Have Sony’s WH1000XM2 Bluetooth, wireless, noise-cancelling headphones got what it takes to outdo their high-end rivals?
It’s fair to say that by now most people who have an interest in wireless headphones know that the top three headphones for noise cancelling (NC) are Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony.
Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to try out a wide range of Bluetooth wireless headphones. Thanks to Amazon’s excellent returns policy, living in the backwaters of nowhere is no longer a problem when it comes to checking out expensive high-end equipment before making your final decision to buy.
For a long time now, the top three Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones have been the Bose QC35’s, Sennheiser PXC550’s and the Sony MDR1000X. Some time ago, I purchased (and subsequently returned) the Bose and Sennheiser models. Finally, I have now managed to experience all three of these headphones for far longer than I would have been able to in a conventional store. I have written reviews on both the Bose QC35 and the Sennheiser PXC550 headphones. But to sum up, here are my conclusions for those two models:
Very nearly perfect. Excellent noise cancelling and super comfortable. To be honest, I was very tempted to buy these, but I found the sound quality to be somewhat artificial and bland. Whilst this can sometimes be the sign of a good headphone in terms of long-term listening, in the case of the Bose, I just couldn’t get on with their sound character. But I very nearly bought them. I felt it was only right to try out some of the competition first.
Nicely made. Cool and interesting features, but for me, they just wouldn’t go loud enough. I took the dog for a walk whilst wearing them, and although the noise cancelling worked pretty well, the lack of volume just made them pretty much an automatic return. Whilst I don’t listen to music anywhere near as loud as I used to in my youth, I still always want the option to rock out from time to time.
I really wanted to try the Sony MDR1000X, but at that particular time, they were very difficult to get hold of – even Amazon had a waiting list for them. In the end, I decided to look at the non-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones and eventually purchased the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless.
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
I really like the Crossfade Wireless headphones. Their build quality is absolutely first class, and their sound characteristics are perhaps more to my taste than the more accurate “clinical” sound you get from top-tier, full-size IEM headphones. Don’t get me wrong, they’re way too bassy and lack detail in the treble, but they also offer a nice relaxed sound which can go LOUD! Their biggest, pro in my opinion, is the built-in amplifier – these things are for headbangers.
Enough preamble – I very recently purchased the Sony WH1000XM2 wireless, noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones and thought I would share my experiences on them.
There’s a ton of information regarding the basic build quality of these – so I thought I would focus on comparing the Sony’s to other headphones in my collection.
Sennheiser HD598SR – the plastic exterior has a similar feel. Both headphones feel as if they should be handled carefully and not thrown around. I’m aware of the “cracking” issue with the Sony MDR1000X and am determined to ensure this doesn’t happen to mine (even though I haven’t read a single post regarding cracking on the new model). In all fairness, they’re both comparatively expensive models and not something I would be willfully careless with anyway.
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless – from a build-quality perspective – ha! The V-Moda’s would eat the Sony’s for breakfast and then continue headbanging.
Again, everyone knows how these work. There are more than enough demonstrations of these headphones on YouTube. I would just like to add that I love the gesture controls and that they work really well – better than the Sennheiser PXC by a long way.
Another really nice touch is the number of steps available in the volume up-and-down controls – definitely a finer degree of control than I’ve found with other Bluetooth headphones, so it’s a lot easier to find the “sweet spot” when using them. The physical buttons were a little difficult to find the first couple of times I tried, but I can find them without any problem now.
Not perhaps as comfortable as the Sennheiser HD598SRs (they are completely ‘over-ear’). Perhaps slightly more comfortable than the V-Modas with the larger XL Pads, but not by much. The WH1000XM2 should be considered an ‘on-ear’ headphone – definitely not an ‘over-ear’ design – unless you have really REALLY small ears.
Clamping force is quite tight – needs to be for the NC to avoid feedback loops. Passive NC is considerably higher than with most on-ear headphones – more on this later.
For me, this is still the most important element. I can stand a degree of discomfort. I can tolerate poor controls and even limited battery life, but the sound quality has to be absolutely top notch – the good news is that the Sonys deliver.
The bass isn’t as deep or as potent as the V-Moda’s; Mids are not as clearly defined as you would find on the Sennheiser 598SRs, and the top-end can’t match the best triple-driver IEMs out there – but what it does do is offer a nicely balanced sound with enough detail for me to seriously consider never using wired headphones again.
One point worth mentioning, in my opinion, is that it’s just as quick to switch on the headphones and pair up with my phone as it is to use the wire. In order to get the best sound quality when used wire, you still have to power the headphones up – although they will work without power, they sound pretty crappy. This does illustrate quite nicely just how much sound processing is taking place with the Sony’s – but in all fairness, they’re definitely getting it right.
I’m pairing the Sonys with the rather excellent LG V20 phone for most of my listening. This device offers APtX HD as one of the available codecs – yay!!! This offers much better detail in the higher frequencies, and, to my ears, I really struggle to hear a difference between wired and wireless – at last!
The NC feature is really quite remarkable, but after using them for dog walking duties, I found that my footsteps were producing a low frequency “huffing” sound which clearly came through to the music. Sony has a special function on these headphones which can adjust the NC parameters based on your current environment, but even this didn’t make the “huffing” go away.
Available on Amazon: Sony WH1000XM2
Passive Noise-Isolation Is Just As Good
Luckily, this effect is completely eliminated by simply switching the NC off. The good news is that the passive isolation on these headphones is more than good enough for dog walking – if I was sat in a noisy environment, I would have no problem using NC as it doesn’t actually affect the sound quality that much – but I think the keywords here are ‘SAT DOWN’ not walking.
To my ears, the wired performance when powered up isn’t really very much different from wireless (although, in all fairness, I am using AptX-HD). I suspect the reason for this is that when active the headphones are processing all the sound you hear – whether wired or wireless. This means that the overall character of the sound doesn’t really change and, I also suspect, that to a certain extent the sound quality of the playback device is pretty irrelevant. Having said that, I have noticed that the top end is a little more detailed when used wired, but that’s about it.
At the end of the day, these are wireless headphones, and I tend to use them as such. When used passively with a cable, the sound is basically crap and only worth using if you have completely run out of battery power. It’s interesting to see just how much processing Sony does with the sound when they’re powered up.
Excellent. The Bluetooth range is definitely better than any other wireless headphones I have tried. My usual “wear them when I go to the toilet” test passed with flying colors. The only other Bluetooth headphones I have that can match the range of the Sonys are the excellent Apple Airpods.
Unfortunately, the Sonys only pair with one device at a time. This means that if you last used the headphones with your laptop and want to use them with your phone in bed, you have to go back downstairs and disable either the Bluetooth or the Sony’s from your laptop before you can pair them up to your phone again. There is a workaround for this though – simply put the headphones back into pairing mode and then connect with your phone again – simples!
There’s no getting around it: the Sonys cost a lot of money and they’re definitely not the most comfortable headphones in the world. However, in my opinion, their sound quality and other features really do make up for this, and I rate these headphones very highly indeed.