Before you turn up your nose in disgust, it's important not to dismiss these headphones based on looks alone. They are -- at heart -- simply a new type of headphone, in the same way earbuds were when they first came on the market in the '90s.
For around £245, the Sony PFR-V1s aren't offered at a low price point to entice anyone erring on the cautious side when considering their next purchase. But you'd be daft not to give them a chance because we've found some killer features.
We'll forgive you for your initial looks of disapproval; we too were put off at first by the PFR-V1's head brace-esque form factor. It's not visually appealing unless you're a cyborg, and the ping pong ball-shaped enclosures are a couple of steps removed from even the more adventurous of headphone shapes. Yet you won't notice this weirdness when wearing them on your lonesome, which is undoubtedly the situation Sony expects this model to be used in.
The two 'prongs' connected to each enclosure sit just behind the ear's tragus, and actually function as bass reflex ports. Each prong is hollow, allowing bass to escape from the speaker enclosure and out of a small opening at the prong's tip. We had a few people try them out for comfort -- most found them fairly comfortable, but one or two complained. You're likely to find them unusual, but fairly comfortable eventually -- keep your receipt just in case!
Open-back headphones produce a wider, more -- ahem -- 'open' sound than earphones or typical headphones, but they still place the majority of the music in the centre of your head. Conversely, speakers place music in front of you, creating a more believable sound stage. Sony's PFR-V1s aim to bridge the gap between headphone and speaker, by positioning the PFR-V1's drivers at an angle towards your ears instead of flat up against them.
Since this requires more power than most MP3 players are capable of generating, Sony includes an in-line headphone amplifier, powered by two AAA batteries. This adds considerable weight to the headphones, but if you're sitting down it's unlikely to be an issue.
Once you get used to the unusual feeling of wearing the PFR-V1s, you'll notice two things: firstly, the distinct lack of bass; secondly, the music is no longer in the middle of your skull -- it's now just in front of your eyes. It's quaint; different, but not quite as revolutionary as we hoped for.
However, we did enjoy the unique sound stage the headphones created, despite the constant complaints from co-workers to turn the bloody volume down. Suffice to say, they leak excessively, and we mean excessively. They are no good for commuting, a quiet office or anywhere that other people are, unless they're deaf.
The in-line amplifier contributes towards this, bringing sound level from good to mind-blowing. Almost literally. The headphones themselves are extremely detailed, with a bright overall tone and clear mids. Bass is delicate, and absolutely hopeless if you thrive on trying to make your ears bleed from pounding bass lines. But the lows that exist are smooth, clear and balanced.