When we talk about the best active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones, Bose is definitely the first name to be mentioned. Their QuietComfort (QC) series has long dominated the market for ANC headphones. But Sony seemed to have cracked the code. With the launch of the Sony MDR 1000X, they are, slowly but surely, chipping away at the ANC market share.
- Great active noise-canceling (ANC) ability
- ANC can be toggled with just a button
- Easy to pair with audio devices such as laptop and mobile phones
- Balanced sound signature is forgiving for most songs
- Stronger bass than the Bose QC35
- Great build quality
- Comfortable ear pads and headband
- Punchy bass
- Crisp and rich mids
- Treble sparkles, handle upper treble well
- Easy to connect
- Intuitive controls for playback controls
- Ability to switch off ANC easily
- Hard case cover forces you to store your headphone in a specific way
- Sensitive ear cups, easy to trigger playback
- Mic vent can be smaller
No one does ANC like Bose?
Bose‘s headphones purely revolve around their ANC technology. There are no other features to cloud their main selling point that their customers love. We can’t exactly blame Bose for their dormant product cycle. The fact that there are no competitors that have come up with a worthy ANC technology further cements Bose’s lead in the market.
Hence, when Sony released the Sony MDR 1000x, it created quite a buzz because their ANC technology was supposedly as good as Bose ones.
What is Active Noise Cancellation Technology?
Noise cancellation is basically a term to describe the ability to cancel out external noises. Headphones can do it by having a good seal so that there are as little gaps as possible for ambient sound to flow in. However, this type of noise-cancellation is called “passive noise cancellation”.
A pair of headphones with active noise cancellation will have a mic that listens for external noise. A special chip in the headphones will then send out a noise-cancelling wave that actively attunes ambient sound, especially those in the lower frequencies.
MDR-1000x is the hero we need?
Additionally, the MDR-1000x has a bunch of futuristic features thrown in that makes the Bose QC35 looks like an antique. Sony had clearly done their competitor analysis. Upon holding the headphones, we can immediately draw similarities with the Bose QC35 in terms of the aesthetics, build quality and many more.
So, is the Sony MDR-1000x a worthy Bose QC35 killer? Are their futuristics features just gimmicks?
Let’s find out now.
The MDR-1000x has a round hardcover casing for headphone storage. On the inside, you will find a cushion permanently attached to the casing. This cushion protects the ear cups from abrasion.
Due to the shape and placement of the cushion, you can only place the headphone in one specific position. Bose’s casing has no such obstruction. Bose’s cover has an inner pocket which allows your charging cable to be stowed aside.
Build Quality & Comfort
The build quality can be seen from the faux-leather housing of the ear cups to the steel headband. The MDR-1000x feels sturdy to touch. There was no creaking sound when the frame is bent.
The padding on the ear cups and headband are cushy, making it comfortable on the head and ears. The clamping force is reasonable and the headphones stay well on the head.
The headband is made from steel and it makes this satisfying “click” sound while making adjustments.
The ear cups are foldable like the QC35 but the folding mechanism is more rigid.
Overall, I will say the Bose still edge out the MDR-1000x in this segment because of the comfort level. Don’t get me wrong, MDR-1000x is easily one of few most comfortable headphones I have worn. But the QC35 has such exceptionally soft and comfortable ear pads. I can easily wear the Bose for a much longer time.
I will say Bose wins slightly in this department. Mainly because of the ear pads. Bose earpads are so soft and comfortable.
I must say I’m impressed with the ANC technology of the MDR-1000x. It almost works as well as the QC35. There are reports that the MDR-1000x have less of a “cabin pressure” feel than the QC35. I will like to put that nonsense to rest. You can still feel that slight pressure on your ear canals.
I personally feel the ANC on QC35 blocks out low-frequency noise slightly better than the MDR-1000x. Such noises are more audible on the latter headphone. Again, note that I’m picking bones from eggs here. The ANC on MDR-1000x still works really really well.
Something was pointed out to me with regards to the ANC that I found interesting. The owner of the MDR-1000x told me that he was once standing really close to a fan and he can hear some loud static from within the ear cups.
So why is this happening?
For ANC to work, the headphones have a mic on the ear cups to pick up ambient noise and then attenuate it with a noise-canceling wave.
You can see the mic on the headphones from the pictures below. The vent hole is significantly wider than the one on the QC35. This might have caused the loud static sound to be heard from the wind.
With good seal and thick paddings, there is barely any sound leakages from the closed-back headphones.
Ease of connection
I will say that the MDR 1000x seems to be the easier headphone to connect to. This is especially when the headphone has to connect to different devices. Just pair it with Bluetooth and you are good to go.
On the other hand, the QC35 has some eccentric Bluetooth issues. Sometimes, it either cannot be detected or have trouble syncing to it.
- Wide soundstage
- Great sound imaging
- Balanced sound signature
- Stronger bass and treble response than Bose. This makes songs more exciting on the MDR 1000x.
The soundstage is as wide as the QC35 but the sound imaging is better in MDR 1000x. You get more depth in the perceived spatial location from instruments and sound effects.
Both headphones have a balanced sound signature and have comparable sound quality. The MDR-1000x shines more in the bass frequency with a punchier mid-bass. Although there was slight graininess, the MDR-1000x has more spark in the upper treble than the QC35. During my test with Rude by Daniel Jang, the electronic violin distortion was handled well by the MDR-1000x. In comparison, the distortion came off slightly harsher on the QC 35.
Overall, the MDR-1000x has better sound quality than the QC 35. The bass and treble response was better while maintaining the crisp and lush mids that the QC35 has.
Features or Gimmicks?
Welcome to our new segment, Features or Gimmicks?, where we break down each feature and categorize them as a feature or a gimmick.
Personal NC Optimizer
According to Sony, you can enter this mode to adjust your noise cancellation profile. This profile is customized to your “wearing style and personal characteristics”. There were some fancy sound effects when I enter the optimizing mode but I did not hear any difference in my music listening experience when the optimization is done.
- Result: Gimmick
Quick Attention Mode
This seems like a really useful feature to me when I read about it. You place your hand over the right earcup and the ANC is stopped temporarily, allowing you to have a decent conversation without taking off the headphones.
But when put in practice, it just looks silly and it’s tiring to hold up the hand for long conversations. It is one of those ideas that looks good on paper but terrible in practice.
- Result: Gimmick
Ambient Sound Mode
The Ambient Sound mode is where you reduce the amount of ANC to allow surrounding sound to come through the headphones. Why will you want this feature in an ANC headphones? You might ask.
Having your headphones’ ANC turned up to the max isn’t always a convenient feature. Sometimes you do want to be aware of your environment such as working in an open office or walking across busy junctions. In those cases, having some sort of awareness can enhance your communication with your team and even your personal safety.
There are two Ambient Sound modes – Voice and Normal mode. The difference between them is the level of ANC that the pair of headphones has. The Voice mode allows you to hear voice more clearly while suppressing the ambient sound. The Normal mode has even noticeably lesser ANC effects and takes in even more ambient sounds.
I like that Sony has given users a more granular approach to ANC. With Bose’s binary approach to ANC, users are bounded to only one choice when they want to be aware of their surrounding – switch off ANC (which is cumbersome process).
- Result: Feature
Swipe and Tap
The ear cups are gesture-sensitive. Swipe left and right to change tracks. Swipe up and down for volume and double tap to start or stop tracks. I like this feature a lot. The controls are intuitive and snappy.
However, the ear cups are a tad sensitive and you tend to accidentally play or pause songs while fiddling with the headphones. It will be great if there is a firmware patch that can allow it to detect more purposeful tap action.
- Result: Feature
Headband Crack Issue
The headphone has an infamous structural flaw that has given buyers some serious headache. There is a structural weakness in the joint where the foldable ear cup meets. This causes the joint to undergo stress and resulting it to crack. This is a common stress point for some over-ear headphones – see Skull Candy Hesh 3.
Not all are affected
Before you start sending your headphones back for a refund, read on. According to the official forum‘s discussion, this issue only exists for a certain batch of headphones.
However, there is at least one user who reported that issue with a serial number outside of that range.
So what should existing MDR-1000X owners do?
Thanks to Keith Rowland, there is an ingenious way to prevent the cracking.
Simply, use a zip tie or cable tie.
“this will hold the headband joint from flexing and keep the junction intact” – Keith Rowland
This might look ugly as hell but it should prevent your headbands from cracking until Sony comes up with a satisfactory answer. Prevention is better than cure, right?
Sony MDR 1000X Alternatives
The most obvious alternative will be the Sony WH1000XM2. It is the reincarnation of the MRD 1000x with better battery life and at the same time maintains all the great sound quality and comfort that the predecessor brings.
Bose had given the classic an upgrade with Bose QC35II. It now has a dedicated button that activates Google Assistant. If you use Google Assistant often, this will be a major convenience for you. Otherwise, all the goodness of the Bose QC35 is still there.
Beats Studio3 Wireless
Beats has drawn negative commentary from the audiophile community but the Studio3 Wireless might have erased all of that. The adaptive noise-cancellation technology had impressed many reviewers and Beats upped the game by endowing it with great battery life. If you are an Apple user, this headphones is a no-brainer purchase because the Studio3 Wireless comes with the W1 chip.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
If you are looking for a pair of wireless headphones with ANC that has the X-factor design, you should be looking at the Bowers & Wilkins PX. The classy design is an absolute head-turner. With adjustable noise-cancellation and smart sensors for automatic pause and play, this pair of headphones is as impressive as they gets.
Their price point might be at the higher end in the wireless ANC market but if budget is not a problem for you, I recommend you to take a hard look at it.
Should I Buy the Sony MDR 1000x?
For Office Workers and Students
Yes. If you need that extra boost of productivity, having a great pair of noise-canceling headphones is essential. It carves you out that extra space of quiet and bliss while enabling you to work or study in noisy environments.
Maybe. It has a great snug fit without been too much clamping force. The ear pads are removable and you can switch out for a new pair if the previous pair is too damaged with sweat. The original earpads are not cheap though but you can probably find some third-party vendors which will only cost a third of the price.
Sony MDR 1000X Accessories
For Bose QC35 Owners
No. Personally, the increment in sound quality and features will not draw me away from my Bose QC35. The added benefit is not attractive enough for me to fork out the cash for something pretty similar.
Overall, the Sony MDR 1000x has surprised me in their build quality, ANC, and sound quality. I’m glad that there are more competition and choices in the market for ANC headphones. Since Bose is widely considered to be the best noise-canceling headphones in the market, we are indirectly asking – Is MDR 1000x a Bose QC35 killer?
Not really. As a Bose owner, the slightly better build quality and sound quality will do little to tempt me over. Comfort is still what I look for because I spend a good part of my time wearing them. I suspect this is not just a unique use-case for me.
However, if a friend asks for a recommendation, I will definitely still throw in the Sony MDR 1000x as one of the top choices and leave it to them to determine if those extra features appeal to them.
Note: For full specifications and features, visit the official MDR 1000x website.
Frequency Response: 4Hz – 40,000Hz
Headphone Type: Closed-back
Impedance: 16 Ω
Bluetooth Technology: Version 4.1
Supported Audio Formats: SBC / AAC / aptX / LDAC
Supported Platform: Apple, Windows, Android
Music Playback Time: Max. 20 hours (NC ON, Ambient Sound Mode)/Max. 22 hours (NC OFF)
Communication Time: Max. 24 hours (NC ON, Ambient Sound Mode)/Max. 26 hours (NC OFF)
Standby Time: Max. 34 hours (NC ON, Ambient Sound Mode)/Max. 120 hours (NC OFF)