After getting the Sony MDR-1Rmk2, I’ve been exposed to what I have been missing in the music that I am listening all these while – the awesome sound quality and the sound stage. I couldn’t go back to a sub-par headphone anymore, that’s why I am reluctant to buy a gaming headphone even though I find the included microphone will be really useful while gaming.
The MDR-1Rmk2 follows almost everywhere I go, it is always in my work bag for me to use it while commuting to work. Since I take the bus to work, I spend an average 12 hours a month commuting inside the bus and sometimes I will be traveling inside the cabin of an airplane, so I do think I will benefit a lot if I have a noise canceling (NC) headphone.
When you think of NC headphone, you think of the brand Bose. No doubt they made some of the best NC headphone out there. Not long after I got the MDR-1Rmk2, I went and try the Bose QC25 in the store, one of Bose best wired NC headphone. After listening a few songs, I don’t like the sound signature. It sounded hollow with poor sound stage, a far cry from my Sony, and it is not cheap – around RM1000.
When the wireless QC35 is out, I can’t wait to try it out thinking they’d improved the sound quality significantly. I was wrong, it does not sound any better and it cost 50% more. Both QC25 & QC35 does well in the bass department, but I am not so much of a bass lover.
Sony has few NC headphones such as the MDR-1RNC which cost as much as the QC35 but without wireless feature. As for the XB-1 NC. I just couldn’t justify paying so much for anything that sound so much worse than my MDR-1Rmk2.
I also consider getting a cheap Panasonic NC headphone just for my commuting use, and use the Sony at the rest of the time. The problem is that I couldn’t find it here locally in Malaysia.
The MDR-1000X appears
Right after Sony announced the MDR-1000X and reading about it, I knew right away that is the headphone that I’ve been waiting. Great sound quality with NC, and I am willing to pay for it. Just like a lot of gadgets, Malaysia didn’t get it on the first day of availability and I’ve been checking with the local Sony store very frequently to see if they started selling it. With batteries and electronics inside the MDR-1000X, I want my MDR-1000X to have local warranty just in case it breaks. It took almost a month for it to arrive in Malaysia and I bought it from Star Picker Audio at Kota Damansara instead of the nearest Sony store because the latter didn’t have the colour binge.
Just like the MDR-1mk2, the headphone comes in a nice padded box, but the similarities stops there. Instead of just a bag, the 1000X comes with a hard case with pocket for the included 3.5mm headphone jack cable and airplane adapter. This time around, only one 1.5m cable is included, unlike 3 different cables in the 1Rmk2. The headphone also came pre-charged, so I can use it straight out of the box.
This is new to me, in fact this is my first noise canceling headphone. I’ve only tried briefly on the store to test the effect of noise cancellation. I eagerly fired up the headphone right after getting into the car, without playing any music just to see how quiet can it get. I then start my car engine and I am very excited to not hear anything.
It is also really useful during my commute to work in the bus and train, silencing most of the background low frequency noise so that the bass sounds better, and I can listen to music on a lower volume. It also works nicely in noisy environments such as restaurants. I won’t completely silence voice of people talking, but the reflecting sound is greatly reduced.
The most useful place is inside an aircraft cabin. Those jet engines are very very loud, and without NC, I have to listen more than 50% volume. With NC, I can actually listen at 10% volume and still hear quite clearly. I think that might actually protect my ears from damagingly loud music.
Voice & Ambient Sound Mode
Other than the normal NC function, there are two additional sound modes that distinguishes itself from the QC35. The Voice mode cancel out the low-frequency and use the external mic to mirror sound in the voice frequency range. This is useful when listening to announcements or when hearing what other people is talking with your background music kept at minimum.
I’ve tried inside the bus with people talking at the back, I can hear the sound of people talking while the NC silenced the engine’s sound. However the voice isn’t that clear, so the other party really have to speak out above normal conversation volume for the mic to pick it up. There’s also a slight latency, but not that much to cause a serious echo.
The Ambient sound mode turns the NC off and the mic picks up all the sound, mirror it into the headphone. So you actually gets to hear more than a normal close back headphone. Probably good if you’re walking on the street and want to avoid being hit by incoming vehicles. Due to the small mics, the direction of the sound isn’t perfectly recreated, but it is good enough. Pretty cool.
Bluetooth & Sound Quality
I can only comment the sound quality from legacy Bluetooth A2DP because I do not have any device that is able to transfer on the higher quality AptX or Sony’s proprietary LDAC. Over A2DP, the sound quality sound noticeably muddy compared to straight from cable. Sound stage is also narrower.
With NC on, I can listen to music at a very low volume that the reduced in sound quality and sound stage doesn’t pose a significant problem to me. This is also my first Bluetooth headphone and the convenience of wireless is really apparent during commute which involves in a lot of walking and getting on and off train of bus.
Edit: I’ve found a way to mod my phone and activate AptX on the CM14.1 Android OS. With AptX the sound quality is significant better with much better clarity and less compression distortion. I think it is so good that I won’t be able to tell the difference from using the cable in a noisy environment. In a quiet environment, I’m able to pick up more details and better sound stage with wire input.
Another feature I found really convenient for commuting is gesture controls. A lot of review mentions the gesture control is a hit and miss thing, but it worked pretty good for me. One draw back with it is making large changes in volumes which involves in a lot of swipes to achieve it. Someone online described that like a dog scratching its ear.
On wired input, most of the gesture doesn’t work except for mode where you temporary lowers the volumes with your right hand. Not a big deal since the phone is always nearby with wired input.
The headphone also receive calls in both Bluetooth and wired mode. However I really need speak louder in order for the microphone placed on the headphone to pick up my voice. Same goes to wired mode, which I wish there is a mic on the wire which I can place closer to my mouth when taking calls.
Built Quality & Comfort
Since it is priced more expensive than the MDR-1Rmk2, it also sports a better build quality. There isn’t much plastic squeak unlike my MDR-1Rmk2. The latter squeak a lot when resting my head on headrest with the headset pressed onto the cushion. The outside of ear cups are had a touch of leather skin or something which feels like that and isn’t cheap plastic surface.
The MDR-1000X is a little tighter than the MDR-1Rmk2, that is understood because it is also significantly heavier with batteries and additional electronics inside for Bluetooth and NC. I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable with the tighter headband.
It is more comfortable to rest my head on headrest with the MDR-1000X because of the more compact arm holding the ear-cups which doesn’t touch the headrest. However I do need to keep my head really still to make sure the headset does not touch the headrest of the seat while taking a bus or plane, because the vibration from the chair will transfer to the ear through the headset and it is very annoying. The sound it made is more pronounce on a NC headset.
After prolong usage, I noticed that the MDR-1000X is sensitive to abrupt air pressure changes. I think the headphone NC mis-compensate it causing a loud thud to be heard. I not sure if this is Sony only problem or is this a side effect for any NC headphones because I couldn’t find much people complaining it, only someone in Head-Fi forum. It might be a defect for my set.
All in all, the MDR-1000X is a good buy even with the high price tag if you need Noise Cancellation. If you’re only listening at home, then you’re better of with similarly priced but having much better sound quality. The NC is tout to be the best out there currently and combine that with great Bluetooth AptX, the MDR-1000X truly let you enjoy your favorite music on-the-go.