There’s no perfect set of headphones for every occasion. What works for walking through town won’t work for the gym or running machine, and comfortable headphones designed for hours of wear might not be appropriate for the great outdoors. For frequent travellers, being able to wear the headphones for a long duration is, I think, fairly crucial, as are noise cancelling properties. I’d also add the ability for them to operate both through Bluetooth and wired – because of the different devices you are likely to be looking to use them for, including Inflight Entertainment, and of course the relevant adaptor for those devices. Then there’s weight, a good carrying case and…. the list seems to get longer .
Sony had a paid of excellent headphones (the MDR-1000X). A friend recommended last year, but for various reasons I didn’t get around to testing them, so jumped at the chance for this updated pair. They have the extremely uncatchy name of Sony WH-1000XM2 which is a shame, because as we know, simply calling headphone something like “Beats” can turn them into a billion dollar brand, but thankfully these headphones are likely to prove a success on the basis of their quality rather than any marketing.
Firstly, comfort. These are noise cancelling headphones, but they seem to do that as soon as you put them on your head and the polyurethane foam encloses your ears. There is an “Optimizer” feature which apparently “analyses personal characteristics like head size, glasses and hair, then optimises sound to you”. I have no idea how they do this and the thought of them somehow working out whether I am wearing glasses, how long my hair is or whether I have an odd-shaped head is just too disturbing, but it’s true they are a great fit, and if somewhere in there a micro-computer is analysing my hair as it grows and making allowances for the fit, then so be it. There’s no doubt they are super-snug, while not being in any way tight, so more power to whoever or whatever is responsible.
In case you think I am being facetious, consider Sony’s next claim – that the heaphones measure the barometric pressure around you and adjust the sound.
I know. I was sitting down when I read that on the website.
Headphones that can judge the barometric pressure – meaning they know when you are on an aircraft, presumably. It’s a fine line between technology and witchcraft, and this crosses the line. But it;s true because on my regular commute I go through a long tunnel at high speed and the pressure changes on the carriage and – well, the sound didn’t get better, but it also didn’t get worse.
I know that others might want technical explanations of this, so I have included the specs from the website at the bottom of the piece and there is also a link to further details here about those specifications.
It also says that its “Smart Listening by Adaptive Sound Control automatically detects your activity such as travelling, walking, and waiting, then adjusts ambient sound settings”. I am sure this is true, but I have found that the noise cancelling is so effective that while I find the headphones soothing to wear when travelling, when walking through town I feel too cut off from what is happening around me and get stressed about it, imagining something terrible like a lorry or bicycle is sneaking up behind me. I know Sony would say that it adapts to the bike or lorry, but I prefer to wear in ear headphones for walking and I don’t insert the in-ear buds the whole way and so can hear cars, other people and ambient noise “naturally”. This may be paranoid of me, but there we are.
Back to these headphones, pairing them via Bluetooth proved the easiest of any Bluetooth headphones I have used, and I have used the wired connection and there were no problems (there is an aircraft adaptor in the case).
They fold quite neatly into the carrying case, so are smaller than a lot of over the ear headphones, and look good when you wear them. There’s also no delay between the sound when watching a film or TV programme on a computer or iPad when using the Bluetooth connection, something that the newer generation of headphones seemed to have sorted out, and the controls for skipping a track, going back, mute or altering the volume via a touch sensitive outer exterior on the headphone, though it takes some getting used to, eventually feels intuitive.
Finally, there is an app you can download for further features for this and other Sony products, though I haven’t done that because I just don’t want any more apps on my phone or ipad.
Battery life seems good. It takes a few hours to charge fully (the website says 4 hours, but I haven’t had them go completely flat to test this) and thereafter the claim is that the battery will last for 30 hours of continuous use, but again, it’s the sort of thing you only notice on a long trip where for some reason it’s not possible to give it a top-up charge. The charging cable has a standard USB fitting at one end and then a micro USB into the headphones, so it’s rare you can’t find the right lead even if you’ve forgotten the one supplied.
I think these are among the best headphones I have worn: comfortable, with a superb sound and excellent for travel whether a noisy commuter train or flying around the world. Are they as good as the top Bose ones? I don’t know, I haven’t tried a pair of Bose in years, but these would take some beating.
£330, though there are various offers around.
DRIVER UNIT – 40mm, dome type (CCAW Voice Coil)
S-MASTER HX – Yes
DSEE HX – Yes
INPUT(S) – Micro USB, Stereo Mini Jack
FREQUENCY RESPONSE – 4Hz-40,000Hz
FREQUENCY RESPONSE(BLUETOOTH® COMMUNICATION) – 20Hz – 20,000Hz (44.1kHz Sampling) / 20Hz – 40,000Hz (LDAC 96kHz Sampling, 990kbps)
FREQUENCY RESPONSE (HZ) – 4Hz – 40,000Hz
PASSIVE OPERATION – Yes
NFC – Yes
CORD LENGTH – Headphone cable (approx. 1.5m, OFC strands, gold-plated stereo mini plug)