Sony MDR-1000X Review : More than just stellar audio

Sony MDR-1000X Review : More than just stellar audio

The Sony MDR-1000X is a great pair of headphones, complete with a great build, excellent bass delivery, good attention to detail in audio, balanced audio performance and possibly the best-in-class noise cancellation. It will be interesting to see how it fares against Bose's QuietComfort 35 in India, but for now, it is the best you can buy for Rs. 30,990.

When you come across a fascinating piece of technology, you wonder how much further can it be improved. Keeping in line with smart gadgets with intuitive controls of today, the Sony MDR-1000X does much more than play audio. Here’s looking at the best headphones Sony has possibly made till date, in closer detail.

Build and Design
The Sony MDR-1000X is strongly reminiscent of its predecessor, in terms of design. While the Sony MDR-100ABN employed high grade plastic and metal, the exterior of the earcups on the 1000X is wrapped in smooth rexine, which imparts a premium feel to it. The metal adjusters and the headband are pliant and smooth, and the 1000X is also much lighter than the 100ABN. This makes it easy to be worn for long hours, although you will find your ears sweating after about 20 minutes, if you are not sitting in an air-conditioned environment.

The headphones charge via microUSB, and one major aspect that you’ll notice is the absence of volume and music controls. Instead, you get a 3.5mm analogue input, power, noise cancellation and ambient sound buttons around the lower edge of the left earcup. It is on the right earcup that the touch-sensitive controls are integrated, and although this takes quite some time to get used to, it is actually quite easy to use once you have figured out the way the gestures work.

Double-tapping right at the middle of the right earcup plays or pauses a track. Swipe up from the centre to turn up the volume, and swipe down to turn it down. Swiping to the right of the earcup from the centre acts as rewind/back, and swiping left fast-forwards or switches a track. When you get calls, tapping on the centre of the earcup receives the call. The gestures are reasonably easy to figure out, but do take a while to get used to the buttonless operations on this one.

The cushioning on the headband and the earcups are ample, and the tight fit of the headphones offer a sense of comfort and assurance. The cups can also be collapsed, and Sony provides a hardcase for you to carry the headphones in. This is particularly helpful if you travel with a bag that contains keys and other objects that can potentially damage the headphones. The case is also flatter and sleeker than the 100ABN’s. Sony picked up the best elements of the 100ABN, and put all of it with new elements on the 1000X, and this really works. For a pair of premium, expensive headphones, the Sony MDR-1000X is very well decked in terms of features, two of which we talk about in the section below.

Active Noise Cancellation and Ambient Noise
While the Active Noise Cancellation on the 100ABN was already quite competent, the Sony MDR-1000X upgrades it by a notch. Here, you feel even more isolated from your surroundings, plunged into deeper silence that creates a compelling ambience for your favourite tracks. The noise cancellation blocks out almost all of the noise around you, and you will not hear a speckle if you have a song playing on top of it. This can, at times, create an unnatural ambience, when you walk on the road with passing cars sans the grind.

On to Ambient Noise, then. The Sony 1000X houses two Ambient Noise filter modes – Voice and Natural. If you feel too isolated with the deep noise cancellation or encounter shades of claustrophobia, the Natural mode will filter the ambient noise through to you, to make you feel more connected to the world. On voice mode, while ambient noise still remains reasonably isolated, importance is given to people’s voices around you, and the audio is filtered through to you with excellent clarity. The Ambient Noise mode actually surprises you with the precise filtering of the ambience, and is one of the first things that really impresses.

There is also a Quick Attention mode, which gets enabled when you place a palm on the right earcup. This is particularly useful when you are listening to Killing in the Name at office, but have a quick question for your colleague. The Quick Attention mode overrides the noise cancellation momentarily, so that instead of having to pause the music and taking off your headphones to talk to someone, you can simply raise a hand and do the same. You will also not understand the importance and ease this feature adds to music listening, until you actually have it.

All of these is powered by Sony’s new Sense Engine, which takes care of noise control and cancellation, in tandem with the noise receptor microphones on the exterior of the 1000X. The Sony MDR-1000X also retains the intelligent, machine learning noise cancellation optimiser from the MDR-100ABN, now called Personal NC Optimizer. The effects of this is difficult to read and notice, and I have not spent long enough with the Sony MDR-1000X to really state how well the machine learning proponent works here. It should, though, seeing that until here, the Sony MDR-1000X does not get anything wrong.

Audio Performance
Along with being the intelligent pair of flagship headphones, the Sony MDR-1000X is left with the task of being a stellar performer, and present even better audio than the Sony MDR-100ABN. We had hailed the 100ABN for its warm timbre, the beautifully wholesome audio delivery, crisp bass response and great overall mix of frequency output, and although the sound signature is somewhat different here, there’s more maturity and enthusiasm in the MDR-1000X’s audio delivery.

The bass delivery here sounds even more mature, and the MDR-1000X produces very deep lows that form strong bass lines that hold tracks together. The impact is more profound and hard-hitting, which enhances the tempo and enthusiasm of the audio delivery here. The low frequencies are also very clear and retain the distinct clarity of every bass note. Try listening to Hump De Bump by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you will feel the fidelity of the bass. The rhythm and poise of the bass delivery is thoroughly enjoyable, something that we often tend to miss out on. The noise cancellation plays its fair part here, creating an ambience that allows the low frequencies to flourish.

The mids are nicely detailed, although a little more emphasis would have made the overall listening experience even more balanced. The details are still quite nice, and emphasis is put in keeping the audio free from any kind of distortion. The balance of the mids make vocals sound bright and warm, and this further complements the highs, which do not sound piercing. Even in high pitched vocals, you do not encounter piercing shrillness of vocals, thanks to the overall audio balance.

The highs are very clear, too, and the level of details are well pronounced. Listen to the drum rolls of a Virgil Donati solo, and the hi hats sound very pleasant and clear. There is a smooth, sweet tone to the audio, all of which makes this a very, very well-balanced performer, in terms of core audio delivery.

The Sony MDR-1000X also uses the DSEE HX engine to upscale any low fidelity audio file, and even when playing on Saavn, the audio does not sound as bad as low quality audio files usually do on premium headphones. Soundstaging could have been better, though, and the closed nature of the Sony MDR-1000X’s audio delivery makes you feel as if you are within a carpeted room, very close to the source of the audio. The sound is not entirely illustrious, although the brightness of audio works in its favour.

To sum up, the Sony MDR-1000X improves over its predecessor in terms of playing low fidelity files, a better frequency balance, and really impressive low frequency performance. It certainly justifies the status of a flagship pair of headphones, and offers fairly decent battery life to boot.

Battery Life
The Sony MDR-1000X lasted for four hours and 33 minutes of listening, with Active Noise Cancellation turned on. While this is somewhat low for wireless headphones, the 1000X consumes more power because of its noise control features, which makes it somewhat worth the mid-week charge that these headphones take. The MDR-1000X took about an hour to charge fully, so it is not entirely inconvenient. Even if you forget to charge, you get an analogue cable to connect your smartphone with, and the passive noise cancellation ensures that listening does not get majorly disrupted.

The Sony MDR-1000X sounds great, is built luxuriously well, offers excellent noise control and cancellation, and is priced at Rs. 30,990. Should you buy it? While we can urge you to wait until Bose brings the QuietComfort 35 to India if you would, you will not go wrong with the Sony MDR-1000X. Even without comparisons, the Sony MDR-1000X is a great pair of headphones, and if you intend to spend this kind of money on a pair of headphones, it is a great choice.

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