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Sony MDR-DS6000 Wireless 5.1 Headphones Review

Whether you’re talking TVs, stereos or game consoles, Sony is one of the few electronics companies that reaches both casual consumers and hardcore audio/videophiles. When it comes to pricing, though, Sony is generally known for “high end” MSRPs, even for its less-hardcore products. Yet the company’s MDR-DS6000 5.1 wireless headphones bridge both worlds, with plug-and-play ease, a stylish form factor and nice customization options all at a surprisingly competitive price.

The MDR-DS6000 wireless 5.1 headphones are the latest in Sony’s MDR series, which dates back at least five years. Earlier MDR models used an infrared transmitter on top of their tower-like base to send a 5.1 digital signal. At the time, this setup was perfectly fine, mostly because of the novelty of having wireless headphones. Yet this infrared setup had issues that can no longer be overlooked, most notably a limited viewing angle, sketchy transmission distance and a continually fuzzy signal. Sony’s MDR-DS6000 headphones eliminate those hassles completely. By using a 2.4 GHz wireless signal (a la cordless telephones), the MDR-DS6000 headphones can be used in any direction and at any angle within a 30-foot radius. Technically the headphones can pick up a signal from 100 feet away, but most homes have walls and appliances, which slowly degrade that 100-foot technicality.

With that said, these headphones can flawlessly receive a 5.1 digital signal through three standard walls and up a flight of stairs before showing any signs of fuzziness, and the only time they have trouble maintaining a digital signal is when the source itself (Blu-ray player, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, for instance) fails to send a signal for five minutes (say, if the movie or game is paused and has no accompanying audio). When the headphones do lose signal, re-synching the base and the headphones is simply a matter of pressing the sync button on each device — but be warned that it can take a few presses and up to a minute for the signal to come back and the headphones to stop beeping.

Really, though, the infrequent need to re-sync the headphones to the base is the only issue we’ve had in a full month testing the MDR-DS6000. In terms of functionality, the MDR-DS6000 comes with everything — and we mean everything — you need to get your digital 5.1 experience off the ground. As with previous MDR outings, the headphones themselves contain a rechargeable battery pack in one earpiece that can be recharged simply by placing the headphones on the base and aligning one headphone with the metal recharging pin. The base, in turn, is plugged-in via an included (and small) AC adaptor and connects to a digital audio source via the included optical cable. Just like that, you’re up and running. When the batteries die down after about five hours, simply place the headphones back on the base for three hours and you’re up and running again (or insert two standard AA batteries).

Having recently reviewed the Pioneer SE-DIR800C Wireless Headphones, we can say quite confidently that one of the nicest features of the Sony MDR-DS6000 is its “self-contained” recharging functionality. But two additional features also help place it a cut above. First, the Sony wireless 5.1 headphones include three user-defined audio options: default, cinema and music. The default setting pushes the digital audio signal through like traditional speakers, with no regard for anything other than volume level. This is great for videogames, which gamers generally want to play loud, but it’s not the best setting for movies. In that case, the cinema option is the best bet, as it really picks up subtle details like reverberations and distortion in enclosed spaces, yet delivers sufficient audio punch in higher-decibel scenes. At times there’s a bit of an echo, but it’s seldom distracting or detracting.

The headphones’ music setting isn’t quite as refined, as it really just serves to mute everything other than wind instruments, and it doesn’t pick up voice subtleties or highs and lows. The music setting also doesn’t work that well with “multimedia” concerts on DVD, with their crowd noise and non-musical segments. It’s fine for audio CDs or audio DVDs, but not many people need wireless 5.1 headphones for listening to music. Gamers and movie buffs, though, will be more than pleased.

The second non-recharging feature that puts the Sony set over Pioneer’s is simply the system’s form factor. There’s a reason Sony’s home electronics Web site is called Sony Style; these things just reek of electronics sex appeal. The base itself is a simple black disk just 1.5 inches tall and 7.25 inches in diameter, and it has just two lights: one to indicate the headphones are charging, and one to indicate that the base is transmitting a digital 5.1 signal. The headphones, meanwhile, are black and silver with a clever “internal headband” that serves two purposes: adjusting the headphones to fit your head, and signaling to the headphones whether they need to pick up a signal (i.e. whether anyone is wearing them). The latter point is phenomenal for those instances when you’re pulled away from the TV for any period of time and just want to set the headphones down. With the internal headband deactivated, you don’t have to worry about the batteries losing their charge. Sure, it’s just as easy to put them on the recharging base, but this just adds to the convenience and shows pity for those who get off the sofa in a hurry.

Sony’s MDR series has long been a staple in my house, and the MDR-DS6000 shows that Sony has done it once again. By blending convenience, usability, customization and form factor, there’s really no excuse for home-entertainment aficionados not to have a set of these on their entertainment center. Add the ability to sync multiple headsets to a single base, and it’s easy to picture entire families donning the MDR-DS6000 for a “night at the movies.” About all Sony could do to improve these headphones is make them Bluetooth rather than 2.4 GHz — and that’s probably coming along in the next set.

Score: 9.5
An amazing audio tool for those who can’t afford a full-blown surround-sound setup or need to listen to high-volume sources during otherwise-quiet times (e.g. when the kids go to bed). This is one piece of home-electronics hardware with which you can’t go wrong.

— Jonas Allen

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