Sony MDR-1000X: Review

All said and done, 2016 has been an excellent year for audiophiles. Headphones from different brands competed with each other in all forms and shapes for the top spot. Advances in sound and wireless technology have made headphones a viable option to many. With so many choices, finding the right pair of headphones can be tough.

We were lucky to try a few of the best, the Bose QuietComfort 35, Sennheiser’s Momentum 2.0 and its flagship gaming headset, the 373D. Last but not the least, we got to try the Sony MDR-1000X wireless head-cans, and they came in charging for the top spot. Whether they made it, we’ve yet to see.

 

Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo.

MDR-1000X: What it is

The MDR-1000X is a pair of Sony’s flagship noise-cancelling headphones. Although not Sony’s debut in this space, the 1000X is the first to let listeners tailor their listening experience by manipulating noise-cancelling features with a Personal NC Optimiser function. It is as a few of us call it, the “Nobody Cares” feature. It blocks everything out. Brings the peace.

The nifty Quick Attention gimmick that lets me mute the sound by placing my hand over the right ear cup if I feel the need to have a conversation with others. It’s been used sparingly so far.

The MDR-1000X hosts a bunch of other features that we’ll discuss in detail below, such sas active noise cancellation, audio chops, connectivity features, build quality and so on.

Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo.

MDR-1000X: Form factor

The 1000X is a smart-looking pair of headphones with a collapsible hinge to transport easier. They feel luxury in the hand or on your ears, but nowhere near the feel of the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0. Though mostly plastic, the build feels solid and not cheap like some other brands. There is a bit of polished metal in the headband, and the ear cups and pads are wrapped in a very soft comfortable synthetic leather.

While they look great, these cans feel good too. The pads rest well on your ears, and the headband also feels comfortable over your head even during long periods of time. There isn’t any extra pressure from both parts of the headphones and they sit just right. They’re surprisingly light considering how big they look, but sleeping while wearing these isn’t an option, unless you fall asleep on the couch.

There are three buttons under the left ear cup controlling power, ambient noise levels and the NC Optimiser. The right has no button, but the outer pad is touch sensitive for volume and track control.

Build quality is excellent in these headphones. It wins over the Bose QC35’s more plasticky feel with its outer leather coating. The hard case they come in ensures that they move around in relative safety and last you a while.

Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo.

MDR-1000X: Features and gimmicks

Next we’re going to see what sets the MDR-1000X apart from the rest, and what it does like the rest. First, the right ear cup. The outer pad’s touch pad controls the volume by swiping up and down while swiping left and right skips or repeats tracks. Double tapping plays or pauses whatever is playing. Here you can completely mute the sound to listen to conversation or announcements more clearly via the Quick Attention gesture. All you have to do is cover the cup completely and the sound drops to a tiny decibel level, increasing the outside mic so that you can hear better.

The left ear cup has an NFC chip for quick Bluetooth pairing. The power, Personal NC Optimiser and Ambient Sound buttons are under this cup as well. For basics, the power button turns the cans on or off, announces battery levels and handles device connections via Bluetooth.

The Personal NC Optimiser feature is a wonderful way of calibrating the sound to each listener by analysing the shape of the head, including if you wear glasses or have lots of hair. The sound is tailor-made for each listener and is triggered by holding the button down for a few seconds, letting it find the perfect level for you.

Ambient Sound mode is particularly useful for travelers and moving among crowds. You can even choose to block out all noise but voices, or everything in general. Blocking everything but voices lets you keep an ear out for calls for arriving trains or airport announcements.

Sony’s also done a terrific job with its noise-cancellation technology. Not as robust as the Bose in terms of drowning everything out, but definitely better than the Sennheiser. It helps keep the sounds of daily life at bay when necessary, but as with most of headphones in this category, it could be a bad idea to have this turned on all the time.

While battery life is claimed to be 20 hours, I didn’t get a chance to fully measure it. A rough measure of how long I used it would include binge-watching a show on Netflix and a couple of movies, which on their own made up for more than 12 hours or so. The battery is still going strong so I assume there’s more juice left in it. There’s always the 3.5mm cable for when it runs out though, so no worries there.

MDR-1000X: The main event – sound quality

When it comes to testing headphones like these, sound quality has to be king. You can’t have a comfortable, good looking product but then have it sound like two elephants are rubbing backsides together every time the bass picks up.

Thankfully, Sony kept that in mind when making these. The sound in these head-cans is unbelievably beautiful. Against the Bose, these are the best pair of headphones I have ever tested. Everything from the way it sits, to the noise cancellation, to the sound optimisation all comes together to give you this amazing concert inside your head, that leaves your brain trembling with pleasure at the end of it.

Obviously there are technical details that make the magic happen. The unique listening experiences are all thanks to the newly developed Sense Engine feature. The MDR-1000X is also the first pair of headphones with the DSEE HX built in to upscale compressed music from any source to near High-Resolution Audio sound quality, even in wireless mode. Adding to the list of features to ensure the highest quality listening experience wirelessly is LDAC and the S-Master HX.

The MDR-1000X is just so articulate in the way it pushes sounds out to your ears. The low notes are crystal clear, high notes seldom falter, all the while thumping out plentiful bass without losing definition. I used samples from neo-classical styles, ambient music, orchestrated compositions and even some pop among others. These cans aren’t meant for bass-heads, but they will still do the job. Vocals sound full and clear, minus a few times when they felt a bit muted behind amazing sounding instrumentals.

MDR-1000X: Verdict

This is the pair to go for. Secretly, I was rooting for the Bose. I even loved the way the Sennheiser felt on my ears. But when you look at comfort levels and sound quality, Sony wins the battle here.

The MDR-1000X not only does noise cancellation beautifully, but does it with innovation and intuition. The Ambient Sound modes and the Personal NC Optimiser put it ahead of the competition, meaning sounds can be fine-tuned on the go and without the need of an app.

Sound quality clearly wins here as well. It might feel extremely similar to the Bose in that sense, but there is just that little bit of extra oomph that pushes it past the line a little faster than the Bose.

Hats off to Sony for winning this year. Even though they are priced higher than the Bose, I’d shell out for a pair of these.

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