Unless you don’t mind lugging an entire stereo system about you on all your travels or give the slightest damn that all your friends are sick of hearing “Your Love” for the thirtieth time in a row, headphones are as essential to daily life as food, water, shelter, clothing and worn-out Converse sneakers. In that regard, music is like coffee, in which it is hellishly tiresome to find yourself in a waiting game or boring science class without some kind of plastic to stuff over or in your ears to let the medicine of “Bohemian Rhapsody” work its magic, just like it is painful to sit through the same class without your sixth cup of joe from your seventh trip of the day to Breaking New Grounds.
However, as with all things in life, it comes down to the eternal struggle between achieving true sonic immersion and economic affordance. In seeking the former, you achieve nirvana at the price of an arm, a leg, your credit score or all three; in acquiring the other, you spare your wallet and anatomy and offer your eardrums as a needless sacrifice to the erratically unforgiving gods of Amazon.
On top of this nerve-wracking dilemma, the sensual allure of branding doesn’t help either. I mean, you COULD just be like 99 percent of the population and settle for the unimpressive but cheap and socially acceptable white Apple Earpods, or blend in gangsta-style with lit Beats by Dre that burn through paychecks like fire through wood and bash your brains with bloated “bass,” OR be a total loser and buy Sennheiser cans for two grand because you love your ears that much or don’t care about missing your rent again.
But what if I told you that you can get a pair of headphones untouched from 1985 and still in production that delivers cinema-quality sound, is compatible with any device with a headphone jack (or adapter for those less fortunate), requires no prior hi-fi know-how, comes new-in-box from Amazon AND costs only $98?
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, you’re right; it’s not good. It’s the Sony MDR-V6, the best headphones I have ever used. Period.
Now some headphones will claim to provide “professional” or “studio” grade sound – alongside other gimmicks such as slick designs, voice commands and Bluetooth functionality – when, in reality, they sound no better than the Apple Earpods I mentioned earlier while costing six times as much. And when you do wear them, their shrill and ceilinged highs or bloated, flat lows – or both if you’re truly lucky – make every track on your playlist sound like a lifeless MP3 file, while their overloaded designs look cool on paper but feel uncomfortable in execution. You always feel as if you’re missing most of the music, a state of being in which you enjoy your tracks but only on a surface level.
Not so with the MDR-V6. They have the right to carry the “studio” label because they are, in fact, studio monitor headphones. This means that they are used by true professional audio engineers, mixers and DJs to obtain the most accurate and unaltered signal from the original audio source, whether it be a digital mobile device, an analog record or cassette player, or a top-of-the-line Hi-Res music player. With the help of its dual 40 mm diameter dynamic drivers and an exceptional frequency range of 5 Hz to 30,000 Hz, the accuracy of MDR-V6’s sound reproduction is both perfect and unforgiving at the same time. Basically, if a song is well mixed and mastered from a high-quality or master source, it will sound exactly as the original artist intended, with each instrument fully intact and unaltered by artificial EQ adjustments by the manufacturer. On the flip side, however, if a song is poorly mixed and/or has a low-quality bitrate, it will deservingly make you regret not spending a little more cash on (at least) CD-quality audio.
All this sounds amazing… if you’re a film nerd or audio aficionado. And the average joe who might not care the most about drivers or frequencies may reasonably ask: so what? Why would I invest in headphones from three decades ago that look lame and don’t even have inline controls?
Fair enough. To prove their worth, I watched the opening scene of “Last Action Hero” with Arnold Schwarzenegger with my standard headphones on. They sounded “good enough”; their bass and highs didn’t blow my mind but did not leave me yearning for more. It’s like watching a movie at home in your living room.
Then, I watched the same scene with the MDR-V6. The moment the scene kicked into high gear, I was no longer sitting in a chair and watching a scene. I was IN THE MOVIE. I could feel myself in the middle of the action, surrounded by a rumbling bass so deep and a sound so rich I could feel myself shooting down the bad guys alongside Jack Slater himself, feeling every punch as if they had hit me right in the gut.
In fact, they worked so well, they worked too well. When I watched the scene again with my standard headphones once more, I felt robbed. The sound was yet again flat and lifeless, as if someone had thrown the subwoofer out the window. I never wanted to switch headphones again, even if they looked like an extinct ancient artifact that belonged in a museum.
Except, in my mind, they don’t, because they’re not. They are, simply put, a home theater on my head that doesn’t cost an arm or a leg. They are a truly affordable experience. So, if you have $98 to spare, don’t fall for the try-hards that cost three times as much. And until their durable plastic and metal construction somehow breaks, they’ll be the only headphones I’ll ever need, fashion and trends be damned.