Review: Sony Fontopia Headphones

Specifications:

  • In-ear design
  • Small, medium and large silicone ear buds
  • 9 mm sound drivers
  • Includes plastic headphone case

Pros:

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Multiple sizes of ear buds ensures a tight, comfortable fit
  • Buds let in just enough sound to keep you aware without outside distractions

Cons:

  • Low whistle heard when wind moves across the headphones

Using the Fontopias: I have three requirements for silicone ear buds: first, they have to sound good. Second, they have to be comfortable. Third, they need to keep the outside sounds out and the inside sounds flowing smoothly into my ears. Put all three of these together and you have the perfect set of ear buds. Let's see how the Fontopias stack up in each category.

Sound Quality: When I first listened to the Fontopias I was surprised at the thinness of the sound compared to my memory of the JBuds; songs that previously had a strong bottom end seemed much lighter in comparison. However, after about 30 minutes of listening and some actual comparison between the two sets of ear buds I realized the difference is the amount of gain the two different sets of drivers introduce to the music; the JBuds generate a louder tone at the same volume as the Fontopias, but the result is a warmer, fuzzier tone. The Fontopias, I feel, generate sound that's cleaner and closer to the original recording's coloring – they're a more transparent set of speakers. Tests with a variety of music genres (everything from The Cure – Seventeen Seconds to 3 doors downThe Better Life to traditional Italian instrumental music to Ayreon – Flight of the Migrator) confirmed my initial results; these are a nice-sounding set of ear buds.

Comfort Level: The Fontopias come with three sizes of silicone ear buds for better compatibility – pick the size that fits your ear canal best, stick them on the buds and you're good to go. Customizing the size had two big benefits: first, a much better fit into my ears, which makes for a more comfortable listening experience over time. Second, with that better fit, the buds are much less likely to pop out of my ears at annoying times. Multiple silicone bud sizes seem pretty standard among ear buds in this price category and silicone is silicone so the comfort level of the Fontopias isn't anything special, but they're a nice feature.

Sound Blockage: Along with a good fit from the right sized silicone bud, I had a near perfect seal. I could hear things like subway announcements if I paid attention, but most sounds – including the sound of sleet bouncing off my jacket as I cleaned snow off my car yesterday – never made it past the silicone blocks. Louder noises like traffic rumble and the screech of train brakes were still audible, but they didn't overpower the music either. In other words, the Fontopias block out enough sound so that you can hear your music under almost any conditions, but (at proper volumes) a car won't hit because you couldn't hear it coming.

One odd thing I did notice is that when a breeze picked up the air around my ears would start to whistle a bit. I'm not sure if the whistling is a result of a design flaw in the Fontopias – I couldn't see anything on the back of the speakers that would catch air – or the result of air rushing past blocked ears. The whistle isn't piercing and seems to be worth the trouble of wearing the Fontopias in the first place.

Verdict: While there are cheaper ear buds, the Sony Fontopia MDR-EX51LP headphones provide features that should be present in any in-ear silicone bud solution out there, like multiple sizes of silicone bud for a better fit and a storage case for the speakers to keep you from losing the bud tips. In addition, the sound quality is excellent for a pair of headphones, coming out clean and crisp and the level of isolation is perfect. The low whistling I heard is a little annoying, but certainly not enough to make for a major distraction. Highly recommended.

Company Website: http://www.sony.com/


1 Comment

  • By strider_mt2k, March 18, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

    I was kind of disappointed in these.

    While they are very bright and open sounding, they just don’t have enough mids and lows for my taste.

    I let my wife try them and she agreed.

    I know these aren’t silicone-style, but I keep going back to my humble Sony MDR-E828LP earbuds that are available all over the place (think K-mart or Target) for less than 20 dollars, usually less than 15.

    For budget earbuds the MDR-E828LPs have a very surprising level of clarity, openness and bass response. (I use em’ with the foam covers.)

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