Price (RRP): $699.95
How do you know if noise cancelling headphones are serious? One tell is whether they are “on ear” or “over ear”. Headphones that fully surround year ears – “over ear” models – don’t have to work anywhere near as hard on the electronic front against noise because the surround itself provides some noise insulation.
That’s the first thing I came to like in the Sony MDR-1000X noise reducing headphones. Then I came to like their convenience, and then I came to like their sound. Very much.
These are not cheapies. Nor are they small. The Sony MDR-1000X headphones give every appearance of the Sony engineers having subordinated design decisions mostly to doing the job for which they’re intended. That is to produce high quality sound, reduce ambient noise and provide quality Bluetooth connectivity.
So of course they surround your ears (“circumaural” this is called), sealing them off gently from the outside world. They are also a closed design – the rears of the diaphragms which vibrate to produce the sound aren’t vented to the outside world, but are contained in sealed enclosures.
None of that is to say that the headphones are ugly. Indeed, I think them quite handsome. I reviewed the black models, but beige ones are also available. They come with a semi-rigid carry case.
Performance-wise, they employ 40mm dome shaped drivers with neodymium magnets and a frequency response rated from 4 to 40,000 hertz. They have built in amplifiers – power output not stated – since this is required for both the noise cancelling and Bluetooth functions.
The Bluetooth function has the rare feature of supporting all the audio codecs, plus one of its own. The compulsory, lowest quality, SBC is covered of course. As are the two higher quality ones: AAC (favoured by Apple products) and aptX (preferred by higher end Android devices). And then there’s Sony’s own LDAC codec, which offers even higher audio bitrates – approaching one megabit per second, or more than 85% of the rate of an uncompressed CD. But for that you’ll need one of Sony’s higher end Android phones or its quality audio players.
They are rated to run for twenty hours with noise cancelling on, and two hours longer with it switched off, and a charge time of around four hours is required. Charging is via a MicroUSB socket. The cable is provided, the power adaptor isn’t. Clearly not a lot of power is required for charging, so any old computer port will do the trick.
Should you run out of power, the headphones work anyway as normal passive ones, albeit at lower sensitivity (98dB/mW versus 103dB/mW) and lower impedance (14 vs 46 ohms). Of course you need to use the headphone signal cable, in this case, rather than Bluetooth.
But you might want to use the cable anyway when possible. You’re not going to get high resolution performance from these headphones using a Bluetooth connection, even with Sony’s LDAC codec (if you have a device that supports it). If you do want to take some advantage of the ability of the headphones to reproduce frequencies up to 40,000 hertz, you need a wired connection to a high resolution source device.
And, also, there’s flying. You still aren’t supposed to use Bluetooth (it’s a transmitter, after all) during at least take off and landing on commercial flights. But plug in (a two-plug adaptor is provided in case you’re on an aircraft with an old entertainment system) and you can take advantage of the noise reduction for a much more restful flight, all the way from ground to ground.
Noise cancellation – a brief primer
Just in case you aren’t familiar with noise cancelling headphones, the process is conceptually simple, although the development involved must be daunting. Even with over-ear headphones, some noise from the world leaks through to your ears. Noise cancelling headphones use microphones in each earpiece to capture the sound striking the headphones. They then process this signal so that it replicates the sound that leaks through the headsets. Final step: the signal is inverted and fed into the music of whatever you’re listening to at just the same level as the leaking sound. But since the waveform is upside down compared to the environmental sounds leaking in, the two just cancel each other out, leaving nothing but the music you truly wish to hear.