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All classics warrant revisiting with the passage of time, and the Sony MDR-7506 definitely qualifies. As one of the few sets of headphones still in production and virtually unchanged after three decades, does the MDR-7506 still sound professional? We spent a week with the Sony MDR-7506 to find out what you need to know. Let’s see what keeps this pro audio stalwart relevant 30 years on.
Editor’s note: This article was updated November 30, 2022, to add a FAQ about recording audio.
Organizations in need of many reliably good sets of headphones will gain a good price to performance ratio with the MDR-7506. Enthusiast producers will appreciate the sound and sturdy build of the MDR-7506. Podcasters and musicians will like the unobtrusive fit and coiled cable for staying detangled and snaking around equipment.
What’s it like to use Sony MDR-7506?
Hailing straight from 1991, the Sony MDR-7506 sports all the utilitarian plastic and vinyl with hallmark unnecessary text of earlier eras of pro audio. It’s charming the way the MDR-7506 lets you know it’s “professional” and a set of “dynamic stereo headphones” with text on the housing. If you get Back to the Future and DeLorean vibes from the cans, that’s because the MDR-7506 looks a lot like its predecessor, Sony MDR-V6 from 1985. Even the packaging is from another time in Sony headphones history—the box is lined in silver satin and basically just contains the headphones and an adapter to convert the headphone’s 3.5mm jack to 1/4 inch. The headphones weigh a light 230g (excluding the cable), and the foldable hinges minimize the 40mm drivers’ footprint. You get a few degrees of horizontal adjustability, but the ear cups really just rotate enough to seal to your ear. Meanwhile the 3m long coiled cable is nearly as hefty as the headset. It’s not removable, unfortunately.
As a set of over-ear headphones, the MDR-7506 is quite slim and fits differently than a lot of contemporary studio headphones. By design there is virtually no distance between the ears and the foam that covers the drivers. While the vinyl wrapped ear cups can heat up, the fit works well with just the right amount of clamp and hardly any pressure from the foam suffused headband. Strangely the fit feels a little similar to on-ear headphones; the driver (covered by thin foam) rests almost on your ear. Meanwhile, the ear cup sits partly around the ear, but also a little on the ear too.
It’s nice to see some holdovers from 1991, like metal on the outer housing around the drivers, an internal metal notched headband, and screws which indicate some repairability. While the coiled cable exudes durability, it also feels like its heft can tug at flimsier 21st century technology. Be careful where you let it rest so it does not tug at, or apply pressure to connection points. Otherwise, it’s a set and forget situation with the MDR-7506—exactly the goal of this kind of headset.
Because Sony designed the MDR 7506 with a bevy of screws and replaceable parts, it’s one of the more fixable headsets available. Sony used to even ship the headset with service guides for maintenance. Because of its age and popularity, quite a few resources—some free—exist for repair and replacement parts.
It might not be the best companion for those amongst us who wear glasses due to the MDR-7506 distributing pressure on and around the ear. This could lead to the MDR-7506 pressing your ear into your glasses’ arms.
How does the Sony MDR-7506 connect?
It’s simple—you just plug in the 3.5mm jack into your sound source. With the rise of Bluetooth it’s less attractive to take wired headphones on the go, but the foldable construction and slim profile of the Sony MDR-7506 makes it more portable than many over-ear wired headphones (except for that heavy coiled cable). So for the individual planning to use the MDR-7506 in a stationary situation, it also includes a 1/4 inch adapter for your (likely stationary) headphone amp, mixer, audio interface, pro camera, synthesizer, or any number of other hardwired audio devices.
To replace the cable if it breaks you need a soldering iron, or a technician. In 1991 it was pretty unusual for any set of headphones to have a removable cable. While it’s more common these days, Sony has not updated this aspect of the MDR-7506 design.
How well does the Sony MDR-7506 block out noise?
Like basically all over-ear headphones without active noise cancelling (ANC) tech, the Sony MDR-7506 attenuates mids and higher frequency sounds most effectively. Noises below 500Hz will sound virtually unchanged when you wear the MDR-7506. This is normal for isolation that uses physical barriers like foam and creating a seal around your ear. In the highs, the headphones block anywhere between 20dB and 40dB at frequencies above 2500Hz. That performance is on par with any member of the similarly styled Audio-Technica ATH-M series. It quiets clangs and quite a lot of trebly sounds like cymbals to more tolerable volumes.
How does the Sony MDR-7506 sound?
Our objective measurements lend credence to the Sony MDR-7506’s reputation as a good set of studio headphones for the last few decades. Its frequency response deviates a little from our target curve, with an under-emphasis between 150Hz and 400Hz (to a maximum of 7dB a hair above 200Hz), and exaggeration between 2500Hz and 5000Hz of around 5dB. Otherwise, the highs tend to max out around 5dB of our target curve, save for the steep roll off above 10kHz.
For studio style headphones, the low end is solid. While our target studio frequency response is a straight line at 0dB line in the lows, representing a truly “neutral” bass response, in reality that’s pretty rare. Occasionally, you’ll find low end reproduction lacking in studio headphones, with notably quiet bass and sub bass. With the MDR-7506 you don’t see a significant bass roll off past around 30Hz, so you’ll still hear the bass. It’s just not going to rattle your skull like some bass dominant options out there.
Highs, mids, lows
Listening to 80s inspired Colder & Closer by TOPS, by and large every part is quite clear. Nuances of the vocal parts in the verses and breathy tones receive a lot of emphasis. This is more obvious with the reverb and delay effects in the song. With the frequency response edging into the trebly neighborhood between 2kHZ and 5kHz, words like “close” have an extra dose of sibilance dragging out the s. It works for this track, and the vocals are clearer compared to my reference headset, the Sennheiser x Drop HD 58X, especially during the bridge. Arguably, the hi-hat plays too loudly when set against the main low mid-range synth that plays during the chorus, though.
Other instruments play at good volumes, such as guitar and the bass guitar. Keep in mind that the bass guitar is at a good volume for monitoring. If you’re more interested in nodding your head along to bass with oomph, it might sound too quiet. The MDR-7506 might suit you without going too wild if you already have a set of headphones that makes you wish you could hear the highs better.
Should you buy the Sony MDR-7506?
If you need wired over-ear headphones with a studio style frequency curve, the Sony MDR-7506 is still a great set of headphones. It feels sturdy where it’s important and it sounds pretty representative of whatever you feed it. For folks with glasses, it might not be ideal because of the way it fits. However, for those without glasses it’s surprisingly comfortable over prolonged sessions. The MDR-7506 has a slim profile making it easy wearing. Additionally, the folding design keeps it easy to store when not in use.
For activities like recording, podcasting, and plugging into electronic instruments, it’s an ideal candidate. While the MDR-7506 is no bass monster, it still outputs bass at a fine volume. The treble might benefit from EQ to tame its volume.
Sure, you can’t disconnect the cable to easily replace it, but at least there’s a warranty. Until recently, the Sony MDR-7506 also shipped with a service manual anticipating you (or your organization’s tech department) would perform maintenance over the lifespan of the headphones. In other words, you can disassemble it, replace parts, and put it back together, which is pretty darn eco-friendly. The same cannot be said for a lot of headphones. You ought to get a pair.
What should you get instead of the Sony MDR-7506?
In this price range you have quite a few headphones to choose from. It’s worth checking out the higher tiered, Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, ATH-M50x, and the wired or optionally Bluetooth, ATH-M50xBT2. All three sport slightly more consumer-meets-studio-style sounds, with less treble emphasis. The differences between the ATH-M40x and ATH-M50x have to do with a very slightly different frequency responses, but mainly the differences include additional removable cables, 45mm drivers (versus 40mm) and more reinforced build quality in the ATH-M50x. Honestly, both feel just fine. Meanwhile, the ATH-M50xBT2 is basically the wired ATH-M50x, but with an updated cable connection and optional wireless listening.
If you like the treble emphasis of the Sony MDR-7506, but want a different flavor, or an open back option you might consider the Grado Labs SR60x. The SR60x is an on-ear design, as opposed to over-ear with the MDR-7506. With an open back, you would not want to record live instruments using it, as it offers zero isolation. It is a comfortable option for listening in a quiet room with its lighter clamping pressure.
Of course, there’s always Sennheiser. The HD 280 Pro is not the most accurate set of studio headphones, with too much bass, but if you’re just tracking your music and not actually mixing, having that extra low end might be the push you need to get into it. The plastic build is decidedly less classy than other options available. In the highs the sound more closely reflects our ideal than the Sony. Really, the MDR-7506 has a lot of competition, and all present varying takes on the same principle of revealing how your audio sounds, warts and all.
Frequently asked questions about Sony MDR-7506
Ideally, you want both headphones and studio monitors to mix. If you have to choose one, then you’re probably also working off of a tight budget. If that’s the case, typically, you can find headphones that sound closer to the ideal studio curve for less money than equally accurate studio monitors. You also don’t need to worry about things like room treatment, which affects how your mix sounds if you use headphones.
It makes sense if there are studio monitors and studio headphones, there ought to be studio style earbuds. These are called “in-ear monitors” or “IEM”. So, if you want those for their portability, check out the Sennheiser IE 100 PRO Wireless (which is wired or wireless), the Shure SE215, or the TIN HiFi T2—a relatively inexpensive pick.
You have a lot of options to record audio these days. Assuming you want to move past just the voice memos app here’s a quick list. Generally speaking you need an audio interface and a digital audio workstation (DAW), plus a microphone and/or an instrument plugged in directly to the interface. If you want something more portable we have some options for that too