When it comes to noise-canceling headphones -- those models that actively block outside noise like airline engines -- Bose is generally considered the gold standard, but Sony's engineers have been on a mission to beat Bose at what it does best.
The result of their efforts is the MDR-1000X, which Sony is calling its most technologically advanced headphone and features both wireless Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive noise-cancellation in a swanky looking chassis that retails for $400, £330 or AU$700 and ships in October.
Sony says it developed new ear pads for this headphone and the embedded touch controls for volume adjustment and skipping tracks forward and back are more responsive than those found in the MDR-1ABT.
I'm not going to get into all the technical details but this headphone is equipped with similar drivers to the highly rated MDR-1A and has microphones not only on the outside of the ear cups to measure ambient noise, but inside to take account for the shape of your head and ears, and whether you wear glasses.
Sony has trademarked this feature, calling it the Sense Engine and says it tailors the noise-canceling individually to you. You can also choose alternate settings that allow more ambient noise to seep in or even filter out everything but voices so you can hear announcements in airports while listening to music.
Another cool feature is the ability to muffle your music and let the outside world in by simply holding your hand over the right ear cup, where the touch controls are located. Once you finish talking to someone, you remove your hand and the music resumes playing at its previous volume and the noise cancellation kicks back in.
Battery life is rated at 20 hours and a cord is included if you want to listen in wired mode. I didn't get a chance to listen to it as a wired headphone, but the Sony reps I spoke with said it sounds a touch better, particularly if you listen to high-resolution tracks.
Like a lot of Sony's latest headphones, the company is promoting it as a high-res headphone, with support for Sony's proprietary LDAC format that's supposed to provide higher quality sound than conventional Bluetooth streaming, but you need a Sony music player with LDAC to take advantage of it. (Sony makes a variety of hi-res music players, but I suspect that the majority of people will use this headphone with their phones).
Also, Sony says this is the first headphone to have its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HXTM) built-in to "upscale compressed music from any source to near hi-res audio sound quality, even in wireless mode."
In my short time with an early unit I listened to a few tracks using Spotify and Tidal to get an initial impression of the sound, but will need more time with the headphone to give you an in-depth evaluation. (I also need to test it as a headset for making calls.)
Still, I heard enough to say that if you're a frequent traveler, the MDR-1000X should definitely be on your short list of headphones to consider. It's a step up from Sony's H.ear On Wireless NC that I rated highly and which folds flat into a slimmer carrying case.
The sound quality is top-notch for a Bluetooth headphone and the noise-canceling appears to be as effective and perhaps even slightly more so than that of the Bose QC35 (I'll have to do some more A/B testing before I reach a final verdict). However, the Bose is lighter and arguably slightly more comfortable. It also costs $50 less.