When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, most experts agree that it doesn’t get much better than Bose. The American company has built something of a reputation for itself with its QuietComfort range, and the recently launched QuietComfort 35 sets new benchmarks when it comes to cutting out the noise. But Sony has recently shown that it is equally capable of producing good noise-cancelling headphones, and the market is now essentially a head-to-head fight between these two stalwarts of the industry.
Sony’s answer to the excellent QuietComfort 35 is the wireless MDR-1000X. This premium pair of headphones cuts no corners and holds nothing back when it comes to features. But does it have enough in it to convince buyers to look past the reputation of Bose and put money down on it? We review the Sony MDR-1000X to find out if it can become the new champion of noise-cancellation.
Sony MDR-1000X Design and Specifications
Thanks to the around-ear design, the Sony MDR-1000X headphones completely wrap around your ears to offer proper isolation, which is an essential part of noise-cancellation. The frame of the headphones is entirely metal, and this also makes it feel premium and sturdy. The ear pads and cushioning below the head band is foam, which makes the headphones extremely comfortable to wear.
The outer part of the ear-cups is wrapped in synthetic leather, which gives the headset a very classy look. The left ear-cup has the NFC receiver for quick Bluetooth pairing, while the right is entirely plain, but actually has the touch-sensitive panel. Swiping left and right with your finger on the panel changes the track, swiping up and down controls the volume, and double tapping the surface pauses or plays your audio and answers calls. While this is in fact a very cool way to control the headset, it’s also painfully inaccurate at times, with volume swipes often reading as next or previous and changing the track, and vice versa. I would much rather have had proper hardware buttons that worked accurately, as is the case on the more affordable Sony MDR-100ABN.
The bottom of the left ear-cup has the 3.5mm input jack to use the headphones with a stereo cable, along with the power, noise-cancellation and ambient sound buttons. Pressing the power button once while the headset is on will give you a voice-prompt of the battery level. Noise cancellation can be turned off when the headset is on, and the ambient sound mode gives you the option to only allow voice to come through, while other ambient sounds are filtered out by the headset. The bottom of the right ear-cup has the micro-USB port for charging.
The noise-cancellation system uses dual microphones, which are rather large and sit at the top of each ear cup. The same microphones come into play when you’re using the headset as a hands-free device on phone calls, and this ensures that you’ll be heard clearly by the person on the other end. The headphones come with a carry-case, stereo cable, charging cable and have a nifty folding mechanism that makes the MDR-1000X compact when not in use. It’s also high-resolution audio compliant, with a frequency response range of 4-40,000Hz and 40mm dynamic drivers. Battery life is claimed to be around 20 hours on a full charge, and we did in fact get close to this much, which is impressive.
Sony MDR-1000X Performance
I used the Sony MDR-1000X with my trusty OnePlus 3 connected over Bluetooth for most of the review, but also used the included stereo cable to use it with a Windows laptop on some occasions. Focus tracks for the review were Je M’Amuse by Caravan Palace and Floating Points’ Nuits Sonores. We also thoroughly tested the noise-cancellation in various conditions, including in the office, while commuting and in crowded and noisy places.
Starting with Je M’Amuse, we found that the sound is incredibly clean, detailed and crisp. From the start itself when the bass kicks in, every part of the sonic range is adequately represented, without the headphones allowing any particular element to dominate over others. This effectively means punchy bass, a bit of sparkle in the treble, great instrumental separation and distinct vocals all in one, and I was able to feel every bit of it with the same tenacity. The isolating nature of the headphones and the digital noise-cancellation itself further enhance the quality of the sound by ensuring that most ambient sound is cut out.
Moving on to the progressive lounge track Nuits Sonores, I listened with undivided attention as the track progressively built up into the exciting and relaxing track that it is. The sound imaging and instrumental separation were absolutely top-notch, letting every bit of the track be felt just as clearly as it was heard. Even faint elements of the track could be heard distinctly while the primary sound and bass were firing with full force. Through all of this, I also got a sense of comfort and ease, with the headphones providing a sound that is neither fatiguing nor weak, feeling just right, no matter what genre or track I played.
Moving on to the noise-cancellation, I was blown away by the level of quietude afforded by the Sony MDR-1000X. While other noise-cancellation headsets only succeed in blocking out some of the ambient noise by feeding an often artificial-sounding reverse frequency, the MDR-1000X creates a soundwave that resembles true quiet so much, that it’s eerie how little of the typical drone can be heard. You will of course be able to hear sounds that are not stable in nature, such as voices or the tapping of the keyboard as I write this review.
There’s also an ambient sound mode, which allows the microphone to allow certain sounds to filter into your ears. In normal mode, this turns on the two microphones to let all sound in by actively replicating it through the drivers, while voice-mode allows only voice through. These modes are particularly useful when you want to be able to hear a bit of your surroundings, such as in an office, or while walking on the street, and they work incredibly well in practice. The microphones are powerful to use for voice calls as well, and I had no trouble having long phone conversations with the headset on.
Noise-cancellation headphones occupy a bit of a niche, primarily because they’re most effective on airplanes. This means that the people that tend to use them are the same people that take a lot of flights. However, the increasing quality of noise-cancellation offered by top brands such as Bose and Sony means that there’s more of a market for these even among users who ordinarily use the headphones while commuting or in the office. The Sony MDR-1000X has everything it takes to win over this market, and gives the traditional champion of the industry Bose some serious competition.
Apart from looking excellent, feeling comfortable to use for long hours and sounding great, the Sony MDR-1000X also offers ambient sound filtering, stellar battery life and arguably the best sound we’ve heard from a wireless headset. The only flaw is the gimmicky and largely inaccurate touch control panel, but this is a small flaw in an otherwise excellent pair of headphones. Although users may be inclined to trust the similarly priced Bose QC 35 purely because of Bose’s experience and legacy, we recommend the Sony MDR-1000X as the better of the two headphones on the whole.