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Sony WH-1000XM2 Review

The Sony WH-1000XM2 made a big stir when it hit the shelves back in 2017. Many awards followed, and Sony were the first company to create a set of noise cancelling headphones to rival the Bose QuietComfort line, long considered the best on the market.

Fast-forward to 2020, and with the arrival of Sony’s third generation WH-1000XM3, is this earlier incarnation still worth a look at?

In short, yes.

These headphones are a complete package performing excellently in all areas. Throw in a reduced price, which will probably fall even further, and the WH-1000XM2 are absolutely still worthy of consideration. Read on to find a complete breakdown of why…


Our rating:4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

Out Of The Box

On opening the box, you’ll find a solid carrying case with the headphones and accessories inside. There’s a micro USB cable for charging, an airplane adaptor and a 3.5mm cable for wired listening.

Design

It’s undeniable. Sony make sleek-looking headphones and the WH-1000XM2 is no exception to this rule. These are a luxury set of headphones and the minimalist yet chic design, is aesthetically very pleasing. They don’t scream look at me like a pair of Beats, but the stylish finish is bound to attract admiring looks.

Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM2

There’s a choice of finishes with either champagne gold or black/gunmetal grey as your options. The ear cups have a matte finish which softens the whole look and they are hinged for ease of storage in the supplied carry-case. The case provides good protection and you can easily fit all the accompanying accessories inside. It’s not the smallest, but it will easily fit inside a small backpack.

The headband is a combination of metal and plastic that gives it a mature look and effective flexibility

Comfort

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are exceptionally comfortable headphones. The large ear cups are amply padded with a faux leather covering and will enclose even the largest of ears, no problem.

Once the padded headband has been adjusted to your dimensions, we found no comfort issues even after hours of extended use. The clamping force they exert is just about right to keep them in place without causing discomfort.

Breathability…

Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM2

However, they are not the most breathable headphones you are ever going to wear, but that is the nature of over the ear, closed-back headphones. They create a seal around the ear, cutting off airflow and making you sweat more than you would with other designs.


This isn’t a criticism of the WH-1000XM2’s, just the nature of the beast. They, therefore, wouldn’t make the best set of headphones to use whilst exercising and should be limited to more casual uses. They are stable enough for a light jog, but excessive sweating could damage the ear cup material over time.

Controls

Functionality is controlled by a touchpad built in to the back of the right ear cup. Swiping left or right controls track selection. Swiping up or down gives you control over the volume, and a double tap allows you to pause or play. One long press will activate your preferred voice assistant.

These control methods only work when the headphones are being used in wireless mode. With the headphones connected through the 3.5mm jack, you will have to use your device to make adjustments.

Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM2: Over Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Fantastic functionality…

Sony’s Quick Attention mode also features something which we love. Cupping your hand over the top of the right ear cup lowers the volume to a level where you can have a conversation. Not only does it reduce the volume, but it amplifies the environmental sound through the use of external microphones mounted on the side of each ear cup.

Once you’re done, simply remove your hand, and the volume returns to its previous level, and the noise cancellation resumes. Great when dealing with flight attendants on a plane or other such interruptions.

The left ear cup is home to two raised buttons, one for power/pairing and the other for turning the noise cancellation on or off.

Connectivity

The wireless technology built into the WH-1000XM2 performed flawlessly Throughout our time using the headphones. Whether you are an Apple or Android user, all the latest wireless codecs are fully supported. As long as your phone supports AAC and aptX, you’ll have the highest quality wireless audio spec.

Feature-packed…

Sony’s Headphones Connect app is packed with extra features to improve your listening experience. Here you will find equalizer settings with presets that control how your music sounds. You can also optimize the ANC settings to your preference, and there is a handy air pressure feature that makes changes to the ANC if you are flying at altitude.

 Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM2: Over Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphones with Microphone

Atmospheric pressure changes can mess with the frequency balance of headphones, and this setting claims to negate those effects. We didn’t get to try the headphones out whilst flying, but other users have reported this feature as being very effective.

The only improvement to the app we could think of would be the inclusion of an auto-off timer, but overall it provides great support to a very versatile set of headphones.

Battery Life

Sony claims a continuous playback time of 30 hours for the WH-1000XM2. We can verify this is an accurate reflection. That is a full 10 hours more than its closest rival, the Bose QuietComfort 35. That’s quite a difference and a real feather in the cap for Sony.


A quick 10 minute charge will also provide you with 75 minutes of emergency playback. If you’re as forgetful as we are, this is a feature that will regularly come in handy.

Noise Cancellation Capabilities

Most people won’t be buying noise cancelling headphones for home hi-fi usage. No, they want them to block out unwanted noise whilst traveling or working in loud environments. Well, the good news is the ANC technology in the WH-1000XM2 does an outstanding job of this decreasing environmental interruptions to an acceptable buzz.

Four external microphones provide the hardware, and in a quieter situation, they can eliminate outside interference completely. If you don’t want or need this, you can customize the ANC settings to suit your needs through the app.

Sony WH-1000XM2
Photo by Aaron Yoo
Ambient Noise Mode…

What we especially liked was the ability to selectively allow certain noises through using the Ambient Noise Mode. For example, using this feature allows PA announcements to be amplified, giving you time to cup the right ear and activate Quick Attention mode to hear the details. Very handy if regularly commuting or flying.

Audio Performance

Noise cancelling headphones often don’t sound too good. It’s possibly to do with all the extra tech that needs to be included in such a small space. However, the Sony WH-1000XM2 have completely bucked this trend. They sound great.

On the factory settings, the bass is powerful and weighty yet still clear enough not to muddy the mids. If it’s too much for you, then you can always lower the bass through the Headphones Connect app. The mids and trebles sound clear and well separated, even with the bassier profile.

Superior sound quality…

When compared with the rival Bose and Beats models, the Sony WH-1000XM3 arguably delivers a slightly superior sound quality. Of course, everyone’s ears will experience things differently, but the overall profile was definitely preferable to our ears.

We used the WH-1000XM2 to listen to music from multiple genres, and they performed well across the spectrum, providing good levels of details in vocal and instrumental tracks alike. For classical or jazz music fans, we’d recommend turning the bass down a notch or two.

Call Handling

People on the receiving end of phone calls said that my voice was so clear they couldn’t believe that I wasn’t using a handset. Apparently, the microphones picked up a fair amount of ambient noise, so it won’t be a completely clear experience for whoever you’re calling if in a noisy environment.

Sony WH-1000XM2 Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding noise cancelling.
  • High-level audio quality for wireless headphones.
  • Exceptional battery life.
  • Excellent app support.
  • Very comfortable.
  • Top-level Bluetooth support.

Cons

  • MicroUSB charging is somewhat outdated.
  • Newer model has minor improvements.


More Headphone Choices

Not sure if the XM2’s are for you? We can’t think why, but if so, check out our reviews of the Bose QuietComfort 25, the Bose QuietComfort II, the Bose Soundlink Around Ear, the 1More Triple Driver, the Beats Studio3 Wireless, the Sony MDR 7506 and the Sony WH1000XM3.

Overall Verdict

Even though the Sony WH-1000XM3 are almost three years old now, they still have so much to offer. Industry-leading noise cancellation makes them the perfect choice for long haul flights and noisy commutes. Whilst fantastic at keeping out unwanted noises, they also manage to sound great whilst doing it, which is rare in the world of wireless headphones.

The Headphones Connect App provides an easy to use and feature-rich companion that enables all sorts of sonic tweaks.

Better but more expensive…

Yes, Sony have released a newer version, and if we’re honest, the XM3’s are a better set of headphones than the XM2’s. Noise cancellation and battery life are both improved, and a redesigned headband makes them slightly more comfortable to wear.

But now that the price of the WH-1000XM2 has been reduced, they certainly offer better value for money than their newer stablemate, and in terms of overall sound quality, there isn’t much to choose between the two. This makes the Sony WH-1000XM2 a completely justifiable purchase to this day.

Happy listening!


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