There are a good many noise-canceling headphones on the market already, so to make noises about being a leader in a space currently dominated by Bose, you really need to make good on those claims. Sony threw it's hat in a ring recently given a bit of a shake by Sennheiser with the launch of the MDR-1000X at IFA this week. The wired/wireless headphones can personalize the experience for each user, quickly pause the noise cancellation effects, and feature a system that upscales the quality of compressed music files.
Bose is hard to beat in the noise-cancelling arena, but the MDR-1000X is, at least, the best of Sony's own offerings. According to the company, upgrades to the sound filtering and signal processing, dual noise sensors and ear pad designs give the new set an edge over its previous products. Meanwhile, the inclusion of DSEE HX, seen in devices like the Walkman NW-ZX2, reportedly boosts the sound quality of compressed music files like MP3 and WMA, even when streamed via Bluetooth.
Acronyms and floaty claims are fine on paper, but in our quick hands-on at IFA this week, testing them in cabled mode with no music playing, we found the MDR-1000X did a really great job of blocking out the noise of a busy booth on the show floor – both the low rumble of bass-heavy background music playing through Sony's PA system and the higher frequency chatter from members of the press. Although we'd have to spend more time alone with them before giving them our thumbs up, early impressions were positive.
The Personal NC Optimizer is one of the features we'd like to try properly. This system is said to analyze the shape of your head, taking into account your hairstyle, whether you wear glasses, and exactly how you wear the headphones, to tailor the experience to you personally.
Ambient Sound Mode lets you allow outside sounds like voices through and, in a similar fashion to double-tapping the touch control surface of Sennheiser's PXC 550 headphones to feed in sounds through the microphones, Quick attention lets you listen to those around you without removing the headphones. On-housing control on the MDR-1000X over-ears isn't touch enabled though, users will need to activate physical switches.
Battery-wise, the MDR-1000X is claimed to offer up to 20 hours of listening time with noise-cancellation on, or 22 hours otherwise – plenty of time for a long-haul flight or two. Further serving the frequent flyers is the inclusion of an adapter plug for the plane entertainment systems.
Sony will release the MDR-1000X in October, in both black and grey beige, for US$399.