Sony MDR-SA5000 Headphone Reviews

Manufacturer Sony Model MDR-SA5000
Headphone Type Open Circumaural Headband Type Single
Weight (g) 260 Driver Type Dynamic
Enclosure Material Other Isolation (dB) 0
Impedance (ohms) 70 Cable Length (cm) 350
Frequency Response (Hz) 5 - 110000  
Connector 6.5mm Street Price US$400
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Average reviewer scores
Bass Extension 8.8 Bass Impact 7.3
Bass Quality 7.8 Mids Quality 6.5
Highs Quality 7.3 Soundstage 6.5
Detail 8.3 Portability 3.3
Isolation 0.0 Comfort 8.3
Durability 7.5 Improvement With Amplification 7.0
Value for Money 7.8    
Overall Score 7.6 Total Reviews 4

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Reviews by our members

Review by Senior Member Iron_Dreamer on 01 Jul 07  12:25
Individual review
Bass Extension9
Bass Impact7
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality7
Highs Quality8

A few words come to mind to describe these headphones: fast, tight, accurate, and neutral.

They are fast in that they respond very quickly to the signal they are presented with, giving great micro and macro detail and dynamics. They're not quite up to the amazing detail level of their big brother, the Qualia 010, however. Sudden sounds will be felt in addition to being heard (track 10 of the Titanic soundtrack is great for this effect).

The tightness is the other side of the coin, that these headphones do not exaggerate the trailing edges of sounds, meaning that you hear the space between notes better, and the headphones keep up with fast-paced music by not slurring the notes together. However, the bass can be so tight that it loses some of the texture/character of notes that can be heard with higher-end cans.

Accurate in that the combination of the two aforementioned qualities leads to a very clean and true "pure" sound, if you will. Instruments and sounds are distinct and believably separate if the recording is up to par.

These headphones areq uite close to neutral, with a sound signature that does not favor any one part of the frequency spectrum over another. The bass goes very deep, and hits fairly hard, yet is not bloated. The highs are extremely detailed and well extended, yet smooth and not harsh sounding, though very slightly hard or fatiguing. The mids are extremely clean and clear, but don't overpower or over-romanticize the overall sound.

The soundstage is pin-point accurate, though not the widest around. The accuracy in imaging is again reminiscent of the CD3000/R10, but without their much more expansive width. The soundstage has a bit of an odd shape, somewhat trapezoidal, with the soundstage narrowing as it goes from behind the listener to infront.

Though they are essentially open headphones (high leakage), they do offer some mild isolation from ambient noises, particularly in the mid frequencies where isolation is most effective.

These headphones are well-built from magnesium, and have very nice leather earpads, reminiscent of the discontinued MDR-R10 (though not quite that soft of course). The comfort is better than any headphone I've worn (which is most), with very little weight or pressure exerted on any part of the head, yet they stay on very securely. The light weight does make the headphones feel somewhat delicate, though I’ve not had any problems with them in over a year of ownership.

The bottom line is that these cans are made to be very true to the original sound you present them with. They are not for those who want a colored or hyped sound, whether in the dull/veiled form (Sennheiser HD580/600/650) or the arena-rock form (any John Grado models). Their detail and relatively neutral sound will let you really tell the difference or lack thereof when you change upstream components. Add to this the quality parts, comfort, and low price relative to the competitively detailed headphones, and the SA5000 is a winner, if the sound signature is up your alley.

My ratings:
Bass Extension: 9
Bass Impact: 7
Bass Quality: 8
Mids Quality: 7
Highs Quality: 8
Soundstage: 8
Detail: 8
Portability: 2
Isolation: 0 (would rate this as a 1 if the site allowed)
Comfort: 10
Durability: 7
Improvement with Amplification: 7
Value for the Money: 8

Review by Senior Member PsychoZX on 29 Jul 06  16:19
Individual review
Bass Extension8
Bass Impact7
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality4
Highs Quality7

These headphones are very detailed thoughout their frequency response and provide a good bass response. Unfortunately the honky mids, fatiguing highs and rather small soundstage keep me from giving this headphone very high scores.

Review by Senior Member Sol Rage on 28 Nov 05  17:12
Individual review
Bass Extension9
Bass Impact8
Bass Quality7
Mids Quality7
Highs Quality7

There have been few times I've echoed another reviewer's statements so much but I think Iron Dreamer nearly nailed this pair of cans' sound on the proverbial head (We only disagree slightly on rankings). Fast, tight, accurate, neutral - these are DEFINITELY the 4 dominate adjectives that one should use to describe these phones.

After owning the Grado RS-1s for a few years, the Sennheiser HD650s for a year or so and the Sony R10s for nearly one year I decided I wanted something different. Not a headphone that gives it that "Arena Rock" punch and sound like the RS-1s or gives it a that romantic, exremely toneful-but-colored sound like the R10s. I wanted something that was pretty close to neutral and boy howdy do the SA5000s perfectly fit that bill! Now an explanation of my rankings:

Bass Extension: 9 - It has to be said, the bass on these headphones are great! Not quite as extended as the Qualias in my same system (Singlepower Supra w/Ken Rad VT231 Imput tube and 2 Sylvania VT231 Output tubes) but damn near close. They certainly best my R10s, a little better than my 650s, and almost best my RS-1s in extension.

Bass Impact: 8 - If it weren't for my previous experience with the Grado PS-1s and my RS-1s this would rate a bit higher but, as it stands, the SA5k still has the 3rd best bass impact of any headphone I've ever heard.

Bass Quality: 7 - This is where the SA5k lose me ever so slightly. While certainly not BAD (7 is a "good" ranking) I much prefer the R10s and 650s bass in my same system. What the R10s (and to a slightly lesser degree, 650s) have that the SA5k don't in the bass region is inner detail and tone. Still, I do love the SA5k's uber tight handling of the bass. This is great on my more extreme metal recordings where the bass players often play extremely fast, gallop rhythms. In comparison my RS-1s bass is a little more exciting but a little more exaggerated and bloated.

Mids Quality: 7 - The mids can be great, but I still much prefer my R10s magical midrange. I'd say the SA5k easily best the RS-1s in the mid department and perhaps slightly best the 650s. I think a choice of amp (and tubes) is probably a big determining factor on how good (and musical) the SA5K's mids will be.

Highs Quality 7 - Before burn in I found the SA5K's to be unbearably bright and harsh (this is where I and Iron Dreamer's only real disagreement is). Luckily after about only 10 hours of burn in the highs started calming down and the extreme harshness and brightness was nearly gone. I still find the SA5Ks highs a bit bright and analytical but this could be due to my being used to the R10s and 650s smoother, more musical highs.

Soundstage: 6 - This is my only major complaint with the SA5Ks. Iron Dreamer mentioned the SA5Ks soundstage as being slightly narrow but, compared to my R10s and even 650s they seem narrower still. I have noticed that the soundstage has fleshed out a bit with burn in but it's still lacking compared to some of the better high end phones (especially its big brother Qualia and the R10s). The imaging is indeed spot on though. Just as good as my R10s in fact, but the narrow and somewhat shallow soundstage doesn't quite allow the SA5Ks Imaging prowess to fully shine.

Detail: 10 - 10 with a bullet, no doubt. These, along with the Qualias are THE most detailed headphones around. Every little sound and noise made on a recording WILL be picked up. After hearing these headphones I finally understand the idea of the 650s "veil". The R10s don't suffer as bad but I do think these slightly best the R10 in detail. As far as the Qualias go.... it's a close call. I'd have to hear both back to back to really be able to tell.

Portability: 2 - Not really portable phones, though they would probably look stylish in public compared to most high end phones!

Isolation: N/A - Opened headphones afterall.

Comfort: 8 - The comfort is near perfect. My one complaint is the leather ear pads do tend to heat up pretty quickly. Other than that they only fall behind the R10s, DT880s and Qualias as the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn.

Durability: 7 - Mostly metal and leather parts but I can imagine how they could be broken if they were to get bent, stepped on or perhaps dropped. Plus the kind of "mesh" head band I imagine could be somewhat easily torn. Definitely headphones you want to be careful with but I don't see them falling apart due to age or wear.

Improvement with Amplification: 7 - The SA5Ks are a strange beast when it comes to amplifying. I've found they DO require an amp to sound good but they seem to reach their maximum performance level at about the $2500 amp price level (and that's a REALLY rough estimate). I've heard them through both a Headroom Max and a Singlepower SDS and they sound inferior to the HD650s, RS-1s, and DEFINITELY the R10s. But I think they match perfectly with most decent headphones at/around/under $2k.

Value for Money: 9 - The HD650s definitely have a new contender in the "best headphones for under $500 category. But, keep in mind these are two VERY different headphones. Before deciding you should ask yourself what kind of sound you want. Neutral, or laid back. Tight, or decay heavy. Fast, or average. Accurate, or more toneful. It really just comes down to personal preference.

BUT, let me add this: If you can afford to max out an amp with balanced jacks then the HD650s with balanced cables can be a magical combination. Among the best in all of headphonedum. So perhaps you don't have the money now, but if you ever planned on upgrading to an uber-balanced amp (like the Headroom Max or Singlepower SDS-XLR) then I highly recommend the HD650s over the SA5Ks. But for cheaper systems I think the SA5K's are the overall better bargain.

Overall these are among the best new headphones to come out in the while. If not quite in the same league as the uber-upper tier of headphones (R10s, Qualias, Omegas, Orpheus, Leatherheads, etc.) they, much like the HD650s, are as close as most people can get without having to spend an arm and a leg.

Review by Member anonymous on 27 Jul 06  00:48
Individual review
Bass Extension9
Bass Impact7
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality7

I am going to be brief because Iron Dreamers review pretty much hit the nail on the head when it comes to the MDR-SA5000. With these phones you definitely get what you put in. If your associated gear is up to the task these headphones can sound spectacular but if you feed them garbage, garbage is what you will get. The 5000's seem to benefit from a decent break-in period. I've been listening to mine for almost five months now and they sound better everytime I listen.

If I had to describe these phones with one word, that word would be accurate, accurate, accurate. They are extremely fast and detailed. If your system can extract every bit of detail off of a Cd or Lp then I will promise you these phones will let you hear it. Unlike the Senn's these headphones are very truthful to the source. Now I know that can be a bad thing but if your listening tastes are like mine, accuracy and truthfulness are two qualities that I embrace.

The fact that these phones do so much right, I can live with the few shortcomings that they do have. One of these is soundstage, it's not the widest I've ever heard but then again it is far from the worst. This I can forgive.

Another area where I would like to see some improvement is the bass but maybe I am being biased, having listened to the Senn 600's for a long time prior to the SA5000's I may still be used to the colored sound of the Senn 600's. Don't get me wrong, I am more than happy with the bass. It may just be the accuracy of the bass that I am not used to.

As far as the mid's and high's are concerned, at first the highs were a little on the bright side but since I've had them they have come into their own. Again, the mid's and high's are very accurate but at the same time they are not harsh or fatiguing.

The SA5000's are perhaps one of the most comfortable (to me anyway) headphones that you could wrap your ears around. Not heavy at all, there have been times when I was so involved with the music that I forgot I had them on.

To put this review in perspective I want you to know that I used to use a Maxed-Out Home Headphone amp but I am now using CIAudio's VHP-1 & VAC-1. I auditioned the VHP-1 and was blown away. How could something that cost quite a bit less than the Maxed Out Home sound as good or better, I don't know but it does. Sometimes less is more, it certainly is in this case.

All equipment up and down the audio chain reacts with one another, they can behave or they can conflict with each other, so to find the right components that have that special synergy can be a long and arduous journey. I believe that I have, over the years, have finally reached that point and to that I am thankful.

Bottom Line, would I recommend the SA5000's, absolutely, as long as you have quality components in your system and you are looking for an uncolored sound that is fast, accurate and revealing then the SA5000's are your ticket to Audio Nirvana. So much for being brief.

Sony MDR-SA5000