If there's any one piece of tech I've consistently recommended that all my friends go out and buy, it's a good set of noise-canceling headphones. Whether you're sitting on a long flight, writing in your favorite coffee shop, or just trying to drown out noisy neighbors, there's no better way to block out the rest of the world.
There are plenty of noise-canceling headphones available, but I've been using Sony's WH1000XM2 set for about nine months, and they've become an absolute necessity in my daily routine.
Bottom line: The WH1000XM2s sound better than the Bose QC35s to my ears, and come in at $50 cheaper.
- Phenomenal noise canceling
- Great battery life
- Google Assistant built in
- Clean, clear sound with ambient sound mode
- Option to go wired
- Aging Micro-USB port
- Google Assistant replaces Ambient Sound mode
Nothing's getting through these
Sony WH1000XM2 What I like
Where to begin? Let's break down the name, because it's sort of all over the place.
The WH1000XM2 is Sony's second-generation over-the-ear noise canceling headphones, the first being … no, not the WH1000XM1, but the MDR-1000X. Yeah, I'm not really sure what that's about either, but the WH in the name stands for "wireless headphones." 1000X denotes the product line — Sony also makes earbuds called the WF-1000X — and M2 ostensibly stands for "mark two."
Got it? Good.
The sound quality, noise canceling, and fit and finish of the 1000XM2s are all superb.
The 1000XM2s are incredibly well-made, with no signs of creaking or give. The headband is flexible and sturdy, and the cups are soft and big enough to fully cover your ears for proper sealing. These are incredibly comfortable headphones that I wear for hours on a near-daily basis without ever experiencing fatigue or discomfort. Even nine months down the road, the fit and finish of the 1000XM2 hasn't aged at all — these headphones still look like the day I bought them.
You can get the 1000XM2s in either black or champagne gold, but either color comes with a black carrying case, which also contains an airplane adapter for wired audio. I tend to toss the headphones into my bag without the case and they've held up just fine, but if you're particularly worried about them getting hurt in transit, the case is a nice inclusion.
As far as controls go, there's a power button on the left cup, as well as a toggle for active noise canceling and Sony's Ambient Sound mode, which uses the built-in microphones to feed the sounds of your environment into your ears. It's one of my favorite features of the headphones, since it allows you to hold conversations with others without interrupting your music.
The right cup doesn't feature any physical buttons — just a Micro-USB port for charging (yes, a USB-C port would've been preferable). Instead, the entire surface of the cup acts as a gesture pad. Double-tap on the cup to play or pause your music, swipe left to go to the previous track, and swipe right to skip to the next one. If you're in active noise canceling mode, you can also hold your hand over the entire cup to quickly switch to Ambient Sound mode, then let go to switch back.
In short, the controls are great, but none of that really matters if the sound quality isn't equally great. Luckily, these are some of the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones I've ever heard. Of course, they should be considering their high price tag, but I prefer the sound of the 1000XM2s over even the more expensive Bose QC35 IIs; it sounds full and fairly balanced, without exaggerated bass response or sharp high end.
Oh, and the noise canceling is incredible. I don't know that it quite matches up to Bose's legendary noise canceling, but it's enough that with music playing at even low volumes, I genuinely can't hear someone talking right next to me. It's enough to completely shut out background noise at the coffee shop I frequent, even during open mic night with locals strumming away on their acoustic guitars.
A few months ago, the 1000XM2s received an update that brought support for Google Assistant to the headphones, which works exactly as you might expect. You can ask about the weather or upcoming calendar appointments, but I mostly use it to choose the next song when my phone is too far to just open Spotify.
Sony WH1000XM2 What I don't like
That does lead to one of the things that irks me about the headphones, though — while Google Assistant integration is nice, it overrides the Ambient Sound toggle, disabling my favorite feature of the headphones. While you can still hold your hand over the right cup to temporarily enable Ambient Sound, I spend far too much time with the mode enabled for that to be a viable solution.
Google Assistant support is nice, but it forces you to give up the Ambient Sound toggle.
I'm also annoyed that Sony's second-generation 1000X headphones still use Micro-USB in the age of USB-C. That's an acceptable choice on cheap headphones, but these are anything but, and considering Sony's smartphones have been using USB-C for a few years now, I'm not sure why Micro-USB is still here. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it means that I have to carry an extra cable with me on long trips.
On the other hand, the internal battery lasts so long that it almost doesn't matter. Sony estimates about an insane 30 hours of continuous playback with noise canceling on and 38 without, and while I haven't logged exact hours, I can say that even with daily use, I only end up charging my 1000XM2s about once every other week.
Another minor annoyance is that the 1000XM2s only support one Bluetooth connection at a time, whereas the Bose QC35s can handle up to two. That's usually not a huge deal, but it's still annoying having to pair them all over again every time I want to switch devices. If you find it too bothersome, you can always use an auxiliary cable and forego Bluetooth altogether, which also saves on battery life.
Sony WH1000XM2 Wireless Headphones
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the 1000XM2s are the first product I recommend to any of my friends when they ask about headphones. $300 is a lot to shell out for any pair of headphones, but particularly if you often travel or work out of busy environments like coffee shops and find it hard to focus, the 1000XM2s are well worth the money.
If you need to run multiple Bluetooth connections at once, the Bose QC35s may still be the better option for you, and depending on your sonic preferences you may prefer their sound signature as well. But having used both extensively, I vastly prefer Sony's headphones and can't recommend them enough, so long as you have deep enough pockets and a busy enough travel schedule to justify buying them.
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