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Damage Reviews: MDR-SA1000

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This will be gruesome folks. But a moment of silence for the MDR-E888s, they decided that they did not like me at all and committed seppuku.

Now that that's done and over with, it's about time I pitted the MDR-SA1000s vs. some other phones to see how the new HD drivers stack up vs. other units, particuarly from Sony's vaunted XD line of cans. Or, in this case, MDR-XD400s. Those of you that read my previous review pitting the XDs vs other line know that I am very biased towards the XD's rather open sound, great detail, and the impactful bass. How will the SA1000's fare vs. the reigning champion of the previous deathmatches? Read on.

Procedure

MZ-NH1/Shuffle -> RM-MC40ELK -> Monster iSplitter -> SA1000/XD400

1 single HiMD (300MB) with random U2 tunes

Ergonomics

Both the MDR-SA1000s and MDR-XD400s are comfortable. The XDs, as you're aware, uses two spring loaded levers attached to the rubber headband/gasket thing. The width of said gasket is fairly wide, so it disperses the weight evenly across your head and makes the whole unit very light on your ears. The earcups are lined with pleather/leatherette.

The SA1000 likewise uses similar strategy to disperse the weight. However, instead of using auto adjusting headband, it uses a fixed headband frame. Between the frame goes a cloth that's reminiscient of athletic jersey, so the whole contraption is breathable, keeping your head cool. The drivers are attached to the said frame, and each cups are individually adjustable, whereas the XD-400s are auto-adjusted by the two springs. The earcups on the SA1000s are covered by a rough cloth, not quite the velour that graced the CD580s.

One more note, the earcups on the SAs are filled with urethane foam that reminds me of the hottest thing on the foam market, the Memory Foam. This does help to distribute the weight of the SAs more evenly across your face.

End result is that both the XDs and the SAs are very light and comfortable on your head. While you're more aware of the XD's being on your head because of the rubber gasket thing, the cloth earcups on the SAs betrays the unit's otherwise excellent build and comfort. Overall, the XDs go on your head with less fuss and less muss because of the auto adjusting headband.

Isolation

Neither the XDs nor the SAs are closed, with the former being semi-closed with a switch on the back, and the latter being totally open. Therefore, the SAs will not only leak out more of the music you're listening, but will let in more ambient noise.

The XDs aren't all that better when it comes to isolation. However, the fact that it is closed when the switch is in MUSIC mode gives the XDs a bit of an edge in isolation. This, we'll see, will become critical in the future.

Drivability

XD-400s were seemingly made for portable use. MZ-NH1s can easily drive the XD400s to satisfatory levels with volume only need 15/30 whereas the SA1000s require at least 23-25/30. At same volume levels, the XDs are either entirely too loud, or the SAs entire too quiet. If you're looking for a set of phones for portable gears, you're better off with XDs.

Sound Quality

Bass - The XDs are known unit when it comes to bass. Deep, impactful, visceral, occassionally overpowering. All of these characterstics make the XDs perfect for casual listening, movie watching, or otherwise, grooving to tracks that need bass one way or another.

The SA1000s on the other hand, is leaner on bass, less impactful, less visceral. However, where it lack on body, it makes up for it in spade with detail. Compared to the XDs, the bass on the SAs are much more refined and detailed. Or, rather, the bass on the XDs are sloppy and one-noted vs. the much more refined and detailed presentation of the SA1000s. It has more faster impact on the snare drum sets vs. the XDs, making these more ideal for Rock genre.

Not to say that it's totally lobsided in favor of SA1000s. I think that for casual listening and enjoyment, the lean bass on the SA1000 will put off most listeners. Given the two, I think the visceral bass of the XD400s are ultimately more enjoyable than the detailed but lean offering of the SA1000s.

Midrange - The all important vocals, strings, horns, and other instruments. The XD-400s and XD line in general, has a very nasal vocals. In my original review, I thought that the nasalness of the XDs had went away. However, compared to more relaxed and natural offering of the SA1000s in the vocals, the XD-400's vocal come off still rather nasal and claustrophobic.

On the other hand, the SA1000s vocals are quite natural, closer to hearing the actual recording or performance than any headphones I've heard. Quite a feat, even with compressed files. Likewise, acoustic guitars, and most instruments also sound quite natural, from the modestly compressed MP3s to uncompressed Redbook/PCM files.

Suprisingly, the XDs and SAs represent many instruments fairly close to one another. Whereas the XDs represent the instruments in more impactful manner (like in the general bass), the SAs represents them in a more natural and detailed fashion. It's quite easy to pick out a single instrument and follow along with the SAs, though you get a better, bigger picture with the XDs.

I'd say they are both quite even here, though I like the SAs in this area more than I do the XDs.

Trebles - Whereas the XDs seemingly has a veil over the upper frequencies, the SAs has a way of showing every nook and cranny of a recording, compressed artifacts, errors, warts and all. Here's where the codec of your choice becomes crucial. Use a poor codec or low bitrate, and chances are, you're more likely to be forgiving of the final results if you're listening through the XDs. Using the SAs, I was able to immediately pick out compression artifacts with even modestly compressed files. Sibilance due to poor mastering or otherwise poor compression becomes very obvious with the SAs. SAs are quite unforgiving in these aspect, and will force you to be very picky when it comes to your music.

That is, to say that the SAs are a bit bright would be an understatement. Sibilant? Only on certain tracks, probably those that were poorly mixed or mastered I think. But it's not overly bright to the point where it's intolerable.

There's more impact here with the SAs versus the veiled Trebles in the XDs, but considering the frequency response, you'd expect this to be the case.

Soundstaging - While the Soundstage on the XD is quite impressive (even more so when you consider that it is closed), the SAs trumps the XDs when it comes to this. It is simply wider, more natural (ah-ha!), and more accurate compared to the XDs.

Overall - This is a rather crude snapshot of the XDs and the SAs, I'll have a more detailed write up on the SA1000s in the near future. However, which can you'll like will probably more dependent on your taste rather than techinical merits in this case. The SAs offer a much more natural and accurate musical representation when it comes to soundstaging, vocals, and instrumentations across the board. This is enough for some to declare that the SA1000s are much better than the XD400s. Unfortunately, I don't think I can that's the proper case here (though personal preference for me lies with the SA1000s). If you want a more relaxed, impactful, and entertaining representation, the XDs are much more suitable in that regard vs. the more technical and accurate SA1000s.

However, irregardless of the leaner (and tighter) bass and bit of a let down on entertaining aspects, the MDR-SA1000s are much more cleaner, detailed, accurate (at least my understanding of it), and natural cans that I've encountered. Not even the bright and exciting Grado SR60s can't top the SA1000s in overall presentation.

Winner: MDR-SA1000, though not as overwhelmingly as I thought it would be.

Edited by Damage

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Damage first I'd like to say a big thanks for your review! Bravo!

I was thinking to get either the xd400 or the sa1000 and your review was just what I needed, very thorough.

The cans will be used mainly for movies, gaming, music.

I'm still a bit confused though... :rolleyes:

You got me thinking about the relaxed, enjoyable and impactful representation of the xd400

but I see myself going for the sa1000...

I like accuracy, hope I don't go wrong and miss much relaxation... :lol:

Keep up the good work guys!

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