Review by Peter Wells
The packaging of the Sony MDR-ZX750BN (henceforth ZX750, RRP $279) tells the story of these hybrid headphones. On the front of the box, a dashing young businessman steps onto a private jet. On the back, a manic pixie dream girl listens to tunes on her morning commute. The message: these active noise cancelling headphones from Sony aim to be a frequent traveler’s best friend, while being the perfect smartphone commuter headphones. The Sony ZX750 pulls off both tasks admirably.
For our dashing young businessman, inside the box is a “Travel Pack” of extras. Included is a travel pouch, AUX cable (for times when you’d rather not use a Bluetooth connection), an airplane jack connector and a back-up battery pack for portable charging.
The ZX750 claims to reduce 98 per cent of ambient noise, and that feels about right. They specifically attack the low frequency noises such as motor and traffic rumbles, the drone of air conditioning units, the low background hum of the universe.
If you’ve never used active noise cancelling headphones, they take some getting used to. When you first cup them over your ears, it feels like your brain is being sucked through to an alternate dimension. A pleasant dimension, where co-workers, traffic and other annoyances no longer exist.
This morning on the bus I was listening to a quiet podcast with no background music, just talking. When the show ended 30 minutes later, pulling of the headphones and hearing the sounds of reality rushing back — Sydney traffic, the rumble of the motor, someone chatting on their phone — was quiet a shock. I’m still not used to the sensation, but it is impressive.
For our beautiful commuter, the Sony headphones feature a full remote on the cups, including volume, play, pause, and the ability to answer calls. The controls are a little fiddly at first, and I’m convinced the volume up and down slider should be reversed, but once you’re used to it, everything works fast.
The left cup includes a built-in microphone so you can take calls without fumbling to disconnect the headphones. Microphone quality was great, but I felt so self-conscious talking on these, because I couldn’t really tell how loud I was talking. Your insecurities may vary.
The ZX750 pairs just as well with my iPhone as they do with an Android device. Both platforms support the remote control features, microphone and call answering. That may not sound impressive, but many headphones I’ve tested have failed to pull this off.
Streaming music via Bluetooth is not great for the battery of the headphones or the device you’re streaming from, which is one of the reasons the ZX750s come with an optional AUX cable. Unfortunately, once you use the cable to connect to your phone, the remote buttons on the headphones no longer work. A strange quirk.
Still, battery life on the headphones is impressive. The headphones lasted a week over my journey to and from work. Sony claims 24 hours constant use with noise cancelling, 13 hours over Bluetooth. I was more concerned for the drain on my smartphone battery, but any newer giant-phone should handle the load. If these became my daily headphones, it would be no hassle to add them to the pile of charging devices on my bedside table.
The Sony ZX750s are deceptively light, just 230 grams, and the cups are comfortable enough to wear all day. I was pleasantly surprised I could make it through an entire shift at work without feeling uncomfortable or claustrophobic, as I sometimes do with over-ear phones.
The headphones sound fantastic to my old, broken ears. I’m no audiophile, but I was happy with playback across all genres. The dream of the 1990s is alive with my music collection, and trip hop boomed beautifully with bass, while grunge sounded suitably trebly and heart-wrenching.
These headphones are quite good looking. They’re big, as over-ear headphones need to be, but not too big. The clean black plastic cups and black fabric band make for a subtle, classic look. Far less garish than some of the brands on the market today.
I love the sound of over ear headphones, but rarely leave the house with a pair because most are too annoying to wear all day, and too big to stash in a bag. Not these, however. The cups swivel around so the headphones can lay flat in a bag, or comfortably around your neck, if you’re cool enough to pull off that look. The combination of lightweight cans and no wires snaking around my neck meant I was able to forget I was wearing them for hours at a time.
Peter Wells is the co-founder of the award-winning technology website Reckoner.com.au and a regular AR contributor.