Review: Sony MDR-1000X noise-cancelling headphones

If you have $700 to spend, these Sony MDR-1000X headphones do a fine job cancelling noise.

 

Sony MDR-1000X at a glance

For: Excellent noise cancellation, Seamless Bluetooth, First-class sound.
Against: Erratic touch controls.
Maybe: Features can complicate use.
Verdict:
Price: $700.
Website: Sony.

It would be easy to dismiss Sony’s marketing promise as hype. The company claims the MDR-1000X headphones deliver “industry-leading levels of noise-cancelling”. We’ve all heard words like that before. This time they may be true. If there are headphones with better noise cancellation, I’ve not heard them.

The MDR-1000X headphones do a fine job blocking the background noise. I tested them at home, in a noisy shared space and riding on public transport. I have yet to test them on an airplane, but am looking forward to the experience.

In each case they cut out a lot of noise. Our neighbours love power tools and leaf blowers. While the MDR-1000X headphones didn’t end the noise, they cut it to a dull drone. It meant I could listen to Mozart without grinding my teeth. They cut the buzz of a noisy shared office space to near silence and worked well on a bus ride.

You can choose to listen to music or enjoy the near silence. I also tested them to listening to a podcast.

If you choose music, they will surprise and delight you. The sound is wonderful. Although you’d expect that from $700 headphones.

Sony says its DSEE HX audio processing technology can boost the quality of compressed music. It’s another bold claim, usually when technology messes around with sound you lose as much as you gain. That’s not the case here, there is no booming over-cooked bass or too much brightness. Both can be annoying when a speaker or headphone maker adds them.

Listen in comfort

The build quality is impressive. The MDR-1000X look good and feel solid. Sony decided not to pimp their look with anything tasteless. You could wear these in an office or the Koru Club without feeling like a dork.

Sony designed the headphones so they stay comfortable if you wear them for a long time, say on a long-distance flight. There’s foam padding to help keep more noise out. If you like, it’s a passive version of the active noise cancellation. The padding also keep your ears from rubbing against hard surfaces. The headphones sit on your head, there’s no clamping sensation.

folding headphones

When they’re not in use the MDR-1000X fold for storage. They come with a hard protective case to make that even easier.

Bluetooth performance

There’s a jack socket so you can connect the headphones to devices with a wire. The box also includes an adaptor for airplane-style audio sockets. But most people and all iPhone 7 owners will turn to Bluetooth.

Bluetooth audio connections can be flakey. I found the MDR-1000X to be more reliable than most connections once connected. They did run into problems when I had many Bluetooth devices to choose from. If, say, you connect the headphones to the iPhone, changing to the iPad is far from easy.

Sony has packed useful Bluetooth device controls into the headphones in a clever way. You can swipe up and down on the right headphone to raise or lower the music volume. Swiping from front to back and in reverse will skip one track forward or backward. Tapping the centre pauses music. The swipe commands work well, the pause-tap action takes practice.

Pause for thought

Another gesture command turns off the noise-cancellation. You hold your hand against the right ear to do this. You may want to do this if someone wants to speak to you. The action turns the outside speakers on. They then relay the speech without you needing to take the headphones off.

On one level the feature is impressive, but how lazy do you have to be to not take headphones off?

There are buttons on the left headphone to control power, the noise cancellation feature and ambient noise. Finding them by feel is hard, but a disembodied voice tells you what’s going on.

There’s a charge port with a USB at the other end so you can pull power from almost anywhere. Sony says a full charge gives you twenty hours of noise cancellation. Confirming that is difficult, so we’ll have to take Sony’s word.

Sony uses optimising software that calibrates the headphones as you wear them. It takes into account the conditions around you and the way the headphones sit on your head.

Sony MDR-1000X verdict

At $700 the MDR-1000X are for serious buyers. They deliver on their promise. You get one of the best noise-cancelling experiences around and a great sound. The features are a nice balance of useful extras. I would buy these.