What We Like
- A classic design that is unobtrusive and luxurious.
- Noise cancellation is solid and effective.
What We Don’t Like
- Bose still take the top-spot for active noise cancellation.
- They’re expensive relative to their performance compared to competitors.
At the higher-end of the wireless headphone market, noise cancelling technology is becoming the new battleground for supremacy. There’s a cap on how good wireless headphones sound relative to wired; once that’s reached it’s all about blocking out the background.
Available in two color designs—a matte black and leather or a fairly understated beige and silver—, the MDR-1000X looks a little bit like what you imagine business class looked like in the 90s. There’s a surprisingly large proportion of plastic in use here rather than the various metals which are traditionally favored by models at this price range. That’s not necessarily a criticism, they actually look pretty good, but it’s certainly aiming more for ‘timeless’ and ‘classic’ than ‘modern’ and ‘cutting-edge’. If that’s your thing, you’ll love it; if it isn’t, you won’t.
Overall, the design is refreshingly free from any kind of clutter. This is helped by a clever integration of the controls system which sees the unmarked, clean surface of the right earcup double as a touch sensitive input method. You just swipe or tap at this empty space and, just like that, the magic happens.
The padding makes for a very comfortable fit even over extensive listening sessions. This is true of both the earcups and the headband itself; both do a great job of creating a secure fit without being painful or uncomfortable to wear. The headphones also fold down into a fairly compact size which makes them easy to transport.
Let’s start with the noise cancellation. It’s worth pointing out first that the design of the MDR-1000X means that it passively blocks out a good amount of ambient sound. The active noise cancellation does indeed remove a lot of ambient sound—it’s especially good at cutting out the rumble of a commute or the whining of an AC. There is also the option to use the Personal NC Optimizer which purports to analyse elements of your “personal characteristics and wearing style” and then tailors the sound for you. We’re not quite sure what difference this made.
For quite some time, the story of building headphones with active noise cancellation has been a story of playing catch-up to Bose who have been dominant with their QuietComfort range. While Sony has done a valiant effort here, the net effect is that it isn’t quite there. It’s close, but it won’t knock Bose’s QC range from the top-spot when it comes to active noise cancellation.
A few other nice touches: placing your hand over the housing of the right earcup instantly lowers the volume so you can hear people talking (and removing it restores the volume); you can switch to a mode which removes all distractions but allows voices into your ears; and you can also switch to a mode which allows ambient sound in so you can keep track of traffic and suchlike.
Getting the rather more boring stuff out of the way, connectivity is—as you would expect—perfect. The range is great, pairing is seamless, and we experienced no lag, skipping, or other pitfalls associated with wireless headphones.
Overall, the audio performance is extremely strong. It’s smooth, precise, and clear across a wide variety of tracks in a diverse roster of genres. The bass response is weighty but well controlled and does not spill out into any kind of muddying effect; the mids are expressive and rich; the highs are cutting without being painful. It’s a solid performance.
Battery life is decent. 20 hours should be enough for most needs, but if you want more than this you’ll probably have to sacrifice active noise cancellation. You can, of course, switch into wired mode with the cable provided, but it does not have an inline remote control. That’s a shame.
There’re no two ways about it: the MDR-1000X is a great product. There’s very little to fault about it, but the key problem remains that it isn’t necessarily the best you can buy with your money at this price point.