It's a difficult task to stand out in the headphone market these days. Having a killer feature helps, be it awesome sound performance or wireless capabilities. But value remains the most important item on many listeners' checklists. The more packed into the offering, the better.
Sony entered 2015 guns a-blazing with a new set of wireless over-ear headphones for just $150. (This model isn't currently available in UK or AU regions, though Sony's MDR-ZX770BN, a step-up in specs including noise cancellation, is available in the UK for £129.)
Awkwardly dubbed MDR-ZX770BT, Sony's naming convention lacks grace. But these cans represent a steady focus on fusing value with a boatload of features, impressive sound and battery performance.
[Update: At the end of 2017, wireless headphones have turned from a niche product into a mainstream staple, and their quality has increased exponentially as well, with much better Bluetooth standards and bigger batteries bringing an end to many of their problems. Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones for our top picks, or else give our best on-ear headphones guide a read if you're not sure whether you want to go wireless]
Considering that a headphone’s design is as important as its sound performance, Sony’s MDR-ZX770BT may seem at first like a safe bet. But upon closer inspection, these over-ear headphones are decked out with unique design effects that spice up their stuffy executive vibe.
The MDR-ZX770BT that Sony sent to TechRadar for review is equal parts black and blue, echoing a similar play on colors found in the firm’s gaming brand, PlayStation.
The unit’s headband is stocked with two flavorful layers of color. On the outside, matte-textured black plastic makes up the sidearms. Reaching toward the top, an all-leather wrap is in place where the headphones make contact with your noggin. Similar to the sidearms, the outer layer of the headband is also black.
On the inner band, the MDR-ZX770BT takes on a sporty splash of blue coloring and design touches. The materials mirror what’s outside, but the matte plastic and leather are decked out with a dotted texture that gives off a fun vibe.
Extending the size of the headphones, a blue plastic frame reinforced with a thin layer of brushed aluminum reveals itself. These cans stretch over my head, which is large enough for me to consider this a feat. But what’s more, there were adjustments to spare, meaning that those with an even larger head can find a safe place under these headphones.
Moving on to the earcups, the design flourishes continue to impress. Along with shiny branding, the outside of the cups are also speckled with a sparkling plastic coating that looks dashing. Their insides are pumped with cushy padding and coated with a thin layer of leather.
On the left earcup, you’ll find the power button, which doubles as a Bluetooth pairing button if you hold it for a few seconds. Nested up against that button is a status LED that flashes in various frequencies and colors. On its bottom, there is a micro USB charging port.
Finally, around its front, there are two features, one being a reset button in case all goes wrong and the other being the mic for picking up your voice. You can tap your phone to this cup to connect via NFC, if your phone supports it.
Switching over to the right earcup, we find the ever-important volume rocker. It’s dotted with a protruding finger guide that helps to differentiate the volume increase from decrease with ease.
Next to it is the multi-function button. Moving it side-to-side changes to the next or previous song. Pushing it in acts to pause and resume playback or to pick up a phone call. It’s dead simple compared to most wireless headphones, which have you tapping the play button two to three times to skip songs.
The Sony MDR-ZX770BT rocks a design that makes it easy to get listening in style and, thankfully, the guts packed inside power a generally satisfying experience.
The comfy design allows heads of all sizes to listen all day long without a gripe. Its headband gently presses against the crown and the closed-back earcups create a secure seal that blocks out a decent amount of sound. My ears inside did get a little sweaty during a brisk walk and some household chores, so a small break was required after about an hour of use.
These headphones are capable, at best, of encoding music with the aptX Bluetooth codec. Out of the box, however, they operate at the subpar SBC codec, which is the more compressed option of the two. How you go about adjusting the sound quality is well-hidden, a little too well-hidden. I had to open up the online instruction manual to figure it out.
Even once I “upgraded” the sound quality, the soundstage generally sounded more cramped than over-ear headphones should ideally provide. The sound signature is quite balanced in temperature, which makes them versatile across genres. Adding to the mix, clarity and mids and highs response trump all else. The lows are well represented, but bass presence is lacking.
The battery packed inside the MDR-ZX770BT is a workhorse, easily meeting its advertised seventeen hours of battery life at a moderate volume. During testing, these lasted almost three full days – just over 20 hours – in a work week before needing a charge.
Rounding out the headphones’ performance, Bluetooth connectivity and call quality are fine. At the very least, they perform precisely to my satisfaction.
Sure, the Sony MDR-ZX770BT won’t win any awards for astounding audio quality. That said, these headphones will receive well-deserved accolades for its stellar battery life, comfort and premium design. Even the smallest details, like the button interface, are thoughtfully implemented.
If sound performance is key, putting down another $50 can get you the superior-sounding Koss BT540i. While I do prefer its bass response, these Sony cans take the cake every other way while costing much less.