The quality of Bluetooth of transmission has only gotten better over the years and so has Active Noise Cancellation. It's a great time for travellers and commuters to choose a great headphone as you can now get a wireless noise cancelling headphone that doesn't need you to compromise on the quality of the music. Today we decided to take a look at a couple new options from Sony and Bowers & Wilkins, one being a tech giant and the other a legendary speaker manufacturer. Both go at the Bluetooth Noise Cancellation headphones with different approaches and we want to find out which one we love and what you should consider getting for yourself. Let's find out!
"Both these products come from brands that are highly respected and have made some legendary products over the years. With the disappearance of the headphone jack and everyone embracing Active Noise Cancellation, we have some excellent products from these brands that do both exceptionally well and we hope that you can find something you really like for yourself."
The Sony WH-1000X M2 are almost identical to its predecessor the MDR-1000X, you may find some subtle changes from the previous model, but nothing that really catches the eye. Which in my personally opinion, is great. The MDR-1000X was a great product that was built really well, had great aesthetic appeal and was comfortable enough for extended use, which combined with the excellent Active Noise Cancellation, made it an ideal companion for travelers.
The only changes made is the materials used for the frame of the headphone. The frame of the Black version (the one we have) looks like Gun Metal than the Black frame as on the previous one. Also the Beige version is now Champagne Gold, so it looks and feels a bit more premium. Another very subtle change is that the microphones on either side of the headphones are now recessed, whereas previously they were on the surface of the cups.
The controls largely stay the same, with physical buttons for Power and Noise Cancellation/ Ambient Sound control at the bottom of the left cup. The NC and Ambient Sound controls are now just one button as opposed to two separate buttons on the MDR-1000X. The right cup features the Gesture Controls on the face, which works great. Additionally, the left cup also has a 3.5mm TRS jack, so you can use the headphones using an Auxiliary Cable (Provided in box) in case they run out of battery. There is a Micro USB port for charging on the right cup, which I am somewhat disappointed by as most new phones feature a USB Type C port, which is the new standard.
All in all, the WH-1000X M2 is built rather well and doesn’t only look premium, but feels that way too.
EVEN THOUGH THE PX FEELS MORE PREMIUM AND LOOKS BETTER, THE SONY JUST EDGES OUT WITH THE COMFORT.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX is the company’s first Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone and it is up against some tough competition. With other exciting options coming from the likes of Sony and Bose, the PX definitely needs to do more than just sound good to stand a chance against its competition.
The PX replaces the P7 Wireless as the new flagship wireless headphone, with an updated design and new features. Even though, the overall design silhouette of these headphones is very similar to the other Bowers & Wilkins headphones, there are certain changes which also make these very different, making them quite unique in their own way.
The P7 Wireless, was exactly like the P7, just Wireless. So it had the same excellent Design and Build of the P7, with the premium stainless steel frame and Genuine Leather covering every surface of the headphone. So if B&W decided to continue the same design into the newer product, they would be completely justified to do so, as it was a classy, timeless design and thus a rather tough act to follow.
The earcups on the PX are more rounded around the corners, to hug your ears better, for improved comfort and isolation from the P7. The earpads and the padding on the headband is still made with the same leather and still feels super premium and super comfortable. However, instead of using the same leather on the exterior surfaces, they now use Ballistic Nylon, which makes it feel more like a premium race car than a rich man’s couch. The headband is also recessed inward, which makes it feel more ergonomic while holding or wearing it.
I would have liked the headphones to be able to fold inwards for easier carriage, but they do fold flat, which at least makes it somewhat low profile. All the controls can be found on the right earcup, along with the Type C port (which makes me really happy that someone is getting up with the new standards) and the 3.5mm headphone jack to use it as wired if and when it runs out of battery.
The PX comes in a solid, premium feeling box, with the inner walls of the box having a soft touch coating, which I assume does a good job protecting the contents of the box from damage during transport. The headphones themselves are front and centre, lying flat in a display setting. Underneath it you can find the carry pouch, which feels rather fancy because of the quilted pattern and the Bowers & Wilkins logo on a Stainless Steel tab, which makes it feel more like the seat of a Bentley rather than a headphone carry pouch. In the pouch, you can find the USB-C Charging cable and a 3.5mm Auxiliary Cable, so you can continue rocking to your tunes when the headphones run out of juice.
When comparing headphones, normally we make sure that we are using them in ideal listening conditions and without any signal processing, so that you hear the headphones for itself at their natural best and not artificially enhanced. However, a headphone like the WH-1000XM2 is meant to be used with all it’s digital enhancements active as it’s not your run of the mill headphone, it’s a wireless noise cancelling headphone, with adaptive noise cancelling, so it’s rarely even used in the ideal listening conditions. The Adaptive Noise Cancelling also adjust the levels of noise cancellation according to your environment, so I had to first make sure that the quality of music playback was consistent across the various degrees of noise cancellation, before making any judgement.
To Sony’s credit, the WH-1000XM2 does its job exceptionally well. At no point did I feel the Adaptive NC was hindering the sound quality, the only interference it had was the 4-5 seconds it takes when it recognizes a new environment and adapts the NC appropriately. I personally didn’t notice any difference that the Atmospheric Pressure Optimization feature was making, though I am not sure if it is only noticeable on mountains and on an airplane or even atop a highrise, where I was.
Apart from the Noise Cancellation technology, there is some more internal processing going on, which is mostly to compensate the loss in quality of audio suffered because of active noise cancellation.
So after all that digital processing and active noise cancellation, hows does it actually sound? In short, they’re a slightly refined version of the MDR-1000X, which in itself was a great product. By slightly refined, I don’t mean that it’s only slightly improved, you see sometimes a product only needs a little refinement or a little fine tuning for a considerable improvement in the listening experience. That is exactly what I mean to say about the WH-1000XM2.
The Bass end of the spectrum was already pretty good with the MDR-1000X, which is what made such a great competitor to products that were already established in the Wireless, Noise Cancelling space, by brands like Bose and Beats by Dre. While the others had an overpowering bass with not much detail and more slam than texture, Sony came in with a headphone that had a headphone with well defined bass that didn’t only have good detail and texture, but also the slam and impact that people seem to enjoy. With the newer model, they retain the detail and clarity, but there’s a bit more oomph to the bass, making it sound slightly meatier than before. It even feels like it extends deeper, but it could just be the added slam causing me to perceive so. The transition into the midrange is smooth and sounds natural, at no point does it feel like it’s overpowering the lower mids, as a lot of other popular headphones do. The midrange sounds composed and pleasing to the ear. My only issue with the midrange performance is that the upper midrange sounds maybe a little too smoothed over, to the point where female vocals sound a little blunt and lack the impact and energy that you would normally expect. This absence of sharpness is not present in the treble range however, it maintains a nice balance of sparkly and airy without being too sharp. I do appreciate the treble performance, though the fact that they couldn’t tune the upper mids to sound the same does seem odd.
Other than a minor odd characteristic, the WH-1000XM2 is a really pleasing headphone and performs rather well sonically, especially considering all else that it does. It doesn’t compromise on Noise Cancellation either, in fact, in my opinion it’s now even better than the Bose ANC technology, which in itself is a big achievement as Bose has been dominating with their ANC technology for a number of years now.
THE SONY GOES FOR A MORE BALANCED SOUND, BUT THE PX RETAINS THE HIGHLY ENJOYABLE B&W HOUSE SOUND.
I must say that when I first read about B&W introducing a new Wireless Noise Cancelling headphone, their first actually, I was curious to know whether it will continue to follow the B&W house sound, or will it be in accordance to the mainstream market. I didn’t even have any major expectations with the performance of the noise cancellation tech, as the competing products have had years of innovation behind them and it wouldn’t be fair to expect B&W to be competing with those products on that front.
On the first listen, I was glad to learn that the PX continues with the B&W house sound, it has that same super smooth and syrupy sound signature that the Bowers headphones and speakers have. The Bass frequencies are well rounded and well textured, imagine it to be like a gentle head massage, relieving all your stress, as opposed to someone swinging bricks at your head. The smooth characteristic is not to be confused with a lack of energy or impact, all it means is that it isn’t overpowering and doesn’t leak over or affect the rest of the frequency range. The bass to mid transition is fluid and the same smooth characteristic can be heard in the midrange with some exceptional tonal balance and spatial presentation. The upper mids and treble performance is what I love Bowers & Wilkins for, it’s like honey! Smooth and sweet. It could do with a bit more aggression in the top end, but those who enjoy the Warm and Smooth signature, will enjoy it as it is. With the lack of aggression, you do not miss out on detail or depth, it still sounds very deep and airy. The drivers are based on that of the flagship headphone, the P9, and are also angled outwards towards the rear, the arrangement of the drivers as such allows for an exceptional spatial presentation, allowing for the open sound despite it being a closed back headphone. The imaging is also enhanced with the improved depth, thus it was a very smart decision by Bowers & Wilkins to set the drivers the way they did.
The Noise Cancellation on these headphones was surprisingly decent, it doesn’t perform as well as the Sony and Bose products, but it isn’t far behind either. It has separate modes for different noise environments, which allows you to adjust the degree of cancellation. You can toggle the various modes via the app, you can also adjust the degree to which it allows voice pass through, which is pretty neat. The above sound impressions are taken with the Noise Cancellation feature activated, so as to give you a fair assessment of these headphones as you are most likely to use them with noise cancellation activated.
The WH-1000XM2 has arguably the best Bluetooth performance I have ever heard in a pair of headphones. Even though I could not take advantage of the LDAC feature as none of my playback devices support LDAC yet, but even with AptX HD it performed phenomenally. So I can’t wait to hear these with an LDAC device as it supports more than twice the quality of signal of AptX HD, it can supposedly playback 24bit/96kHz files flawlessly. Along with the digital enhancements, it doesn’t only sound like a decent set of headphones, but a good one paired with a nice DAC and Amp. Pairing via NFC is always a breeze and didn’t have any issues with signal interruption other than when I walked into another room and closed the door.
The battery life on normal use lasts as claimed. With Adaptive Noise Cancellation On, with Bluetooth, you get the claimed usage of about an excellent 30Hrs of usage approximately. Even though I was disappointed with the lack of USB-C, it does support quick charging via Micro USB, so with 10 Minutes of charge you can get about 70 Minutes of playback.
SONY DOES EDGE OUT WITH THE BETTER BATTERY LIFE AND LDAC.
The PX supports 24Bit/48kHz playback over AptX HD, which is more than necessary for Wireless listening, but it does make for a better music listening experience, as a matter of fact, it makes you forget you are listening to a wireless pair of headphones. They also claim that the headphones upsample the digital signal, which may be the reason they sound more lifelike and resolve so well.
The battery lasts as long as advertised, an approximate 22 Hours of use with Bluetooth and Noise Cancellation activated. Normally I would be delighted with a device that lasts that long, however with other new products lasting as long as 30-35 Hours, I can’t say I wasn’t expecting more. Though I do appreciate the use of USB-C which makes room for faster charging and even faster firmware updates, also making these future proof as you won’t have to be digging for that one Micro USB cable just to be able to charge these headphones.
If you are looking for a travel partner that has great comfort and exceptional Noise Cancellation, I would easily suggest you go for the Sony WH-1000XM2. But if you want something that's an incredible experience to listen to with some decent Noise Cancellation as an add on, you can go for the Bowers & Wilkins PX with your eyes closed (figure of speech). Even though they are intersecting products, they are meant for slightly different buyers and I hope the above comparison helps you make a decision.