14 Dec 2017 15:54 IST

Go fly with these noise cancelling headphones

Perfect for those long haul flights, Sony’s WH-1000XM2 headphones are packed with good features

I can’t hear my footsteps under me. I totally missed the doorbell. Notifications fell silent on my devices. I wasn’t sure if the heater was on. I filled water in a jug but had I not looked, I wouldn’t have known it was spilling over. A crazy wedding in the neighbourhood evaporated into thin air...

Sony even says you’ll barely hear jet engine noise from inside the aircraft on a flight. Which is why they set up a simulation, complete with business class seats, when they demonstrated the WH-1000XM2 headphones to the media recently.

Noise cancelling headphones are supposed to block out consistent noise, such as a running air conditioner, but these fantastic over-the-ear headphones work so well at cutting out sounds that they’re downright dangerous. That’s why you have a quick method of tuning into ambient sounds with a simple and effective gesture — just cup your palm over the right ear-cup and the music will recede into the background allowing sounds around you to be in extra-sharp focus so you can catch a flight announcement or listen to what someone is saying to you instead of just seeing the person’s mouth move with no sounds ensuing. Always an amusing sight, that.

Simple and understated

Sony has gone in for an understated and clean look with no all-too-obvious flash anywhere. The headphones come in pale gold and a gun-metal looking grey-black. They seem sturdy with a strong headband that’s hard plastic on top and with cushioning on the bottom. The adjustment slider has a nice clicking sound to it but smaller heads may have quite a problem with it even after it’s all the way up. I find they move around on my head and outright feel like they’ll fall off if I look down too much. They fit nicely into a provided hard carry case.

The outer part of the ear-cups have a matte finish feel to them while the inside is cushioned enough but not exactly plush. Some people do report feeling their ears warm up a bit after a long period of listening, and I can believe that in this hot country. Overall though, they’re fairly comfortable but not the ultimate in comfort. The weight is just enough not to be forgotten.

Smart controls

You wouldn’t think to look at it, but the surface of the right ear-cup is touch sensitive. You can swipe up and down for volume and left and right to change tracks. Tap twice to stop and start. A long press will connect you with Siri or the Google Assistant, though with a second’s latency.

Using the headphones requires the Sony Headphones Connect app where there are many more controls than on the headset itself, which just has a button to power it ON or OFF and toggle through noise cancellation and adaptive sound modes. The app also gives you more granular control including with an equaliser, which has a number of presets and lets you choose your type of noise cancelling.

The headphones try to use a feature called Adaptive Control with which they sense what you’re doing and adjust the noise cancellation accordingly. For instance, if you’re running. It also optimises the sound for your altitude and pressure, such as when you’re on a flight. You can do an optimisation via the app any time you like and actually hear the difference immediately.

Another interesting feature accessible through the Headphones Connect app is Sound Position Control. Tap the dots around the head diagram to move the sound to appear to come from the point you choose — in front, to the side, etc. Again, this is not a gimmick and can be noticed immediately.

Lively sound

The sound on the WH-1000XM2 is fairly punchy and lively and doesn’t favour any particular frequency. It’s guaranteed to make you want to move, which is something to watch out for if you’re strapped into your seat on a flight. I found the best setting was to leave the equaliser off, but of course, increasing treble or changing to a speech enhancing mode is important at times. You can also control the surround sound scene, using outdoor stage, concert hall or just turning it off — which again is what sounded best to me. Without getting into audiophile territory and testing, I would say they sound more than good enough for the average listener.

I don’t have the Bose QC35 II headphones for comparison now, but from what I remember, I would say the WH-1000XM2 is doing just as good at about the same price and has more features and nice touch controls. But the QC35 has the typical clear, neutral and detailed Bose sound signature people like a lot and is more comfortable to wear. It’s also quieter in more silent parts as there’s a discernible hiss on the WH-1000XM2 when music is quieter or when we’re not listening to music. There’s also some sound leakage to the outside on them.

The battery life on the WH-1000XM2 is over 27 hours depending on how you listen. Overall an enjoyable pair of headphones unlikely to disappoint those who are not overly fussy.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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