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, which 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 $30 MDR-AS30G among them. These well-designed earphones are a great choice for the gym or the street, as they don't completely black out ambient noise. However, they don't sound as good as pricier models in the line, such as the MDR-AS50G or the MDR-AS100W.
The entire Active line showcases Sony's talent for design, and the MDR-AS30G is no exception. It's not perfect--the neckband is not adjustable, for example--but it features some impressive innovations. Although the earphones are two round discs that rest on the ears, each features an earbudlike tip that rests just inside the ear in order to keep the 'phones stable during activity. This is particularly handy for users for whom the neckband does not loop securely over the top of the ear. Each earphone also comes with a removable, washable earpad--a thoughtful feature for a set that is sure to gather some sweat. Also, the neckband of the MDR-AS30G is shaped in such a way that it grips the earphones in toward the head, which further helps to keep them in place.
The Sony MDR-AS50G earphones feature a few other physical attributes worth noting. First, aside from the earphones' outer discs (which are muted silver), the set is mainly black with a teeny 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 compact plastic case that stores the earpieces, while the neckband stays exposed as a handle of sorts.
During our performance evaluation of the Sony MDR-AS30G earphones, we took a couple of 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 bout on the elliptical trainer and a set of sit-ups. One thing to note: unlike other headphones in the Active line, the MDR-AS30G does not block out too much ambient noise, so they are an appropriate choice for those who do their exercising in the great outdoors. However, these headphones aren't the best-sounding set. Although a reasonable amount of high-end detail was present and the mids sounded nice and warm, music always had a slightly muffled and hollow sound to it. Bass was not defined, and electric guitars tended to get lost in the shuffle. But if you don't demand top-notch sound quality during workouts, these 'phones are still an adequate option given the $30 price tag.