This year has been a good one for music lovers looking to pick up a pair of solid noise-cancelling headphones, as audio-equipment manufacturers are pushing out feature-packed and wireless-capable headphones at reasonable prices.
Sony's MDR-1000X headphones are the latest to join the fray, and they are easily one of the best in the market currently.
It is the Japanese company's premium consumer product and is priced to match. At $599, it is pricier than its closest competitor, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35), which is arguably the standard which other noise-cancelling headphones are matched against.
The 1000X, however, holds its own against the QC35, with superb noise-cancellation and excellent audio playback quality.
The large, luxurious earpads cup the ears just right to provide a decent amount of passive noise-cancellation.
Turn on the active noise-cancellation, and the headphones become an isolated bubble of music that shuts out the outside world almost too effectively.
DRIVER DIAMETER: 40mm
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 4Hz - 40kHz
WEIGHT: 275g (without cable)
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
The 1000X shuts out noise from sources such as vehicles and background chatter, and it does so by keeping the pressure on the ears - which some people find uncomfortable when using noise-cancelling cans - to a minimum.
The sound quality is clear, clean and wonderfully balanced.
From the rock tunes of The National to the electro-synth of The Chainsmokers, the 1000X was able to reproduce clear mids and solid bass, without one overpowering the other.
Sony wasn't content to leave the 1000X as just a pair of headphones with noise-cancelling capabilities, choosing to add a whole host of features that improves the experience of wearing the headphones while out and about.
Microphones on the outside of the earcups constantly pick out ambient noise to adjust the amount of noise-cancellation required in changing situations.
They also work in conjunction with other useful features that Sony has worked into the 1000X.
With the headphones' Quick Attention feature, for instance, users can cup the right earcup to activate the microphones so that they can hear what people are saying to them without needing to take the headphones off.
There are also two ambient sound modes: normal and voice. Normal mode makes the 1000X behave almost like open-back headphones, picking out ambient noise like keyboard clatter or traffic next to you.
Voice mode filters out most ambient noises but attunes the headphones to people speaking, which was useful while I was travelling on the train so I didn't miss the announcement for my stop.
The earcups are also touch-activated, and it was very convenient for me to switch tracks by swiping forward on the earcup, or to adjust the volume by swiping up or down.
One thing that makes or breaks a pair of wireless headphones is how smooth the wireless connection is from music player to headphones. In the weeks I've been using the 1000X, I have yet to experience any noticeable skips while connected via Bluetooth.
It supports wireless playback with Sony's proprietary audio format, LDAC, which is able to transmit high-resolution audio wirelessly without the decrease in audio quality that regular Bluetooth audio formats suffer from.
However, only Sony's own digital audio players can play LDAC files. You don't need to buy into the entire Sony ecosystem to enjoy the 1000X, though, as they sound great on smartphones and iPods.
The 1000x comes in very serious colours - just black and grey - which give them a nice, cool industrial look.
The slightly bulky earcups can take up a fair bit of space, even though they can be folded inwards into a more compact package.
The battery life is very generous, easily exceeding 20hr when used wirelessly. It took me more than a week and half of moderate use - about 2hr a day - before I needed to recharge the battery.
- Verdict: While the MDR-1000X is pricey, its excellent noise-cancellation, playback quality and host of useful features make it worth the price.