Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
Sony has made wireless headphones that simulated surround sound for several years, but they tended to be rather expensive, costing upwards of $400. Now, the company is offering the more modestly priced MDR-DS3000, which sells for a little more than $200.
Like its big brothers, the MDR-DS3000 uses infrared, not radio frequency (RF) technology, to receive signals, so you have to stay in line of sight of the transmitter base or the sound dies. That transmitter/charger base is AC-powered and is designed to be situated near your home-theater system. The easiest way to set up the system is to simply connect the base to your DVD player or A/V receiver using the included optical cable.
Analog connectivity is also available, though you won't be able to receive the variety of Dolby Digital and DTS signals this system supports. However, for listening to DVD-Audio or SACD music, analog is your only option since those players' signals aren't fed to your receiver's digital output. (When in doubt, go with your receiver's headphone jack--you'll need to buy an inexpensive adapter, but the signal will always work with the MDR-DS3000's analog input.) It's also worth mentioning that the base station supports multiple headphones, so you can purchase as many additional MDR-IF3000 sets (at $100 each) as you'd like.
Weighing in it at 10 ounces and featuring thickly padded ear cushions, the headphones themselves look pretty slick and are comfortable, though we found that our ears got a little hot and sweaty over extended listening sessions. They're powered by a pair of removable nickel-metal-hydride batteries (included) and can also run on standard AAA alkalines in a pinch. When not in use, the headphones conveniently recharge while sitting on the transmitter's cradle. Conveniently, a volume control is built into the right earcup.
On the base unit, you'll find a digital/analog selector switch and an effect switch that toggles between three surround positions: Off, Cinema, and Music. We started our listening sessions in Cinema mode, selecting the Kill Bill, Volume 1 DVD for our movie audition. The Cinema effect processing worked wonders on Tarantino's overt surround mix; the blood-spewing fight scenes gurgled and oozed with frightening accuracy, delivering a palpably spacious sound. Turning the processing off, the sound felt closer and less reverberant; sound quality was fairly transparent and pure, bass was punchy and deep, and dynamic range was impressive. Our classical, jazz, and rock CDs sounded clean, and the surround effect widened the CDs' stereo soundstage.
On a more critical note, we did hear hiss and a subtle whooshing sound on the quieter scenes on our DVDs and some CDs. As you move off-axis relative to the transmitter, the noise level increases. This isn't a deal breaker, but more finicky listeners will certainly notice it.
In the final analysis, the MDR-DS3000 is a decent-sounding wireless headphone, though it does fall short of the quality you can get from better (and less expensive) corded headphones such as Grado's SR125. However, if you prefer the cool faux surround effects or the freedom of movement you'll get from a wireless model, the Sony MDR-DS3000 is a good choice.