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Sony WH-1000XM2: "Now I've Done It"

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by dewdude, Apr 6, 2018.

  1. dewdude

    dewdude I fix stuff.

    Manassas, VA
    This post is really long, if you hadn't already been able to tell; in fact it has to be split in to two posts. If you just want the absolute basic opinion without all the other details I threw in, then jump to the end of the second post.

    So a couple of weeks ago I picked up a new pair of headphones. I did this despite the fact I really didn't need a new pair, and I really didn't want a pair in the class I purchased. In fact, this pair of cans breaks every principal I had when it came to headphones; which basically boiled down to "wired is king" and "noise canceling is crap". So it makes no sense that I'd plunk down almost $300 (I bought refurb) on a pair of Bluetooth capable headphones, let alone ones that are Bluetooth AND noise canceling! But these have NFC as well..and that was the selling point! (Just kidding.)

    The truth is after I took my first venture off the east coast and onto a commercial jet that I realized a major flaw with my favorited Bose Triport TP-1A (and trust me, it's almost painful to admit I like a Bose product)...they did nothing to isolate the intense rumble and I couldn't hear my music at all. As I was planning on repeating this trip in a year; I put the idea in the back of my head that I might just have to finally invest in that noise canceling everyone raves about. I know some people might scream "try IEMs/canalphones before going active"...and years ago I would have agreed with you. But my ears have this very nasty habit of getting infected whenever I jam something into them...no matter how many times I clean them; so I "gave in" to the idea that I'd have to stay over-the-ear and go with active canceling. Of course...I also didn't want to compromise on the quality; which is why I originally looked at the Bose QC35s and other headphones in that "class" (high-end noise canceling). I could have grabbed a $60 off-brand pair from Amazon, but I figured they would only reaffirm my hatred of even the idea of ANC. Nope, if I'm doing this..I'm doing it right. I picked the Sony's up on the recommendation of a friend. He's not very picky about sound, but said the Sony's seemed to be better than the QC35s. I haven't tried QC35s in a number of years, but I was never that impressed with them; there was just "something" about the quality I couldn't quite put my finger on...almost as if there was a "fake" quality about them.

    Well...I'm buying them for a trip...and that trip is ultimately to Vegas....so let's start the gamble early! I even doubled on the bet by buying a refurbished pair. Will I like them, will they even work, will I give a rats rear-end about the Bluetooth or is that something that's "par for the course" I'll never use? They showed the very next evening and I was ready to put them through the paces.

    I do have to say I was impressed with the packaging. I've only in the last few years started spending serious money on good quality stuff...so I was used to my old crap coming in cheap packing...and even a few of the "expensive" items I bought came in minimalistic packaging. Ok, I tore the outer cardboard sleeve (that almost didn't look cardboard) by trying to open from the wrong end. But there was no opening this up to a flimsy piece of plastic holding everything; just a large "cigar box" with the Sony logo embossed and hot-stamped in the center of the lid. I'm not often impressed with packaging...but I have to say this was nice. Opening this solid feeling felt-line box revealed the zippered carrying case, cables, and included documentation. The headphones themselves were already in the carrying case. No having to unwrap 30,000 things, no fiddling with twist-ties...in fact the only thing I threw away was the other shrink wrap. The zip-up travel case is quite nice too, having a "partition" inside that helped hold the headphones securely when placed inside; which also houses an airline adapter. There's a flap on the back, though I'm not sure what the intended purpose was. I carefully fold up the headphone cable and tuck it inside. I was also impressed the usual hand-strap actually snapped together so you could loop it around stuff.

    I suppose I should talk about the headphones themselves, even though at this point I've just pulled them out of the box. They look..like a pair of headphones should; there's nothing aggressive or drastic about the design. They are drastically heavier than my Bose Triports...though that's only in comparison to those; they're still nowhere close to what I'd call heavy or uncomfortable. They sat securely and comfortably on my head, completely cupping my ears and not pressing on them. They wanted to stay securely on my head when moving it around in a natural manner, or even looking down at my phone; though if jerk your head around or shake it vigorously, you can make them fall off. The outside of each ear-cup is a textured rubber-feeling surface, with a cut-out on each side for microphones.The left ear-cup contains the power and noise-canceling mode buttons, as well as the 3.5mm jack for standard cable input. Yes, it's a standard 3.5mm audio input. The right side seemingly contains no buttons and a USB port for charging. But if they're Bluetooth, what about the usual call and media control buttons? These are actually done using a series of gestures on the right ear-cup, which is touch sensitive. Swipe to change tracks or volume, tap to pause or answer/end calls. (Yes, they function as a headset for phone calls too.) There's also an additional trick up hidden up its sleeve I'll talk about later. But don't think the left ear-cup got left out of the mix when it comes to useless/cool/handy features. While this earcup doesn't have any touch-sensitive controls despite having the same textured coating, it does have the NFC logo printed on it. Touch your NFC capable phone up to it, and your phone will activate Bluetooth if it's turned off and automatically pair to your phone; it will even power the headset on if necessary. This is handy if you're using your headset on multiple devices and constantly having to repair it.

    Being wireless headphones, I did give them a charge before I played with them since I doubted they shipped with a full charge. I don't know how big the battery is; but you apparently can get anywhere from 28 to close to 40 hours of play from a single charge, depending on what features you're using. But I am glad to report that should the battery be dead, or you don't need Bluetooth or noise canceling; they will function as a normal pair of headphones through a cable. It supposedly takes around 4 hours to charge, I didn't time this. Sony also recommends only charging them from a PC, but I charged them from an intelligent USB power bank to no ill effects. Ok...but what about the sound? That's what's important, right? Yes, that's why you've suffered through my novel of a review so far.

    I put the fully charged headphones on my head and held the power button to turn them on, being greeted with the vocal announcement "Power On". It was pretty apparent the noise canceling was on, because after a second or two the ambient sound I could hear faded out. It was replaced instead by a very faint "rushing" noise. The best way I've found to describe it is "busy highway miles and miles in the distance and the only sound you can hear". It's not even loud enough to seem like a cheap attempt at just masking the sound.

    It was when I actually ran some music through them that I would *really* be blown away. These things sounded....good. No...they don't sound good...they sound fscking fantastic! These are noise canceling? They sound too natural! The response seems nice and flat. Bass can really boom it out, the mids are clear, highs are crisp. But this noise canceling...wow. This is some of the best I've heard (which isn't exactly a large sample). But of course, the noise canceling circuity does do some EQing on its own; but the tone doesn't change much when you flip it to ambient mode or turn it off entirely. It's when you power them off and use them passively that the tone changes into more what I've gotten from Sony's in the past...no where near as flat..but if you're already EQing from your player you can adjust most of it out. I also want to say they seem to lose a little "life" when running passively...but that's just from the fact you have to use a higher volume on your device.

    So I had to do what any audio enthusiast does when he's first blown away by a product; use the crap out of it for days on end; so that's what I did. I gave my tubes a rest and made these my primary listening for a week. Running out of battery was never an issue, though I usually charged them at least every other night. The more I listened to them...the more I loved them. I'll admit, I hadn't listened to headphones much in a few years...but I was really liking these. After a week I put them down, gave them a break, and went back to my main system to "reset my ears". I picked them back up tonight and decided to listen to them again to see if my opinion changed. It hadn't. In fact, that's when I felt I was ready to come over here and write about them.

    Up to this point, I'd been primarily using a wired connection to the onboard sound on my PC..so how is the Bluetooth? I'll admit I knew nothing about it other than reading the specs. I knew it would be a compromise quality wise since it's a lossy codec..which is just a horrible idea considering my already compressed music sources on-the-go; but it is convenient from different angles and since it just happens to "be there", I might as well utilize it. Codec wise, they support the standard SBC; but they also support aptX and Sony's proprietary LDAC. My phone supports aptX, but not LDAC. My lack of LDAC support comes down to the fact my device isn't getting an update to Android Oreo and isn't a Sony Xperia handset; the LDAC codec was made part of Android starting with Oreo (8.0) that any OEM can use. Nevertheless, Bluetooth was...ok. It was actually better than I expected for the most part, but there were times where the additional layer of compression was apparent. The situation was different on my PC, where a Bluetooth USB dongle also netted me aptX compatibility. This allowed me to play back lossless files so I'd only have one "layer" of lossy compression. It was fine. It's not something I'd want to use all the time, but it sounded better than expected and being able to get up and roam around was neat. In fact, I've only used a wired connection to my phone once...and I'm finding myself enjoying not having that cable more than I care about compression.

    That and "cable noise" when moving around is super-annoying.

    So while I've raved about how well these things do noise-canceling...they also do this neat trick that's pretty much the opposite of what you want noise canceling headphones to do; it's called "Ambient Mode". Instead of using the sampled outside sound for cancellation purposes, it actually mixes it with the audio! I find it hard to describe it as a literal mixing of outside sound...as it does seem like there's some filtering, and there is this slight effect of hearing the world in binaural. In situations where you're not contending with noise and just wearing headphones would block too much...ambient can come in handy. Another super handy trick using ambient mode is the "quick attention" function. Remember that touch sensitive surface on the right ear-cup? Cover the entire surface with your hand and the headphones automatically do two things; it greatly lowers the volume on the input and turns on ambient mode for the entire time you hold your hand there. When you're done talking to whoever interrupted your listening, just take your hand away and it returns to normal. This feature is built directly into the headphones, so it works regardless of what or how the headphones are connected.
    Speedbump71 and eiraved like this.


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  2. dewdude

    dewdude I fix stuff.

    Manassas, VA
    There are a number of additional features available if you connect to your mobile device and use the Sony app. Not only can you turn noise canceling on and off from the app, but you can even pick how much ambient sound you want; using the mode button on the headphones toggles you between noise canceling, 100% ambient, and off. It also features an "automatic" mode that will use your phone to detect various activities and pick the amount of ambient mixed in; it also enables "focus on voice" which is supposed to automatically mix in when announcements are being made or someone is speaking to you. I haven't even had a chance to try those features out, so I can't comment. The mobile app also allows you to activate a feature where you can pick "where" in the sound-field you want. There are a few additional features, like an EQ, the ability to pick where you hear sound from "artificially", and virtual surround; though since I use aptX these features aren't available.

    I wasn't sure where I should mention the optimizer step, but there is an optimization/calibration procedure. IT takes about 15 seconds from start to finish and largely consists of playing three sets of tones and taking an air-pressure reading. Sony says to run it whenever you "change how you wear your headphones", and whenever you'd have changes in air pressure...such as cabin-pressure at altitude. I haven't flown yet...so I can't say how much difference that makes, but since it doesn't take very long I run it quite often when going from sitting up to reclining to laying down.

    Physically the headphones feel well built, the headband appears to be metal, but I'm not going to tear these things apart to see just how much metal it is; so I'm working on the theory there's a lot of typical plastic...but they are solid and don't feel flimsy. The previous model was known for having some cracks form near the hinges for the ear-cups; this updated version is supposed to fix it, though I've seen one or two people (or maybe one person complaining twice) that theirs suffered the same kind of cracking. From the pictures I've seen, it looks like stress fractures in what may be a non-structural piece; but there wasn't enough detail for me to really see. Mine has not done this yet...I either haven't owned them long enough or the extra care I've been taking in handling them has prevented it. It's a bit of a squeeze folding or unfolding them for storage, so I can only imagine if you're a bit "rough" there can be a problem with stress fractures. I can only say time will tell how these will hold up..and that will depend on how gentle I am with them.

    I am very impressed with these things and they're a joy to listen to. I really was a bit biased against noise canceling when I first put these on...Sony really nailed this and changed my mind. Any residual noise from the active canceling is completely unobtrusive and the processing leaves the music sounding untouched. The sound is relatively balanced when powered on, but changes slightly in passive mode. Battery lasts up to 40 hours, charges in about 4; and 10 minutes of charge is supposed to give you about 70 minutes of listening. Bass is punchy in a nice way, mids and highs are clear. Feel pretty secure on the head and quite comfortable to wear. Uses standard 3.5mm connection for cable input, microUSB for charging. While not part of my requirements but I happen to have support; the Bluetooth sounded fine in aptX and the NFC is a neat way to turn them on/pair them up.
    Speedbump71 and Dave_1962 like this.
  3. Speedbump71

    Speedbump71 Buried in speakers Subscriber

    Dandridge, TN
    Thanks for your thoughts. I have never been a headphone guy, due to wearing glasses and not liking things pressing on my ears. I have been thinking of a set of these or some QC35IIs for the office. I might have to just but a set of both and give them a try....

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