Creative Minds: Sony PFR-V1
The PFR-V1 is one of those headphones that you simply want to get just to hear how your recordings sound through it. I think we can all imagine how open the sound would be, having a pair of tiny 21mm drivers suspended in open space, roughly one inch from your ears. I did a quick search on google on the PFR-V1, and the majority of the reviews were quite negative. Quite disheartening to see, but I’m still curious to try on the PFR-V1 for myself to see how it would actually sound.
The PFR-V1 is not a headphone for everyone. Not only is the price a bit steep at over $500, but the overall design concept makes it more of an exercise in creativity, rather than an attempt to create the next best-bang-for-the-buck product. Of course, for us headphone addicts, we just love to have a new and interesting headphone to play with. The “Personal Field Speakers” model designation probably should be seen as an actual product description, and not just marketing talk, since the PFR-V1 can’t quite be called a headphone nor should you expect it to sound like one. The PFR-V1 was made for people who wants to try out new things, and are willing to accept a few compromises in return for a fresh experience. The average guy looking for a simple pair of headphones would be better off with popular models like the Sennheiser PX100 or the Audio Technica M-50.
It would be interesting to compare how the PFR-V1 compare to the legendary AKG K1000. Sadly, I have no K1000 to compare to. Anyway, the designers at Sony made the PFR-V1 to be a more modest headphone than the K1000. The 21mm drivers has a moderate impedance rating of 16 Ohms, and can run pretty good straight out of an Ipod at 95%-100% volume levels. The drivers are slightly current hungry, though far easier to manage than the Hifiman Orthodynamics or the K1000 which require speaker amps to run properly. On loud bass passages, you can expect to hear distortions if your amplifier or DAP can’t supply enough current to it. If you find your player to be inadequate to drive the PFR-V1, you can use the supplied Sony amplifier which is a small plastic box designed to provide a boost on the loudness level, as well as the bass performance.
I wrongly judged that the Sony would have a super thin frequency response that would be missing a large part of the bass spectrum. After all, having no pads and no isolation to the ears, how can you produce any decent bass out of those tiny 21mm drivers? Apparently, the acoustic engineers at Sony designed a pair of hollow rods to serve as a bass transport medium. The specially designed foam sleeves for the rods also contributes to the overall frequency balance of the headphones, adding more bass body, warming up the sound, and making the treble less piercing than it does without the foams. Paired with the supplied amplifier (which boosts low bass levels), the PFR-V1 sounds quite proper from the top to the bottom frequencies. The tonal balance is fairly linear save for a slight mid-treble peak, but overall the frequency balance is quite pleasing and natural. Although the bass would never replace good closed headphones like the ATH M-50 or the HD25-1, I was surprised to find that I really didn’t feel the bass to be missing too much. Well, provided I stay away from music that has a lot of beats and demand strong bass performance.
Ergonomically, the PFR-V1 was confusing the first few times I tried it on. But after I get a good understanding of how to fit it, it becomes quite an easy fit the next time around. The abundance of hinges makes sure that the Sony can be adapted to different head sizes, and so far I think it’s quite comfortable to wear, especially due to the absence of pads that normally would cause perspiration. The bass rods can be quite uncomfortable without the foam sleeves, but with them on, comfort levels are quite good. The thin rods that suspend the driver housing may look thin and fragile, but Sony uses quite a solid material and so it never feels flimsy. It probably would not stand to serious abuse, but overall I think the build quality is very good.
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