Although the headphone market continues to burgeon with new models, it can be surprisingly tough to find a decent, fitness-friendly pair. A few companies, such as Sennheiser, have stepped up to the plate with sport-branded earphones that feature design attributes meant to keep them secured on the head during activity. Now, we can add Sony to the list. The company has released an impressive array of Active Headphones, the $40 MDR-AS40EX among them. These excellently designed earphones are a good option for the gym, although they don't quite match their sister set, the MDR-AS50G, in uniqueness or sound quality.
Once again, Sony has proven that it knows design with the MDR-AS40EX earphones. They offer a more standard sport-friendly design, with arms that loop out of the earbuds and over the backs of the ears to secure them in place. Happily, Sony made the earclips removable, so if you don't want to use them (such as when you are not working out), you don't have to. This also allows for interchangeability: Three sets of different-size clips are included in the package, and this reviewer had no problem securing the smallest of them over her abnormally small ears. In fact, the earphones proved to be quite comfortable after an hour of wear. There are also three sizes (S, M, and L) of silicone ear tips to help with fit. We never felt like we could get a complete seal with the ear, but this might be good news for those who want to use the 'phones to jog on the street. Still, they block out a reasonable amount of noise, so always be aware.
The Sony MDR-AS40EX earphones feature a few other physical attributes worth noting. First, they're mainly black with some silver and a slight bit of red accenting, so if the Sennheiser Sport line was a little too bright and flashy for you, the MDRs are a good alternative. Also, the cable is modular, which is usually ideal for active applications, as it keeps the main cable short enough (20 inches, in this case) to use with an armband without a lot of slack cord. Also, Sony was smart enough to include a clip on the cable for dealing with the weight added when you connect the included extender cable, which adds an additional 26 inches to the length--plenty for keeping your MP3 player in a bag or pocket. Sony also includes a rather clunky, but still useful, plastic case.
During our performance evaluation of the Sony MDR-AS40EX earphones, we took a couple things into consideration, not the least of which was their ability to stay in place during activity. They passed this test with flying colors, failing to budge during a set of jumping jacks and a vigorous 15 minutes on a rowing machine. Sound quality was a bit of a different matter. While the MDR-AS40EX offers an impressive amount of high-end detail--with strings, shakers, and acoustic guitar sounding particularly shimmery--we found that overall sound was a bit cold and bright for our tastes. This has a lot to do with the fact that without a proper seal with the ear, bass was quite deficient. When we shoved the 'buds in, we got the low end, but it was pretty mushy. However, for working out--especially if you listen to a lot of podcasts while doing so--the earphones are passable. They certainly allow for plenty of volume.