When Sony announced their new Noise Cancelling headphones to a small group of media in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA tech show they made some big claims, big claims – we’ve taken these top-of-the-line headphones for a solid test on some around the world flights to test these claims.
Right from the outset, Sony claimed these MDR-1000x headphones had the best noise cancelling on the market. Anyone even within range of the headphone market knows the reputation of Bose and the market share they have just by looking around the passengers on planes – especially in Business Class.
In their presentation, it was all about “Brand A” and “Brand B” and Sony’s advantage on the graph – measured by “JEITA-compliant guidelines” was narrow, but it was an advantage nonetheless.
At IFA, I got a chance to test the Bose QC35, the Beats Studio and the new Sony MDR-1000x side by side. In a simulated “noise” environment. Sony and Bose were the clear leaders, and while I am sure the Sony’s sounded ever so slightly better, lets mark that one down as a draw because even by the guidelines it was a narrow win.
Where Sony have the advantage is the MDR-1000x don’t just do Noise Cancelling, they provide an experience for users.
Three Noise Cancelling Modes
What sets these headphones apart from the competition is they are more than just ‘noise cancelling on and off’ – there are two other modes for users.
To be clear, the Noise Cancelling outright is excellent, as I’ve said, I do agree that it’s as good if not slightly better than the Bose QC35’s. I’ve taken several flights while testing these out, Berlin to New York, New York to San Francisco and San Francisco to Detroit.
On each fight I used the headphones for the entire flight, and I used a mix of inputs. Bluetooth from my mobile phone, hard-wired cable from my mobile and the cable into the plane’s in-flight entertainment system.
I also used them while waiting in the airport for the flight to be called.
There are two moments where these headphones really come into their own. Firstly, at the gate or in the lounge. Switch to Ambient Sound ‘Voice’ mode which uses technology in the headphones to cancel out a wide range of external noise, but let in any voices around you. So you’ll head boarding announcements, or people talking to you.
When walking down the street, rather than blocking out the entire world, you can let in Ambient Sound in “normal” mode which means you’ll hear traffic and other sounds, but it cuts the edge of the continuous sounds or droning sounds in the surrounding area.
It’s quite smart and works very well. Ideal in an airport lounge.
The second moment when these really punch above the rest of the market is the “Quick attention” mode.
When sitting on a plane, enjoying your music or movie – if the airline staff approach you and ask what you’d like to drink or for a snack – you can’t hear them. Place your hand over the right ear of the Sony MDR-1000x and the sound around you is immediately let in, and your music or movie volume reduced.
Now, when you see this demonstrated in promotional videos, your first thought will be like mine – “isn’t it easier to just take off the headphones or one ear” – and yes, it seems that way – but after using them for many hours, I can honestly say it is more convenient.
These “ambient” noise and convenience modes are what set the Sony’s aside from their competitors.
Are they worth it? I’m not sure! $200 is a big premium to pay. But these features are excellent.
The form factor and build quality is excellent, the leather backs to each ear – touch and swipe volume and track controls on the right ear, and overall comfort are all well executed. You won’t regret buying them that’s for sure.
In reality the price is the challenge here, many people when faced with a $700 purchase vs a $500 purchase for a product that has a core feature (noise cancelling) that is on par, will probably head to the $500 product.
Sony’s challenge is to market those additional features – have people wanting for the ambient noise and voice modes, have people see and want for the “quick attention” mode. If they can do that, they’ll sell like hotcakes.