Hardware review of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones

SFFaudio Review

SONY MDR-AS200 HeadphonesSony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones [WHITE]
Manufacturer: Sony
UPC: 027242862500

Sony® headphones deliver dependable, quality audio reproduction time after time. Equipped with 13.5 mm high-sensitivity driver units, our MDR-AS200 Sports headphones are no different while also affording a secure, comfortable fit that lets you get close and personal with your workout.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones

What I look for in headphones is not so much audio fidelity, or heavy bass, or whatever it is that music listeners are presumably looking for, as much as the reliable and constant delivery of the spoken word to my ears.

I’ve used the same pair of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones, off and on, for a few years now – they’re reliable, lightweight, not-super tangly (though still tangly) and best of all they are cheap. “Active” is Sony’s way of saying these headphones are sweatproof. And they are. In fact, I go through other kinds of headphones very quickly. Listening is such a big part of my life that I don’t mind spending a bit of money on something that might improve my ability to listen, more and more efficiently. But when a pair of my regular wireless bluetooth headphones dies (which they do fairly frequently), and when the sun isn’t shining or I’m not going to be outdoors (that’s when I use my wireless bluetooth sunglasses with headphones) I need some regular backup wired headphones and the Sony MDR-AS200s are those for me.

I don’t like earbuds, I’ve never been able to use any without having them fall out and/or hurt my ears, and while the MDR-AS200 headphones do sit in the same place as earbuds they simply ride there – they don’t rub, or bump, or pop out or fall out. People seem to want to call these “over the ear” headphones, but the MDR-AS200 headphones are more secure than that – they go all-the-way-around-the-ear. The around-the-ear ear loops are marked, right and left, and each has an expandable section, adjustable by friction and able to travel just slightly more than the thickness of a pencil (approx. half an inch). This means if you are a person and you have ears – they can probably fit yours and that they won’t fall off.

As to the sound quality, I must stress that these headphones do not in any manner form a seal between your ear canal and the speakers that ride just outside of them. What this means is that at all times you can hear the outside world. This is perfect for navigating the stacks at a library, but possibly not so great for noisy environments like the gym (they’re sweatproof), the mall, or your own home (depending on your home).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and listen to audio from YouTube videos, and sadly, not everyone who produces podcasts and YouTube videos has loud enough audio in their productions. If you’re in the same situation as me you must be aware that these MDR-AS200 headphones do not seal you off from the world – and so too-quietly-recorded podcasts and video audio will be nigh unhearable in anything like a noisy environment.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones and earmuffs

One last thing. The other reason I need to keep my Sony MDR-AS200 headphones on hand is for a specific in-home use. I don’t like vacuuming, but I will do it (when necessary) if I have these “active” headphones in my ears. They allow, when paired with some cheap plastic over-the-head ear protection earmuffs, a somewhat pleasant vacuuming experience.

A little feature from Sony’s design department:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - zipper

And a cute little hard plastic clothing clip, designed to prevent the cord from dangling or moving where you don’t want it to:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - clothing clip

Usage and features from the manual:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - usage and features

Posted by Jesse Willis

Hardware review Sony DR-BT160AS (Bluetooth Stereo Headset)

SFFaudio Review


Sony DR-BT160AS (Bluetooth Stereo Headset)
Model: DR-BT160AS
Manufacturer: Sony
Manufactured: 2008 [DISCONTINUED]
UPC: 027242734661

Product manual: |PDF|

I think of myself as a careful shopper. One who would rather research a product than let a salesperson explain its virtues to me. But one day, probably in Summer 2009, I made a relatively impulsive decision. I bought a pair of wireless headphones based on the maufactuer’s reputation, the specifications on the packaging, and the price. It is one of the best purchase decisions I’ve ever made.

Back in 2008 I had seen someone wearing a pair of Bluetooth enabled headphones at the gym, and was entranced by the idea. For decades I had used wired headphones, most often the low end models, like the Sony MDR-101. The earbuds that I’d tried over the years never properly fit my ears. And so I was always looking for a better listening device. For at least 5 years this turned out to be a then discontinued model of over-the-ear and behind-the-head earbuds that I picked up at NCIX on impulse. After wearing them for a day I went back and bought another pair (they were about $80) thinking these would be a backup for the day when the ones I’d bought the day before died. Sadly, that day has finally come. And though my backup pair have been sitting in their box since 2008, I’ve just now opened them up. Sadly, it was this very morning that was the day one my long-durable earbuds suddenly died. At this very moment I am charging up, for the very first time, my backup DR-BT160AS headset. And, looking at them charge, my only regret is that I didn’t buy more backup pairs – for I fear that, one day, the greatness that is the DR-BT160AS will no longer be available to me. And at the moment I have no expectation of a suitable replacement.

Trying to figure out why I’m so attached to the broken first pair of Sony DR-BT160AS earbuds sitting before me I think I can explain why I’m upset. This pair of bluetooth wireless earbuds have been more comfortable than any headphones I’ve ever owned. They are light and durable. The earbuds themselves can be pushed in and out easily due to thick metal pillar from which they project. The form fitting design of the behind the ear nacelles feel less ungainly that they look. Usable in the sun and rain, at the gym, while driving, walking, or working, the DR-BT160AS have dutifully delivered countless thousands of hours of podcasts and audiobooks, for several hours each day, seven days a week, to my ears without fail.

Wired headphones always always always get in the way, always get tangled, always get caught on things, and their foamy coverings always soak up sweat and become ripped. When I switched iPhones, from the 3GS to my first 5, the DR-BT160AS kept working, no problem. When my first iPhone 5 died, I walked out of the Apple Store with a new iPhone 5 and my trusty old DR-BT160AS headset. When I got my first iPad they worked with that. When sold that iPad I kept the Sony earbuds, and bought an iPad Mini and they worked with that. Suffice it to say my DR-BT160AS headphones are with me more than any other personal electronic device I’ve ever owned. Since 2009 I’ve probably owned about four or five pairs of sunglasses. None of them have lasted half as long as the DR-BT160AS. And the DR-BT160AS earbuds allow room enough for simultaneous use of sunglasses, something no previous pair of headphones I’ve owned ever could. There’s a little joystick control at the back of the right nacelle. I generally don’t use it. Pressing on it makes the track stop or play. Left and right move tracks back or ahead. Up and down increase and decrease volume. There’s also an answer phone button on the bottom of the right nacelle. I don’t think I’ve used it more than twice. The power on bottom is intuitive, and take a moment to engage so you don’t accidentally turn it on or off. The indicator lights, on the right nacelle’s top tell you its status, connected (flashing blue), charging (solid red). When it boots up, it makes a little “on” sound and when it runs out of power (typically only if I’ve forgotten to charge it overnight) it makes a little “off” sound.

Sony DR-BT160AS Right Nacelle

That isn’t to say the DR-BT160AS is perfect. It isn’t. The built in microphone picks up a lot of ambient noise, I know this because callers continually complain, but on the other hand the fact that they have a built in microphone is a step up from every pair of headphones I’d previously owned. In winter, the connecting neck band, an arc of plastic that gives the headset its semi-rigid shape, will push against a high collared jacket. This can sometimes make wearing them uncomfortable. But on the other hand, it is really only a problem in the coldest part of winter. Similarly having been too long without a haircut can make the headset more likely to not fit. But, again, I think it speaks volumes about my satisfaction with the earbuds that getting a haircut is a better solution than looking for another pair of headphones.

As with many older manufacturing companies Sony has a terribly obtuse naming system for their many products. I’m not wholly sure but I figure the DR-BT160AS means something like this: “DR” seems to be associated with other Bluetooth (or at least wireless) Sony headphones. “BT” likely stands for “Bluetooth” and “AS” for “Active Series” – the name for the sports line.

I’ve looked again and again over the years, Sony doesn’t seem to have any similar products still available. But if they do make something similar, I’ll be sure to check it out, as I’m probably more satisfied with the build quality, comfort, and durability of the Sony DR-BT160AS than I am with with any other electronic device I’ve ever purchased.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Hardware review of the Sony ICF-CS15iPN Personal Audio System (“DREAM MACHINE” Lightning Connector clock radio dock)

SFFaudio Review

Sony ICF-CS15iPN Silver

“DREAM MACHINE” Personal Audio System
Product number: ICF-CS15iPN (Lightning Connector clock radio dock)
Manufacturer: Sony
UPCs: 027242866072 (silver), 027242866089 (black)

I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, but also radio. And since 2004, for those podcasts and audiobooks, I’ve been using Apple devices with the ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector. As the 30 pin dock connector has been upgraded over the years it’s meant I’ve had to swap docking equipment a couple of times already. For the last few years my go to dock/charger/clock/radio had been Sony’s ICF-CS10iP aka the “Dream Machine.” I actually had four of them: One for my bedside, one on my computer desk, one in my classroom, and one in my bathroom (for listening in the shower). The ICF-CS10iP was a robust tabletop machine. In my experience it could charge an naked iPhone 3, 3GS, 4, or 4S, and it could do so for even those wearing most iPhone cases. One thing it couldn’t do was charge (or dock) any iPad.

When I heard about Apple’s “Lightning Connector” last year I knew that the hardware I’d been using, and appreciating, would eventually come to an end. I started worrying when, last year, I got an iPad Mini (which uses a Lighting Connector). And then, recently, when I received an iPhone 5 as a gift, I knew the days of my wonderful ICF-CS10iP were coming to a close. There is actually a LIGHTNING TO 30 PIN ADAPTER available, $35 CDN from the Apple store (or a whole lot cheaper online), and it will fit and work with the ICF-CS10iP. In fact it is very usable there. That’s how my mom has adapted to the new connector. But for me stacking an iPhone on top wasn’t the ideal solution. So, I started looking into a replacement.

The Sony ICF-CS15iPN is the replacement I’ve been looking for. It has the same general shape as the ICF-CS10iP, but has actually been completely redesigned. Most importantly the Lightning Connector dock is on a swivel and is raised up. This allows for an even wider range of cases, and that’s important as I tend to have a thick case.

The controls have also been rearranged and reorganized into three separate tiers. The front most tiers (near the connector) deal with the dual alarms. The topmost tier deals with power, volume, input, and radio controls. And the rearmost buttons (invisible from the front but raised near to the top) deal with infrequently used but necessary programing like time settings and tuning. Like the ICF-CS10iP the ICF-CS15iPN comes with a simple and handy multifunction remote control.

Now the official documentation suggests that the ICF-CS15iPN is only compatible with the iPhone 5, iPod touch 5th generation, and iPod Nano 7th generation. But I can confirm it can also dock with and sync with the iPad Mini. The official documentation does not mention this functionality. Maybe the increased power needed to charge an iPad Mini will overtax the power supply? Perhaps, but I’ve not had any problems so far (after about three months worth of use).

Sony ICF-CS15iPN docked with an iPad Mini

A free app, oddly titled “D-Sappli“, available in the iTunes App Store, though getting poor reviews, seems pretty serviceable to me. It has a feature to sync your Apple device’s time and radio station presets with the dock (presumably for frequent travelers), allows for a sleep timer (usable for audiobooks), a music play timer (I havent tried it) and a sleep timer (for when the app is running). The main feature of the app though is the larger display screen of the time. The ICF-CS15iPN has a fairly large screen, but the option to have the clock running on your iOS device is there.

Sony ICF-CS15iPN docked with an iPhone 5 and displaying the D-Sappli App

Now for the hard part. Sony products have a terrible naming system. Their “Clock Radio” models, I have learned, all start with “ICF” – it took a whole lot of digging to figure out which model was which, and which was still available, and at which stores. Even when I thought I had the model number right the various iterations ended up being confused a lot of the time. To make things even more confusing the model ICF-CS15iPN comes in two different colors, “Silver” and “Black” and these are sometimes tacked on to the model number at the end as “SL” or “BK” (ICF-CS15iPNSL or ICF-CS15iPNBK).

I now have three ICF-CS15iPN devices now, and I use each one daily. The ICF-CS15iPN is fairly expensive, retail being $120 CDN, but the build quality, solidity, and sound quality all make me very satisfied.

Posted by Jesse Willis