Creative Minds: Sony PFR-V1

sony_pfr_v1_14

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.

21mm drivers are moderately current hungry.

 

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.

The Sony amplifier doesn’t come with any controls, except for on and off power switch.

 

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.

Bass rods with and without the foam sleeve.

 

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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  • Earfonia

    Sony could use bigger driver for PFR-V2 :D Make it looks more unique :D

    • Anonymous

      They should expand the –1000 line to the PFR.. EX1000, Z1000, EB1000, and PFR-V1000

      I’m pretty sure that with the level of resolution the Z1000 has, the PFR-V1000 will murder the K1000. (Sorry K1000 fans)

      • Anonymous

        Unfortunately, I think Sony’s discontinued this model…I’m guessing it didn’t sell very well. Not 100% sure about this, but I doubt there’ll be a new model for awhile…but who knows, they might surprise us again.

        • Anonymous

          Yea, it is not exactly the blockbuster type.. More for the curious minds, that’s all.

          • Anonymous

            Definitely, I’m quite intrigued by these. That said, I’d never dish out $500 for these…it honestly seems like more of a novelty thing when it comes right down to it right now, especially given the price.

            I did have a small (like less than 5 minutes) chance to try them out, though there was no amp and I only had my iPhone to power them…they did sound very wide and airy, and there was literally no bass at all, though I didn’t turn the iPhone all the way up.

            Still, it’s very refreshing to see such a new and original design, it would be interesting to see if this style gets improved on in the future.

  • CccC

    Hmmm.. You know I might just get interested in this, Mike. :3

    • Anonymous

      Hope you can get a good deal for below the pricetag.

      I think my friend Sem bought this brand new for far less the suggested $500 pricetag.

  • Jamie

    I have a pair of these and use them exclusively for movies, late at night. For some reason, all of their failings with music make for a great surround sound movie headphone.

    • Anonymous

      Yep I think it will work well with movies.

  • Inado

    Mike,

    In a near futur will you test FOSTEX HP-P1 portable DAC amp ???

    Thank you
    Ivan

    • Anonymous

      I am still waiting for a shipment from Fostex, which has been delayed due to the recent earthquake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yH.dTheo Chiang Yi Herng

    how on earth do u wear this thing??

  • Anonymous

    I must say that your review is spot on. I bought these because of the curiosity factor and have the same impressions about the SQ- hit and miss. I also have the K1000s; and these are not really in the same league. The only things they really have in common are the ‘no sweat’ factor, the (sub-)bass compromise, and that hint of speaker-like openness- neither compare to speakers in soundstage though.

    One important note: You can easily find these BNIB for under $200. That makes them a much more tempting buy- especially if you just want to satisfy your curiosity. I too would love to see Sony take this idea further. The principle seems sound (no pun)- maybe they could try different or larger drivers.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks.. BNIB under $200 would make these much more appealing. Not sure if Sony would approve the release of another PFR style headphone though. I don’t get the impression that this one did too well in sales.

      • Anonymous

        It’s back (April 27, 2011) on Amazon for $178.75! =) I purchased mine from the same seller and they’re good.

        • Anonymous

          Awesome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Suarez/100002172660943 Jason Suarez

    Nice review! I’ve been waiting for an article where the reviewer seriously listens to the field speakers and doesn’t just go: “too ugly, didn’t bother listening to it…” :)

    I don’t know about elsewhere but in the US these are a steal at $180 on Amazon.

    Just wanted to say, I was joking about the C4.

    Although you say that, have you ever heard Sony’s top open-back, the MDR-SA5000? If so, how do those compare?

    • Anonymous

      Hi Jason,
      Thanks for the compliments. $180 on Amazon is indeed a steal, and
      probably worth having one in your collection.

      I haven’t heard the SA5000 yet. It’s very intriguing though, and I’ve
      heard many good things about it. Sounds like a faster, more agressive
      version of the AD1000/AD2000 with better bass too.

  • Katun

    Now you just need a review on Sony’s other freakshow — The MDR-F1.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a proper review on those, let alone any decent pictures. I am constantly tempted to buy them due to their supposed unrivaled comfort and soundstage. Eh, if only we were back in 2002 when I could get them for $150ish…

    • Anonymous

      Yes Sony does have a lot of those odd headphones. MDR-F1 among other things. Would also love to do an SA-series line up review and the CD-3000.

  • http://www.google.co.uk Diesel Thirteen

    Thats a fantastic review ! Your attention to detail as to what specific music sounds well with these is very precise. I actually bought them prior to reading your review on them to be fair. However I have to say i kind of liken them, and as an additon I would like to note that the internal AMP is absolute rubbish as was the extension cable which was also DOA might I add for me out of the box ( I have anotehr extension so did not mind). However I coupled it with a FIIO E7 and E9 via my laptop, now their is a way to resolve an issue. It now sounds spot on, and I have adjsuted the volume jsut right so that it sounds goof with bassy stuff as well.

    Anyway thanks again for your review.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      You’re welcome, Diesel. Glad you like the review.

  • http://www.google.co.uk Diesel Thirteen

    In addtion I would like to add that I did get them for £100 pounds on offer :) So was worth my while defintely not worth the intial asking price though !

  • http://www.facebook.com/realq86 Chi-Hwa Michael Ting

    I also got  these pair at sub $200 on Amazon before reading your review.  I demoed a set at a SonyStyle in Shanghai and was blow away by the open sound stage, but at that time it was $499+Chinese tax. 

    After your review I totally agree it works very well with “live” recording and can sound bassless and airily with studio recordings. 

    Since than I’ve created a “PFR-V1″ playlist in my iTunes just for sessions to enjoy these pair of special speakers!
     

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