Sony MDR-1000X Headphone Impressions: Oh No, Where’s The Bass?

EDIT 3/4/17: I was so wrong. I’m working on a full review of these right now and they sound great. Please disregard my snarky dismissal of the bass quality on these headphones. I indeed had a lengthy hands-on with these via a store display, and wrote this blog afterwards. It’s entirely possible that the store display was either defective, or wired up poorly since it was running off a wire into an amp I couldn’t see. I’ll link my full review here when it’s done.

I’m going to leave this article up for posterity. I’m sorry if you were misled. I know my impressions run counter to many other reviews. They were my honest opinions based on what I heard.

I still think the value proposition is a little flawed especially now that the little brother to these, the 100ABN, has been as low as 195 bucks.

But there’s plenty of bass. I was very wrong, and I’m very sorry. Original article follows!

ORIGINAL TEXT.

I don’t know who these are for.

I’ve been eyeing this new $400 pair of headphones ever since the early reviews started hitting a couple months ago. The Bose QC35 is the current king of active noise cancelling(I love them), and Sony positioned these as a direct challenger. Only thing is: They’re $50 more expensive. Hmm.

I recently got the chance to have a lengthy hands-on demo with these.

I don’t want to buy them any more. And I’m not sure anyone else should either. Which is sad.

First, some good things. The noise cancelling is indeed exceptional. It’s a little bit better and more effective at blocking sounds than Bose’s implementation. You might not notice this difference unless you’re detail obsessed, but it’s impressive.

It’s the only thing that truly impressed me about these headphones.

Bose’s headphone is easier to use. The MDR-1000X has a button you can push to check the seal of the ear pads and adjust noise cancellation accordingly, and it’s also got another button to cycle through different modes. The Bose QC35 just works without all the buttons and adjusting. And the difference in sound isolation is maybe a percentage point or two. No one would be unhappy with Bose’s performance in this category.

The touch panel is fun, but not objectively better than the elegant control buttons on the QC35. The 1000X has a fun goofy feature where you slap your hand over the touch panel, and it lowers your music and lets in the ambient sound. This is good if you need to talk to someone, or want to eavesdrop on people in a cafe.

I don’t officially condone that you try that second one.

Let’s talk sound, where it all kind of falls apart. This is the worst-sounding headphone I’ve heard in Sony’s premium lineup. The 1A and the 100A both sound better.

Most of the reviews, and even several head-fi commenters, mention that the sound on the 1000X is bass-light. I thought to myself, “How can this be? Noise Cancellers always excel at bass due to the nature of how that tech works. Surely these aren’t actually bass-light, and everyone is wrong?”

Everyone is not wrong: These are bass-light. Anemic, almost. The sound signature is heavily focused on mids and highs. Those sounds are quite clean and nice actually. The bass is kind of just…meh. It’s lame. Unimpactful. Badly suited to all genres save for classical and maybe light jazz.

It’s a baffling decision that essentially ruins these headphones. Especially compared to the competition. Even “neutral” headphones need to produce solid bass response. The sound of the QC35 crushes these.

Comfort is good, but they’re not as comfy as the QC35s.

The 1000X has a creaking issue. Many folks on head-fi have complained that one ear cup will creak when you move your head or touch one side. The right ear cup on the demo unit I tried totally creaked/clicked, without much prompting. (To be fair, my QC35 will also occasionally omit a small creak from a joint, and this doesn’t bug me as much as it might bug you. In both cases I think it’s just a sign of tightly-packed parts and not bad build).

The MDR-1000X will only pair to one device at a time. The QC35 will pair to two. The 1000X supports AptX and Sony’s LDAC for higher-res bluetooth transmission, but the AAC/SBC support in the QC35 is more than up to the task of solid wireless audio quality.

I don’t know why this exists.

They’re slightly better than the QC35 at noise cancelling, but they sound worse. The QC35s are $50 cheaper.

They’re slightly better at ANC than Sony’s own MDR-1o0ABN, but that headphone comes in fun colors, has more aluminum in its build, and has better, punchier sound. The MDR100-ABNs are $50 cheaper.

If you absolutely need the best isolation, and some weird touch features, then I guess you could get these. But Bose and Sony Themselves both offer better-sounding, similarly-equipped headphones for $50 cheaper. Whoops.