Tech Review: Sony WI-1000X Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones: Plane weird

I frequently argue in my headphone reviews that the look, the exterior design of a particular kit is rarely terribly important to me. If a pair of headphones sound great, I’m usually happy to wear them  no matter how hideous they may be. Sony’s WI-1000X Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones have broken my resolve. They do sound great and the noise cancellation is quite solid. But I can’t get past how ugly they are.

I understand the design problem Sony was faced with here. I understand that they wanted the kind of noise cancellation you can get from proper enclosed headphones —  similar to its cousin, the WH-1000XM2 — but married to the portability of earbuds. The problem, of course, then becomes about where to put all the noise cancellation hardware and the battery to power such an endeavour. And so that ridiculous neck brace, the one you can see in the header image, was born. The one that makes me feel like a complete and total tit every time I’ve worn it out in public.

These are headphones designed from the ground up for use by people who spend a lot of time in airports. In an airport, you can get away with wearing headphones that look this ridiculous. This is because airports are pocket dimensions. The normal rules of society, particularly those related to personal presentation, don’t apply. That’s why the WI-1000X headphones look the way they do. They’re purpose built for the world that exists solely within the walls of the airport and the commercial airliner — the one where the abstract becomes perfectly mundane and a pair of headphones like this will be far from the weirdest thing you’ve seen that day.

You look dumb, WI-1000X, and you make me look dumb for wearing you.

The good news is, they sound great.

Sony’s mission, as stated above, was to create the kind of headphones that could replicate the sound and noise cancellation funcationality of closed-ear cans in an earbud design and, for the most part, they’ve gotten away with it. It’s still not enough to block out the dull roar of the plane engine entirely but take them on a bus or a train and you’ll find them more than up to the task.

The sound is well mixed with a nice balance between the upper and lower range, keeping the bass from blowing everything out and the sound mix fairly flat across the board. You get all the deep hums and the high end is crisp without going so far as to set your teeth on edge. They’re not going to blow your socks off in terms of sound quality but they’re no slouch either.

The ear buds are quite comfortable though I did have some trouble getting them to stay in my ears. There’s a few spares and different sized earbud nubs in the box so you can try a few and see if any fit your any better. If you have ears that, like mine, resolutely reject earbuds no matter the size or shape, you likely won’t find your golden goose here.

Battery life is, similar to the WH-1000XM2, surprisingly long. You’ll get several days out of a single charge and this hardy battery doesn’t seem to affect the weight of the neck brace that houses it which is a definite win. Long haul flights aren’t a problem with battery life this good.

So what’s the end result here? As a pair of headphones, the WI-1000X are a bit of an ugly duckling. The external design upsets me greatly, but they sound nice and, provided you don’t catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror or reflective surface, you could potentially forget you were wearing them. I’ll be very interested to see what sort of user base these particular earrphones attract.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Solid sound; Long battery; Lightweight
Lowlights: U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly
Manufacturer: Sony
Price: $449.95 AUD
Available: Now

Reviewed using a loaned retail headset provided by the manufacturer.