Sony MDR-V55 Headphone Review
If you need a set of cans for kickin' around, the Sony MDR-V55 makes its case
Getting good headphones on a budget is tough, but finding ones that look good is equally tough. Enter the Sony MDR-V55 (MSRP $89.99): a budget set of on-ears that please the eyes more than your ears.
Performance-wise, these cans don't set any records, but they do offer enough bass to keep most happy. Given that they don't even compete with other Sony headphones, you have to look elsewhere to find their value. Where these headphones make their statement is absolutely in their looks.
Boasting a matte yet bold design scheme, these will find broad appeal in either black or white. But are aesthetics enough to overcome mediocre performance?
Smart, inexpensive design
Aesthetically, the V55 cans are fairly unobjectionable. They're matte grey with red accents, featuring a metal band encased in hard plastic and foam. Nothing really screams "high-end" on these, but there are a few smart additions that Sony hides in its modern headphones that improve the overall quality of these inexpensive on-ears.
For starters, the flat cable reduces the possible axes of cable movement—meaning it's much less likely to tangle into a twisted mess. The cord isn't detachable—making it a liability—but at least you won't be greeted with a rat's nest of tangled cable when you stuff the V55s into a bag. Said wire ends in an angled, standard 1/8th -inch TRS plug, which is an odd choice given most headphones are used with smartphones. It's a relatively minor nitpick, until the cord gets caught on your pants pocket and pops out.
Given the notched metal band elements, it's not exactly surprising that getting a good fit with these headphones is a little difficult. The somewhat thin padding of the V55 is comfortable at first, but over time heat and sweat builds up—making for some uncomfortable listening outside in the summer.
If you generally stuff your cans in a bag when they're not in use, you should take note that these headphones should be able to handle it. The strange-looking hinge where the band meets the ear cup allows the V55 to fold up when not in use, reducing their profile.
Could be better
Given that Sony set their own high watermark with the ages-old MDR-V6 and the MDR-V7506, it's tough to look at another set of $80 Sony cans and not expect a lot. However, the V55 doesn't really hold a candle to what Sony's older legends can give you.
First off, bass lovers will enjoy these cans, as they have a rather dynamic sound performance. Mids and highs have varying emphasis, but the bass is strong with the V55s. Additionally, don't expect to hear any distortion in your music—unless it was added in there to begin with.
It's when you get to the mids and high notes where the wheels come off the wagon. The audio has a violent swing in the high harmonic notes that makes cymbals and other ringing sounds come out weird. It's tough to explain, but you'll definitely notice it if you're used to other headphones.
That error also happens at about the same range as other problems, likely the result of the headphones' relatively cheap design. Though the attack on snare drums is dropped to about 1/8th their normal volume with the V55s, they'll come in the right ear quite a bit louder than they do the left.
If you're at the office, definitely steer clear of these headphones, as they not only let in a bunch of sound, but they hardly block it out as well. That could be a good thing if you need to hear the phone ringing, or your surroundings, but it's not ideal for anyone looking to lose themselves in their music. Definitely don't take these on an airplane with you—that type of engine noise will hardly be mitigated at all.
The Bottom Line
Given that this is a rather entry-level set of headphones, I'm willing to give some of their idiosyncrasies a pass. It's easy to nitpick a set of inexpensive cans, and even easier when some of Sony's own headphones outcompete the V55 handily.
That being said, the MDR-V55 offers features like tangle-free cables, a slim profile, and an appealing look that the Sony MDR-7506 just doesn't offer. If you're willing to reach a bit, I'd point you towards the Beats Solo 2 and the V-Moda Crossfade LP2—though those will set you back quite a lot in comparison, they both outperform and outshine the MDR-V55.
If you need better performance out of your headphones—but can't really reach in price—you might want to look towards in-ear monitors. There are plenty on the market that offer as-good-or-better performance on the cheap. They also generally have much better isolation for the money.
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