I recently made the decision to dive into the world of audio. If you look online, you’ll find lots of audiophiles who simply love ripping the latest earphones and headphones apart, talking about the false base and ‘cans being too tinny’.
I think I know what all this craic means, but at the end of the day, everyday consumers like yourself might not care about all that. With that said, I do want to offer you some technical insights too, so I’ve turned to Christopher Barker from Displace Studios to give me an audio expert’s insight too – keep an eye out for his expertise as I review Sony’s flagship headphones; WH-1000XM2. Important to note that Sony has just launched the WH-1000MX3 at IFA 2018 but these will still be available to buy; maybe even at a discount price.
With that in mind, I had to pick a start point for my audio review journey and that starts with Sony’s flagship wireless headphones, fitting as so many smartphones have packed in the use of headphone jacks – something I actually agree with, but I digress. Here’s what I think of Sony’s WH-1000XM2 headphones.
Features of the Sony WH-1000XM2
The Sony WH-1000XM2 are so much more than just a pair of headphones and are stuffed full of features. First up, they’ve got active noise cancelling and I want to spend some time discussing what that is, because the experience is really something else.
What is Active Noise Cancelling?
The WH-1000XM2 headphones have a mic which scans your surroundings for noise patterns and continues to monitor your surroundings for those patterns changing. Along with the audio you actually want to listen to, the headphones also send a frequency into the can to intercept and cancel out the noise surrounding you.
The Sony’s were the very first active noise cancelling headphones I’ve ever tried out. I’ve got to say, it’s the most bizarre feeling in the world. They genuinely block out 85% to 90% of the noise that surrounds you – that stat is a bit finger in the wind, but it’s my way of saying they’re super effective. If you’re a frequent flier, these are even more impressive because they perform incredibly well with monotonous sounds – like the constant hum of jet engines.
My favourite thing about tech is when it provokes a reaction. I remember showing people Samsung Gear VR experiences and it blew their minds. When people put on these headphones and the active noise cancelling kick in, minds get blown and jaws drop. It’s truly incredible.
Christopher’s Take: My favourite feature on them was the multiple noise cancelling modes. The noise cancellation is on par with Sennheiser’s algorithm, but not up to Bose. It’s better than akg and light years away from Beats. Actually, I need to point out the WH-1000XM2 – while not perfect – are in no way are as offensive to the audiophile as the likes of Beats.
The Ambient Sound feature, which allows some external sounds in, is fantastic. I immediately thought of a use for them in the studio; drum practice. Playing along to a song or a beat with noise cancelling headphones, you’re left relying more so on the dull response from the drum you’re hitting to synchronise with whatever practice tool you’re using. But these headphones allowed a nice mix of environmental sounds and audio from your phone or whatever media device you’re using.
Other Features of the WH-1000XM2
Right, on with the show. As great as noise cancelling is, you don’t buy headphones to not hear something – if you get me.
I’m no expert, but it did feel like I was able to enjoy music on a level I’ve never experienced before. Unlike their little sister earbuds, the Sony WF-1000X, the WH-1000XM2 didn’t have any lag when watching a video; thank Christ.
To be honest, that’s the extent of my knowledge. I’m just streaming music from Spotify or watching videos on YouTube so there’s likely even streaming variables that affect the sound quality before media even reaches my ears. For the average consumer looking for a great audio experience, you’ll get it with these.
However, like I said, I’m not an authority on sound quality, so back over to our resident expert:
Christopher’s Take: I found them to be relatively flat throughout the frequency spectrum, however, there is a slight bump in the low mids and low frequencies. Not necessarily a terrible thing for a modern consumer as this is the trend in consumer audio right now.
For studio usage or if you’re a true audiophile, this trend is a little annoying. Why? Well, you’re not listening to the work the engineers, musicians, producers have done, you’re listening to an augmented version of that work.
Battery life is a major talking point for wireless headphones. I’ve got another pair of Sony wireless buds and they give me three hours. They’re tiny and you do kind of get used to having short stints, but it’s far from ideal. The Sony WH-1000XM2 boasts over 30 hours of wireless listening. I was using these while I worked away and barely ever had to charge them. It blew me away. In a world where we’re so used to battery powered devices dying on us, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are unlikely to disappoint on that front.
Christopher’s Take: They are very comfortable, so wearing them for long periods of time is grand. Because of this battery life gets added importance and it seems that Sony got the WH-1000XM2 battery capacity is spot on.
In the impressive carry case, you’ll find an optional cable. Personally, I didn’t need it because I was testing these alongside the Huawei P20 Pro – I don’t have a headphone jack. For others, this has added importance, like for people, I dunno, that work in a studio perhaps?
Christopher’s Take: The output jack on the headphones is a must! Believe it or not, I have seen some without it.
The controls, at first, are pretty cool. You swipe the outside of the right can to skip tracks, change volume and even access Google Assistant if you’re so inclined. I have to admit that once the novelty wore off, not having physical buttons was annoying.
Christopher’s Take: The ‘touch’ controls were a pain in the arse.
Sony WH-1000XM2: The Price
So you’ve heard me harping on about the price a few times. The reason for that is these headphones will set you back the bones of €400. It’s a lot of dosh, but they really are top quality. If you’ve ever thought about investing in a top-class pair of headphones, you’re unlikely to regret picking up a pair of Sony WH-1000MX2s.
Keep an eye on Amazon too. The price on these guys fluctuates – a lot.
Sony WH-1000XM2: The Verdict
Sound quality wise, while I’m no expert, I am happy to say these are the nicest headphones I’ve ever used. Now, such an experience comes at a cost but I have seen people walking around Dublin wearing the Sony WH-1000XM2. It’s a bit mad when you know how much headphones cost and you see people wearing them. It’s hard not to stare, but now I think I might be staring out of jealousy.
I fell in love with these headphones during my month with them. Is walking through the city and crossing the street while wearing noise-cancelling headphones very stupid and dangerous? Yes, very much so and you really should only be wearing these when at a desk or somewhere safe and stationary. But I got addicted to the noise cancelling and the audio quality. When walking I did start reluctantly turning to Ambient Sound mode for some added awareness of my surroundings, but all in all I just didn’t want to leave the warm and safe world of wearing the Sony WH-1000XM2.
There’s a reason loads of people, more experienced in audio than myself, have given these rave reviews. The Sony WH-1000XM2 are arguably the best headphones in the world. Not the best, wireless headphones, but the best headphones. Full stop.
I can’t imagine many people, even at this price, being disappointed with them.
Christopher’s Take: Overall 5 out of 10 for studio use. 7 out of 10 for regular consumer use.
Keep an eye on Amazon to see if the price drops on these headphones given the third generation is launching soon. The major difference will be Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration, something you could probably live without.