Pros: Great all rounder, Bass and mids , Great sound stage and imaging, neutral (DF-neutral), clarity, detailed, and pretty good separation.
Cons: Stock cable is pretty annoying and bad, proprietary connection, fit may be a nightmare for many (not me, thank god for the chin slider), upper mid range or treble may sometimes get grainy, and upper treble rolls off
Driver Setup: Single 16 mm Dynamic Driver
Price: $210 (USD)
Disclaimer: this review is done of my own accord and I purchased this set at full price from Amazon at a price of around $320 SGD.
As many would have heard of it by now, the SONY MDR EX1000ST is one of the highly revered IEMs in the market. The EX800 (or MDR7550) is its little brother and it is no slouch when it comes to sonic performance. As of now, the EX1000 are all out of stock IIRC and only the EX800 are available in most legitimate stores or you can purchase them online like me via amazon. The EX1000 was a huge hit and gained a reputation of being one of the best reference IEM in the market and today we are going to take a look at the EX800 if it is a worthy competitor on its own.
Packaging and Accessories (Score: 5/10)
There isn’t much to look at here, the unit came in a white box and inside the box, there is a carrying case and a set of tips included. The box may look shady and some might doubt its authenticity but no worries, it is meant to be like that. At the back and at the top of the white box, there should be a printed label saying “MDR-EX800ST” and a bunch of Japanese characters. Overall, the experience was kind of underwhelming given the price as compared to modern-day offerings (like the Moondrop KXXS) but it is simple and includes the essentials so I will give it a pass since the main value comes from sound.
Build quality and Fit (Score: 7/10)
The design of these IEMs are really unique and unseen-of anywhere else other than its siblings. Initially, I had trouble trying to wear these and it took me some time to get a proper fit (the model name should be facing your ear when you wear it). The EX800s do not isolate well and are meant to leak (it plays a part in its sonic qualities) and it has a vent at the back of the driver housing so do take note of that.
The EX800 is made of durable plastic and they are pretty light on the ears so I could really wear them for very long hours and the tips provided actually fit my ears pretty well! But, I disagree with its cable and the memory wire sucked real bad… It does not follow the shape of my ears easily and it constantly falls off my ears while I am wearing it, however, there is a chin slider that I usually pull up near my chin such that the cable doesn’t fall off.
The stock cable build quality is average, nothing special and nothing fancy. Do take note that it uses a proprietary connection (you will need to turn the connection cover like a carabiner with a lock) so replacement cables might get costly since it is not widely available as compared to 2-pins and MMCX. I will give this unit a 7 for its build quality of the IEM in general as I only have issues with its cables and initially, its design but I got used to it so take note of this point!
Sound (Score: 8.8/10)
Frequency Response Graph of the EX800ST
The EX800ST sounds neutral but with a tiny hint of warmness and I usually used it as a reference to compare with other IEMs in terms of frequency response. This unit is actually quite sensitive so you do not really need a dedicated amp for it which also means you can listen to it on the go. I will just list a few tracks that I often use to test since I already owned this unit for quite some time.
- Topping D10 > JDS ATOM
- Ibasso DX120
- IPhone XR
Music tracks listened to
- Everybody Changes (Keane: Hopes and Fears)
- Secrets (One Republic: Dreaming Out Loud)
- Salute D’amour (YoYoMa)
- New Light (John Meyer)
- Cry (Cigarette After Sex: Cry)
- HALO MCC OST
- Violin concerto in D major allegro
- 1812 Overture
- Magnum O Mysterium (Choir)
- Ophelia (The Lumineers)
- Hello (Adele)
Bass (Score: 9/10)
I am actually quite impressed with the bass response of this unit, it’s full, the “oomph” is very satisfying, and at the same time, it does not sound too out of place or overpowering the other frequencies. I have nothing much to say about this region as it is really good in my opinion and I will summarise this region as powerful, clean and full.
Mids (Score: 9/10)
Other than its upper-midrange, I have little to no qualms with it at all! Male vocals are really pronounced and clear, not much bass bleeding, and something that I really like about its mid-range is its realism and texture. Cello sounds are really addictive when listening to YoYoMa’s entire album which I did not expect from a reference monitor that was made to monitor tracks. However, its upper mid-range is pretty aggressive especially when it comes to female vocals such Adele and it just becomes a bit too fatiguing to listen to after a while.
Treble (Score: 7.5/10)
The treble on the EX800ST is probably its weakest attribute, although it does not sound sibilant at all which is very important for me since I am very sensitive to treble, it does sound unpolished? Many may say that it is grainy and rolled-off but I would not blame it since it is very common in single DD setups. They just can’t do treble as well as BAs or Electrostats. However, it still does certain things really well such as detail retrieval and instrument separation which becomes very apparent in busy instrumental tracks and orchestral pieces. Given its limitations, I would say I’m quite satisfied with this region other than its treble roll-off and rough edges in this region.
The MDR EX800ST is truly a benchmark that is hard to beat. It sounds open (of course because it leaks and a trade-off with isolation) its soundstage is above average for an IEM and imaging is quite precise. If you enjoy an open-sounding IEM with very good technical ability then this is it, the MDR EX800ST will not disappoint you in this aspect. However, I would take a few points off due to its tuning – its tonality, while still enjoyable, is not as good as its technical abilities.
I am convinced of this unit’s capabilities and I am very pleased with it. I really enjoy neutral sound signatures and this unit does it really well! However, I’m going to take a few points off for its treble performance as well as cable since it really bothered me quite a lot. Do give this unit a try for its impeccable sonic qualities which is very rare at this price point but do take note that the fit does require some time for you to get used to and locate that sweet spot.
Overall Grade: A-
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