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published: Dec-24-2021

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NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have some smoothing applied which ‘irons flat’ sharp peaks and ‘wiggles’. I do not use smoothing because some info about sound quality is lost when plots are smoothed.

Aside from a small correction of the microphone itself also some correction in the lowest frequencies is applied to the plots to compensate for the perceived loss of bass when using headphones. This is described HERE in more detail.
A ‘horizontal‘ frequency response curve on the shown frequency response plots on this website thus indicates a perceived ‘flat’ tonal signature.

ALL measurements are made with a good SEAL on a flatbed measurement rig.
The shape of your head, bone structure, pad size, pad ‘softness,  (compliance), hair or no hair and or wearing glasses may (drastically) change the frequency response of some headphones, so… your personal experience may differ substantially from these plots.

Frequency response (tonal balance) is the most sound-determining aspect of headphones. A horizontal line shows audible neutral response in the plots on this website. Deviations in different severities at different frequency bands have an effect on the sound character.
The bigger the deviation the stronger the effect.

Below an aid to help determining the sound character of headphones with relation to the frequency response.

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Sony MDR-ZX110


The Sony MDR-ZX110 is a closed on-ear headphone. The street price (end 2021) is around € 13.- and is the cheapest model Sony offers (aside from earbuds and IEMs)
These are made in 3 colours; black, white and pink. There is also a slightly more expensive version (with AP behind the model number) which includes a mic/remote for Android based phones so not compatible with Apple devices.
The reviewed one is the black version without the mic/remote (MDR-ZX110BL)

This is a lightweight headphone (114 gram) and has a low clamping force (2.5N)
This makes it comfortable to wear for an on-ear. Despite the low clamping force my ears still started to hurt when wearing glasses.

The headband can extend 45mm (sliders) and can be pulled apart quite a distance (250mm). The part that sits on your head is thin plastic. Adding some cushioning probably would increase production costs too much.

The pads are regular foam covered with the thin type of pleather. This material usually starts to flake pretty soon but can be replaced. Pads will probably cost more than a new MDR-ZX110.

The cups only allow a very limited swivel and a bit more tilt. Because of this, depending on how wide your head is and how far you have to  extend the headband, the pads may or may not rest against your pinna evenly and seal may not be optimal.
The cups can collapse into the headband for easier transport. When the cups are folding into the headband there is a nifty mechanism that at the same time folds the cups 90 degrees so a small surface area for easier transport is obtained. When un-collapsing the cups automatically come back into the proper position. This means no wobbly cups that have to be held in the proper orientation.

With a sensitivity of 114dB/V (efficiency = 98dB/mW) and low impedance (25 Ω measured) this headphone plays decently loud directly from a phone.  

Then there is the 1.2m non-replaceable cable. It has a cheap plastic feel to it and is rather microphonic. Touching the cable above the cable split is audible in the cups. Below the split touching the cable is far less audible. It has an angled nickel plated 3.5mm TRS jack.

All in all this headphone is and feels (and is) cheap and looks modern.  The shiny sides on the ear cups are fingerprint magnets. This headphone is clearly made for on the go.


Type: on ear (supra-aural), closed
Usage: home, portable
Driver type: dynamic
Pads: replaceable, thin pleather covered foam
Collapsible: yes and folds when collapsing
Headphone cup connector: fixed
Cable entry: dual sided.
Cable: 1.2m with angled 3.5mm TRS jack
Outer Pad dimensions: thickness = 6mm, outer diameter = 68mm, inner diameter = 26mm
Driver size: 30mm
Nom. power rating: 1W
Max. voltage: 5Vrms (14Vpp)
Max. current: 200mA
Max. S.P.L.: 125 dB (heavily distorted)
Impedance: 25 Ω (measured)
Efficiency: 98dB @ 1mW
Sensitivity: 114dB @ 1V
Weight: 114 g. (without cable)
Clamping force: low (2.5N)
Accessories: none

Subjective sound description:

Low bass is not present but bass itself is present but sounds a bit like cheap bookshelf speakers.
Bass is lacking ‘foundation’.
Mids are weirdly coloured and kind of warm ‘midrangy’, not dynamic at all and muffled. Treble is coarse/grainy but not sharp or sibilant. Treble rolls-off sharply above 13kHz. This is not correctable with EQ alas and thus aside from a cheap and not clear sounding treble there is no ‘air’ at all.
All in all a performance as can be expected from headphones in this price class.


Below the frequency response of the MDR-ZX110 (Left, Right)
FRThe channel matching is very good. The bass response between 100Hz and 600Hz is elevated which is responsible for the somewhat punchy bass. Above 400Hz the all important midrange up to 4kHz has deviations in the order of 4dB over that range. between 5kHz and 8kHz the response is about 10dB down opposite the lower mids which shows the lack of clarity and dynamic sound. A small damped peak at 10kHz kind of lifts the treble (but still too little) followed by a cliff-like drop in frequency response above 13kHz.

compared to

Below the  MDR-ZX110 versus a few other cheap headphones (between € 6.- and € 25.-)compared MDRZX110This shows that for a cheap headphone (good enough for video conferencing) the MDR-ZX110 is not a bad choice. For enjoying music the slightly more expensive Superlux HD681 (over-ear) and Koss KPH30i and even the Superlux HD572-SP are better choices.

phase response

Below the phase response of the MDR-ZX110 (Left, Right)phase
Slow phase shifts are not very audible. Sharp changes in a narrow frequency bands may well be audible. The sharp rises above 10kHz may well be audible and also be partly responsible for the perceived lesser sound quality of the treble.

I have played a bit with EQ (massively increased sub lows) and tried to even out the midrange and bring treble level up to par. This headphone, however, will not turn into a great sounding headphone. Treble quality remains poor and no amount of EQ can correct the upper treble roll-off and some other aspects which are explained below.

output resistance / damping-factor

As this is a dynamic headphone the frequency response can be amplifier output resistance dependent when certain higher output resistance amplifiers are used.
Instead of showing impedance plots, which are hard to ‘read’ when it comes to assessing the tonal balance change in the real world, the  MDR-ZX110 is measured via a
few different resistance outputs (0.2Ω, 10Ω, 32 and 120Ω). On a higher output resistance amplifier the output level will be lower of course due to voltage division. To compensate for this the amplifier is cranked up to the same level (14.8dB for 120Ω at 1kHz in this case). This way the plots are overlaid and it is easier to see how the tonal balance changes. Output resistances between the mentioned resistance values will result in tonal changes between those traces.

R120 14-8dB

A higher output resistance lifts the mid-bass a bit around the, kind of high, resonance frequency of the driver. I would not recommend amplifiers with an output resistance above 33Ω.


The headphone is measured 4 times. Once at 70dB, 80dB, 90dB and 97dB SPL. When the traces are the same shape then there is no compression which, sadly, is not the case here.
This will be more clearly visible when overlaid and amplified in vertical scale (2dB/div) in the plot below.  70dB, 80dB, 90dB and 97dBcompression

Above 70dB this driver already starts compressing the sound resulting in higher levels of higher order harmonics. The louder one plays the less lower bass and the more higher harmonics colour the sound. Notice how the the frequencies above 200Hz and 300Hz increase. This is caused by high (audible) levels of harmonics. (Note the dB scale is 2dB/div)
Most likely this is caused by the substantial damping applied on the front and rear of the driver in order to get at least some decent tonality of it. This can NOT be undone using EQ.
Below a picture of the front and rear of the driver.driver


Seal can be an issue with closed-back headphones. As not all pinnae (outer ear) is shaped similarly the stiff pads may not touch every part of the pinna and leak somewhat.
Perfect seal, pads slightly lifted (so small ‘leakage’) pads lifted a bit more , Pads lifted even more.seal

How well the pads rest on the ears definitely influences the bass response/warmth. This means that for some people the MDR-ZX110 can sound a bit warmer/fuller/muffled than for others depending on how well the pad seals the outer ear surface.

Below the distortion measurements of the MDR-ZX110 (Right channel).Dist R The measurements are made at 92dB SPL (@ 1kHz).
The plot above shows the level differences between the signal (upper trace) and the harmonics.
Most people prefer to see percentages instead of level differences so below the exact same plot except ‘normalised’ to the actual signal and level differences given in percentages.dist R percentDistortion levels at 94dB SPL for 100Hz are very high. This is partly because of the bass roll-off but mostly due to compression (the air for low frequencies remaining trapped in the driver. Below 100Hz there  is substantial 3rd4th  and 5th harmonic distortion indicating that the driver is clipping at low frequencies (compression). 2nd harmonic distortion is also elevated at these levels.
Above 500Hz distortion is quite good.
The actual 2nd harmonic distortion above 1kHz may well be lower than 0.2% . A shortcoming of my measurement rig.

Below distortion at 80dB SPL. Here too we already see elevated higher harmonics below 200Hz.
dist 80dB

So even at 80dB SPL peak in the bass the distortion is already high. Note that 80dB peak levels in the bass means average levels are much lower already (around 65-70dBA)

Below the CSD (waterfall) plot of the MDR-ZX110 . (Left and Right are overlaid)CSDA resonance below 2kHz (cup resonance ?). Above 2kHz the response seems well damped. A bit over-damped perhaps.

Below the Group Delay plot for the MDR-ZX110 (Left, Right)GD

Some pad bounce between 50 and 120Hz and some smaller variations below 2kHz. All indicative of resonances, albeit smaller ones.

A different plot is the spectrum plot. This basically is a CSD (Waterfall) plot but viewed from above where the level differences are colour coded instead of being in the vertical axis. Also the frequency range of the spectrum plot is wider (from 100Hz instead of 500Hz). The time span is also bigger in the spectrum plots and expired time is shown from below to top where in the CSD the time is shown from rear to front.

Below the spectrum plot of the MDR-ZX110 (Left channel)spectr LBass is well damped and quickly decays. At around 1.8kHz there is a resonance but at a low SPL level only.

Step response

Below the step response plot which, when the sound is balanced and well extended should show a fast rise to around 0dB, (indicating fast driver response) and then should be slightly sloping downwards indicating bass extension. (Left, Right)stepImpulse response is correct but bass response is clearly lacking shown by the drop after 1ms (100Hz).

HD25 velours pads

To increase comfort a bit I fitted some Sennheiser HD25 velour pads. Hoping sound quality would improve as well.
Alas.. bass response is similar but the midrange  (800Hz to 4kHz) is varying even more. Despite the increase in clarity/sharpness the sound quality is even worse in some ways and the response starts to drop from 10kHz. There is no point in using these pads which, incidentally, cost more than the MDR-ZX110 itself.

HD25 pads



The Sony MDR-ZX110 is a cheap decent sounding headphone when used for conference calls.
For music it is a mediocre sounding headphone even with EQ. This is because EQ cannot compensate for the substantial non-linear behaviour (compression/high order distortion).
It comes in a 3 different colours and there is also a version with mic/remote. The latter only works for laptops and non-Apple devices. It is lightweight, has a low clamping force which makes it somewhat comfortable to wear (for an on-ear). That is when one is not wearing glasses.
Due to its high efficiency it can play loud enough driven directly from a phone.

The mechanical construction feels cheap and the pads probably won’t have a long life. They are replaceable but buying a new headphone is probably cheaper.

The cable with 1.2m length is microphonic above the cable splitter. Its 3.5mm angled TRS jack is handy for most portable gear that still has a 3.5mm socket.

The folding mechanism is clever. Sound quality is decent for this price class. Suited for video conferencing.

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