For many years, Bose has been dominating the narratives on active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones with its QuietComfort series. While there are many other ANC headphones in the market – from Plantronics’ BackBeat Pro 2 to Sennheiser’s PXC 550 wireless – ask any frequent travellers and they will swear by the Bose QuietComfort ANC headphones.
This might now change when Sony announces its MDR-1000x ANC headphones. It isn’t Sony’s first ANC headphones but when people start recommending me the MDR-1000x after hearing me rave about the Bose QC35, I knew I had to take a listen to these cans.
Simply looking at the packaging of the MDR-1000X, it’s clear that these ANC headphones are targeted at frequent travelers. It comes with a hard carry case, a plug adaptor for in-flight use and a 1.5m silver-coated headphone cable for wired usage and a USB cable for charging.
The MDR-1000X’s earcups can be swivelled flat, making storage a breeze when tucked into a suitcase, bag or into the supplied hard carrying case. Weight-wise, the 1000X weighs a mere 276 grams, a tad heavier than the Bose QC 35 (235 grams).
Looks-wise the MDR-1000X is classy and premium despite being made almost entirely out of plastic. The ear cups and headband are covered with soft synthetic leather which gives the headphones a luxurious look and even with long period of usage, the MDR-1000X is comfortable to have on even for users with spectacles. Sony has chosen a rather minimalistic design with the MDR-1000X, even the Sony logo is barely visible unless one specifically searches for it. The one we had for this review is is beige in color while there is also a black version available.
The MDR-1000X first and foremost are a pair of wireless ANC headphones. You can connect your 1000X wirelessly via Bluetooth/NFC to most smart devices. Pairing is fairly simple. Press and hold onto the Power button on the left earcup and the headphones get into pairing mode. Select the headphones under the Bluetooth menu of your smart devices to pair. Once pair, the headphones remember the paired device and would automatically connect to it the next time it’s turned on.
If you’re a fan of wired connection, the MDR-1000X also provides a long 3.5mm audio cable for you to use with compatible devices. However, when the headphone cable is used, the Bluetooth function and touch sensor of the 1000X cannot be used. The headphones can also be used passively with the cable but the company recommends turning the headphones on to enjoy high resolution audio playback from your devices.
Under the clean, minimalistic looks of the MDR-1000X are some really high tech and smart features. The cornerstone of the MDR-1000X is a new technology that Sony is calling the “SENSE ENGINE”. The SENSE ENGINE is a combination of noise-cancelling and audio-enhancing technologies that improves the overall audio experience by giving the users the ability to customize their listening experiences.
Personal NC optimiser when activated analyses the shape of your head and wearing style to provide personalized and optimized noise-cancelling. It felt a bit gimmicky to me but i have to admit that the noise-cancelling on the MDR-1000X is one of the best that i have experienced on a ANC headphones so i would give Sony the benefits of the doubt here that the NC optimiser does works wonders.
One other neat feature of the 1000X is the Quick Attention feature that turns down the music simply by cupping your hand over the headphones’ housing to have a quick conversation with the air stewardess or stranger on the road asking for directions. You’re no longer that snob that ignores people with headphones on anymore!
Lastly, the Ambient Sound mode – which we have seen on other Sony headphones like the NW-WS413 – now comes in both voice and normal modes. Voice mode picks up and amplifies voices around you like chatters and announcements at the airports so that you can enjoy your music and not missed out important conversations, while the normal mode basically lets you hear your surrounding together with your music which i thought could be a bit distracting.
The noise-cancelling on the 1000X is impressive – I would say it’s as good as or even slightly better than the Bose QuietComfort 35. I no longer hear the crowd or the train on my daily commute and I found myself lost in my own audio nirvana while listening to these cans at work. While other ANC headphones use a standard noise-cancelling algorithm, Sony’s Personal NC optimiser in its SENSE ENGINE works really well in optimizing the level of ANC for the different user.
The Quick Attention – while sounds gimmicky – actually had some useful real life usage. For example, while watching Netflix on the iPad with the MDR-1000X on the train, I simply had to cover the earcup to hear the station announcement to ensure that I am alighting at the right stop. I could also see how this could be useful when you simply need to check on the surrounding or respond to the co-worker – all without having to take off the headset.
Battery life is excellent at a rated 20 hours. My own tests put it at around 18 over hours which is good for almost a week without having to charge it.
So how does the 1000X sound? I tested the headphones listening to different genres of music, both using the wired cable and wireless connection and the 1000X performed extremely well in most cases.
The bass is tight and punchy, and overall, the audio feels very balanced and uncolored. Sony uses its proprietary LDAC codec that delivers high quality Bluetooth wireless audio by transmitting 3x more data. While it’s definitely not audiophile quality headphones, it’s very hard to fault the 1000X because it does a commendable job on most genre of music from Pop to Classic to even House and EDM.
But then again, audio is really subjective, personally i prefer the more bassy approach Bose has taken with the QC35 but if your music repertoire consist mainly of classical and acoustic pieces, the MDR-1000X is the obvious choice for you.
Sony has really taken everyone (include Bose I dare say) by surprise with the MDR-1000X especially after a series of uninspired headphones offerings like the h.ear on wireless NC and EXTRA BASS ANC. While it commands a rather high (though on par with Bose’s asking price for the QC35) retail price of S$599, the great noise-cancelling and audio quality, coupled with a sleek design and long battery life makes the MDR-1000X a serious contender in the noise-cancelling category.
Special thanks to Sony Singapore for the review unit.