Sony MDR-1000X Headphones Review | A Formidable New Challenger
There are a lot of noise cancelling headphone alternatives on the market these days and it’s hard to know which ones are actually good. Some have a great aesthetic but their primary function of cancelling noise is not so great. Others do a great job at noise cancelling, but the design hasn’t been thought through very well. Bose, Beoplay (by Bang & Olufsen / B&O), and Sennheiser are all strong competitors, however, we’ve recently come across a candidate that might just reign supreme…
The obvious things to look out for when selecting a new pair of noise cancelling headphones are; 1) they should cancel noise quite well, 2) they should deliver awesome sound, 3) you should be able to wear them comfortably for a relatively long period of time, and 4) the build should be durable and the design easy to use. Having tried four other pairs of noise cancelling headphones that are at the top of the category, the Sony MDR-1000X have pleasantly surprised us with where we’ve ranked them amongst the others.
Once you go wireless, it’s hard to go back to being tethered so this is definitely a good start. The MDR-1000X is a solid looking, all-black pair of headphones. At first, nothing really makes them stand out as being different from the others. The speaker cushions are lined with soft leather that’s comfortable around the ears. The underpart of the headband is also lined with leather, which has proved to be a very, very good decision from Sony. For some bizarre reason, Bose decided to use a faux-suede micro-fibre material on their QC25/35s that loves to collect hair product. You can imagine what it would look like after three months of use… gross!
On the bottom left speaker of the MDR-1000X, there are three buttons that are small and kind of hard to locate once you put the headphones on. Next to the buttons is an input jack for times when you need to plug in, such as on a plane. On the bottom right speaker is a micro-USB jack, which is a bit disappointing as we’d have expected to see a USB-C port by now. On the external side of the right speaker is a touch sensitive pad that accommodates a plethora of controls.
Finally, someone has figured out the right amount of head grip pressure for headphones. Putting them on, they’re not so loose that they’ll swing off with a flick of your head, and at the same time, it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to fit a five-year-old’s ear muffs around your head. The headphones are quite comfortable to wear for a few hours at a time.
The nifty personal NC Optimiser feature is the first thing to activate when you don the headphones for the first time. It tweaks the noise cancelling to ensure that you have a tailored experience based on your head shape, hairstyle, and even if you wear glasses. Once that’s been completed, you’ll find that the noise cancelling is spectacular. Congratulations Sony, as the MDR-1000X certainly joins the ranks of Sennheiser’s PXC-550 and Bose’s QC25/35, and even outperforming the Beoplay H8 and H9.
In an office environment, it blocks out air conditioning humming, keyboard taps, and most of the chatter from colleagues. This morning it did a great job at combatting a roaring industrial vacuum cleaner when the cleaners were in. We’re yet to test it on a flight, but if the vacuum cleaner test is any indication, it should pass with flying colours.
However, sometimes you may not want to block out all of the sounds around you, and there are some options for that too. There’s an Ambient Sound setting option that allows you to either block out everything except voices (useful for hearing announcements on the plane) or kind of blocking out some sounds but still hearing what’s happening around you – probably a good option when you’re walking around on the street.
A small thing that most people may not have ever noticed (but now you will, sorry) is that when you put on a pair of noise cancelling headphones, it causes a small sensation to the ear that’s similar to when you get into an elevator or a plane taking off. It’s kind of annoying when you’re not actually in an elevator or a plane, so we’re happy to report that, thankfully, it’s a lot less noticeable on the MDR-1000X headphones.
The sound from the MDR-1000X is pretty good. The bass isn’t as punchy as the Sennheiser PXC-550 and the highs and mids aren’t as crisp as the Bose QCs, but that’s only really noticeable if you’re putting one headset on right after the other to compare. Also, different genres of music yield varying degrees of noticeable difference. Despite not being perfect, the Sony MDR-1000X headphones are a good all-rounder for sound.
Features / Functions
The MDR-1000X has some pretty nifty features, some of which have already been mentioned above such as the NC Optimiser, different levels of noise cancelling, and a touch control pad. Although Sony isn’t the first to put a touch sensitive control pad on the exterior side of headphones, it’s definitely a welcome feature. It keeps the look of the headphones minimal and makes it easier to operate than having to tactically find the right buttons to use.
On the MDR-1000X, the touch controls are relatively responsive but could be a little more accurate. For example, turning the volume up was often confused with pausing. This might have something to do with the leather sheathing used. The Sennheiser PXC-550 also has a touch control pad which is coated with a smooth matte rubber, which is really nice to use and responds fairly well, but it’s also not without its flaws. The control pad on the Sony allows you to adjust the volume, play and pause music, skip or go back a track, and also answer phone calls.
If you fly a lot, you’ll appreciate a very useful feature of the MDR-1000X; momentarily toggling the noise cancelling off by simply cupping the control pad with the palm of your hand. Getting asked the questions “tea or coffee” and “chicken or beef” will be much less of a nuisance while you’re midway through a movie as you won’t need to remove your headphones each time.
Verdict – Sony MDR-1000X Headphones Review
The Sony MDR-1000X is like a great bottle of blended whisky. There aren’t any defining features that will win against a single-malt but as a well-balanced blend of sound and build quality, features, and comfort, it easily becomes the preferred choice. It is priced as one of the most expensive headphones in its range, but with a quick online search, you can nab a new pair for close to the price of its alternatives. It’s been a while since we can truly recommend a great audio product from Sony and this is it.