When we bring up 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 had seemed to crack the code. With the launch of the Sony MDR-1000X, they are, slowly but surely, chipping away at the ANC market share.
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.
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. The MDR-1000x drew similarities in terms of outlook with the QC35 and more.
So, is the Sony MDR-1000x a worthy Bose QC35 killer? Are their futuristics features just gimmicks?
Let’s find out now.
- »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 NC 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
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-cancelling 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.
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 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 tear 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.
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.
Ambient Sound Mode
So there are two Ambient Sound Mode – Voice and Normal mode. They are actually modes with different level of ANC. The Voice mode allows you hear voice more clearly while suppressing the ambient sound. The Normal mode has even lesser ANC effects and more ambient sounds are taken in.
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.
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.
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?
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.
So to answer the overarching question in this review – is the MDR-1000x a Bose 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.
But if a friend asks me for a recommendation, I will definitely 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.