Sony WH-1000xM2 review

The best wireless headphones ever made just got even better

The over-achieving Sony WH-1000xM2 are, quite simply, the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy.
The over-achieving Sony WH-1000xM2 are, quite simply, the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy.
The over-achieving Sony WH-1000xM2 are, quite simply, the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy.

Highs

  • Beautiful, dynamic sound signature
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Excellent noise-canceling
  • Long-lasting battery life

Lows

  • Touch controls occasionally lag

When the box for the WH-1000xM2, the second generation of Sony’s top-tier wireless noise-canceling headphone line, materialized for review, we began asking a rare question: Can you make the best headphones even better?

After weeks of testing, we are happy to share that the follow-up to Sony’s outstanding MDR-1000x has answered that question with a resounding, “Yes.” We can’t say we’re surprised. The WH-1000xM2 retain the same plush comfort, near-perfect noise-canceling, and detailed sound signature that we adored on the original model, but add in 10 hours of extra battery life and even more tech features, all while lowering the list price $50.

In terms of sequels, the added tech and lower price help these feature-packed Bluetooth over-ears rank somewhere among The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II, easily earning the company the first back-to-back five-star reviews we have ever issued for headphones.

Out of the box

Once you dig into the box containing the WH-1000xM2 headphones, you’ll see a leather-lined hard case with the Sony logo embossed on the lower portion, as well as a micro-USB charging cable and 3.5mm headphone cable. Below the case is a Blueprint-like manual with big visual instructions on how to operate the headphones — perfect for those who are tired of thick, unintuitive instruction manuals.

Once we dug in to the zippered case we discovered our review headphones were a beautiful grey-black, but the WH-1000xM2 also come in a beige-gold colorway. Tucked in with the headphones was an airline adapter – handy for flights on older planes, especially common on international flights.

Features and design

The WH-1000xM2 will look right at home in the business-class section of your next flight, just like the original MDR-1000x, with subtly-styled earcups and a tasteful metal accent on the headband. Sony’s logo remains the flashiest design element, located just above each earcup, but even the company’s moniker has been implemented is done in muted gray.

The WH-1000xM2 are among the most comfortable headphones on the market.

Plus, puffy leatherette still surrounds each earcup and the upper part of the headband, combining with the headphones’ perfectly adjustable suspension system to continue the prior model’s rein as among the most comfortable headphones on the market. Just like their predecessor, the WH-1000xM2 avoid the top-of-head pressure we often feel after a few hours wearing large, over-ear headphones. The lack of on-head fatigue is further aided by the headphones’ weight, which comes in at a feathery 9.7 ounces — somehow identical to the original model despite a considerably improved battery life (more on that later).

On the bottom of the left earcup, you’ll find a 3.5mm input jack for the provided cable, along with power and ambient audio adjustment buttons outfitted with two differently sized plastic nubs on each button to make them easy to distinguish while the headphones are on your head. The ambient audio button lets you turn noise canceling on and off, and holding it for two seconds will launch an audio optimization feature to customize the sound for your unique ears.

Sony WH-1000x MK2 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The bottom of the right earphone features a micro-USB charging port — just four hours of charge time fuels the WH-1000xM2 with an astonishing 30 hours of battery life, a full 10 hours more than their predecessor’s already impressive 20 hours. The headphones also have a quick-charge feature that allows you to squeeze 70 minutes of play time out of a brief ten-minute charge. Even with the quick-charge option, the real convenience of a 30-hour battery life can’t be understated. We tested the WH-1000x for several weeks and only ran out of juice twice.

Underlying the classy exterior of Sony’s flagship wireless headphones is the company’s touch-control technology. The entire exterior surface of the right earcup supplants physical controls: A double tap plays/pauses music or answers/terminates calls; a swipe up and down adjusts volume; a swipe left or right skips tracks.

Impeccable noise-canceling creates a pristine canvas over which to paint sound, even in the noisiest of settings.

One still-awesome feature that holds over from the previous model is the fact that you can cup your right ear to temporarily lower the volume of music and let in outside noise, allowing you to leave your headphones on when a flight attendant or coworker needs to talk to you for a moment, or when you need to hear an announcement on public transit. We did occasionally notice sluggish responses to touch commands on the WH-1000x, but still found the controls more convenient than hard-to-remember buttons on competitors like the Bose QC35.

Speaking of Bose’s industry-leading noise-canceling headphones, the WH-1000xM2 also have two sets of microphones for each ear — one interior and one exterior — allowing for the same excellent noise reduction. While the QC-35 retain a slight edge overall in terms of outright noise-canceling ability, this generation of 1000x nips even closer at Bose’s heels, providing better reduction of voices, but muting ambient sounds like keyboard clicks and the low whir of HVAC systems slightly less. That said, these are top-tier noise-canceling headphones by any measure, and music and movie sounds easily drowned out the outside world.

Speaking of customizing the sound, the WH-1000xM2 pairs with Sony’s Headphones Connect app, which allows you to control ambient sound, optimize audio based on atmospheric pressure (great for flying) and head shape, equalize the sound, and even place the simulated “location” of the audio — choosing between a normal headphone mix as well as one front, two side, and two rear placements. We’re not sure why you’d want your favorite tunes to sound like they are coming from behind you (or really anywhere besides the standard stereo mix that most headphones get), but it’s a fun option to play around with when you first install the app.

Setup

As with most quality Bluetooth headphones these days, pairing with the WH-1000xM2 is quick and painless. Either install the Sony Headphones Connect app and follow the on-screen instructions for near field communication (NFC) pairing, or press and hold the power button until a pleasant voice tells you the headphones are in pairing mode, then connect them with your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

For wired listening, simply plug in the attached 3.5mm cable to the headphones and your audio source and it’s off to the races.

Audio Performance

Just like the previous MDR-1000x model, the 40mm dynamic drivers inside the WH-1000xM2 propel a warm and inviting soundstage that really brings music to life. The headphones offer a punchy low end that never verges on mud, and each instrument has vibrant definition, with shimmering highs and precise mids that pull everything into crystal-clear focus. When compared to the sound signature of leading noise-canceling competitors like the QC35, there is really no contest: Both 1000x models sound significantly better. In fact, we’d go so far as to say these are the best sounding noise-canceling headphones we’ve ever encountered.

Sony WH-1000x MK2 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

On perennial audio testing favorites like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, this is especially apparent, with a shocking amount of depth inside of the hyper-subtle mixes on songs like The Chain. Creamy snare drum tones pair with warm acoustic guitars and clear, layered vocal lines to create a wall of sound that is among the most impressive we have heard in a headphone at this price point, bells and whistles aside.

The WH-1000x don’t just sound great on throwback hits, though. Amazing 2017 releases like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and Perfume Genius’ No Shape come through with nearly as much depth as they do on the high-end speakers we currently have in our audio testing room, with wide stereo imaging and superb definition in the vocal range that almost makes it feel as though the singer is in a sound booth right in front of you. In general, there wasn’t anything we didn’t love hearing on these Sony gems. From gently reproducing finger-strummed guitars on Elliott Smith classics to banging out early Outkast hits, there seems to be no music ill-suited to the WH-1000xM2.

A warm and inviting soundstage really brings music to life.

Part of that is due to an excellent audio processing engine — something Sony calls DSEE HX. This is designed to “upscale” even hyper-compressed audio, improving the sound of even the lowest fidelity tracks when listening wirelessly, meaning that lossy tracks from YouTube or Spotify’s lower-quality free tier sound good.

This, plus an excellent built-in digital-to-analog converter (LDAC) inside the headphones does such an excellent job with Bluetooth audio that we found it difficult to distinguish between wired and wireless listening, especially when listening with an AptX-enabled Android device.

When listening to the headphones in the real world — in the office, on public transit, and while walking around urban centers — we loved the clarity and focus the noise-canceling brought to the overall sound profile, creating a perfectly blank canvas on which to paint sound, even in the noisiest of settings. When combined with the excellent sound signature, the constant feeling of musical solitude the WH-1000xM2 create makes for a truly special listening experience, no matter where you are.

Warranty information

Sony offers a one year limited warranty on the headphones, which protects against defects in workmanship or material.

Our Take

The Sony WH-1000xM2 are a feature-packed set of wireless, noise-canceling headphones that easily outrank their predecessor  as the best we have tested yet in their class. If we had to pick one pair of headphones to take with us everywhere we go, these would be it.

Is there a better alternative?

The WH-1000M2 compare in price to the aforementioned Bose QC35, but outperform them in every way except for outright noise-canceling ability. Those interested in a similarly feature-packed set of headphones could consider the slightly cheaper JBL Everest Elite 700 Platinum, but for our money, there really isn’t a better pair of headphones at this price point.

How long will it last?

Sony has a history of manufacturing extremely durable and high-quality products, and given the excellent build quality of the WH-1000xM2 and the extended time we’ve spent with the original MDR-1000x model, as well as the included hard case, we imagine they will last for many years of regular use if treated properly.

Should you buy it?

Absolutely. The WH-1000x have impeccable sound, offer great comfort, and have near-perfect noise canceling at a very reasonable price point, easily ranking among the best premium headphones we have ever heard — and absolutely deserving our five star rating.

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