Review | Sony WH-1000XM2 wireless headphones

By Ajay Joseph

As a successor to the 2016 flagship MDR-1000X headphones, Sony recently released the WH-1000XM2, a feature-packed pair of wireless, noise canceling, and travel headphones.

Design

For its 2018 iteration, Sony goes with a minimalist design that lends itself to a classier look, than say a sporty racy feel.

It’s available in two colors: Black or White. The Black is more of a Grey Metallic look, while the White being a Beige and Titanium sort of affair. My concern with the light color though is keeping it clean over the long term.

The earcups are set at an angle to the headband, and the orientation is flawless, sitting on the head perfectly. Having owned various pairs of Sennheiser’s in the past, with the earcups perpendicular to the headband, I have to admit that Sony’s placement rests better. The material used for the earcups is seemingly leather-like and soft. Even worn for hours, it was comfortable and fit snug.

On the inner side of the left earcup are two buttons, one for power and Bluetooth, and the second for the noise canceling, ambient, and off selector. More on those features later.

Also included is a 3.5mm jack, if you opt to go wired. The outer surface of the right earcup serves as the touch gesture control panel, with the base housing the micro-USB charging port. The placement is easy enough to get oriented too quickly.

Features

To say that the WH-1000XM2 is loaded with features is an understatement. Though I’ve used high-end cans before, this was my first outing with one as feature-packed.

• Noise Cancellation – The headphones have three modes, one to turn the noise cancellation off, one to turn it on, and one to allow ambient sounds. The ambient mode is quite interesting, designed to allow mid-high frequency sounds in, such as announcements, or say someone speaking to you. Thus, making it perfect for travel. I tried it in the office and was able to hear key-strokes and people talking nearby, and outdoors I could hear birds, water, and the likes. The noise cancellation was exceptional, going absolutely silent. It’s easily the best noise cancellation I’ve ever experienced.

• Touch Gesture Controls – The outer surface of the right earcup serves as a surface for touch gesture controls. Double tapping on the center pauses or plays the music, while swiping left and right goes to the previous or next track; up and down being for volume. This took a little getting used to, and the volume control especially felt gimmicky. It’s further complicated depending on the angle you choose to wear the headset at, needing to compensate for the offset. While I found it quite novel, I can’t say it was the best user experience. Physical buttons would’ve been more practical.

• Hires Audio (LDAC) – LDAC is Sony’s implementation for transfer of high-resolution audio over Bluetooth. For the uninitiated, that’s 24-bit 96 kHz music over wireless, which is pretty impressive. A pre-requisite for this would be quality content such as FLAC or Blu-ray HD Audio.

• Audio Enhancement (DSEE HX) – Sony’s upscaling technology to add lost frequencies to compressed lossy audio like MP3 or AAC. This also makes a noticeable difference with free streaming services like Spotify.

• Battery Life – On a full charge Sony says it will last 30 hours. Though I have not tested it, I found battery life to be ample. Just 10 minutes of charging provides up to 70 minutes of play time.

Audio quality

Getting to the meat of the review, people buy quality headphones for their superior sound quality, and in that department, Sony’s drivers used in the WH-1000XM2 shine. Frequency response is good, across various kinds of sound, and the bassline is particularly impressive.

I ran it through a barrage of audio testing, and it fared very well. With most popular trending pop, dance, or electronic music, the good reproduction of bass in the soundstage, made the sound experience come alive. Coupled with the noise cancellation, the immersion was superb; it was easy to get lost in the music. Note that the audio sounded slightly different, depending on the mode, while still crisp and clear, the Ambient Sound mode made the soundstage open and airy.

If you’re an audio purist, and prefer a clean sound, in some situations, especially with instrumental music, or compositions with several instruments, headphones like Sennheiser’s Momentum or Urbanite XL come across shriller and crisper. At the same time, their flatter, non-bass-oriented presentation, felt a little incomplete.

• Nickelback – The Betrayal (Act 1) – Instrumental: Bass response in the opening sequence is superb, with the notes remaining clear and unmuddied.

• Avicii – Wake Me Up – Electronic: Clear Crisp vocals, and when the bass kicks in, it’s ample and feels deep.
• Avicii – Levels – Electronic: A bass-heavy track, that the headphones do justice to; almost simulating a thumping club experience.

• Ariane Grande – No Tears Left to Cry – Pop: Sounds peppy and energetic; the WH-1000XM2 is perfectly at home here.

• 3 Doors Down – Here Without You – Rock: Sounded good overall. Vocals were warmer on the Sennheiser Urbanite, but the bass sounded flatter.

High-Resolution audio

• Pryda – Welcome To My House – Trance: The build-up is full bodied and immersive, and when the deep bass finally kicks in at 3:56, I got goosebumps!

• Metallica – Nothing Else Matter (S&M) – Rock: The various instruments in the symphonic orchestra were noticeable, and James Hetfield’s vocals come across deep and enthralling.

Honestly speaking, the WH-1000XM2 leaves very little to be desired. Instrument separation and fidelity of some notes came across shriller and clearer on the Sennheiser Urbanite XL. But the difference was marginal at best and was only perceptible tested side by side.

Movie

• Den of Thieves – I watched the first 20 minutes of Den of Thieves, which combined some intense action, dialog, ambient sounds, and background score. Again, the headphones did very well. The bass-heavy soundstage was well suited for engine noises and bringing in more emotion and mood with the background score. The dialog was clear throughout and wasn’t affected like some overly bass emphasized headphones.

For movies, it comes down to a matter of preference. I personally preferred the flatter natural sound, and the shriller sound when glass was breaking. But there were other areas wherein the better bass response of the WH-1000XM2 was preferable.

Price

At a release price of P17,999, Sony’s WH-1000XM2 is undoubtedly expensive. But putting it in perspective, active noise cancellation would mean rigorous audio processing, and multiple external mics recording ambient audio. Add to that the touch gesture controls and its evident that there’s a lot of complex technology at work in a rather tiny package.

The closest direct competitor is the Bose Quiet Comfort noise-canceling headphones, and those retail for a little over P20,000. The WH-1000XM2 is better value and a more feature-packed offering.

Conclusion

Sony has gone all out for this year’s flagship, and the WH-1000XM2 is easily one of the best headphones I’ve ever used. The audio performance is great across the board, and the feature list is outstanding. Normally I prefer wired headphones for the audio quality and lack of needing to worry about charging. But the audio quality here is on par with competing wired headphones, and the battery life is massive, making it a non-issue.

If I had to pick a ‘Wow Moment’, it would be the Ambient Sound mode, which is unique to Sony and just mind-blowing. Its usefulness is unquestionable, and perfect for travel situations. If you’re in the market for a pair of top-of-the-line travel headphones, with great noise cancellation, you absolutely cannot go wrong with the WH-1000XM2.

Model – Sony WH-1000XM2
Price – P17,999
Verdict – Class-leading noise cancellation, feature packed, and great sounding cans

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