Sony MDR-DS5000 Surround Sound Headphones
Willie Hawkins
21 October 1999

mdr-ds5000.gif (20831 bytes)Specifications

Inputs: Optical Toslink, Analog gold plated, and separate earphone plug w/ volume pot
Attenuator switch: -6db to 0db
Modes: Music Virtual, Dolby Virtual, and Conventional Stereo
Surround Effects: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Pro Logic
Frequency: 20Hz-20Khz
Note: Earphones come with balance and volume controls located on headset. Rechargeable AA batteries and charger included.
Features: Direct Connection in the Digital Domain. The MDR-DS5000 provides an optical digital input for the Dolby Digital bitstream and PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) audio from your DVD-Video Player, DSS Receiver or Digital Television.
A built-in Dolby Digital IC decodes the bitstream accurately.
The MDR-DS5000 also offers analog stereo inputs and built-in Dolby Pro Logicģ decoding to accommodate VHS Hi-Fi movies, stereo TV and other sources.
Infrared Cordless Transmission.
Price: about $549.00 US

"When listening to music through conventional headphones, the sound image is established in a fixed position in the listenerís head, making it difficult to create a sound field similar to what is possible with normal stereo speakersÖ The sound field reproduced by this technology made the MDR-DS5000 the first headphone system in the world to receive Virtual Dolby Digital certification."

Japan, is a country no bigger than California but has the latest technological innovations that makes the audio world look towards Japan for new ideas in digital processing. I stumbled on one of the latest trends that could possibly make home theater as we know it forever altered. This new technology was discovered on a venture though one of Japanís famous "Marui " department stores.

The name of this amazing little unit is called the MDR-DS5000. I heard it connected to a DVD player showing one of my favorites, "The 5th Element". The sound produced by this cordless headphone was, well to these ears, incredible! Audio and Videophiles take note because this unit is designed to run both formats with a common goal, take both movies and music to new heights on a single pair of headphones. But, before I go on raving about this product, let me give you the information that Sony was so kind to supply to me withÖin english.

Product Overview

The MDR-DS5000 is a digital surround headphone system that uses headphones to create a multi-channel surround field equivalent to a live performance.

When listening to music through conventional headphones, the sound image is established in a fixed position in the listenerís head, making it difficult to create a sound field similar to what is possible with normal stereo speakers. In order to overcome this weakness, Sony has combined its proprietary audio analysis technology with its digital signal processing technology to develop a new technology. "Virtualphones Technology" can reproduce Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic multi-channel sound fields using headphones. The sound field reproduced by this technology made the MDR-DS5000 the first headphone system in the world to receive Virtual Dolby Digital certification.

System Configuration

This system consists of a digital surround processor (which contains a surround decoder, a Logic 3D processor, and an infrared transmitter) and a pair of infrared cordless headphones. Using the optical digital connection cable provided for use with a DVD or Laser disc player to allow you to enjoy Dolby Digital and Pro Logic in movies and music with the feeling of being in a live performance. The surround decoder is capable of both digital and pro logic modes, after the signal is decoded into multiple channels by the surround decoder, it is subjected to a multi-channel to binaural conversion by the Logic 3D processor without losing any of the multi-channel information. When the processed signal is played through the supplied headphones developed exclusively for this system, the multi-channel sound field is reproduced with the sound image positioned outside of the listenerís head (an "Out of head sound image").

Virtualphones Technology

Principles of " Out of head sound image" (Logic 3D Process)

When someone listens to sound through normal headphones, a phenomenon occurs in which the sound appears to originate from a position within the listenerís head. This is the result of the inherent differences between listening to sound from a speaker versus listening to sound from headphones.

When sound is transmitted by (conventional) loudspeakers, the Head Related Transfer Function (HRTF) changes the sound according to its volume and high frequency content. This is generally caused by parts of the head obstructing the passage of sound from the source to your ears. HRTFís are important because they vary predictably, depending upon the angle the sound is coming from: front, sides, back or in between. However, when a listener is wearing headphones, the sound on each channel reaches the listenerís ears directly, with no influence of HRTF.

In short, in order to allow the listener to recognize the existence of sound in a position that is external to the listenerís head when listening through headphones , a DSP can be used to electronically reproduce HRTF and reflected sound effects equivalent to those which occur when listening through speakers. Actual sound transfer characteristics are measured by setting up a dummy head microphone in a room and measuring the characteristics of all the sound from the sound source that reaches each ear on the dummyís head, including the sound reflected from the wall.

High Quality Sound and Audio Circuit

The Logic 3D processor includes a high speed, high-resolution 24Bit DSP. By performing 44 million complex calculations per second, this device converts Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic signals into binaural signals in order to produce a multi-channel sound field through headphones. The main portion of the analog circuit in the digital surround processor uses the audio electrolytic capacitors "SILMIC", which are widely used in Sonyís Hi Fi equipment. These capacitors contribute to providing natural sound. A double thick 35um copper foil is used for printed circuit board of the digital surround processor in order to enhance sound quality.

"The complete separation, sweet mid and highs, the clarity of each note played was incredible. I was amazed at the imaging and soundstage. It sounded so much like high-end speakers in a treated room."

How Was the Sound?

I started with one of my favorite pianists, Thelonious Monk, ("Monks Dream" by the Thelonious Monk Quartet). To be frank, I could have sworn I was at the recording session. It sounded so natural and pure I was transformed into a state of bliss.

The complete separation, sweet mid and highs, the clarity of each note played was incredible. I was amazed at the imaging and soundstage. It sounded so much like high-end speakers in a treated room. It put me in mind of my Martin Logans and Baron amp setup in New York. I was unable to recognize where the sound was coming from in the headphones. I next selected "Bay City" from Charlie Hadenís Montreal Tapes CD. The instrumental separation would make even the most jaded audiophile happy. Distinct and solid bass coming from a headset seemed unheard of, and each pluck could be heard as well.

I then changed to a vocal that we are all familiar with: my girl and yours, Anita Baker (Rapture). I started with the first track and she was so captivating before I knew what was going on I had heard the entire CD. The MDR-DS5000 is truly one of the best and probably the finest sound I have heard, including some of those people whose houses I visited with systems costing over $10,000 dollars. Not to say that this unit is way better but I would say that for the price and sound quality of the MDR-DS5000, I would really have to re-evaluate the principles of what product will provide me excellent sound without the exorbitant Hi-end price tag.

I was a bit disappointed that I was unable to listen to a DVD player for I have not yet purchased one. I was able to listen to a VHS movie that I brought with me. The VHS tape played movies like Star Gate, Independence Day, and Congo through the MDR-DS5000. I could honestly say that as inexpensive as this TV/combo setup was, I was shocked at the overall sound and effects of each movie. Life-like sound and effects easily equaled a more expensive real-sized home theater setup, not to forget, the MDR-DS5000 presented very decent bass in the Dolby Virtual mode.

There are a couple of functions that can be used, such as the Dolby virtual mode or the Music virtual mode. I like both of them, but prefer to listen to the Dolby Digital mode because the sound stage comes across more realistic. I have experimented with the digital and analog inputs. I think that if you like your sound airy and crisp with little more body then go digital. I chose to use Akiraís silver interconnects by Spherical Audio (my own design), it gave better depth, a smoother midband, and cleaner highís, while adding a little more palpability to the overall soundstage.

Choose your poison, digital, or analog. I am sure that you will be happy with either one. If you care to have someone else enjoy listening to your MDR-DS5000 with you, it is possible to purchase a separate earphone unit. As for the price of the earphones I am not sure of as of yet, however this unit is a great deal at around a $1,000 US dollars. I think that this unit can compete even with the more expensive Hi Fi headphone systems. If it hasnít hit your local stores than try and see if and when it will be available. For those who prefer the Japanese version of this unit, please feel free to contact Sony at http://www.sel.sony.com, for further information on purchasing. I forgot to mention the neat self-activating feature which activates once you put it on, so you donít have to worry about draining your batteries.

Components: Panasonic SC-1 CD integrated unit, Sony toslink, Green CD mat, and Spherical Audio cable.