Sony WH-1000XM2 Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones (review)

Sony’s WH-1000XM2 are its premium noise cancelling headphones packed with just about every feature you could imagine.

There is no point comparing the pros and cons of the top-drawer Bluetooth ANC (automatic noise cancelling) headphones because I have tried most of them – Sennheiser PXC-550, Bose Quiet Comfort II, JBL, Plantronics, Beats, AKG, Parrot, etc. – and they are all very good in their own way.

So how do you decide what to buy in a crowded market? The answer is what feels most comfortable for your head and what sounds good to you.

For example, my wife loves the Bose QC (small and cute), I prefer the Sennheiser PXC (a real man’s headset), my impoverished adult son likes SMATE (cheap and cheerful), my adult spendthrift daughter likes Sony (classy), and a friend has a Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 (good value).

So, we have to look at points of difference.

In Sony’s case its ANC is adjusted to compensate for altitude – sounds are heard differently at 40,000 feet to sea level. I have to say that ANC is extremely effective – the equal or better of Bose or Sennheiser. This technology is currently unique to Sony.

Improvements over its predecessor include better ANC, longer battery life (claimed 30 hours with Bluetooth/ANC and 40 hours wired/ANC), quick charge (10 minutes for 70 minutes play), greater durability, and refreshingly a lower retail price.

They still lack one important feature – the ability to charge from micro-USB and play at the same time via either 3.5mm cable or USB. If this feature is important look to the Sennheiser or others that that treat the headphone as a USB digital device.

Out of the box

  • Headphones
  • Dual 3.5mm mono to stereo adapter (suits most aircraft outlets)
  • 5mm to 3.5mm stereo headphone cable (approx. 1.5m)
  • 600mm USB-A to micro-USB cable charging cable (too short)
  • Compact, semi-rigid, oval-shaped carry leatherette, fabric, zippered carry case

Set up is as simple as charge and plug-in or Bluetooth pair via NFC or discovery. You can also load the Sony | Headphone Connect app for iOS or Android for additional features.

The phones fold up (the cups go sideways) to fit in the carry case.

There are two buttons – one for power and Bluetooth pairing and one for Noise control and ambient noise adjustment. Volume up/down, pause, and track forward and reverse on the right ear and access by touch.

I like the clean, business-like, minimalist and understated all black. The Gold version has a little more bling appeal.

Fit and comfort

These are compact headphones at 275g. I have normal sized ears and the over-the-ear fit is quite comfortable and snug – good for noise isolation. If you have big ears test them first for comfort before purchase.

How do they sound?

Excellent – They are Sony’s typical sound signature of warm and sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed) and that offers a lot of scope to play with the app’s equalisers and pre-sets to get anything from Bass to mid-centric. Frequency response is 4-40,000Hz (LDAC content) – way outside human hearing.

There is plenty of volume up to 103dB – the equivalent of using a blow dryer.

The app’s music source pre-sets include Arena, Club, Outdoor stage and Concert Hall. Equaliser pre-sets include Off (default), Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Vocal, Treble boost, Bass boost, Speech, and two custom settings. These are saved to the headphones memory.

What is noticeable is that the full ANC is amazingly good – I cannot even hear the clunky mechanical keyboard right in front of me as I type nor the smartphone ringing.

If you need to hear the outside world, simply switch to ambient sound control.

The smartphone app uses its accelerometer to determine whether you’re stationary or moving and will alter the noise cancellation accordingly – if you’re in walking mode it allows slightly more ambient noise to hear traffic.

Because of the snug fit some may experience occlusion (hearing your heartbeat in the headphones) and that can be fixed by switching adaptive sound control off.

They also have ‘Quick Attention’ mode that allows you to hear everything without removing the microphone. Cover the top of the right earpiece — move your hand and the music will go back to normal.

Apple and Google assistants are supported as well although Google Assistant was a little slow to react. (Siri not tested).

They have DSEE HX to upscale compressed music formats closer to Hi-Res Audio quality.

Sony has harnessed the LDAC Hi-Res and aptX HD standard very well. My tests were in using LDAC/aptX on an LG V30 Oreo Android and standard 4.1 Bluetooth on a Windows 10 computer.

In the former the sound was crystal clear and in the latter a little more subdued but still excellent. Their sound is equal, if not a tad better, than the competition.

Battery

Sony claims 30 hours using Bluetooth and ANC. I tested over 14 evenings at about two hours each and there was still charge left although the app does not show battery percentage left.

Sony claim 40 hours use with the 3.5mm cable and ANC and 200 hours with ANC off.

Recharge time from zero to 100% was a little slow at just over four hours. It has a fast charge that will give 70 minutes use from a 10 minutes charge.

GadgetGuy’s take

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are exceptional headphones that deserve to be considered if you want a flagship product. They are now the one to beat!

Pros

  • Nice minimalist design
  • Comfortable for long-term wear
  • Perhaps the best ANC to date
  • Plenty of sound profiles
  • 30-hour battery life
  • Saves pre-sets to the headphone memory
  • Build quality and durability improved over predecessor

Cons

  • Unable to charge from micro-USB and play at the same time via either 3.5mm cable or USB

Specifications here.

Ratings

  • Overall:  4.2 – higher if you can bag a bargain
  • Features: 4 out of 5 – needs to have digital playback via USB
  • Value for Money: 4 out of 5 – shop around and knock this rating up a notch
  • Performance: 5 out of 5 – top sound especially on LDAC and top ANC
  • Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – easy to install and use but the app can be a little intimidating
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – minimalist

Price

A$499 – look online as I have seen them under $400