and sounds a bit more like steel, but it does have this nice sense of transient speed and clarity, on top of surprisingly similar resolving capabilities, that still make the MDR-MA900 an engaging listen. Going back-to-back almost makes the HD650 sound a bit slow and veiled until you readjust to its sound (and it is still a better sound overall, the HD650 that is). Thankfully, the staging abilities of the MDR-MA900 give it something that make it worth picking up over the HD650 depending on your mood. It's not a shock to go back and forth between the HD650 and MDR-MA900. Both are engaging to listen to, sometimes for the same reasons, and sometimes for different reasons.

    I do want to reiterate that I find this driver to sound surprisingly snappy, fast, and tight. You might be surprised how well it keeps up with the HD6X0 on detail retrieval, even if it's possible it's just the brighter sound making it seem a bit sharper sounding.

    On Channel Balance, How Placement Affects Sound, and Amp Pairings

    I have found the MDR-MA900 to be very picky about where you put it on your head. You can noticeably change the sound by shifting it forward and backward, much like the HD800. Getting the best channel balance might require some placement fiddling to get it just right.

    However, I have noticed that if you always hear some inherent channel imbalances, it could be the amp you're using. From my DIY Butte, which doesn't have great channel matching to begin with, the MDR-MA900 always seems to be a tad bit imbalanced. I have to crank the volume quite high to get it where it needs to be.

    From the Eddie Current Super 7, I have zero channel balance issues, save for when the volume pot is set very low, as is the case with any headphone. I am not sure why the imbalances goes away with the S7.

    I've also found the MDR-MA900 pairs better with the Super 7 in general, especially with some warmer sounding tubes. It helps it sound a bit fuller and less bright in a good way. From the Butte and my phone, even though it gets plenty loud, it sounds thinner, brighter, and generally just harder or more metallic. Still not too bad, but I much prefer it from the Super 7.

    Built-In Crossfeed?

    I have noticed that the MDR-MA900 plays the opposite channel, very softly, in the main/other driver (so, a bit of left plays in right, and vice versa). I tried this from all of my sources and amps and made absolutely sure I was hearing this correctly. I think a few others have noticed this before based on a quick Google search.

    There's a possibility this contributes to the MDR-MA900's strong staging capabilities and how, despite being a bit bright, it remains fairly easy to listen to. That is, I've read crossfeed can make headphones sound more natural and less fatiguing, though I've never experimented with that myself to verify.

    I am wondering if it's possible to bypass this. I know you can bypass the resistors on the wiring PCBs, so perhaps through different PCB contact points, which I believe exist, and new wiring to each driver directly, one could circumvent the crossfeed. On the other hand, it might not be such a bad thing to leave in there.

    I might try the resistor mod for shits and giggles.

    Measurements

    Due to the angled nature of the drivers and my in-ear mic, which my right ear doesn't seem to like anymore (won't stay in), I'm stuck with left channel measurements.

    Frequency response results show a slightly U-shaped or M-shaped response, with the emphasis points being around 90Hz and 3.5KHz-5.5KHz. The bass drops off severely around 50Hz, but the treble remains fairly well extended overall with some drop-off above 9-10KHz. The brightness is likely caused by that lower-treble emphasis. Still, these sound somewhat neutral, if both a bit warm and bright, and are more engaging sounding that the response alone might indicate.

    Sony MDR-MA900 Left FR.png

    Distortion results look good until you get to below 100Hz. These results show more distortion than the HD650 with bass, though it's probably less of an issue than you'd think. It's common to see distortion climb like this when the bass rolls off on these types of headphones, at least based on many measurements I've seen.

    Sony MDR-MA900 Left FR and THD.png

    CSDs look fairly good. They are not as clean or fast as the HD650, but there is no major ringing or other nastiness.

    Sony MDR-MA900 Left CSD.PNG

    Assuming a fairly centered position with a bit of variation here and there, the MDR-MA900 has a surprisingly consistent response. It's not until you start shifting if very far back and forward that things really change.

    Sony MDR-MA900 Left Raw FR.png

    Here is what happens when you push the MDR-MA900 very far back, that is, with the front (non-vented) portion of the headphones essentially touching the front of your ears.

    MDR-MA900 pushed far back.PNG

    This is the opposite, where I've pushed it far forward. My ears were close to touching the back rim of the headphone.

    MDR-MA900 pushed far forward.PNG

    Here's what happens when you push it far enough forward, and downward as well, that your ears do touch the back rim. This is not comfortable for long-term listening, but the subjective effects are interesting.

    MDR-MA900 pushed uncomfortably far forward and down.PNG

    What about if you wear it normally but cover up most of the back of the cups with your hand?

    MDR-MA900 back covered with hand.PNG

    What about if you block off most of the front/rear-side vent? I used a layer of a bath mat for this, which was large enough to not only fill most of the vent but also fit up against the open rim on the rear of the headphone. I thought this might reduce reflections off that plastic. This makes them bassier, more extended, less bright, but does make the midrange dip stronger.

    MDR-MA900 bath mat back mod.PNG

    Here is a rough look at how the MDR-MA900 compares if you used a modded HD650 as the reference (flat) point. I believe this compensation curve was used when my HD650 had more compressed ear pads, which boosted the bass a bit on the HD650. Still, the MDR-MA900 is a leaner, less extended below, and somewhat brighter headphone than the HD650.

    MDR-MA900 hd650 compensation comparo.PNG

    Conclusion, in Bullet Points

    - Slightly warm, slightly bright sound signature with a noticeable low end roll-off. Usable to about 55Hz. Still fairly decent sounding response, though, but can be a bit steely sounding.
    - Sort of like an HD600 with less bass, less thickness, less "hot" sounding. Wider and more engaging stage than HD600.
    - HD650 is smoother and much fuller sounding.
    - MA900 surprisingly snappy and resolving. Since it is still neutral-ish and has that nice staging ability, it makes for an interesting and engaging listen.
    - Very dependent on placement.
    - Pairs best with warmer, lusher amps. Some amps might make the MDR-MA900 sound like it has a channel balance problem.
    - MDR-MA900 seems to have built-in crossfeed.
    - Not as well rounded as the HD6X0 family, but worth as an alternative for something slightly different OR for very lightweight, comfortable listening if you can snag a pair for around $200 or less.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2016
    Melvillian, Dino, Wilson and 12 others like this.
  2. RiddleyWalker

    RiddleyWalker Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    214
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Location:
    Cincinnati
    I've had an eye on these for a while, interesting design and they look really comfortable. That bass rolloff might kill it for me though. Outside of covering up the vents, has anybody tried any mods that extend bass or otherwise smooth out the FR?
     
  3. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2015
    Likes Received:
    560
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    93
    The want is strong in my neck of the wood, these are superb.
     
  4. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,788
    Dislikes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Sebastopol, CA
    Home Page:
    I plan to try some. Presently getting a measurement rig together to avoid blind experimentation.

    I will say that my MA900s are a fun listen, even with the dropoff in the lowest octave. The strong midbass + detailed presentation + nice soundstage make for a lot of enjoyment, even out of a modest source like my iphone 6+.
     
  5. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    5,689
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    I can't think of ways to extend the bass with mods unless you throw out the idea of it being like a driver suspended in air. That's part of the what makes the headphone unique. If that's not something you're concerned about, I think it will mostly come down to closing up that vent all the way and partially closing off the back too. Maybe reducing/changing some of the front damping.
     
    philipmorgan likes this.
  6. Maxvla

    Maxvla Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2015
    Likes Received:
    117
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Location:
    OKC
    I've had these for a while now and absolutely love them. Not the most precise, but clean enough and have an engaging warm tone, and they are a dream to wear. I think I paid $150 for my set, a steal at that price.

    By the way, the metal, you referred to in your OP, is magnesium.
     
    philipmorgan likes this.
  7. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,588
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Dijon / Burgundy / France / EU
    Funnily, I bought this headphone a month ago. As much as I like it I'm not as positive as you guys. I compared it to a HD600 ( Driven by a GOv2) and still prefer the 600 by a fair margin ( for its better cohesiveness and tone mainly) I'll measure mine and share the results + some subjective impressions here later.

    I definitely enjoy this MA900 as my Work headphone though.
     
  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    5,689
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Well the HD600/650 are definitely better for cohesiveness and tone. I still listen to the HD650 primarily. The MA900 really helps if you're looking for a bigger stage. HD600/650 can sound a bit closed in. And if you don't find the HD800 pleasing to listen to, then the MA900 occupies a nice area.
     
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Possibly psycho

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    31,519
    Dislikes Received:
    46
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    Excellent!. I am glad that you wrote this up. The MA900 is the only headphone that I use regularly other than the modded HD650. I'll easily use this at my desk when I am too lazy to grab the HD650 from the other room. The HD600/650 are overall better, but it's difficult to complain about the MA900 because of its street price of $150. Besides, the MA900 images better than the HD600/650 - the drivers are suspended in front of your ears like the HD800 . In fact they are more open, with the physical gap, almost like an open baffle (hence the bass roll-off). The roll-off isn't as bad that many may think. I agree that a laid-back solid-state or tube amp is the way to go. Not referring to rolled-off top end, but solid-state gear with hard edge or nasties should be avoided. Interesting about the built-in crossfeed. I will have to check this out - it certainly explains a lot of things.

    Think of this headphone as poor man's HD800, HD600, or K1000.
     
    Psalmanazar, bonehead and Hands like this.
  10. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    5,689
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Thankfully I was able to get them at right around $150. The eBay listing was sketchy listing...just one picture and no description whatsoever. Took a risk, and it came in fine in wonderful condition. Better than all the $200+ listings, but I could still see some finding these worth $230-240 or so.

    But, yes, exactly as you said. Agreed on those points.
     
  11. mtoc

    mtoc SBAF's Resident Shit-Stirrer

    Banned
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2015
    Likes Received:
    85
    Dislikes Received:
    84
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Does MA900 also scale like hell?
     
  12. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,588
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Dijon / Burgundy / France / EU
    IME and IMO, the MA900 exhibits a kind of papery and somewhat unfocused mids I'm not that fond of. that been said , I found it's sensitive to amping. bad amped, the MA900 can sound a bit dull while it scales significantly with better amps. My 2 cents.

    For sure, mine won't go anywhere and will stay in my stable. I bought it for 140€ and didn't regret the buy. I'd like to compare it to a HD598/558 for example.
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Possibly psycho

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    31,519
    Dislikes Received:
    46
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    Not as much as HD600/650/800. I'd say probably just a bit more than the TH-X00. Maybe around TH-900 level. Don't let the flimsy construction fool you. The downside is that the timbre quality is about HD558/598 level, and nothing can change that.
     
  14. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,316
    Dislikes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Clear, clear water
    Is eBay the cheapest place to find these now?
     
  15. shipsupt

    shipsupt Admin

    Staff Member Friend Contributor
    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,448
    Dislikes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    What am I missing here? Nothing here is making me want to hear this headphone.

    How many crappy $200 compromise headphones do I want around? I'm thinking... none.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
  16. EraserXIV

    EraserXIV Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2015
    Likes Received:
    63
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    Agree with sorrodje and shipsupt. I owned these for a few months, and while I liked them, I didn't really see a reason to keep them around anymore. They're very comfortable with a decent tonal balance and decent SQ, but could be a bit dull at times and made too many sacrifices on resolution.

    They were a great value for the <$200 price bracket for a time, but since the release of the K7XX they don't really fill a niche anymore. We've come a long way and those sacrifices no longer need to be made if your budget is ~$200.

    The MA900 does scale with an amp, but the K7XX scales just as well and starts out from a higher level.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2016
    shipsupt likes this.
  17. munch

    munch Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    23
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Location:
    N EU
    :) you're not wrong, these are no end-game by any means.
    that said, I do like them for gaming and for their price the sound is good. comfort is awesome. I was able to get mine for $120ish, or 105 euros a while back.

    I am looking forward to any modding on these. also noticed the cross-feed too but indeed not sure if it bothers me.
     
  18. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    5,689
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Depends on how much you care about staging and imaging. They are much better in that regard than the HD600/650 and closer to the HD800 without the nasty tone and potentially lean sound. It's like purrin said, they're about as close as you can get to an open baffle speaker in headphone form without sounding totally weird. Couple that with excellent comfort, a surprisingly fast and detailed sound, and a decent tonal balance, they're actually well worth a listen in the $150-200 range.
     
  19. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,588
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Dijon / Burgundy / France / EU
    I probably miss something as well cuz I still prefer HD6X0 for imaging and staging. IMO , the MA900 exhibits the same flaw than AKG K/Q7/6/XX series. wide and airy staging but very left /right and a serious lack of cohesiveness.

    That's surprising and interesting to see how our impressions can vary on that one. I didn't use my Sony on my main rig though. GOv2 at best....
     
  20. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,788
    Dislikes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Sebastopol, CA
    Home Page:
    If I'm at my desk I'll go for my HD-650s every time due to their better technicalities. I enjoy the MA900s for at-home-but-not-at-my-desk listening with an iPhone as the source.
     

Share This Page