One of the stylish lures of the WH-1000XM2 lies in its touch controls, which all reside on the outside of the right ear cup. Vertical swipes on the cup control playback volume while horizontal swipes control music track movement. Taps control play and pause as well as call placing, pick-up and hang-up. These controls felt quite intuitive, giving me little to no time at all before managing my music became second nature.
The WH-1000XM2 also sports an optimizer function to make sure that its sound presentation is perfectly suited to the wearer. Pressing and holding the NC/Ambient button activates the Optimizer, which takes a couple of seconds to record measurements of the wearer and the wearer’s environment. Based off the info the headset collects, the WH-1000XM2 automatically adjusts its performance.
However the meat and potatoes of the WH-1000XM2’s feature set reside in the headset’s Active Noise Cancelation and Ambient Sound modes.
Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) uses the WH-1000XM2’s embedded mics to listen to the environment and actively block out what the WH-1000XM2 is hearing from the wearer. This function turns on automatically when you power on the WH-1000XM2 and helps to keep you focused on your sound source. This feature excels with the WH-1000XM2, whose ear pads alone do a great job at passive noise isolation. When ANC is on, only the louder of environmental sounds, like car horns, make it through the headset.
Continuing with ANC, the WH-1000XM2 sports three levels of noise cancellation. The headset uses what it hears from the environment to toggle itself between three different ANC modes. The three modes are optimized to cancel noise in an office, a train or bus, or an airplane.
Ambient Sound is a feature we’ve reviewed in other headsets before, but it was never this customizable. The default Ambient Sound feature allows you to listen to your music while this time using the WH-1000XM2’s embedded mics to forward environmental sounds to the listener. This perfect for anyone who would use the WH-1000XM2 in a city, where you may want to hear important train announcements or oncoming traffic. Through the Sony Headphones Connect app, you can even set Ambient Sound to just focus on voices, which worked well when I used the WH-1000XM2 in the subway. I was able to hear conductor and automated “next stop” announcements while other train sounds were still audible but at a significant minimum.
If you find yourself needing to quickly hear your surroundings while keeping your headset on but you don’t want to fumble with the app or the NC/Ambient Sound button, you have another option. By quickly putting your entire palm over the outside of the right ear cup, the WH-1000XM2 mutes all audio and temporarily turns on Ambient Sound so you can focus on what you need to hear at that moment. Just release the ear cup and Ambient Sound toggles off and your sound source resumes playing through the headset. This worked especially well in situations where I was using ANC but needed to hear a passer-by for just a second.