Sony’s latest wireless headphones have come a long way, and with noise-cancellation technology on board, they’re a fantastic set of headphones.
I’ve had a pair of Sony over-ear headphones since 2013 (just after my youngest son was born, in fact), and they came as a free gift alongside the launch of the original Sony Xperia Z. The phone was alright, but didn’t last too long. The headphones, however, have proven their worth time and time again, and I still use them.
Well, I did, until the arrival of these Sony H.ear On Wireless NC headphones.
What are they?
In brief, these are expensive headphones that are well worth the asking price. At $499.95 (RRP), they’re far from the $30 pair of headphones you might buy on a whim from JB HiFi, but they do a little more than those, too.
For starters, Sony headphones are built with quality as their centerpiece; Sony all but invented the concept of personal audio, and so it stands to reason they’d be rather good at implementing it. The audio quality these headphones deliver is nothing short of amazing, even if it isn’t perhaps as loud as you might like.
Wireless headphones aren’t new (I’ve had some for over three years, and they were around before that), but with noise cancellation they’re relatively uncommon. Phil is reviewing a Bose QC35 unit at the moment, and besides those and this pair from Sony, there aren’t too many on the market. We did try a pair of Parrot Zik3 headphones, but I didn’t really enjoy them.
Being 2016, there’s some fairly impressive technology on board, including regular Bluetooth 4.0 EDR, and Sony’s proprietary LDAC protocol for wireless high resolution audio with compatible handsets (Sony’s Hi Res Audio Walkman and some Xperia Z handsets are supported). Connectivity is easy, with NFC Tap-To-Pair, Bluetooth discovery, or you can use the supplied 3.5mm cable to connect to other hardware.
The audio quality, that’s what’s good, and it is very good regardless of whether you use a cabled connection or Bluetooth. Some headphones confuse quality with “lots of bass”, and these headphones don’t do that; they accurately reproduce the audio you’re listening to, and they do it without going over the top. The full range of audio is on display here, from meaty bass to trembling trebles, and everything in between.
In fact, probably the only thing that’s a little frustrating is that perhaps these headphones don’t have the high volume you might desire, but I do like my music fairly loud in some circumstances. This is something that’s really more a personal preference, rather than a deficiency. These headphones are plenty loud enough for normal folks.
Noise cancellation works really rather well, too. I’ve used these in a car and on a train, and in both cases, the mindless monotony of background noise was all but removed from the equation. In fact, even in the gym they performed well, drowning out the sound of the treadmills and other repetitive noises and leaving just a pleasant listening experience.
The noise cancellation feature (when used wirelessly) is rated up to 20 hours use, which is enough for the longest of long-haul flights. The only way to get longer noise cancellation on headphones we’ve seen is with the (now) more affordable Bose QC25 headphones, which can easily last two or more such flights on a single AA battery. Considering these headphones charge in about an hour, and then you have another 20 hours of use, it’s not much of an issue.
Controls on the headphones are easy to use, once you get used to them. Power and noise cancelling are controlled on the left ear cup, and the right houses the audio controls. Microphones are on each cup for clear voice calls too, if you’re not afraid of making calls on your over-ear headphones.
There’s really not too much of a downside to the Sony H.ear On headphones; battery life is good, audio quality is fantastic, and the on-head comfort is top notch (compared to some notoriously less comfortable headphones out there). Despite the 40mm drivers, and the correspondingly large ear cups, the H.ear On’s are very comfortable, and not even all that heavy once they’re on.
When carried, they don’t fold flat like Bose or Parrot headphones, which might be a consideration if you’re the type (like me) who packs fairly tight when travelling. Bose’ QC25 case is probably half the thickness of the Sony case, for a comparison.
The other downside is the cost. For basically $500, you’re paying twice what you might find a pair of wired noise cancelling headphones for. Wireless is cool, and in some situations (e.g. running at the gym) it’s good not to have a wire floating around which might send your phone flying.
However, if you’re on a plane, train, bus etc, chances are you’re not moving around often, or a lot, and a cable isn’t going to inconvenience you. As someone who’s done quite a lot of international travel, I’ve never found the cable for my QC25s to be an issue, and the noise cancellation is roughly the same as what’s on offer with Sony. That extra cost, then, mightn’t be worth it.
If you like the Sony look, though, and you probably do, you can get the non-noise cancelling earphones for about $200 less, retaining the wireless features. It all comes down to personal preference with something like headphones, and while I do love the Sony headphones, I would be cautious about spending $500 on them without trying a few others.
Should you buy them?
There isn’t a huge market for wireless noise cancelling headphones, and nor are there many competitors. Sony’s H.ear On Wireless NC headphones go up against Bose’ QC35 and Parrot’s Zik 3.0, and the pricing isn’t significantly different between the three (though Parrot’s are $100 more, with more features).
If you use Sony mobiles, or you really dig high-res audio and have a Sony HiRes Audio Walkman, then this would be a fairly logical choice for you.
If you don’t, Sony’s cans remain a solid choice, especially if you’re after a fashionable pair of headphones that look great, feel comfortable, and perform extremely well. You mightn’t have the flexibility of Parrot’s equaliser and noise cancelling configuration options, but it does work remarkably well across a range of environments without needing to tweak anything.
Sony might face some stiff competition from Bose with the QC35s, and for good reason — Bose are well established in the travelling noise cancellation market, and those familiar with QC25s might simply upgrade to Bose’ wireless offering rather than switching to Sony’s.
That said, Sony’s headphones look and feel better on, so if that’s important to you, they’re a sound choice.