- Review Price: £330/$495
- Noise cancellation
- Touch/swipe controls
- Adaptive ambient sound mode
- Atmospheric pressure sensor
Sony WH-1000XM2 hands-on: Can Sony improve on its class-leading formula?
Sony WH-1000XM2 price: £330/$495
Sony WH-1000XM2 release date: available now
What are the best wireless and noise-cancelling headphones? If you’d asked me that yesterday, I wouldn’t have hesitated to name the Sony MDR-1000X.
Today I’m not so sure, because its successor has just been unveiled: the Sony WH-1000XM2. I spent about an hour with the 1000XM2 at its launch event at IFA 2017. As far as I could tell they are a little better in every way.
Sony WH-1000XM2 – Design
This is more of a facelift than a total makeover. That’s no bad thing, since the original 1000X was an excellent design.
They still look very smart, with the same streamlined silhouette and hardly any branding. The body is mainly plastic, with polished metal in the headband and good quality synthetic leather at the ears.
The paintjob is a little different: the beige version is now closer to champagne gold, while the black version is more gunmetal greyish blue. This adds a little visual flair, but the overall effect is no less subtle. If you want something with an executive vibe, the 1000XM2 will do nicely.
The synthetic leather on the ear cups has been swapped for a more tactile alternative. It’s less smooth to the touch – some might say it’s more plasticky – but I feel it’s thicker and tougher. I welcome this change, because the smooth finish of the original always seemed at risk of scratching.
What hasn’t changed is the polyurethane foam stuffed into the headband and ear pads. They’re as squishy as ever, and the 1000XM2 are as comfortable as their predecessors. Clamp force is just right; they hold the sides of your head but never squeeze. As before, the headband expands with satisfying clicks. The earcups can fold inwards as well as swivel flat.
The buttons have been streamlined. Power/pairing remains where it is, but Noise Cancelling and Ambient Sound have been merged into one. That makes it a little harder to press the wrong thing.
Sony WH-1000XM2 – Features
While the looks have barely changed, the features list has had quite a few improvements and additions.
The touch-sensitive control pad on the right ear cup has been tightened up so your inputs feel more responsive. The Quick Attention mode, where you hold your palm to the right ear to mute, remains unchanged.
The Ambient Sound feature is smarter. It still allows audio passthrough so you can be more aware of the outside world, but now it’s adaptive. The strength of noise cancellation will vary according to what you’re doing – sitting around, walking around, riding in vehicles or running for the bus.
The Optimizer feature has also been improved. It still scans the side of your head to measure how good the seal is, factoring in sunglasses or big hair and adjusting the sound accordingly, but now it uses a pressure sensor too.
Why? Sony says changes in atmospheric pressure can affect the way the drivers and noise-cancelling microphones work. The 1000XM2 measure the bariatric pressure in your immediate surroundings, and then compensates the sound accordingly. The idea is that you should get the best noise cancellation whether you’re on the ground in a train, or 35,000 feet in the air. I’ll need to wear the 1000XM2 on a flight before I can verify these claims.
You can now tinker with the headphones with a mobile app. This lets you adjust the severity of the noise cancellation, or disable it entirely. You can also choose to prioritise sound quality over connection stability, or vice versa.
It would be reasonable to assume all these features sap battery life, but there is actually more juice than ever. The original 1000X lasted up to 20 hours, but the 1000XM2 goes up to 40 hours (wired) or 30 hours (wireless). There’s even a quick charge feature – 10 minutes at the mains will give you 70 minutes’ play time.
Sony WH-1000XM2 – Performance
Full disclosure: I didn’t have my original 1000X with me when I played with the 1000XM2, so I can’t properly compare their audio and noise-cancelling skills. That being said, I’ve been using the 1000X for a year and my totally unscientific first impression is that the 1000XM2 offer a slight improvement on both fronts.
A noisy exhibition hall is a perfect test scenario for noise cancellation, especially when Sony kindly set up a mock airplane, with speakers blasting engine noises at me. The 1000XM2 are super effective at dealing with that noise – I heard next to nothing but the music I was listening to. If I’d more time, I would have quite easily fallen asleep in that fake plane cabin. I didn’t hear a single word of the crowd chattering away mere metres from me.
As for audio performance, the 1000XM2 have many of the traits I admire so much about the original. They’re a hugely entertaining listen, thanks to a combination of hard-hitting dynamism, boundless energy and impressive rhythmic precision.
That agility partly comes down to its impressive articulation and neutral tonal balance. No part of the frequency range feels exaggerated, and everything is nicely defined. There’s no flab to the bass, the midrange is direct and succinct, and the treble is clean, free of sibilance. It’s a very tidy presentation.
An hour isn’t nearly enough time to check over a pair of headphones – I’ll have to challenge the 1000XM2 properly with my usual collection of test tracks. Watch this space.
I didn’t have very long with the Sony WH-1000XM2, but already I have the feeling they’ve improved upon their predecessors in nearly every way. The noise cancellation and audio performance are at least as good as before, if not better. And there is a load of new features. I’ll update this page with a full review once I receive a test unit and give it a proper listen, but even without a final verdict I can confidently say Sony has made another astonishingly good pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones.