Sony MDR-1000X Repair
A Fallen Titan
When the Sony MDR-1000X came out in 2016, much of the audiophile community fell head over heels for it; Bose finally had a competitor in the high-performance ANC headphone space. After a few months, however, opinions of Sony were markedly less rosy: a poorly designed headband was causing premature failure in many of the units, and even worse, Sony was refusing to cover the failures under warranty1.
Fast-forward to today and most of those broken headphones have found their way to e-waste or into reverse logistics, never having been repaired. Since the sound on these units is still fully functional, they’re a great value after a simple repair.
I picked up my unit for $35 on eBay. It was in good condition aside from the broken headband and missing pads. Despite the product image, the headphones still had the original damping foam inside the cups.
A quick fix would have involved simply 3D-printing a replacement headband and buying replacement pads, at the cost of roughly $15. I’ve never been entirely happy with the comfort of the MDR-1000X (especially when compared to Bose’s offerings), so I decided to go another route.
The Brainwavz HM5 is considered by many to be one of the most comfortable pair of closed-back cans out there2, with its luxuriously deep pads and reasonably clamping headband. In other words, its parts are the perfect candidates for improvements to the MDR-1000X. And thankfully, they can be purchased seperately fairly easily.
I bought an NVX XPT100 replacement headband for $203 and replacement earpads for $34. My original intent was to mount the MDR-1000X’s cups on the new headband and route the internal cable along the inside of the new headband. As it turned out, however, removing the entire original headband is easier said than done.
The headphones’ cable is routed through a hole in the plastic fork, meaning that the best way to reroute those cables would be to desolder them from the cups and reattach them once freed. Since the MDR-1000X is wireless, this is far from straightforward.
Rather than the two or three conductors found in traditional headphones, these have thirteen. I decided that there was too much risk involved here, especially given the ambiguous coloring of the wires and the fact that some of them were likely high-speed digital. Instead I opted to leave the forks attached and change the headband alone.
The foam on the headband and the clips at the ends can be pried off with some effort using a screwdriver to release the cable routed inside. With that out of the way, I needed a way to attach the new headband without using the existing hinges on the cups. I initially considered 3D-printing attachments to glue to the sides of the cups but came up with an even better idea.
That’s about 20 layers of electrical tape glued together. It’s somewhat flexible but very sturdy. I made a single 4x long strip of this material, drilled four holes into it, cut it into four pieces, then glued them to the sides of the cup where I wanted the headband to be attached. The result came out quite a bit nicer than I expected.
The now-free cable connecting the two cups was then routed along the outside of the headband and adhered along its edge using the same discretely-colored electrical tape. I also lifted the “MDR-1000X” nameplate from the original headband and glued it to the new one for fun.
The pads on the MDR-1000X are held on by six clips. Since the HM5 pads don’t have those clips, some minor surgery is required to make everything fit.
I bought a pair of replacement pads for the MDR-1000X off Aliexpress for about $3. These come with replacement cup damping foam (in case the headphones don’t include that) as well as a pair of pads very similar to the uncomfortable stock Sony ones. Switching to the HM5 pads is as simple as removing the plastic rings from the Sony pads, inserting them into the new pads, and cutting slits to allow the clips to poke through. After that, the pads can be snapped on as if they were the originals.
The end product isn’t as sleek as the original MDR-1000X, but it’s more comfortable and a heck of a lot cheaper ($61 total – perhaps even lower as time goes on and prices continue to drop). It’s also surprisingly sturdy, mine holding up after being tossed around in a backpack with no issues.
If anything, it has a bit of utilitarian charm that I quite like.
- The majority of the pages on Sony’s website from this period have been taken down. There are still a number of posts elsewhere like this one which cover the issue. [return]
- The company has no issues selling just the pads in impressive volume. [return]
- The NVX XPT100 and HM5 are the same headphones. There are a number of other clones; Brainwavz’ is simply the most well-known. [return]
- The pads pictured in this project are these ones. I’ve since used the ones linked above and preferred them, especially given their better sound isolation and lower price. [return]