Bluetooth headphones will forever be a niche market for one big reason – price/performance ratio. Even if you can find the best sounding Bluetooth headset, you can find something that sounds a bit better for considerably less. However, the whole idea of getting a Bluetooth headphones is wireless freedom. A detachable cable won’t suffice because you only do that when you are not using the headphones. Bluetooth also makes it easy to connect to various mobile devices and even laptops without much physical effort. All these benefits come at the expense of audio quality but a poorly designed pair of Bluetooth headphones can be worse if they are not so comfortable or have connectivity issues.
The Sony MDR-10RBT is one of the few Bluetooth headphones out there that you put over your ears. A derivative of the hi-res wired Sony MDR10R, evaluating the MDR-10RBT is a good way to see what kind of tradeoffs you get with Bluetooth functionality and if it is really worth paying $50 to $100 more. It is also worth comparing to Sony’s pricier and more advanced Sony MDR-1RBT headphones, which is also Bluetooth-enabled.
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Design and Comfort
The MDR-10RBT doesn’t really stand out and doesn’t look too pimped up to the point that it looks like a headset for gaming. But it is the little details that make the Sony MDR-10RBT more unique up close. Despite falling in the midrange category, the headphones still have a premium look with its fair share of black and silver finishes along with some very welcome red highlights. Sony has been using hints of red in other products too like some of the earphone products but the red approach here is more subtle to the point that most people should appreciate. The pivoting arms look as if Sony took a lot of time designing them and the leathery material on the headband and ear cushions feels great. The silver elements are made of plastic but it does make the MDR-10RBT feel a lot lighter than the high-end MDR-1RBT.
Sony nails the ergonomics of the Sony MDR-10RBTas well. The headband is adjustable as it should be and you get that satisfying click each time you adjust so you can proceed to making the earcup adjustments. Because of the way the arms are curved, you should get a nice fit on your ears and enjoy some passive noise cancellation too. When you are not using the headphones, you can fold them and easily fit them in the included pouch to make sure the headphones are fully protected.
The MDR-10RBT launched well after the Bluetooth 4.0 specification was launched but the headphones sticks with the older Bluetooth 3.0 specification so your mobile device won’t benefit from the battery life savings. That sounds like a bad thing but remember that the Sony MDR-10RBT is more focused on providing audio quality than efficiency. This won’t be the headphones that you’ll go jogging with. The battery of the Sony MDR-10RBT isn’t so bad anyway as it should last for about 17 hours of continuous playback until you need to recharge it using the standard micro-USB cable, which is included. While there are no physical controls on the headphones, you can use AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) to perform playback operations.
Sony is a huge proponent of NFC as many of its mobile devices feature it so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see it in the MDR-10RBT too. If you have an NFC-enabled smartphone like the Xperia Z2, you can tap the phone on the headphones and the 2 devices will pair instantly.
The Sony MDR-10RBT is also equipped with an omni-directional microphone so you can use this for making calls as well. Bluetooth isn’t even a requirement for using this pair of headphones since the package comes with a connecting cord allowing devices that don’t support Bluetooth to link with the headphones.
In any pair of Bluetooth-enabled headphones, Bluetooth will always be the main bottleneck no matter how advanced the hardware is. Sony even went as far as incorporating the MDR-10RBT with some extra technologies like apt-X and AAC support just to push the wireless standard to its limits. So what you end up with is exceptional audio quality for its class. The neodymium magnets and multilayer diaphragm do help with the experience. These headphones are so well equipped that you can listen to lossless formats like FLAC and notice improvements. To enjoy these benefits, the mobile device must support apt-X as well.
The Sony MDR-10RBT is simply a fantastic pair of headphones to own with no serious weaknesses. The use of plastic is forgivable considering this isn’t Sony’s flagship model. It feels comfortable, has solid passive sound isolation, nice audio quality and nifty extras. Stepping up to the MDR-1RBT model will bring you more goodies like S-Master amp but you have to pay even more. Spending more than $200 can already be overkill because there are some great sets of headphones that sound superior and are priced lower but without Bluetooth. But if Bluetooth is really that needed, the MDR-10RBT certainly won’t disappoint.