Review: Sony MDR-1RBT Bluetooth Headphones

Some days you want to throw open the windows, crank up your stereo and rattle the walls with your favorite music. Other times, you want to drift off into your own little sonisphere, totally walled off from the rest of the world.

The most crucial component when you’re spinning yourself that all-encompassing audio cocoon? High-quality headphones. And if you really want to get wrapped up, you’ll go wireless: Nothing jolts you out of that sublime sonic space so rudely as inadvertently jerking an earbud out of your ear canal.

These days, that means you’ll be buying a set of Bluetooth cans like Sony’s MDR-1RBT stereo headphones. At $400 list, they’re pretty spendy, but they’re not out of line with other high-end headphones (some of which sound like crap). Besides, can you really put a price tag on sound quality, comfort and ease of use? The MDR-1RBTs excel in every category that counts.

First, the most important one: These headphones sound great. Back in the day, before Sony’s dizzying fall from grace, the Japanese electronics firm made headphones called the MDR-V6 that audio professionals adopted as a sort of industry standard because of their realistic sound reproduction and reliability.

The new Bluetooth model will fill your head with similarly high-quality sounds. Whether listening to a silky-smooth Steely Dan track, a grinding morsel from Motörhead or the London Symphony Orchestra’s recording of The Music of Star Wars, the sound is crystal-clear. The separation of the various instruments, and the lack of bombastic bass you get with lesser headphones, pulls you fully into the recordings. While an audiophile will point out that a compressed wireless connection is inherently less rich than a strand of wire stretching from headphone to tube amp, in today’s music ecosystem — where most people get their songs from streaming sources or, at best, high-quality digital files — Bluetooth makes perfect sense (Though there’s a cable in the box you can hook up if you’d like).

With regard to all these Bluetooth bugaboos, the MDR-1RBTs work as well as any other Bluetooth device, but they also utilize near-field communication, or NFC, to make connection even simpler. With an NFC-capable device like the Nexus 4, you just tap the phone to the ear cup and a prompt comes up on the phone’s screen inviting you to pair.

Aside from the occasional and completely unavoidable Bluetooth annoyance, there’s nothing else to bitch about with these incredibly true-sounding headphones (get the full MDR-1RBT specs here). They charge quickly using the enclosed micro-USB cable, and battery life is so good — they lasted all week at work, even when I forgot to turn them off all day — that I gave up on searching the Help Guide for the “official” line on what to expect. We took turns testing them on a Droid Bionic, a Nexus 4, an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro, listening to streaming audio and music as well as local files, and the sound quality was always exemplary.

Yes, they cost a little more than get-gadget headphones, but they deliver wireless convenience, astonishing comfort and outstanding audio. If these things matter to you, and you’re down with Bluetooth, dive right in unafraid. These are the among the best Bluetooth headphones we’ve tried.

UPDATE: The review has been changed to reflect a resolved support issue with iOS 6. The headphones work fine with iOS 6 devices, and a bug that was previously causing problems has been fixed.

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