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Sony MDR-1000X review: Now replaced by the WH-1000XM2

Christopher Minasians
19 Nov 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
270
inc VAT

The Sony WH-1000XM2 don’t provide the same level of active noise cancellation or comfort as the Bose QC35, but sound fantastic

Pros 
Excellent sound quality
Impressive ANC
Comfortable
Cons 
Expensive
Not ideal for workouts
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I originally reviewed the Sony MDR-1000X in 2017, but since have been replaced by their successors, the WH-1000XM2. A year after the release of the XM2, at IFA 2018, a tech trade show that takes place in Berlin, Sony announced the newer WH-1000XM3 model.

Below, you'll find pictures of the original 1000X, but also an updated review to reflect its successor, the 1000XM2 that I got for review in 2018.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best noise-cancelling headphones

Sony MDR-1000X vs 1000XM2: What's the difference?

Following both the success and criticism of the original headphones, Sony revisited the design. The company changed the easy-to-scratch leather strip that wrapped around the earcups to a plastic rim. This makes it look a little better after some serious abuse.

Thanks to the Headphones Connect app, the XM2's ANC, sound characteristics and focus can now all be tweaked to your liking; they've become a tad bit more personal.

ANC has also slightly improved, especially if you're a frequent flyer as Sony has optimised the XM2 for aeroplane noise.

Battery life has significantly improved from around 20hrs up to 30-40hrs depending on if you use ANC. The new set also supports Quick Charge, so you can get an hour of playback with around a 10mins charge.

The XM2 also supports Google Assistant. Here, you can set up the headphones to summon the voice assistant by pressing the physical ANC/Ambient button on the headphones; it replaces the button's default function of switching between ANC and Ambient modes. 

Finally, you might have noticed a slight shift in the same – the company chose to include 'WH' over 'MDR' – so the older model is the MDR-1000X, while the newer headphones are the WH-1000XM2.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best wireless in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: What you need to know

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are a pair of over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones with ANC. They cost around £270, making them a tad cheaper than the Bose QuietComfort 35 (series II).

Sonically, they’re excellent – better, in fact, than the Bose headphones, especially when used in conjunction with a source that outputs the high-quality LDAC codec (most phones running Android 8 Oreo or above natively support it).

The ANC technology is very good too, far surpassing most rivals, and with the Personal NC Optimiser through Sony's Headphones Connect app, the 1000XM2 will dynamically adjust the level of noise-cancelling based on your activities.

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: Price and competition

At the time of writing, the Sony WH-1000XM2 cost around £280 and are available in gold and black.

Their main competitor is the Bose QC35 Series 2 that cost around £330. If you're looking for audiophile sound and competent ANC capabilities, there are the Nuraphone headphones at £350, and the PSB M4U 8 at £300.

READ NEXT: PSB M4U 8 review: The best noise-cancelling headphones for audiophiles

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: Build quality, design and accessories

Inside the box, along with the headphones themselves, you’ll find a hard carrying case, a micro-USB to USB charging cable, an auxiliary 3.5mm cable and an aeroplane adapter.

Build quality and design are impressive. The headphone cups swivel, pivot and rotate, making them easy to carry around, and the adjustable metal headband will fit a wide range of sizes. The headphones are relatively lightweight too, at 277g without a cable; they connect through Bluetooth, and have an impressive range of over 15m, even through walls.

The Sony headphones are unlike most headphones on the market, as they support the LDAC codec, which boasts an astonishingly good transfer rate over Bluetooth; it's around three times better than regular Bluetooth (SBC). You'll need a source that can output LDAC, though, most Android phones running on 8.0 Oreo or above will have it built-in automatically.

The padding around the earcups makes these headphones perfectly comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. However, the headband has a relatively weak clamping force; they sit loosely on my head, which means these headphones aren’t ideal for workouts. By contrast, the Bose sit tightly on my head and don’t fall off even if I go on a jog.

The left headphone cup houses all the buttons – there’s an on/off button, plus controls for ANC and Ambient Sound, which reside by the 3.5mm input jack. It can also be used as a Google Assistant button; you'll need to set this through the Sony Headphones Connect app. There’s also an NFC tag used for fast pairing.

The right-side cup, meanwhile, provides touch controls. Swiping left and right changes song, up and down increases and decreases the volume and tapping once pauses your music. You can also place your palm over the cup to temporarily silence your music and ramp up the ambient sound around you, so that you can quickly reconnect with the outside world. It’s a great, effective feature for when you want to briefly talk to someone, or cross the road in safety.

The right-side cup also hosts a micro-USB socket for charging. The battery lasts for around 30-40 hours, and it takes a few hours to charge from zero. The XM2 does have Quick Charge enabled, so you'll get aproximately 70mins of runtime for a quick 10mins burst of power.

Sony's Headphone Connect app provides a comprehensive list of tweaks: adjust Adaptive Sound Control that detects motion and adapts the noise cancelling based on your surroundings; Noise Canceling Optimizer, which scans your surroundings and optimises ANC; Sound Position Control that adjusts the soundstage; Surround (VPT), which allows you to interchange between virtual surround sound modes; Equalizer settings; to change the function of the ANC/Ambient button to one that activates Google Assistant; and to see what's currently playing, too.

To enable most of these functions, you'll need to enable 'Stable Connection' mode, which disables LDAC mode or as Sony calls it 'Priority on Sound Quality'.

READ NEXT: Best headphones – our pick of the best headphones

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: ANC performance

Active noise cancellation is a key selling point of these headphones. The technology works by analysing the ambient sound around you and overlaying an inverse waveform onto the sound you hear – effectively neutralising external noise.

In addition to regular noise-cancelling, you also get two “Ambient Sound” modes. Normal lets some external sounds filter into your music, so you’re not completely isolated from what’s going on around you. Voice mode works similarly but emphasises the frequencies used in speech, so announcements and conversations come through clearly, while other distracting noises are reduced.

It all works fantastically: the blissful silence you hear when you put on the WH-1000XM2s is incredible. I found that the WH-1000XM2 wasn’t quite as effective as the Bose QC 35 II at blocking out higher frequencies, but it’s still some of the best sound isolation and ANC technology you'll find on the market.

READ NEXT: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review: Still stupendous, now with added Google Assistant goodness

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: Sound quality

Sony’s signature sound is adored by many, delivering accurate mid-range reproduction, crisp highs and a lean bass response. The Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones don’t disappoint in any department: in fact, I’d say they’re the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones out there, easily outclassing the Bose QC35, but doesn't quite match up to the Nuraphone headphones or the PSB M4U 8.

That starts with the bass: these headphones have a good low-end rumble. In songs such as Young Thug and Travis Scott's "Pick Up the Phone", you can really feel the sub-bass frequencies, while the mid-bass response remains clean and controlled. By comparison, the Bose QC35 seems to cut off the sub-bass frequencies and provides a somewhat uncontrolled mid-bass response, while the Nuraphone and PSB M4U 8 provide better clarity in the mid-bass frequency.

Treble meanwhile is nice and prominent, but not harsh, with a good extension at the top-end that provides sparkle. This helps vocals come to the foreground, rather than being pushed back as they can sometimes sound with the QC35s. If you listen to a lot of vocal songs or podcasts, you’ll definitely appreciate the Sony WH-1000XM2 over the Bose headphones. However, both of these headphones have a dip in the mids, which makes them sound a little soft and muddy. By comparison, the Nuraphone and PSB M4U 8 headphones are more forward-sounding. 

Finally, the soundstage has a good sense of depth and width, although it could do with better instrument separation: for example, in Tuxedo's "The Right Time", I felt the percussion instruments could have been brought out a little better.

READ NEXT: Bose QuietComfort 35 review: The blissful sound of silence

Sony WH-1000XM2 review: Verdict

The Sony WH-1000XM2 sets a good bar for Bluetooth ANC headphones. They might not quite match the Bose QC35 when it comes to high-end noise cancellation, nor for staying on your head – but when it comes to sound quality they’re incredible and provide a better all-round package than the Nuraphone and PSB M4U 8 headphones, which can be a tad uncomfortable and aren't the most stylish headphones around, either.

If you're looking for a premium sound, excellent Bluetooth transmitting quality (specifically with LDAC codec on Android), a comfortable and stylish design, excellent ANC capabilities that can be adjusted to your taste, then there's nothing quite like the Sony WH-1000XM2.

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