Reducing the roar of jet engines to a whisper, Sony’s MDR-1000X Bluetooth headphones offer first class noise-cancelling for travellers with deep pockets. At $699 Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones certainly aren’t cheap but in return they deliver amazing noise-cancelling performance – a big step up from Sony’s $499 MDR-100ABN “H.ear On” headphones which already sound pretty impressive.
In comparison, the top-shelf 1000X headphones basically halve the volume of the background noise on an aeroplane while taking out a wider range of frequencies.
You can’t expect miracles from noise-cancelling headphones, they’re never going to offer a Maxwell Smart-style cone of absolute silence, but Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones are certainly up there with the best.
The padding makes these headphones comfortable to wear for extended periods, with the cans large enough to sit around your average ear – which makes them more comfortable than headphones which sit on your ears, plus it helps with muffling noise from the outside world. They do get a bit warm, like all closed-back headphones.
They’re still not quite as comfortable as my trusty old Sennheiser PXC 450 headphones, which have larger cans with softer padding, but in the return the Sennheisers aren’t as effective when it comes to passive muffling or active noise-cancelling – even though the Sennheisers are still head and shoulders above most of today’s noise-cancelling headphones.
One trade-off with the Sony headphones is that they’re more likely to bother people with sensitive ears, creating a bit more pressure on your eardrums than most noise-cancelling headphones. I sometimes have trouble with my ears when flying, but once I popped a decongestant to clear my head the headphones stopped bothering me.
If the improved noise-cancelling alone isn’t enough to justify the expense, Sony has thrown in a few extra features which will appeal to regular travellers.
When you need to hear the outside world, you can disable the noise-cancelling, turn down your music and tap into the external speakers by simply holding your hand up against your right ear. Let go and the noise-cancelling kicks in again.
It’s an extremely handy and intuitive feature, especially when you’re on a plane, although you’re in danger of looking like an arrogant wanker if you use it elsewhere. Try this while being served in a shop, rather than removing the headphones, and you’ll come across as quite rude – especially as the shop assistant is unlikely to realise that you’ve paused your music.
These are both wired and wireless headphones, with support for HFC quick pairing as well as LDAC to handle high-res audio – handy if your have a compatible Sony player – and DSEE HX for audio upscaling.
Bluetooth music controls are built into the right can, but rather than physical buttons you simply swipe your finger. You can swipe up and down to adjust the volume, as well as forward and back to skip through tracks. Tapping the centre pauses the music and answers a call, although it can be tricky to find the sweet spot to tap.
You’ll find power, noise-cancelling and ambient noise buttons built into the bottom edge of the left can, where they’re a bit difficult to reach and tell apart. Thankfully the headphones offer spoken feedback so you know what’s happening. Alongside these buttons is the jack for the 3.5mm audio cable, which you can remove when you’re using Bluetooth, but unfortunately this cable lacks inline controls.
Meanwhile the the micro-USB charge port is on the bottom of the right can, with the built-in battery good for around 20 hours. When the battery runs flat you can still use them as normal headphones via the audio cable. You can listen via cable while they’re charging, but you can’t use any of the active noise-cancelling features.
The headphones offer are two ambient sound modes, voice and normal, which are designed to let in different types of outside noise. Voice makes it easier to hear announcements at the airport, while normal is designed to let in traffic noise while walking down the street – which seems to defeat the purpose but is a sensible safety precaution.
There’s also an Optimiser feature which calibrates the headphones for your current environment and how they sit on your head, which makes a noticeable difference but I found optimising the headphones irritated my ears a bit more.
When it comes to noise-cancelling these Sony headphones certainly stand out from the crowd, although you may want to weigh them against Bose’s top-shelf offerings. Support for LDAC will seal the deal if you own other Sony high-res audio gear.
If the price tag doesn’t put you off, high fliers will find Sony’s MDR-1000X Bluetooth headphones are a welcome addition to their carry on luggage.
This article originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald