Sony ATH-1000X

High on Sony’s IFA Berlin launch list were these new premium Bluetooth and noise-cancelling headphones, the MDR-1000X. At $699 Australian retail they’re at the premium end of executive-style noise-cancellers, but they certainly look and feel it, and from the audition time we had with them, they sound it too.

Of particular note is what Sony refers to as “the most responsive cancellation of ambient sound frequency range on the market”, by which they mean to say they reckon they have the best noise cancellation available, having measured this against rivals using guidelines established by JEITA (the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association). To demonstrate this prowess to visiting journalists Sony had the 1000X model racked up alongside models from Bose (the QC35s) and beats (dunno, we avoid those) in a room loaded with plane-like ambient noise. Of course one must always be wary of demonstrations by one company against models by others, but the scenario did indeed have the Sonys better delivering a personal silence beyond either rival — the beats nowhere close, the Bose model leaving behind a strange midrange rattle compared with a cleaner silence from the 1000X.

Sony ATH-1000X

There are several extra features beyond the Bluetooth and noise-cancellation, including a temporary passthrough of external sound (‘Quick Attention’) simply by placing a cupped hand over the right headshell, handy when the nice lady arrives to ask if you want beef or chicken. There is also a button to select continuous passthrough of external sound with a choice of either full-range or only speech frequencies — Sony suggests using this, for example, in order to hear boarding announcements in airports while still enjoying music. In Bluetooth mode there are also touch controls on the right headshell, sliding up and down to adjust volume (rather slowly, it seemed), forward and back for next/last track.

Sony has, however, resisted the urge to go to the excesses of Parrot Ziks or Sennheiser’s latest PXC-550s in offering endless unnecessary EQ or app options, and voice alerts are used only when they are useful, rather than every time you so much as sneeze.

We were alarmed by a paragraph in the launch literature which read as follows: “These are also the first headphones with the DSEE HX built in to upscale compressed music from any source to near High-Resolution Audio sound quality, even in wireless mode.” Sony has championed true high-res audio (i.e. above CD quality) for several years, and the claim to be able to lift any old compressed rubbish up to “near High-Resolution” clearly contradicts the whole idea of higher resolution files — if you can do that, why bother with high-res at all? We were delighted to have the opportunity to tackle senior Sony audio engineers on this matter… but that’s for another story.

Sony ATH-1000X Note also that although this product is labelled with Sony’s Hi-Res Audio logo in some Sony literature, the MDR-1000X headphones cannot actually receive or deliver actual high-res audio except when using the cable from a suitable analogue source. Despite the apparent claims for Sony’s LDAC codec, they cannot deliver true 24/96 via Bluetooth (nothing can).

The new MDR-1000X headphones will be available in Australia from October 2016, RRP $699.95.

More information: Sony Australia

Sony's IFA 2016 stand in Berlin. Plenty of noise to cancel here...

Sound+Image travelled to IFA 2016 as a guest of Sony Australia. This affects our coverage not one jot.