Sony WH-1000XM2 Wireless Headphones

The Essential Review

TechRadar’s review summary gives you all the key information you need for quick buying advice in 30 seconds – our usual full, in-depth review follows.

Sony launched the MDR-1000X in 2016, which was one of the most appreciated headphones in the flagship segment. Soon after the launch, they were lavished with the hardware of the year, multiple best-choice awards in addition to the 4.5 out of 5 rating that TechRadar UK gave it around 12 months ago.

To keep the success wheel rolling, Sony presented the sequel to it's last year's noise-cancelling cans – the Sony WH-1000XM2. 

It was first showcased during IFA 2017 and started to receive positive attention soon after its debut.

The key reason why the Sony 1000X series and the new 1000XM2 received heaps of praise is – their top class noise cancellation ability. The WH-1000XM2 is even better than the supposed 'king' of the noise-cancellation kingdom. They are better not just because they sound better, but they are also built better and have a host of unique features.

Who's it for and should you buy it?

If you are on a hunt for premium, travel-grade headphones with solid noise cancellation, this is the thing. Still, to be totally honest, the 1000XM2 is just too expensive for everyday listening. 

Let's focus on why it's 'better'. 

Essentially, the 1000XM2 brings three semi-neat-tricks over others. 

First, it has an ambient noise mode that only lets in mid-to-high frequency tones, like announcements at airports. The second, the quick attention mode that allows you to hear ambient sound by just keeping your palm on the right earcup. This takes away the hassle to taking off the headset while listening to someone around. 

Third and the last feature is the LDAC codec. So, if your player supports Hi-Res audio playback, the LDAC works perfectly alongside the widely adopted aptX HD standard. 

Even if your device is void of aptX HD or LDAC support, you can still enjoy quality audio. As the WH-1000XM2 supports Sony's DSEE HX and S-Master HX, it removes lossy audio from any source and upscales it to better resolution.

Sony WH-1000XM2 price and release date

  • Price: Rs. 30,990 in India
  • Released on November 24, 2017

When Sony launched the WH-1000XM2 in India, there were a couple of other headphones launched alongside too. Still, the company made it clear that 1000XM2 is their flagship pair of headphones for this year. 

Being the best in its line-up, these headphones are feature-rich, have fine audio quality and best-in-class noise cancellation. That definitely makes them the most expensive among its siblings.

Design

  • Beautiful, nondescript design
  • Available in two colors: Gold and black
  • Uses touch-capacitive controls

Unsurprisingly, the WH-1000XM2 are a very well-built pair of headphones, much like their predecessor. The bridge is made out of metal with a soft padded bottom that sits comfortably on your head. It's covered with good-quality faux leather for the most part, with a soft touch to it. The earcups are cozy and can be worn through extended usage. While they have are slightly heavy, they can still be worn over long periods without straining your head or neck.

I prefer calling the design 'business-class', as it is uniform, minimalistic and compliments the customers Sony is targeting. It comes only in two colours – an all–black and all–gold – and beyond an engraved Sony logo above each earcup, they are totally nondescript.

There are just two buttons on the headphones, residing at the bottom of the left earcup. One of them is for Power/Bluetooth and the other switches noise cancellation settings – On, Ambient Mode and Off. 

Down below, there's an auxiliary jack on the left cup and a microUSB port on the right for charging. That looks like the best possible placement for both. 

Coming to the flaws in the design, the first one is the arms of the headphone (the strips of material that connect the earcups to the bridge) are made of plastic. So are the hinges that connect the earcups to the arms. This isn't likely to cause any issues, it didn't with our use, but it seems like a possible weak point and can be broken if an unusual force is applied by mistake.

Next, while this is not exactly a flaw, getting used to the touch controls may be difficult at first. You may end up skipping a song while rocking the volume but that's about it. But if you have used the previous iteration of it, you are sorted. 

But what is worse is – connect the included 3.5mm cable to your phone and the touch controls will no longer function. This means you’ll have to pull out your phone when you want to change the music, a problem that could’ve been circumvented had Sony opted for a more traditional control scheme, like an in-line microphone. 

Besides the 3.5mm cable, the Sony WH-1000XM2 comes with a carrying case, plug adaptor for in-flight use and USB Cable.

First-class performance

  • Great sound for noise-cancelling headphones
  • aptX HD and LDAC codec really help
  • But it sounds great with an iOS device, too

Noise cancelling headphones, by their very nature, generally don’t sound very good. It’s hard to articulate why exactly that is, but because so much hardware needs to be crammed into such a tiny space, noise-cancelling headphones generally speaking, don’t sound good. 

Thankfully, the Sony WH-1000XM2 is the exception to the rule. 

We found their flat(ish) EQ to be easy on the ear for long periods of time without causing fatigue. Mids are straightforward and highs come through crystal clear – although they can become a bit much especially when the headphones are cranked up to higher volumes in quiet environments. The bass is weighty and can have some real slam to it, but you won’t find that same bloated level of bass in this one like you would in other manufacturers. 

The headphones sound better while using an Android device that supports the aptX HD standard, but even on an iPhone they’re surprisingly great. They’ll sound even better if you can find yourself a device that supports the LDAC codec – which, starting with Android Oreo, will come as a standard on every Android device. 

But of course you’re not buying noise cancelling headphones to replace your Hi-Fi set of cans – you want them because they cut out the noise. To that end the Sony WH-1000XM2 are a formidable pair. 

Not having the good fortune of having a flight to test them out on, we resorted to more pedestrian forms of transportation (trains and car rides), crowded locales and simulated test environments (a jet-engine noise played over our home speaker system) to test these out. 

In every scenario, the WH-1000XM2 performed admirably, often reducing noise from a disturbingly loud hum to a more manageable buzz – and sometimes eliminating exterior noise entirely. 

Perhaps even more impressive than the reduction/complete elimination of noise, is the WH-1000XM2’s ability to selectively allow some noises into the headphones. With Ambient Noise mode selected, announcements made over train station PA systems could be heard, giving us time to switch to Quick Attention mode to hear what’s being said. 

Quick Attention mode is the star of the show here – allowing you to quickly pipe in external audio without taking off the headphones by reducing the volume of the music and using the two microphones located on the outside of each earcup. It’s a feature you won’t find a Bose pair of headphones.

Battery life

  • 30 hours of playback time which is great
  • 10 minute charge for 70 minutes of playback

The last point worth covering is battery life. Sony claims the headset has around 30 hours of battery life – a claim that seemed to hold true throughout the testing process. 

Over a period of four days while the headphones were being tested, they only needed to be recharged once – which would make logical sense if each day had around eight hours of listening time. 

For comparison that’s about 10 hours more than the Bose QuietComfort 35 when used wirelessly and 10 hours less than the Bose used in wired mode. 

However, if you slice it, it's still more than enough juice to get you across the Atlantic and back if you’re coming from the West Coast of the United States.

The last neat feature is the quick-charge, which pumps about 75 minutes worth of playback into the headphones with just a short 10-minute charge. It's handy for the days you forgot to charge your headphones and need to run out the door. 

What we liked

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are an excellent revision of an already great pair of headphones. They sound great, deftly wield noise cancellation technology and cost just as much as a pair of Bose QC35s. They might have slightly shorter battery life than Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of performance and feature-set.  

What we disliked

There’s not much to complain about with the WH-1000XM2, which means the one or two small problems it does have sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Our biggest gripe is that the hinges on the headphones are a bit fragile – especially for the price tag. Also, the control scheme, while innovative, has a bit of a learning curve to it. The worst thing is – the touch-capacitive pad on the right earcup won’t work when the headphones are wired.

Final verdict

There’s no two ways about it, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are exceptional business-grade noise-cancelling headphones. They’re perfect for long flights or train rides, and not only do they keep sound out incredibly well, they also offer great audio quality. 

They’re a good pick for most everyone – but Sony/Android owners will get the best bang for their buck in terms of audio performance.

Sudhanshu Singh
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