Sony WH-1000XM2 In-Depth Review: ANC Headphones Reloaded
- Great Value for Money
- High-End sound quality
- Premium build quality
- Touch control
- Long lasting battery
- Sony Headphone App
- carrying case
- Bluetooth 4.1
- MicroUSB charging port
- ANC can be uncomfortable when music is off
- Limited colour options
- Ear cups could be bigger
Active Noise Cancelling is the name of the game when it comes to Sony’s high-end lines of personal audio equipment. Their first product in that category, the MDR-1000X was given high praises. It defined the Active Noise Cancelling headphone market, in fact. It was the best that the market could offer in terms of Active Noise Cancelling. It combined the technology with some very high quality audio drivers giving the headphones an unmatched sound quality in its category. Its Active Noise Cancelling technology was second to none either.
Earlier this year at CES2018 Sony launched a follow-up, finally. A supposedly improved model the WH-1000X is meant to be the world beater for its segment. It is supposed to be even better than before – all while costing less than the previous MDR-1000X. How did it really fare though? Let’s dive in and find out.
Before we dive in though, if you need an explanation to what Active Noise Cancelling is; we did a short write-up about it. Of course we reviewed the WH-1000X little brother as well with that, here.
The WF-1000X is clearly the replacement of the highly acclaimed MDR-1000X of old. The design is very much similar with slightly different materials here and there. The build quality is very typically Sony. It feels solid and well made, and would last you for sometime. This is clearly made to be as portable as possible while being as comfortable as possible.
The Champagne Gold that we get here is one of the two colour options available; the other being black. In some sense I do like the Champagne gold because it does look genuinely interesting. It does stand out a little bit but then again you are going to stand out whenever you wear a full-sized over-ear headphones in the public. The black colour option might look a little less ominous due to the toned down matte finish.
Either way the Sony WH-1000X headphones looks good. Wearing it in public will definitely make you stand out. The headphone does look like it is designed with fashion and lifestyle in mind though so you should not go wrong with it.
It charges via a MicroUSB slot at the bottom of the right earpiece. The right earpiece also acts as a touch panel for you to control volumes (up and down swipes), control your music (left and right swipes, or double tap to play or pause music) and to quickly pick up phone calls by double tapping. The left earcup is where the NFC sensor is housed and where the power button and the ambient/Noise Cancelling mode select button is. Of course there is still a 3.5mm jack at the bottom of the left earcup for an AUX cable as well.
Both sides of the earcups are obviously cushioned and padded for maximum comfort. Wearing the headphone is a pleasure even after extended periods. The cushion at the headband also helps with that comfort. It helps the headphone feels lighter than it actually is. The cushions at the earcups does help relieve some of the clamping pressure of the headphone as well. I do have to admit that I have a small head though so that might help with the clamping pressure.
The headphone is not a heavy item though so wearing them for extended period of time should not be an issue at all. It is in fact one of the lightest over ear headphone I have ever carried. The cushions do help with a bit of the weightless feel when you are wearing it. But because it is so light, the headphone usually feels very natural as you wear it. Even when you swing your head around as well the headphone stays in place with confidence while it feels nearly weightless.
To keep the package as light and as portable as possible though they sacrifice a little bit in size. The earcups are actually quite small and may not completely cover everyone’s ears. It does go over my ears and completely covers it. A part of my lobes are exposed and partly squeezed by the lower part of the padding cushion. However it does not cause any sort of discomfort at all in extended usage.
|Driver||40mm Neodymium Magnet (Dome Type)|
|Frequency Response||20Hz-20,000Hz @44.1kHz Sampling (Bluetooth Mode)
3.5mm headphone jack
|Battery||Approx. 30 hours with NC on, 38 hours with NC off|
|Features||Active Noise Cancelling
Ambient Sound mode
The Sony WH-1000X Mark 2 is really something else. It is a near perfect combination of ANC and high audio quality. It feels and sounds like no other product in the market, it works like no other too. This could very well be one of the best, if not the best ANC headphones you can find in the market today.
The headphone, if you connect to your smartphone also works when you pick up or make a call. The added advantage of an ANC headphone here is that there is already a built-in mic anyway for you to simply put to use in the phone call. However some calls can be finicky and can be a little unclear (in our test anyway). Most of the time though it should be mighty fine as long as your smartphone and headphone connection is strong.
The Sony WH-1000XM2 is definitely a high-end in this department. The audio produced are rich and clear in all sort of ranges. That is a testament to the wide dynamic range of the 40mm drivers and its tuning. If we have to describe the audio from this head-gear in a single word; it would be ‘balanced’.
Everything from the headphone is well-balanced, none too strong. There are headphones out there that focuses on solely providing the strongest bass experience and what not. Truth be told, the best way to experience pop music today is to pump the bass up a little bit more. For that though you could go to Sony’s other line – the Extra Bass series. You will not get that experience here.
What you are getting from the WH-1000XM2 is a good mix of the high, mid, and low frequencies. Everything can be heard and monitored, every detail is there but none coming out too strong. If I would to describe it, the audio comes out as something that you want to hear from a studio monitor – well-balanced without a boost in any of the frequencies. Of course you can alter your listening experience with the built-in equalizer on the Sony Headphone app.
The audio from the headphones are very clean as well. At no point did we hear any peaking or tearing, of course put on a low quality sound file and you will start hearing these. We tested the headphones with Spotify on both a Sony XA1 Plus and a Samsung Galaxy A8+. Streaming and downloaded content are both set to Extreme quality and none of the built-in equalizer on both devices are fiddled with.
Even when you push the audio level to the maximum on both the headphone and your device there is never a moment where you head the drivers tearing or crackling. Of course we did set the Bluetooth connection priority to sound quality as the headphone and the phone are more than two meters away anyway. Despite the setting the connection is strong at all times with very minimal interruptions. Of course if you do get some interference you might want to change that setting in the Sony Headphone app.
The WH-1000XM2 can be connected to your smartphone, or laptops, or computers, or iPod, or a DAC/MP3 player via the 3.5mm jack. Of course when you plug it into any of these devices you do not have to turn the headphone on. On a smartphone though you might want to turn up the volume a little as the amps on smartphones usually do not have enough power to take advantage of the big 40mm drivers.
Active Noise Cancelling
If you have tried any ANC headphones you are going to notice that there is some weird vacuum type of sound that is quite annoying. That is because of the Noise Cancelling technology itself. What it does is that it picks up noise from outside via a microphone on the headphone itself. There is a built-in processor that then analyses the noise from outside and pumps anti-noise into the interior of the headphone to give you that noise cancelling effect. It technically pumps a void noise to cancel out the outside noise. Which is why you get that weird vacuum sensation and noise inside the headphone.
Plenty of ANC headphones do suffer this and it gets annoying because most of the time that anti-noise also muddles the music and whatever media you are playing through the headphones. With the previous MDR-1000X the ANC is amazing. The ANC on the Sony MDR-1000X does not affect the music experience at all which is what we like about it anyway.
On the Sony WH-1000XM2 that brilliant ANC system remains. It is even better than before in fact. The noise cancelling really does work in most environments including the train and what not. Of course do not use it while you are driving. On the headphone itself you can adjust the amount of noise cancelling you want – there are three settings to that; off, on with ambient noise, and on. But even that can be further adjusted through your Sony Headphone app; yes you could have the ANC completely off.
The headphone also detects the sort of activity you are on as well. That will allow it to adjust the amount of noise cancelling you get. For example when you are walking from station to station, or in the park the headphone allows some ambient noise to be picked up from the mic and fed into your drivers so that you are alert at least to the environment. When you are just sitting in the train heading to work for example the headphone automatically goes into total Noise Cancelling mode to drown out everything and allow you to zone out with the music as long as the train ride requires.
Supposedly though the headphone does pick up PSA announcements or PA announcements in trains, train stations, airports, or banks. We could not get that working when we were in the MRT though which was a curious thing. If you cover the right earpiece with your palms, you turn on the mic on that side of the headphone and kill audio on that side of the headphone too. That allows other people to talk to you when you need to listen to them. That, works just fine – and we have to say that it is a clever feature to have. Rather than taking your headphone off on one side, just cover it up and we can hear what others have to say.
The ANC not only works when you are in wireless mode though, you can keep it on when you plug your headphones to any medium. Of course keeping the ANC on will still require battery power. But it is a nice thing to have even when you plug it into the phone or laptop or whatever medium you have.
The Sony WH-1000XM2 is quoted to have about 30 hours of continuous listening battery life (with Noise Cancelling on). We reviewed the headphone for a period of two weeks. In that two weeks we only charged the headphone fully about twice. We’ve never tried to run the battery down too so we could not comment on whether it does last as long as they claim.
We are confident however that the headphone might be able to last about that long. We mostly took it and use it on public transport rides and what not. Most of each time does not take more than one hour. We took public transport up to twice a day too for five weekdays in a row. In that period of time the headphone did not report a low battery level at all. Only when we started it up and used it for nearly 30 minutes after that first week only it did give the battery low warning.
We also mentioned that you can use this headphone with ANC on while plugged in via a 3.5mm jack. The ANC function still consumes battery power and you are expected to run out at about 10 hours as well. With ANC turned off, you should be able to listen to music forever as long as you are plugged in (not considering hardware wear and tear).
Ease of Use
The Sony WH-1000XM2 is technically very much a plug and play device. You either plug it into whatever media device you want to use via a 3.5mm jack. That makes it work like any other regular headphone out there. The 40mm drivers still gives you that superb listening experience even without the ANC turned on so it is not like you are getting anything less.
As mentioned also you can turn on the ANC at the expense of the battery life while plugged in. With the ANC, it is a completely different experience with even more isolation from the world.
But the whole point of having this headphone is using it as a wireless headphone. That is where this should shine; wireless. The device connects via Bluetooth 4.2 LE and NFC and it is easy enough to connect.
Once connected you can control your music without touching your device at all; everything can be done via the headphone. The solution is as elegant as its looks though. The WH-1000X2, as we mentioned the controls are all at the right cup of the headphone. The gestures or controls is even clearly shown with a card in the carrying case that comes with the headphone.
Bluetooth and NFC
The WH-1000XM2 connects to your smartphone, or PC, or DAC (if you have one with Bluetooth) via Bluetooth. But the headphone is designed with smartphones in mind which is why there is an NFC sensor built into the left cup of the headphone. Even without NFC though the connecting procedure for the headphone is as simple as turning on the headphone and Bluetooth settings and pairing the two together.
Of course with NFC it is even easier for your smartphone to connect to the headphone. All you need to do is touch your NFC enabled device (with NFC turned on, mind you) to the left ear cup of the headphone (make sure your headphone is also on). Once the blue light on the … button stops blinking rapidly, you are connected. From here on out, you should really get the Sony Headphone App and use it with your headphone.
Sony Headphone App
The Sony Headphone App is the proprietary app for Sony’s headphones (obviously). It works for any headphones you can get your hands on from Sony’s current line up. It is also free in Android’s Play Store and the iOS App Store. So it is a no brainer when you get the WH-1000XM2 that you download the app immediately.
From the app itself you can control things like where the sound virtually come from (Left-Right bias, or Forward-Center Bias), headphone volume (which is a separate thing from device volume), and ANC control. You can even set the connection priority to either focus on stable connection or sound quality depending on conditions. There are preset equaliser settings that would imitate listening environments like a concert hall, or a cafe, or a plenary theater to really enhance your listening experience. If you are familiar enough you can even fiddle with the frequencies manually on your own to get your preferred experience.
There is an automatic optimizer within the app too to custom tune the headphones to your listening preference and according to the environment. All you do with that is click a single button to turn it on and to automatically tune the headphones. The headphone will then detect your environment settings and tune the drivers and ANC to suit the surroundings.With the ANC control you can even adjust the amount of noise cancelling and ambient noise around you. Of course on top of all of that you still can check your headphone’s battery level via the app.
Buy or Don’t Buy?
Here we are, the end of the review. Should you buy one? That is a very difficult question to answer actually. The Sony WH-1000XM2 is a great headphone overall. It is undoubtedly a high-end device. The price though does not reflect the performance of the headphone. In fact for that sort of money there is nearly nothing better. Among the other ANC headphone as well the WH-1000XM2 is considered to be the best solution.
The product here is nothing short of amazing if you ask us. But the question here is that, should you buy it? The simple answer is; yes you should buy it. It is a great product with great value; even a non-audiophile can enjoy the headphones without being too technical. But of course it is not as simple as that. So let us dig deeper.
The WH-1000XM2 is definitely a product to consider if you are an audiophile and is looking for a near perfect ANC headphone. If you are one – you should at least have something like the Sony MDR-1000X or a BOSE QC35 anyway. But if you are an audiophile and is looking for one ANC headphone to add to your collection; this is the one for you. The added features make this ANC headphone somewhat of a bargain. You are getting crisp and clear audio at that, which is the main point of an audiophile headphone anyway. The issue is that you might already have something that sounds better and more expensive. In that sense we cannot blame you – after all sound quality is the main aim. But think about this; it is highly portable and wireless.
If you are not an audiophile and think that spending over MYR300 for a pair of headphones is stupid; I urge you to try this Sony headphones, really. You may not be able to fully appreciate the sounds that is coming out of the brilliant drivers itself but this will sound much better than any run-of-the-mill headphones you can get. The level of detail you get here compared to the lesser, more generic headphones is something else. If you have tried one, and you agree with me; go out and buy one if you can afford it. If you have anything you can describe as an interest to music at all this is one purchase you will not regret.
What if you really do not care? I guess there is a special advise for you here. If you are not even remotely interested in music and headphones, you should not even be thinking about buying anything more than a Xiaomi Piston earphone that will set you back less than MYR50 anyway. If you are the sort of person who finds or feels that there are no difference between this Sony headphone than, let us say a cheap Xiaomi Piston earphone; by all means please do not get the headphone. Mind you, you did read the review all the way to this last paragraph.
Also published on Medium.