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Sony MDR-HW700DS: World’s first 9.1ch headphones

Like the amplifier in Spinal Tap that goes up to 11, when it comes to anything to do with sound bigger numbers are usually better. So, forget about your puny 5.1 or 7.1 sound systems, these latest wireless headphones from Sony offer a 9.1 audio experience – but without actually having all the speakers. They use what Sony calls Virtualphones Technology to reproduce the effect of multi-channel speakers.

The unit’s ‘Cinema’ mode has been created with the support of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the company says, “This mode ensures an authentic cinema sound experience and virtual sound arena that is based on an analysis of the prestigious sound mixing stages used for the production of major motion pictures.” Which in non-PR speak means it should sound like the director intended.

The transmitter unit can be used as an HDMI switchbox for up to three sources so you can enjoy audio from multiple devices. It also supports 4K sources so you can send uncompressed audio to the headphones, and has a conventional stereo line-in though of course the latter won’t give you the full surround-sound experience.

These then aren’t just a set of headphones, they’re a positive feast of audio technology, so what are the reviewers making of them?

Bonkers bass and voices in your head

Trusted Reviews was impressed by the sound quality, “…their dynamic range is sensational, with bass handling proving able to do full justice to the sort of bonkers low-frequency rumbles employed by most modern action movies.”

It also praised the surround-sound capabilities, “…the scale of the film – or game – soundstage it produces creates a world much larger than the physical presence of the headphones.” However, the way dialogue is delivered came in for some criticism, “While dialogue appears to stand forward of most of the mix and is extremely clear, it still feels distractingly dislocated from what you’re watching. The words spoken sound like they’re in your head, rather than like they’re coming from the mouths of the actors on the screen.”

“The 50mm drivers offer enough bass to immerse the user for up to 12 hours before the cans need fast recharging.” notes Pocket-lint although it hasn’t done a full review as yet.

People who have actually bought the headphones seem impressed too, with one Amazon reviewer in the US saying, “Sound quality is stunning. I especially like that putting the headphone on, turns them on and powers up the HDMI box all at once.”

Another US Amazon customer praises the unit’s ability to combat interference, “The headphones work on the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band. Switching bands automatically if you desire. My neighborhood is crowded on the 2.4 band, so I use my Apple devices, including an airport express and airport extreme, all of them on the 5 GHz band. I had only heard just a few skips, probably when the headphones change channels automatically. Otherwise signal is perfect, without any noise whatsoever.”

We’ll leave the last word to Trusted Reviews, “While the HW700s are only good rather than spectacular music performers, they’re capable of completely transforming gaming or movie sessions where you either don’t currently have any surround sound kit or else you regularly find yourself wanting to play or watch stuff in antisocial circumstances.”

If you’re impressed enough by all this to think that you might want to buy the Sony MDR-HW700DS headphones they’ll be available in the UK from this month. You’ll need to find £450