Buying a high-end pair of headphones from a reputable company like Sony isn’t going to lead to disappointment unless you have something to compare it to that is similarly priced. When the company launched the Sony MDR-1RNC, Sony clearly didn’t drop the ball as audiophiles and critics praised the design, audio quality, noise cancellation and other features of the premium headphones. When a product is really that awesome, you can guess that the main beef that critics had with it was the price. The $499 price tag is indeed expensive leaving a big crowd to consider something less expensive but still not disappointing. Sony more recently followed up with the Sony MDR-10RNC and Sony MDR-10RNCIP. Both of these headphones have some of the DNA of the MDR-1RNC and are priced considerably less. But the focus is on the newer MDR-10RNCIP model as it gives the nod to iOS fans without taking anything else away from the original.
Design and Comfort
Cutting more than $200 off the price has to translate to a lot of cut corners. On the design department, Sony did make a few on the Sony MDR-10RNCIP to the point that you could find some more comfortable headphones priced in the $249 to $299 range but there is still a lot to like after testing them. The headband is padded just enough and the leather earpads feel very good and use memory foam. You can actually continuously wear them in a cross-country flight without feeling an ounce of pain.
The MDR-10RNCIP is also well designed striking a nice balance between style and professional looks. The headband is steel reinforced to add a bit of quality craftsmanship while the rest of the components fall back to plastic, which is actually a good decision as it reduces the weight. The headphones is mostly a black affair as it normally is with Sony products although there are some hints of silver and even red accents to make the Sony MDR-10RNCIP look a bit more futuristic. The earcups are designed to swivel too and you can fold them flat to make them more compact. A nicely made pouch is included and provides just enough room for the compacted headphones to fit. It looks very similar to the cheaper MDR-10R, which does not have noise cancellation, but the MDR-10RNCIP exclusively comes with an in-flight adapter simply because it is recommended for frequent flyers to consider noise-cancelling headphones.
Rather than coming with a single cable, the Sony MDR-10RNCIP comes with a pair of cables clearly indicating that you can detach the cable and easily plug in the other. The stereo connecting cable is the standard cable to use for hooking up to a stationary device while the smartphone control cable is more suitable for mobile devices as it has a single multifunction button.
The Sony MDR-10RNCIP is equipped with dual noise sensors which work together to cancel slightly more than 99% of noise. It comes with a single AAA battery that should last for about 20 hours before you need to buy a new one. Since the noise-cancelling feature better eliminates ambient noise than passive noise cancelling thanks to those sensors, you should consider getting a rechargeable AAA battery if you want to enjoy that blissful luxury without ever buying another set of batteries.
Unlike most of the other headphones that focus on noise cancelling, Sony infused an additional technology to the MDR-10RNCIP that can automatically pick the best noise cancelling mode after intelligently monitoring the ambient noise. Aircraft, train and office each have their own modes making this pair of headphones mighty useful for a number of occasions.
While there is unfortunately no way to adjust the volume with the Sony MDR-10RNCIP, you could use that single button to perform playback operations on a connected device as long as it is running iOS. You can play, pause, skip, go back or even launch Siri depending on the number of times you click the button.
The biggest corner that Sony cut is on the audio quality. Starting from the upper mids to the highs, the audio leaves a bit to be desired. But the bass stands out and doesn’t sound too boosted to make all those mainstream tracks sound very natural. Even in passive mode, the sound quality is still pretty acceptable so you only really need to turn on the noise cancellation circuitry if you need some extra volume without distortion. In a nutshell, bass lovers and fans of the latest dance tracks will love the MDR-10RNCIP and forget about all the little flaws.
The Sony MDR-10RNCIP ends up being a jack of all trades but in the world of headphones, that is by no means a bad thing because big weaknesses is what really makes a pair of headphones impossible to recommend. If Sony decides to bring the $249 price tag down, the MDR-10RNCIP can become an even stronger recommendation. It doesn’t surpass a few of Sony’s competitors in areas here and there but it is comfortable enough to be a fantastic noise-cancelling travel companion. Now all Sony needs to do is make the headphones rechargeable.