Ever since Sony launched the 100ABN pair of noise cancellation headphones, it launched itself into the highest league of mainstream premium headphones offering wireless connectivity, a mid-luxury lifestyle appeal and very promising audio. Four years have gone by, and today, the Sony 1000X series is a bit of a wild favourite for multiple reasons. Over time, Sony has come around to offer excellent noise cancellation, impressive sound and great comfort, all of which justified the largely lofty pricing of its flagship audio offering.
However, if today you tell anyone to buy a pair of headphones for over Rs 20,000, they would be expecting a top-notch over-ear pair with noise cancellation, gesture control and the whole nine yards. At the very least, they would expect a premium pair of true wireless earphones that would offer better sound than any of their competitors. In such a market, the Sony WI-1000XM2 presents itself as an oddity, the Joker in a world of grey-suited John Does.
However, while it does seem exorbitant for its offering at the onset, it does make quite a strong and compelling case for itself. Over one month, six flights and plenty of commuting later, I’m convinced that the Sony WI-1000XM2 is one of the most divisive gadgets that I have used of late. Here’s why.
As with every Sony flagship in the audio space, the WI-1000XM2 is also very well equipped. It features a hybrid dual-driver layout paired with the QN1 noise processor, and supports a string of high resolution playback codecs. The result is in sound that is largely impressive. The sound signature is towards the warm end of the spectrum, which means slightly higher bass response than the rest of the frequency spectrum. Incidentally, many users tend to prefer this profile over a bright audio signature, so this should be preferable for most.
The next thing you notice is the WI-1000XM2’s flair in terms of fine details, audio imaging and emphasis on mid frequencies — something that mainstream audio products are often accused of overlooking. The hybrid, dynamic and balanced armature driver layout produces sharper audio response from source, which means that with the latest, low latency wireless audio standard, or a high quality stereo cable at hand, you will get excellent precision of sound. Snare rolls sound sharp and acute, the guitar twangs sound very well pronounced, and enunciation by vocalists across a wide range of octaves are beautifully articulated.
This holds true for a host of genres — from the grungy ending of Slipknot’s Snuff, to the largely clean but dynamic Hump de Bump by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the ornate High Hopes by Pink Floyd, the WI-1000XM2 appears to handle most music with aplomb. However, there are a few factors to note here — one, thanks to the balanced armature driver’s sharp audio response, tracks that are emptier (i.e. have lesser instrumentation) often sound a bit jarring. For instance, the bass pluckings in John Coltrane’s Equinox sounds a bit vacant, and I do not mean this in the good sense. The microsecond silences do not add to the aural experience here, until you pull down the volume to about 60 percent.
This is a bit of a mixed bag, for at higher volumes, the diaphragm of the WI-1000XM2’s earbuds seem to create an unexpected amount of distortion, particularly in the upper-bass frequency range. I am not entirely sure if this was a device-specific issue or one that is common to the entire product range, but at peak volume, the effect from the higher bass frequency ranges is very jarring, and not something that you would expect from a premium pair of Sony earphones, at all. The effect is more pronounced in high resolution music players such as Sony’s shiny new Android-powered Walkman, the NW-A105 (review).
Save this, and the WI-1000XM2 offers a splendid balance of mids and highs. Vocals from a wide range of individuals including Adam Levine, Chad Kroeger and Sharon den Adel sound equivocally wonderful with a slight tinge of brightness and colour, which thankfully adds to the entire experience. The highs are clean, which further allow guitar distortions to be represented very well. To sum up, then, the Sony WI-1000XM2 justifies its flagship positioning in terms of the audio performance it delivers. However, whether it justifies the price you’re expected to pay for it is a different question altogether.
Features and packaging
The host of features aboard the Sony WI-1000XM2 are aplenty. To begin with, the Sony Headphones Connect app that is available on iOS and Android offers you many things, including an equaliser to tune the frequency response of the earphones to your liking, and adjust the atmospheric pressure level in order to get the best noise cancellation performance. In a bid to improve soundstaging, it also appears to offer a 360-degree audio dispersion mode, but this (and the atmospheric noise cancellation adjustment) did not seem to make much of a difference.
The noise cancellation feature is something that I actually quite like, even though it is not overly strong. It blocks out noise very cleverly, by clipping just the disturbing section of the noise, while not completely blocking you out and inducing claustrophobia. Full marks to Sony here, and the effort that it has put in. Call performance, thanks to the in-line microphone, is excellent too, and the remote in question, alongside having the usual three-button control, also has a fourth customisable button. You can configure this to adjust noise cancellation on touch, or use it to summon the Google Assistant or Alexa (you need to set this up through your Alexa app separately). This lets you execute entire voice commands completely handsfree, without any need to whip out your phone — an excellent feature if you use voice a lot and commute even more.
The Sony WI-1000XM2 charges via USB-C, and its box comes with a USB-C charging cable, a 3.5mm stereo cable (the earphones’ body has a 3.5mm port for wired playback) and even an airplane adapter that you can use the stereo cables with. To make matters even more impressive, it also offers a total of eight pairs of ear tips — four foam and four silicon. Finding the right fit, with all of these options at hand, is a breeze.Aiding the fit is the fact that the neckband is super bendy and light, and despite the large and chunky end bits of the neckband, it does not feel heavy or bulky at any point. However, this is where the good bits end — the presence of the neckband, in an era where we are all going truly wireless, cannot be overlooked. It is jarring, and after a point, you do tend to get annoyed by its presence, no matter how light it is. Decent battery life, coupled with fast charging (three hours of playback in 20 minutes of charge) is a bonus, but none of it overlooks the fact that there are better form factors out in the market today.
At the end of the day, while the audio performance of the Sony WI-1000XM2 is impressive, it is not unmatched. The likes of RHA, 1More, Master & Dynamic, Jabra and a whole bunch of other guys today offer better overall deals in the true wireless format, with audio quality to match. In fact, at just Rs 2,000 more, you have Sony’s own over-ear flagship, the excellent WH-1000XM3 (review), which makes for a far more prudent purchase.In the end, if you are looking for buying advice, here’s the deal — if you don’t care about the form factor, go for the Sony WH-1000XM3. If you want less intrusive earphones, go look at the whole world of options available from the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and all the other OEMs mentioned above.