Bose have long been the kings of the noise cancelling headphones market and their QuietComfort 35’s have been the market leaders ever since their launch. Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones are there latest attempt, by the old pretender, to wrestle the crown of the best noise cancelling headphones back from Bose. With Apple finally dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7 there has never been a better time to conquer this, already quite saturated, market niche.
In terms of design the Sony MDR-1000X are clean and minimalist. Although mostly plastic with faux leather padding they ooze quality in their feel. The headband flexes and adjusts nicely, even with my oversized head they were comfortable and wearable for long periods without discomfort. In a side by side comparison with the Bose QuietComfort 35 the Sony’s win hands down on both look and build quality.
Although the ‘look’ is important to any set of cans it really is of secondary importance to the sound and functionality of the headphones. The 1000X’s once again trump the QuietComfort35’s. The left ear cup has an NFC chip for speedy Bluetooth pairing. The right ear cup offers touch-sensitive controls. Swiping forwards and backwards change tracks and swiping up and down adjusts the volume while a double-tap toggles pause and play. The edges of the ear cups contain a micro USB port for charging and a 3.5mm connection for when your battery runs out. The physical buttons, also located on the edge of the ear cup have some clever modes that give you an unprecedented amount of control over how you listen. Each button has a clear voice prompt that alerts you to which mode you’ve engaged.
The Personal NC Optimizer analyses the shape of your head and tailors the sound to each listener. The Ambient Sound mode lets you choose to let some sound through, for when you don’t want total isolation. The Quick Listen mode temporarily lets you hear everything without taking off the headphones. The MDR-1000X’s also come with an extremely clever DSEE HX processing unit that upscales lower quality compressed music files. They are also compatible with aptX Bluetooth for higher quality streaming, but you also get Sony’s own LDAC codec. Sony claims it transmits up to three times more data than conventional Bluetooth, but it only works with LDAC compatible Sony devices, such as its Xperia smartphones and Walkman digital audio players.
Sony MDR-1000X are better, yes better, than the Bose QuietComfort 35’s and cancelling out constant noise at low frequencies, and at reducing louder more obtrusive external noise down to minor interferences. There is no hissing or wireless crackle when the headphones fall silent. The headphones feel like they are actively pushing silence into your head. The effective noise cancellation also makes these headphones ideal for conversation. Phone calls are a pleasure, particularly in noise environments with the headphones effectively isolating the voice from surrounding background noise.
The Personal NC Optimiser calibrates the sound to the listener. It takes into account the shape of the head, hair, hat and glasses. Profiles can be changed in a few seconds with a simple press of the button. The headphones pump out a series of test tones, in the same way that AV receivers do to calibrate surround sound speakers. The tones bounce around on the side of your head before being received by internal microphones. The headphones analyse this data and adjust the sound accordingly. And it really works.
Quite simply, the Sony MDR-1000X are easily the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market at under £1,000. They are an immensely entertaining listen, thanks to a combination of rhythmic precision and hard-hitting dynamism. That agility and impact is something that far surpasses the Bose QC35, which are a little too reserved. The MDR-1000X’s offers the sort of fun and energy that might have you get up and dance about when you think nobody is looking.
The MDR-1000X are articulate with detailed separation and firm leading edges and an expansive sound stage. These headphones sound surprisingly spacious given their closed-back design.
Tonal balance is excellent without favouring any particular part of the frequency range, which makes them very versatile. The treble is crisp without grating or hardening up. The midrange is direct and expressive, with plenty of emotion in vocals. The bass is plentiful and low without ever losing its definition or manoeuvrability, nor ever threatening to overpower the rest. Using a wired connection with these headphones improves the sounded quality even further with a more full-bodied sound and more subtlety in the textures. You don’t get the controls, though, as the touch-sensitive pad only works with Bluetooth. Even when the battery runs out and you use these headphones without the noise cancelling feature the Sony MDR-1000X sound fuller and better defined the Bose QC35.
‘The King is dead! Long live the King!’ The Sony MDR-1000X’s have managed to dethrone Bose as the market leaders in noise-cancelling headphones. Sony have managed to produce the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market with additional features that take NC headphones to a new level. The sound quality is superb in wireless mode and sublime when used with a cable. The MDR-1000Xs are hands down the best noise-cancelling headphones, a must for any audiophile who loves their music.