Sony H.ear On Wireless NC review

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THE GOOD: The Sony H.ear On Wireless NC is a comfortable premium wireless Bluetooth headphone that sounds impressive for a Bluetooth headphone, performs well as a headset for making calls, and offers effective noise cancellation that adapts to your surroundings.

THE BAD: Headphones fold up but don’t fold flat; when folded up in carrying case, package is slightly bulky; somewhat expensive.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Priced to compete with Bose’s QuietComfort 35, the comfortable H.ear On Wireless NC offers impressive sound and noise canceling that make it a strong contender in the category.

I’ ve been a little underwhelmed by Sony’s wireless headphone offerings in the past, but the H.ear On Wireless NC headphone ($350; ‎£220; AU$500) may be its best Bluetooth headphone to date.

The headphone, which is also known as the MDR-1ABN, is very comfortable, although at 10.25 ounces or 290 grams it’s a little heavier than Bose’s QuietComfort 35 and isn’t quite as comfortable as that model. But at least it’s a close contest, and most people shouldn’t have a problem wearing this headphone for long stretches.

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The H.ear On Wireless NC folds up into an included carrying case. However, it doesn’t fold flat, so the case ends up being a little bulky and I didn’t find this to be the most comfortable headphone to walk around with wearing around your neck (I usually don’t comment on what a headphone feels like when it’s off your ears, but that perspective has become part of the headphone wearing experience as headphones have become fashion accessories).

The headphone comes in five different colors, some of which are very eye-catching, including the blue version I reviewed (though it looks more like teal to me). The finish looks great but I’m not sure how it will hold up over time. A ding here or there could end up looking like a real blemish. (I’m personally very careful with review samples, but some people are harder on their headphones.)

Volume and track controls are on the right earcup and you can opt to turn the noise canceling on or off or plug in a cord if you wish to use this as a wired headphone. Sony says its Automatic AI Noise Cancelling function constantly analyzes environmental ambient sound components and automatically selects the most effective noise canceling mode.

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I thought the noise canceling was excellent, though a touch less effective than Bose’s. I wore the Sony in the streets of New York, on the subway, and in an open office environment with a fan blowing in my face. Like the Bose, it doesn’t completely eliminate ambient noise, but it muffles it considerably. Also important: you don’t get the audible hiss you get from some lesser noise-canceling headphones; it’s ever so faint when no music is playing. (Note: some people are sensitive to the feeling of pressure that noise-canceling headphones inherently exhibit, and are unable to use them).

The H.ear On Wireless NC also makes for a good headset for making cell phone calls, and it has two built-in microphones, one outside and one inside the housing. The Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PXC 550 place more emphasis on this aspect of the headphone’s performance, and as far headset use goes, they have a little more business-class feel to them. But the Sony isn’t far behind.

Battery life is rated at 20 hours with Bluetooth and noise canceling on. You’ll do better than that if you bring the volume down and turn of the noise canceling.

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This headphone arguably sounds slightly better than the Bose QC35 . It’s well balanced, with good clarity and tight bass that isn’t overpowering. I also thought it sounded pretty natural for a Bluetooth headphone. By that I mean it does a pretty good imitation of a wired headphone, which is hard to do.

With Sony’s previous premium Bluetooth headphone, the MDR-1ABT, the bass sounded a touch muddy and the headphone lacked the definition and zip of the wired MDR-1A — they seemed like two completely different headphones even though they shared similar designs and model numbers (the MDR-1A is one of our favorite over-ear headphones).

The good news here is that the H.ear On Wireless NC is much more in line with the sound profile of the earlier MDR-1R and the aforementioned MDR-1A. And while this new H.ear On model isn’t quite as comfortable as those headphones, it feels like it’s built from the same DNA, sonically speaking. That couldn’t quite be said of the wired H.ear On, which I felt was a good but not great headphone.

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While I’m making comparisons, the sound of this model doesn’t quite measure up to that of Sennheiser’s Momentum II Wireless headphone. That headphone offers slightly more detail and texture and its sound is a little more exciting (the Sony is smooth and level-headed). As all things audio, however, my listening experience may not match yours, and some people may prefer the sound of the Sony or the Bose. (It’s also worth mentioning the Sennheiser PXC 550, another excellent wireless NC headphone that falls slightly short of the Sony for sound but has other merits).

OK, so after all that, is the H.ear On Wireless NC better than the Bose? Well, the Bose has a slight edge in comfort, design and noise canceling, but this Sony arguably has the edge in sound quality. That’s probably not enough to declare it the winner, but I do think it’s an excellent wireless headphone.

(cnet.com, http://goo.gl/9FvkjG)

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