Published on January 2nd, 2017 | by Bhavishya Kanjhan0
Sony MDR-1000X Review – Stellar Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones
There’s one name that comes to mind when you think of Noise-Cancelling headphones. The team that demoed Sony’s new MDR-1000X headphones didn’t want to take that name but we were all making comparisons in our head. Sony is ambitious with its new headphones. The Bluetooth enabled MDR-1000X feature pretty impressive Noise Cancelling with a few usability enhancements, and a great build quality. Let’s find out if Sony can displace Bose and it’s newest QC35 as the preferred choice of noise canceling headphones.
Let me preface this review by saying this isn’t a review of the sound quality. Neither that QC35 nor the MDR-1000X are built for audiophiles. Music sounds good – great even – but they’re not built for excellence in audio performance. Noise Cancelling is their hallmark feature and that is where we’ll begin.
For years, competitors have found it hard to beat the Noise Cancelling capabilities of the Bose headphones. I own and love the QC25 and was really happy when Bose was able to maintain the same excellence in the new Bluetooth-enabled QC35. Sony, to my delight, delivers just as good noise canceling capabilities with its headphones. Now bear in mind, noise canceling doesn’t mean complete silence. It eliminates sounds of a certain frequency that may be deemed as noise. Examples of this sound include the rumble of an airplane or a truck. If you’re sitting in a mall with a pair of canceling headphones on, it’ll ‘cancel’ out most sounds, but you should be able to hear certain distinct sounds, such as human voices and announcements.
The Sony headphones are just as good at drowning out the noise without completely eliminating the sounds such as human voices and announcements. In fact, Sony may let through a little more of these distinct sounds through.The noise-canceling not only makes for more acoustically-comfortable travel in the Metro, train, or plane, it’s also a great way to get your mind to focus. When you first start using the noise-cancelling feature, you may feel a certain pressure in your eat. This isn’t unique to Sony and is in fact how the technology works. Fortunately, you get used to that feeling with time.
What I enjoyed the most was being able to use the Bluetooth and Noise-cancelling features independently of each other. For example, I can have my headphones connected via Bluetooth but still have Noise-cancelling turned off. The only reason I’m pointing this rather trivial feature is that the Bose QC35 headphones lack it. On those headphones, if you have Bluetooth connected, the Noise-cancelling feature is automatically turned on.
Ambient Sound Modes
Sony is introducing two new modes on the headphone: Ambient Sound Normal and Ambient Sound Voice. Activating them turns off noise canceling and the modes are meant to be used to allow users to be aware of their surroundings. In Ambient Sound, users can listen to the sounds from their environment even when the music is playing; these includes sounds that may otherwise be blocked out if a user is wearing headphones. This feature helps users stay connected to their surroundings and therefore safe. For example, if a user is working on the streets, she can now hear the traffic sound. Sony is able to do this by utilizing the in-built mics and routing the sound through the headphone output.
The Ambient Sound Voice blocks out most other sounds except distinct voice. For example, if a user has this feature enabled at the airport, she will be able to hear announcements and other kinds of voices, while everything else will be blocked out.
In effect, Sony is offering three levels of noise cancelling starting with Ambient Sound Normal at the lowest end to full Noise cancelling at the highest. These are nifty features and they seemed to work pretty well. However, I personally didn’t use them as much and just switched between noise-canceling on or off. I’m left wondering if the average user will care to switch between the four modes.
Fit and Feel
Sony as a new entrant has taken the right steps to build a great looking pair of headphones. They come in Black and Beige. Featuring rich and soft leather, the earcups sit comfortably on the ear and are an absolutely joy to wear; even for long hours. On the outside, the headphones feature a very understated black leather covering which gives the headphones a very premium look. The band on the headphones feature steel that makes the headphone very bendable, thus reducing the likelihood of you accidentally snapping them. The Sony branding on the headphone is very subtle and practically invisible at a distance, and yet the entire design aesthetic is very characteristic of Sony. Overall, the headphones look very suave and polished, and go well as much on a suit as on a casual outfit.
Sony has built gesture capabilities into the right cup of the earphone. If you hold at least two fingers up to it, the headphones lower the volume of the music to a bare minimum and allow for ambient sound to come in. This allows you to have a conversation with people without taking your headphones off. In real world usage, though, I found that people were unsure if I could hear them, and thus would wait for me to take the headphones off before they’d start speaking. This becomes a case of technology not being able to compete with social behaviour. I found myself eventually taking my headphones off to have a conversation.
Secondly, the headphones allow for volume and track control through gestures as well. Swiping your finger up or down and holding it there will increase or decrease the volume, while swiping it left and right will move tracks. While the track movement worked well, I would still prefer hardware buttons to gesture control. For starters, the action to change volume takes slightly longer, maybe half a second more, but since we’re used to instant feedback, the experience feels a little laggy. Secondly, gestures don’t offer the same level of hardware feedback that buttons do. Perhaps, if Sony fixes the instant response issue then the hardware feedback wouldn’t be as much of a concern.
And now to the basics, the stuff any brand hardly ever gets wrong. The phone allows instant Bluetooth pairing via NFC and it works just as you’d expect. In addition to Bluetooth, the phone can be connected via a 3.5 mm sound cable. The good thing about the Sony headphones is that it is 3.5mm on both sides so if you lose the official cable you can pick up a generic one. The Bose headphones, on the other hand, use a proprietary one which made replacing a lost cable an expensive affair.
The phone can be charged via MicroUSB. I’m hoping it serves as the port for firmware upgrade too so Sony can fix some issues, such as response speed on volume control. However, that may not necessarily happen.
Sony has outdone itself here. The MDR-1000X are a class-leading pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They look and fit premium, possess excellent noise canceling capabilities, and resolve many usability issues found in competitor products. Its weakness is that the gesture control for volume and track control is not up to the mark and that is far from a fatal flaw. With a 20-hour battery life and great sound quality, it’s hard not to recommend these headphones.
The Sony MDR-1000X noise-cancelling headphones are available at major retailers for AED 1,599