Review- Sony MDR-SA3000 headphones- This is my review of the Sony MDR-SA3000- I first came across these years ago when Sony was called Sony Style. I saw them in a catalog and didn’t think much of them- that or I just wasn’t that much into audio/was absolutely astounded people paid more than 50 bucks for headphones (ha!) and the MSRP of 699$ CDN was insane. I would later forget these existed and would run into them into a random Chinese market in Toronto. I’ve had these for about a year now and the following is my review of these amazing little buggers.
My Sony headphone journey/headphone journey overall started with the MDR-V300DJ in high school- I had seen these worn by a lot of people and they looked pretty cool to my teenage eyes. I ended up picking them up and being very satisfied with them- the headbands broke and one of the drivers sounds funny now and I don’t listen to them at all anymore- and yet they were where my current headphone journey lies. The Sony name stuck then and I became a fan. I never did care about closed vs. open vs. semi-closed types or having headphones for different music genres at the time. So where are we now?
I didn’t know it, but at the time, I would eventually be all in Sony’s headphone game- for nearly a decade, Sony had produced the above headphones as its line of super headphones. The MDR-SA3000, MDR-SA5000 and the then big kahuna Qualia 010 were the cream of the crop of Sony’s stable. I believe the MDR-SA3000 sat at the 699 CDN dollar bracket, the SA5000 was at the 1000 dollar bracket and the Qualia was a downpayment on a house (used prices for these Qualia go well over 5000 USD now). The big difference between the three was the build quality- the SA3000 was made of carbon-reinforced plastic/metal/faux leather. The SA5000 was magnesium/leather. The Qualia 010 was lambskin and carbon fibre. I would love to own all three one day (but it will likely be the sa5000 if I ever find a good condition unit). The drivers were different but it physically was difficult to differentiate them visually. (Image from blog.livedoor.jp)
Anyways, the audiophile market was small at the time and most consumers were not used to spending more than 50 bucks on headphones (including me). It was a very different world compared to the Beats market now, where 300 is the norm for good headphones. I suspect that is why these SA3000s were in this liquidation Chinese market- brand new in box, they were heavily discounted to 249 from 699. They were very dusty- nobody was buying them. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy them knowing they were plastic and faux leather. However after doing a listen on them, I was sold. They came in a simple black box that I quite like.
Design – the headphones get a resounding high five from me in terms of design- they are absolutely unique and different and easily stand out in a field of same crap headphones. There is a large cloth headband with metal harnesses that sits on top of your head. A metal bar slides up and down on each side to adjust for head size. A plastic (carbon reinforced- a item I focused on specifically because I am not a fan of plastic and carbon reinforced sounded exotic) housing sits on either side of the 50mm drivers. The headphone pads are the Alcantra meshed cloth type that is very breathable and the siding is a cloth mesh that is semi open/open. The wiring is exposed on the top which makes you know this is an at home headphone and not an on the go one because of how delicate it looks/feels. I would avoid dropping it. The cable is single sided and attached- you cannot replace it. This makes me nervous because of wiring issues that tend to crop up on headphones. I also like the metal ring around the cups that has an engraved model number.
Comfort– These are unbelievably comfrotable- the headphone is around the ear design and big enough that it should be around the ear fit for most people. The headband is pleasant and non-intrusive. Being wide means less pressure on the head. Because its a breathable headphone, the comfort and the breathability means that it can be worn for hours with no fatigue.
Compared to Sony’s other flagship/high end cans, the SA3000 are a welcome design change and stay neat and novel despite their age. I really would have preferred better material on the hanger wire though- the faux leather looks like it can tear easily.
Sound quality-The big piece of the review- its awesome. It doesn’t have the thump in the low end to make hip hop/pop really rattle, but it has details in the mid and high range that make acoustics and vocals just twing in your head. Its incredible really. Pairing it with a powered amp will give better results- I use it with my Asus Xonar and its really really awesome. It still sounds great on typical DAPs like my Walkman Z, but you really have to crank to volume to power these cans. The low end has a nice detailed beat that won’t impress you with the hit, but the detail of the hit. I find these headphones especially good for female vocals like Sara Slean. Classic rock is also very solid on this- Neil Young, Blue Rodeo and Rod Stewart sound really awesome here. You can feel the guitar string being strung. Compared to my other cans, I’d take these first over the 7520/1R for those genres of music. I would not use this for modern rock, hip hop, techno and pop.
See how wide the headband is? More surface area=less pressure on the head. It also means this is a headphone that kills your hairdo. Fortunately its a home listening headphone. This is also a non-isolating headphone- you can hear everything in these and everyone can hear your music.
Conclusion– I LOVE THESE. These represent the flagship open ear cans in my line up and hit the vocals/acoustics/class rock really really well. They are very very comfy and can be worn for hours. They are delicately built and are a classic (precious if I may) model that need to be taken care of. They do have a few build things that I would like bettered like the faux leather trim ont eh headband hangar that is kind of weak feeling. I’m also not convinced that the carbon enforced plastic is that much different than the regular polymer used in headphones, but that’s fine. I would have preferred the magnesium and leather build of the SA5000s personally but that’s another ball game. I absolutely love the design too and am proud to own such a unique looking set of cans. They sound clearly flagship in overall sound and although will reveal poor quality recordings, will absolutely nail it with well recorded tracks. I haven’t owned the new flagship MDR-Z7s long enough to compare them, but it holds it own for sure, just in different areas. I would buy it again if I had to. I feel privelaged to own a piece of Sony’s audio history at an excellent price. Pros- excellent sound quality- especially the mids and highs on female vocals/classic rock/acoustics, unique design, comfort Cons- doesn’t necessarily feel cheap, but not substantial to make you immediately think this is a rich piece of kit, low end really needs to be EQ’d to get better hit, cable is permanent to the headphone
TLDR- great with vocals and classic rock, cool design, build quality could be better