Sony MDR1a-DAC

These may not be the headphones you’re looking for, but they’ll do nicely.

My FiiO E17K has one major issue – the wheel. Spin it clockwise and the numbers do what they please. Spin it anticlockwise and the numbers do what they please. This makes it a pain in the ears to listen to music off the FiiO X5 through the E17K because I have no real control over the volume of the music when I’m list­en­ing to any through my Sennheiser Momentums. (02.01.17. I should now add that I have partly solved the pro­blem with the E17K, but it’s clunky and unreliable.)

I’d been thinking about buying a pair of headphones which had a built-in volume control because now that it’s turned cold, I have the heater on in the bedroom in the evening, which drowns out music from the speakers, forcing me to resort to my headphones.

With this in mind, I went to BSB to have a look at some Sony headphones, which are merely modestly pricey in comparison with some of the gear they have. The first pair I looked at seemed to include a separate vol­ume control, but that was for using with a phone (probably an Xperia).

After I managed to convey to the girl who works in shop that I wanted something with its own volume con­trol, she directed me to the Sony MDR-1aDAC, which seemed to have exactly what I was looking for, and a DAC to boot.

Let me say that these are nice headphones and they produce decent sound, but the built-in volume control was a trap, being disabled when you plug the headphones into some other device using the 3.5mm jack cable. I didn’t know that till I’d got back to school and downloaded the manual in English from the Sony site.

However they work, the sound from the X5 via the E17K isn’t at quite the same volume as it is through the Momentums (which are also a perfectly decent, slightly uncomfortable pair of headphones).

The MDR-1aDACs have a built in DAC and a plethora of cables for various devices as well as a 3.5mm con­nection for other things (including, ironically, my Sony PHA-1a DAC, which, it appears, I can only con­nect to the MDRs through a 3.5mm cable). The headphones can be connected to a laptop through the charging cable; to iPods through a lightning connector; and to a hi-res Walkman through Sony’s (proprietary) wide connector (but not to the older Walkman’s that can’t play FLAC files; I note that it now appears that Sony may be ditching this style of connector, which they should never have used in the first place). The analogue cable for connecting the headphones directly to other devices is rather short and can be bothersome where the device (my FiiO K5) is on my right, but the cable is plugged into the left-hand headphone.

29.10.17. I’m listening to a selection of tracks by the LSO Live, which was a 24/96 freebie from Prime­phonic.  This is going through the E17K, which I have plugged into the FiiO K5. I’ve also set the laptop to 32/96 (the E17K only has 16- or 32-bit options). The resulting combination produces decidedly nice sound, although I don’t know how vinyl it is. My other caveat here is that the music is all Classical, which has different dynamics from my usual Baroque fare.

The question which remains in my mind is whether USB and lightning cables are necessarily superior con­veyors of sound to 3.5mm jack cables or whether I can’t tell the difference. I suspect the answer to be the latter; I suspect the answer to be that only a machine could tell.

Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.

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