Wires are annoying, and listening to the world around you when you're trying to concentrate on music is annoying. If you're a modern smartphone or tablet user, the Holy Grail of headphones is a pair that combine good sound quality with portability, wireless connectivity and ambient noise cancelling. Sony's MDR-ZX750BN headphones will set you back $279, but pack that crucial commuting combo of noise cancellation and Bluetooth.
What Is It?
- Headphone Type: Over-The-Ear
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Noise Cancelling: Yes
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Battery Life (claimed): 24 hours
- Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
The $279 Sony MDR-ZX750BN is an over-the-ear pair of headphones with an integrated rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers 98 per cent effective active noise cancellation and Bluetooth 3.0. If you don't happen to like the convenience of Bluetooth, which also ties in with the headphones' ability to control your music playback using the play/pause/skip/rewind toggle button on the right ear-cup, you can use the 3.5mm analog audio headphone jack -- right next to the microUSB 2.0 charging port.
Arranged across the outer edge of the left and right earcups you'll find those two I/O connectors, a button for enabling or disabling the active noise cancelling, mode switching, volume control and the playback toggle switch. Scattered amongst these are a couple of microphones, which pick up outside noise for the noise cancelling to invert and phase out as well as picking up your voice for handsfree phone calls.
The ZX750BN headphones' earcups swivel flat for a spot of extra portability, although they don't fold up any more than that. Sony bundles a few accessories for travellers with the MDR-ZX750BN; you get a double-pronged airline audio adapter, 1.4-metre triple-pole 3.5mm analog audio cable, microUSB 2.0 to USB charging cable, and a nylon soft carry pouch. (No USB wall power adapter, though!)
What's It Good At?
It's a very important but oft-overlooked distinction, but the fact that the MDR-ZX750BN can work without its battery being charged is so convenient. Let's be honest -- the battery isn't going to die before or after a listening session, but during, and this little bit of electrical engineering smarts means you're able to listen to the rest of your podcast or music playlist, albeit sans Bluetooth and sans noise cancelling.
The Sony MDR-ZX750BN's stereo imaging -- the soundstage of the stereo audio you're listening to on a music track, movie or podcast -- is good. Really good, in fact, notably so. The rest of the headphones' audio is OK rather than stunning, but the soundstage stands out as something worth mentioning; these are headphones where you can demonstrably and accurately notice different notes and different audio coming from the left or right headphone channels. It's actually really fun to sit down with a good binaural audio track and the ZX750BN.
These are headphones that maintain their audio signature -- the unique mix of low-end, mid-range and high-end notes across the entire frequency range -- no matter what volume you listen to them at. Whether you're listening in a quiet environment with chilled or ambient music, or blasting your ears at the ZX750BN's maximum output power, these headphones just don't distort. That might be because there's neither especially deep bass extension nor singingly high treble, but it's a great trait nonetheless. If there's any distortion over the wired connection, it's coming from your source.
Call quality through the headphones' integrated microphone -- the same mics that deal with noise cancelling -- is surprisingly good. Combine these cans with HD voice calls from your smartphone (to another HD voice user, on an appropriate supported mobile phone network, necessarily) and you'll be impressed -- some of the clearest phone conversations that I've had were through the ZX750BN, and far superior to the tinny little speaker on your slim smartphone's chassis.
What's It Not Good At?
The design of the ZX750BN is straightforward enough, and the headphones are certainly solid, but they just don't feel as premium as some of Sony's other cans. The plastic leatherette on the headband is an especially bad offender, although the earpad leather is a little better -- it feels a little cheap, and the padding isn't as comfortable as competitors'. I'm not at all questioning the ZX750BN's sturdiness or longevity, or even the design, but just the luxe feel that's missing from the feel of the headphones in your hand.
I actually had a bit of trouble with the ZX750BN's Bluetooth. Not during the initial setup with a Sony smartphone, which was actually a doddle, but during the pairing to a second smartphone and then a third tablet, neither of which would connect the first or second time around. And because the headphones' battery is integrated, you can't just pull it to reset the connection; beyond waiting for it to die out (which is unreasonable) you're stuck finding an alternative. Similarly, NFC was very touch and go (excuse the pun) when I tried it as a last-ditch connection method.
The ZX750BN's sound, once you turn on noise cancelling, is not bad, but it's not really spectacular. It can't match some of Sony's more premium headphones, nor the ZX750BN's own Bluetooth- and noise cancelling-toting competitors. There's not a great deal of high-end detail, and that leaves these headphones sometimes sounding a little muddy and indistinct on acoustic and male vocal-heavy music. It's not something you can fix with equalisation, so I'd advise you try these headphones if possible before you buy them.
Bluetooth, noise cancelling headphones are not the most popular mix on the market but there are a few out there, and that means the ZX750BN has some tough competition. These are competent headphones with no significant flaws, but there are some great alternatives if you cut out noise cancelling or cut out Bluetooth; if you want to pay a little more you can get some amazing cans with both built in. The Bose QuietComfort 25 has better noise cancelling, the Parrot Zik 2.0 has better Bluetooth... it's all a question of how much you want to spend.
Should You Buy It?
The $279 MDR-ZX750BN is a useful pair of headphones, although it doesn't really excel at any of the tasks it's presented with. Noise cancelling is pretty good but not Sony's best, the Bluetooth is convenient enough but has a few minor niggles especially when trying to reset and sync a second smartphone or tablet. The build quality is sturdy enough, but doesn't have the premium feel of Sony's MDR-1x range.
For stereo music listening, though, these are surprisingly good headphones, so if you listen to a lot of specifically binaural tracks or you especially like the separation then that should give them some extra points in your favour. Similarly, distortion is very low and this is a big point worth making for people that like listening to their music loud -- not that we'd generally recommend that.
If you find these headphones at a bit of a discount somewhere, they're definitely worth the $180-200 that you might spend. I'd be reluctant to spend any more when spending slightly more again gets you into Sony's fantastic MDR-10RNC and MDR-1RNC, and you'll find Or you could just go crazy and splash out on a $500 pair of Parrot Zik 2.0s or $400 Bose QuietComfort 25s.
Update 24/02/2015: Dick Smith actually has a deal on the Sony MDR-ZX750BN at the moment, with a 2-for-1 bundle for
the original $279 RRP $229. That makes them pretty impressively good value, as long as you have a friend to split the cost with.