I have a problem. It’s an incredibly first-world problem, because it’s one where no amount of gear is ever “enough”. Literally the week after I ordered my brand new Audio Technica ATH-M40X, I was already scouring the internet for a brand new pair of wireless headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC).
And it’s not like I’m some big audiophile. My ears are decidedly plebian in the sense that I know what I like and I know what I don’t — there isn’t really a super deep spectrum. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from wanting to get the best ones there are.
After weeks of reading, listening and researching, I managed to narrow down the list to a few prime candidates. Sony’s original MDR-1000X headphones were not at the top of the list. Then, everything changed when I got a hold of the WH-1000XM2.
There were really only a handful of proper wireless ANC headphones in contention within my budget. Those were the Bose QuietComfort 35, the Sennheiser PXC 550, the JBL Everest Elite 750NC, Sony’s MDR-1000X and its successor, the WH-1000XM2.
In my weeks of trying to find the best pair of wireless ANC headphones, I went out and tried to get my ears on as many pairs as I could. Some of them, I got to test at launch events (Everest Elite 750). Others (QC35 and PXC 550), I went to various headphone stores — Jaben, for example, is great for testing headphones — and spent whatever free time I had listening to them.
For some reason, the MDR-1000X continued to elude me because they were always unavailable when I wanted to test them out. The only time I got to spend with them was brief (once during MWC2017, once during a Sony Bravia TV launch). Still, that was enough to form an opinion and up until I attended the launch of Sony’s successor WH-1000XM2 headphones, Bose was king of my list.
But Sony got their lovely WH-1000XM2 on my head and over my ears and the subtle improvements they made to the version 2 was enough to pique my interest for a full review.
So I spent a little less than a month with these cans on my ears and if I weighed all the factors, there’s no arguing that Sony’s WH-1000XM2 is an absolute gem.
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Headphones are perhaps some of the most personal gadget purchases you can make. Not only will they likely spend hours on end on your head, but sound signature is something that’s deeply personal. It’s like any of your other senses — taste, sight, touch — only you know what kind of sound you like, so as much as reviewers can tell you what sounds great and what doesn’t, I always believe in listening to them yourself whenever you can before making a decision.
For me, comfort is king. I have headphones on my head for hours at a time — much to the chagrin of people trying to get my attention — listening to music as I write, mixing audio for videos and whatever else I need my ears for. And the Sony WH-1000XM2 is a mighty comfortable pair of headphones.
Its pads are soft and comfortable, but aren’t soft to the point where they don’t exist. The clamp was gentle on my review unit but I could tell it has already seen a fair bit of use so your experience with a brand new pair out of the box may vary. But if my pair are anything to be judged by, rest assured they get really comfortable with some use.
Weight wasn’t a big problem either. Despite being fully self-contained with extra parts for Bluetooth connectivity, NFC, a battery, and that fancy touch panel, these headphones were surprisingly light. The adjustable band was also super smooth and easy to use so I had no problems getting it around my head. Smaller heads might have a bit of a problem, though, because the band doesn’t get very short so I’d recommend you feel the fit for yourself. Still, I’m giving the WH-1000XM2 top marks for comfort.
In the past, I found that the Bose QC35 edged Sony’s older MDR-1000X out when it came to comfort because it was that much lighter, had nicer pads and a more comfortable clamp. And unfortunately for the WH-1000XM2, I still think the QC35 is more comfortable but only by a hair. It’s more like comparing something really good to something pretty great rather than something awful to something amazing.
Besides, if we were doing proper comparisons, there’s one category that Sony wins out without a shadow of a doubt: Interface. I love the touch-sensitive panel. Swiping on it is effortless and, for the most part, it recognises your taps and swipes really easily. You can also swipe up or down and hold to rapidly increase or decrease volume so you don’t have to keep swiping on your ear like you have an itch. Swiping forward skips the track, swiping back goes backwards and double tapping pauses music.
Being able to access ambient mode (where the headphones pick up sound from the outside with its mic and pipes it into your ear so you can hear what’s going on) by simply holding your hand over the right earcup is also super useful for having quick conversations.
There are also tactile buttons that let you power on — or off — the headphones as well as cycle between ANC modes (off, on, ambient). If you hold the ANC button, the headphones will optimise the noise cancellation for whatever surrounding you’re in.
Not that I ever really needed to do that because the active noise cancellation on these cans are phenomenal. It’s almost magical how the world around you immediately fades away when you pop these on and play some music. Construction? No problem. Train noise? No worries. Annoying people trying to talk to you? Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing. It’s uncannily good.
That said, amazing features would be nothing if these headphones were rubbish at being headphones. Thankfully, they aren’t. Now, I don’t think they sound super amazing or anything because they have a little muddiness to the sound, but they sound more than good enough for me.
I use an ATH-M40X from Audio Technica as my daily driver (or should I say drivers, ha ha) and I love how crisp everything sounds on them. The Sonys are a little less crisp, but it’s not something I immediately picked up on nor was it something I was annoyed at. I used the WH-1000XM2 for music and video editing, and I had no complaints with the sound they produced.
Again, I would like to stress that I’m not a big audiophile but then again these aren’t what I’d call “audiophile-grade” headphones anyway. And for everyone else, I think they sound plenty good enough.
What’s more, these cans have great battery life. Sony quotes 30 hours on a single charge and I can vouch for that. I went about 13 days on my usual music listening with a single charge which I think is pretty darn good. I never really had to worry about the battery giving out on me halfway through a listening session.
Couple all of that with the other little bonuses like how easy it is to pair with NFC, how stable the Bluetooth connection is and support for smartphone assistant voice commands, and you’ve got a truly awesome pair of wireless ANC headphones.
However, there are a couple of little niggles that I wasn’t too excited about. Its build quality is nothing to shout about as it feels rather plasticky in the hand. Oh, and my hair would often get caught in the hinge around the earcups which made taking them off a painful experience until I learned how to move the headphones around that.
Calls are also not particularly great because of the poor mic pickup, which is a little disappointing. But worst of all is the fact that the battery readout done by the headphone’s “voice” doesn’t include the percentage. Just high, medium and low.
Yes, the worst thing about these headphones for me was the battery readout. I think that should give you an idea of how much Sony got right with these headphones. I’m thoroughly impressed with Sony’s cans because they provide good sound, great battery life and amazing noise cancellation plus all the goodies that I mentioned above. But the best part about them is their price.
Sony’s sophisticated — arguably best-in-class — wireless ANC headphones are also some of the most affordable ones in its class. They are officially priced at RM1,599, which isn’t just RM100 more affordable than its predecessor, it’s also much more affordable than it’s competition like the Bose QC35 (around RM1,990) and the Sennheiser PXC 550 (around RM2,190). The only pair I’ve tried that is more affordable is the JBL Everest Elite 750NC (RM1,499), but that is by far my least favourite of the bunch. I would definitely spend the extra RM100.
Best of all? You can get the WH-1000XM2 for even cheaper on Lazada.
I mean, I came into this with a favourite in mind but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 threw all of that out the window. Needless to say, I was more than a little sad when I had to return them. You win, Sony. These headphones go right to the top of my list.