Sony WH-1000XM2, the perfect headset to live without cables and without noise

Anyone would say that time always runs in our account. Except for technology. Almost a year ago of  our analysis  of those Sony MDR-1000x and we already have on the operating table who, presumably, will inherit the throne.

These new WH-1000XM2 are an over-ear model – headband, covering the ear completely-oriented to an identical user, one that aims to erase the noise at a stroke and enjoy 30 hours of music autonomy in any environment.

At the time we said that we had an unrivaled Bluetooth model. So how could these overcome their predecessor? That is just what we are going to scrutinize. And it improves in practically all facets, you can be sure.

Characteristics of the Sony WH-1000XM2

Sony WH-1000XM2
Image Source: Google Image
VOLUME CONTROL Touch sensor in right earphone (includes hands-free control)
DIAPHRAGM UNIT 40mm, dome type, (CCAW audio coil)
FREQUENCY RESPONSE 4 Hz – 40000 Hz
ANSWER VIA BLUETOOTH 20 Hz – 20000 Hz (44.1 kHz sampling) / 20 Hz – 40000 Hz (LDAC sampling from 96 kHz to 990 kbps)
SENSITIVITY 103 dB / mW (1 kHz)
IMPEDANCE 46 ohms
EARPHONE TYPE Closed, dynamic, circumaural
CONNECTION BT 4.1, NFC and removable cable 3.5mm jack
TICKETS MicroUSB and stereo connector (cable included)
AUTONOMY 30 hours with active Noise Cancellation (40 hours on standby)
LOADING TIME 4 hours for 100%, via USB
SUPPORTED AUDIO PROFILES SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
WEIGHT 275gr / transport bag included
PRICE $379.99

Background noise

Sony WH-1000XM2
Image Source: Google Image

First of all, a disclaimer : if you live permanently stuck to the computer, if you leave the house nothing more than to throw away the garbage, ignore these headphones. Let me explain: these helmets have been designed to go out and live outside, to show off their scene reproduction under Noise Canceling. These WH-1000XM2 want to transfer the HiFi experience to the street. I do not say it, it is reaffirmed by the manufacturer’s own branding.

I will argue better: the headset control is managed from a mobile app. This app does not exist on a computer, which means that managing the different listening profiles requires a smartphone.

More: the headset has an autonomous volume control, unrelated to the volume settings of the computer. And finally: once you plug in the cable headphones, they lose their intelligent features. They become more HiFi, ready for that “other type of listening”.

Making decisions

I would like to start by telling you about my experience, talk about what the performance graphs do not count.

Because an earphone does not cease to be two IEM with a certain input power, and to know the real sensitivity and the SPL (sound pressure level) we must perform tests in a conditioned camera and know the level of input and output, without traps to alter the gain. Because to know the real impedance we need to measure it by means of an honest multimeter (a Fluke 25, for example) and perform the same test by connecting by cable to different devices and broadcast applications. So we better talk in human terms.

The sound control environment of these helmets is able to freeze time. Really achieves that feeling of “being inside a video clip” so typical of marketing and away from real life.

What these WH-1000XM2 call “intelligent noise cancellation” is, unambiguously, intelligent noise cancellation. After ten years reviewing products never, outside the edge of professional studio monitors, I have found a commercial headset that isolates so effectively.

Matching, which is gerund

Sony WH-1000XM2
Image Source: Google Image

Twenty seconds of the clock took me to start the headphones. Inside the packaging , along with the transport bag, deployable instructions and a stereo plug (one input, two outputs), a QR code is included that takes us to the app from the bazaar in question; we download, install and synchronize the headset via Bluetooth. Even faster if we perform a pairing via NFC (near field communication).

Once lit, at cruising speed, a flashing blue light will inform us of being on and another green if we have noise control activated or deactivated.

To match with our computer, the operation is similar: with active Bluetooth, we look for the acronym “WH-1000XM2” and in 5 seconds we will be operating with them. The headset also includes an input for a microUSB cable, in the right handset, designed both for charging and for pairing with older computers.

Continue Reading: Sony MDR 1000X, The Perfect Wireless Headphones

Construction, rhythm and battery

Sony WH-1000XM2
Image Source: Google Image

The model is already a classic within its family: in two colors, champagne and a dark metallic gray, aerodynamic silhouette with a polished metal headband, with two rivets at the base where the screen print of the model, 40mm diaphragms, plastic earmuffs of rough touch on the outer hood and synthetic leather on the inside, very soft and capable of dissipating heat effectively. In fact it is easy to forget about them: just over 270 grams without cable is what these boxers weigh.

The profile of the buttons has been reduced, to the touch they are more intuitive than previous models. As in the aforementioned MDR-1000x, the headset’s hinges are adjusted by means of soft clicks, it has 10 expansion points, and it can either rotate 30 degrees on its axis or fold to form the structure you can see in the images.

The audio cable – a traditional 3.5mm minijack, 1.4 meters long and built in OFC copper (oxygen free) – is what makes a difference, between listeners at wider frequencies or limited streaming, between a sensitivity and greater or more sparse impedance, which, in practical terms, translates into a wider range of volumes. This is where the devotees of the Hi-Res should look and it is here where they will be frustrated, when encountering such a short cable.

If we talk about the battery I must confess something: I have spent a week with them and I have not charged them even once, using them at 70% of the maximum volume allowed and an average of 3.5 hours a day. It was not until the eighth day when I had to connect them. In practice this translates into an autonomy of 30 operating hours, rising from 20 hours compared to the previous model and supporting up to 40 hours in standby mode.

As in previous models, we can not use it while we keep it loaded. When the headset is close to running out we get both a visual warning ( the LED changes color to red) and a message of “low battery, please recharge headset”

The helmets also have a fast charging system that, in short, with 10 minutes of charging, offers 70 minutes of listening, and which hour and a half of loading prepares them for 24 hours of intensive use. The full load is not expected for more than 4 hours.

Answering the eternal question, from the ‘Headphones Connect’ app we can see the amount of battery remaining. For this reason we will focus on the technological heart of these headphones, through its app [tested version: 2.1.0], available on both  iOS  and  Android.

An app to master them all

As we can alert in the image above, the app has different control segments (9, to be exact). The Control adaptive sound detects background noise and switches based on it. It can suppress noise altogether, focus on the voice, on mild ambient sounds (crowd hustle), or more severe (traffic) sounds. It also analyzes if we are walking, running or still Hey, runners.

While indoors it is not so evident, with the maximum noise blocking level, on the outside there is a minor auditory fatigue. The world becomes electric – which translates into a cut of frequencies below 2k.

But we could still suppress more noise. If we perceive an excessive white noise, from the cancellation optimizer we can recalibrate: we will receive a sweep of frequencies, the app will measure the atmospheric pressure and adjust the intelligent suppression. With two touches we will have defined the usage adjustment. The idea, in conclusion, is to obtain the same performance whether we are in the AVE, in a horse carriage on the way to Soria or on a plane at 30000 feet.

The next section of the app is a spatial positioner control, with which to divert the audio to one of the five channels-right and left, right and left and front side-frames. It is still a feature that, in terms of usability, I can only apply if I am listening behind the noise of a drill.

The VPT (Virtualphones Technology) is perhaps the technology with the worst performance of all. Its function is to  simulate different scenes. But it is difficult to adapt, the result feels quite artificial. ‘Stadium’, ‘discotheque’, ‘outdoor concert’ or ‘auditorium’: the app mimics the emission and reflection of the waves. That is, reimagine what your favorite record would sound like in a large room. The problem is that it does not simulate the band playing, but the digital file playing for a PA in the middle of an empty theater.

What follows is a five-band equalizer (400, 1k, 2.5k, 6.3k and 16k) with independent bass control (ClearBass), very agile performance, with 8 different preconfigurations and with a parameter description focused on the emotions (happy, excited, relaxed). It also allows saving our custom configurations.

We also have a playback control with pause / continue, pass between the previous and next track and a volume control. We miss a timeline of the track itself, to jump to that key moment that we are willing to hear. Maybe the control by Bluetooth would limit this option, and even more by managing different external players.

The next segment is called “Sound Quality Mode”. This refers to the type of codec we want to use. We can choose between two configurations: prioritize sound quality or prioritize a stable connection. If we choose the first, bitrates will be higher, which results in a more solid volume and packaging. A more “thick” sound.

Every time we change the quality, the app desynchronizes. If we are listening to music from the terminal itself, it will automatically synchronize again. On the other hand, from an iMac (2014) and an Aspire 5 (2016) I have been able to verify that it does not always reconnect to the flight. Sometimes he asks me to repeat the step, sometimes not. Maybe it’s a necessary update.

Usually the different aptX codecs will be used and the Session Border Controllers (SBC), a low-complexity sub-band codec that transfers Bluetooth audio to regular quality, will be selected by default. “Regular” in several ways. And here comes into play the last actor of this function: the DSEE HX.

We can keep DSEE HX digital “re-composition” technology enabled or disabled. The ‘Digital Sound Enhancement Engine’ tries to scale the quality of the files. That is, simulate how they would sound without compression, provide an MP3 192 kbps -the quality of Spotify streaming if you are not a premium user- of the “sound quality” of a CD (16 bits / 44,100 Hz). What I want to summarize with so much acronym is that the SBC by itself does not deliver a very noticeable quality, but thanks to the DSEE HX itself.

On the use and performance of Bluetooth, we can add little: it is compatible with the current version – with the different stack of adaptations post 4.1 – and the scope depends on the quality of the source.

From the iMac I cooked 11 meters listening to music and occasionally noticed slight cuts in the buffering; with the cell phone in my pocket tracing the crowded line 6 of Madrid, I have not had the slightest cut during the whole trip; Trying with two phones – moto G fifth generation and a Samsung Galaxy S7- calls, both indoors and on the street, the performance is clean: no higher quality audio is missing.

A little gesture control

Sony WH-1000XM2
Image Source: Google Image

Maybe it is perceived as something uncomfortable but after the first few hours we will end up using it intuitively: dragging a finger up we go up volume, down we decrease it, to the left we jump to the previous cut and to the right, to the next; pause or continue with a touch in the center.

More interesting is the performance of the microphones: covering all the driver with the palm of the hand we activate the upper microphones and listen to the outside sound, ideal to respond to that person who has been gesturing for five minutes and we are ignoring completely. The music will become a very fine background thread and the environment will be amplified.

One of its cardinal functions is to transmit our audio when we answer calls. And here lies one of the black spots of the whole: all the people with whom I have been able to speak, indifferently from the used telephone model, recriminated that they listened to me “a little low”. The enemies of raising their voice more than the bill will have to do it in large and boisterous exteriors.

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