A bit of backstory, I (Dom) am on the Autistic Spectrum. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and one of the things that I find very difficult is loud noises, unfamiliar noises and lots of people, so places like IFA and MWC aren’t the easiest for me, but when I went to IFA this year, I nearly had a breakdown at the Sony booth. There was too much of everything and I was experiencing sensory overload. I was starting to have a panic attack and as I was struggling to move through the crowd of people I bumped into the WH1000XM3 booth. I put them on, and the feeling I felt was nothing short of euphoric. The noise canceling was so good, that with my eyes closed, I could almost forget I was in a hot humid room in a Berlin industrial estate and not in a cafe somewhere alone. When I got back to the UK I tried to get a pair of these to review, unfortunately, they were all out with other reviewers, but Sony said they could send me last years first, and then the new ones when they are in so I can hear the difference, so I obliged.
- Best in Class ANC
- Stunning Sound
- Insane Battery Life
- Come with Carrying Case
- Did I mention the Best ANC ever?
- MicroUSB charger
Disclaimer: Sony provided these headphones for review, and (sadly) they have been returned to Sony by the time this review goes live. I have been using them daily for the 2 weeks I Have had them. I have tested these on my PC, BlackBerry KEY2, KEY2 LE, Nokia 7.1, Xiaomi Mi A2 all on Bluetooth. Sony has no bearing on the outcome of this review and is not seeing it before it goes live. No money has exchanged hands between either company either.
- 40mm Dome style drivers
- 3.5mm audio jack
- MicroUSB for Charging
- Bluetooth 4.1
- AptX HD
If you want a more comprehensive list of Specs, check them out on the Sony website here
I’m trying to think of a way to describe the build quality of the WH1000XM2’s, and all I can come up with is utilitarian. This is a mostly plastic affair with faux leather on the exterior of the ear cups, a few metal pieces in the sizing mechanism, and of course the faux leather ear cups themselves.
These aren’t the most solid headphones I’ve ever worn, these aren’t going to survive being thrown around as the Audio-Technika ATH-M50Xs would. There are a few creaks, and the folding mechanism doesn’t seem as robust as I’d like for a pair of headphones that cost as much as these do, but they do feel well made. Although it is all plastic, it doesn’t feel hollow or chintzy, everything fits and works as designed, I think I just expected a bit more rigidity from this.
They feel lighter than I expected them to at 275g, I thought they’d feel heavy and unbalanced, but the weight is distributed evenly across your skull, and the clamping force on your head isn’t all that severe, so despite the nearly 300g mass, I honestly forget I’m wearing these sometimes, part of that is due to the weight distribution, but a lot of it also has to do with these earcups and the foam cushioning on the headband, these really are just lovely to wear.
Where do I begin? These cans are just a dream to wear and listen to music on. Whether I used them cabled or wireless (99% of the time was wireless) listening to beautifully mastered LDAC files or just streaming music from Google Play, the WH1000XM2’s handled the task with aplomb.
The WH1000XM2s are completely closed design, which means that the soundstage won’t be quite as wide as on some open-backed headphones for what I hope are obvious reasons, but despite that, the WH1000XM2s managed to feel all-encompassing without feeling overbearing. Whether I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (“Money” is a dream track) or “More I cannot Wish you” from the Musical episode of the Flash, or just some random EDM I foun.d on YouTube, I always found myself smiling when listening with these. It’s not that these are ridiculously loud, they aren’t, but everything is just balanced in a way that can only be explained by putting magical fairies in the earcups that know how everything should sound for that track and is just set it up that way.
Vocals do sometimes feel a bit lacklustre when there are some prominent instrumentals as well, but never as much as to make me feel disappointed. I can still hear the vocals clearly, but they’re just not as “there” as some other parts of the track. One of the impressive things here is the selection of Codecs that these support. Sony has just thrown the gamut of high-end wireless audio at this including Qualcomm’s Aptx HD and their own LDAC. If you’ve got the audio files that are high enough fidelity (none of that 128kbps rubbish you got from Limewire a decade ago) A phone that supports any of the higher end codecs, the WH1000XM2s will transform the way you hear those songs, I noticed parts of songs I’ve listened to for years and never heard before, and then gotten a new appreciation for it, these really are just that beautiful to wear.
This is the real magic of the WH1000XM2s. Remember I said that these aren’t the loudest headphones in the world but I didn’t care, this is why. The Active noise canceling tech that Sony employs is just so good, that even at lower volumes, you still can’t hear any of the intrusive noise that people crank up the volume to drown out.
Whereas some noise-canceling systems block more noise, they do so at a cost, and that is the pressure. Whenever I use competitors ANC systems, I feel uncomfortable. It feels as if I have a clamp on the outside of each earcup pressing the cups into my head like you’re in an airplane and underwater at the same time, It’s uncomfortable. The Sony method of doing it, whatever it does different, just feels like magic in comparison. When I put these on, It’s as if there was never any ambient noise, and that’s impressive. The First time I had the WH1000XM2s at home, I listened to an entire album whilst writing a review, at the end I found out that in that time the dog had been barking, the doorbell had gone off twice and we had visitors come and go, I just hadn’t perceived any of it. Later that same day, I listened to a few songs, and once they ended, I just carried on with my work, no music playing, but because there was no ambient noise, it didn’t matter.
The Reason I bought up me having autism earlier is, as I said, Auditory stimuli can be very uncomfortable to me, even in my own house. The Fact that these eliminate ambient noise in a natural feeling way is very important because it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to block out the noise. I wasn’t actively pumping the volume to almost certainly unsafe levels to drown out the barking, or listening to tracks that are so fast that I can hear people chit chatting somewhere else, the headphones are doing the work, they are light, they cancel sound effortlessly and they make my audio sound better than ever.
To put these to the test. I’m writing this review in a wholly uncomfortable environment for me. In the middle of a coffee shop chain (Cafe Nero, if you’re wondering) which is absolutely packed because it is midday on a Monday. This is a multitude or “triggers” for me. It is loud, it is very packed so not a lot of space. Lots of people also raise the ambient temperature in the room making me more uncomfortable, I also have to deal with the smells of everything in here, as well as constant movement, a veritable hellscape for me. Whilst I wasn’t perfectly happy doing everything here, the WH1000XM2s took out the large auditory stimuli, which is one of the more scary ones for me.
The WH1000XM2s are able to transport me to a world of my own when I’m uncomfortable. I can’t help my responses to stimuli but I can choose things to help, and The ANC that Sony employs on the WH1000XM2s is insanely good. On the new WH1000XM3s Sony has developed the QN1, a DSP (Digital Signal Processor) purposefully designed to improve ANC performance, and if I had only ever tried the WH1000XM2s, I’d say it’s a lie, but having tried the WH1000XM3s first, I can say that the QN1 makes an insane difference, as I said able to calm me down from a breakdown in the middle of the Sony hall during one of the biggest technology trade shows in the world, no small feat.
This is also pretty great, Sony claim that the WH1000XM2s can play up to 30 Hours of audio with ANC enabled before needing a recharge (recharging takes 4 Hours by the way) And I’d say they lowballed that figure.
I charged the WH1000XM2s the day I got them, as I do with all gadgets, and after using them for 6-8 hours most days I was able to get a week of use before hearing the low battery warning. With ANC off, the figure goes up to 38 hours. Sony has either a different way of measuring time than I do, or I have the best sample in the world. Another Test for these was a day after I got them, I had to go to London for the Xiaomi launch. That’s 2 hours of train journey there and back, about 45 minutes of tube journeys and about an hour of walking, all with ANC on, Bluetooth to my phone streaming high-quality music, with nary a whimper or moan, this is Battery that you can rely on. I haven’t taken them on any transcontinental flights, but if Sony wants to fly me to Japan for an HQ tour, I’d be more than happy to oblige and try these out for a long haul flight.
I really wish these weren’t MicroUSB though, even though the newer WH1000XM3s use USB-C, when these came out, USB-C was already a standard gaining momentum, Sony just didn’t implement it, sadly, meaning that although I don’t need to charge these often, I Have to find an old MicroUSB cable floating around my office to do that, lame.
There are 2 ways to connect to the WH1000XM2s, Bluetooth or 3.5mm audio jack. I will tell you that I almost exclusively used the Bluetooth connection for the true battery tests, but also to see the quality that Sony was boasting. Whilst the WH1000XM2s sound great when cabled, for me, I’m just more comfortable in Bluetooth mode.
Whilst the Bluetooth connection on the WH1000XM2s is mostly solid, I did have one issue where they would forget they are connected to my PC, meaning I’d have to reconnect. Not a major issue, but an annoying one nevertheless. I’m also not sure if this is something that has been addressed in a newer firmware (I’m stuck on 1.0.0). Seeing as this only happened on my PC at home with a USB Bluetooth adaptor and not on my laptops, or any of the 5 phones I tested these on, I’m willing to chalk it up to my PC being the issue and not the WH10000XM2s, though It’d be disingenuous of me to not mention this at all.
For the Miscellaneous section of this review, all I really want to talk about is that Sony has an app for these cans. The “Sony Headphones Connect” App allows you to register your headphones to activate the warranty etc. Allows you to update the firmware (though as a media unit these are locked on previous firmware)It also shows you things such as the current battery percentage, whether you’re connected or not, what Audio profile you’re using etc.
The App also allows you to customise all of the parameters of the noise canceling. How much of the real world you want to let in, whether you want to focus on letting voice in or blocking them out etc. As well as personally optimising the way the headphones sound to your ears, it’s nifty.
The App is also completely optional, for the first week of using these I didn’t realise there was an app. I just NFC paired my phone to the headphones (Such a neat feature) and went on my way. The function button on the headphones lets you switch between noise canceling, letting ambient noise in, or just turning that off altogether to save some juice. Whilst the app has some cool features that can definitely improve your experience, It isn’t in the least bit a mandatory install.
So, overall, do I like the WH1000XM2s? Well duh. If you still need to ask that question, you either didn’t read the review or I’m really bad at reviewing. The WH1000XM2s are stunning Headphones, even at their price of £300, I would seriously consider budgeting for a pair, as they’ll last, and you will have a lovely time with them.
If you or someone you know is autistic or has extreme, debilitating anxiety, these will almost certainly be something that helps them. These headphones don’t suddenly make me “not autistic” but it makes some things a lot easier, where I am less afraid to go out because if I do and it gets loud, I can block out the real world and slip into my world. Sony needs these back, but it’s going to be hard to let these go.