This is going to be a little tough to do, because I’m not inside your head and I don’t own your exact pair of headphones, so I won’t be able to tell you whether your pair is faulty, or whether it’s just your subjective experience.
But here’s a bit about my time with the 1000X, and Active Noise Cancellation in general.
ANC systems work best against continual sounds. They were originally designed to block out plane engine noise for frequent flyers. So other droning sounds, like air conditioning, car noises, etc, are what they perform best against.
Transient noises, like talking, and other sudden/quick sounds, are much tougher to block out in the circuitry alone.
Basically, a little chip is constantly listening to outside noise via microphones on the headset, and then using that information to cancel out that noise by adding “anti-noise” to your music. The whole thing is then EQed to make it sound not-awful.
Noise cancelling systems are designed to work in concert with your music, and also with the passive seal of the ear pads. You might check to see if the pads aren’t sealing well against your head as that would cause big problems. You should also make sure you run the ANC optimizer mode built-in to the 1000X once you’re wearing them, by holding down the ANC button. You’ll hear a voice say the optimizer is starting, and hear soem tones. That’ll optimize the setting for your head shape and any leaks you might have in your pad seal.
No headphone can totally block out all noise, active or passive. That’s just a limitation of physics. The best isolation comes from IEM’s that are sealed tightly.
So you will definitely hear outside sounds if you don’t have music playing. Due to their design, ANC headphones don’t cancel at their most effective with no sound playing. You should get around a 25dB reduction in sound with the system turned on, which is like cutting noise in half, then in half again. Typical passive headphones are lucky to achieve isolation in the 18dB region.
With music playing, outside sounds should be like a distant presence, but you’ll still get intrusion from sudden transient noises like talking, especially if they’re close to you…because the tech just can’t adapt fast enough.
I’m not a loud listener either. I would go with about 50 percent volume on my iPhone, if I remember right. It’s been a while since I used either the QC35 or the 1000X. Right now, I’m listening with some HyperX Cloud Alphas plugged into my Macbook at 40 percent, and I’m only barely aware of the outside world thanks to their passive isolation just from sealing against my head.
So you’re not going to get total silence from anything…but without hearing your specific pair, I can’t tell you if they’re defective or not.
The ambient modes are supposed to sound like they do, from what you’ve said. They’re designed to pump in outside noise through the mic system, so that you can hear things going on around you better if you need to talk to someone, or just want to hear the outside world better for safety.
There should be a pretty dramatic difference in outside noise between the standard fully-on ANC mode and the mode where you hold your hand over the ear cup to activate ambient listening. If there isn’t, then your pair might have an issue.
Have you ever listened to ANC headphones before? Are there any Bose kiosks in your area? I’ve found that the 1000X performs just a little bit better than Bose’s tech for most rooms. If you try a Bose kiosk, and find that their headphones cancel out more noise for you, then your 1000X is most likely defective.
I hope this at least guides you in the right direction. Again, check to make sure the pads are sealing against your head properly, use the optimizer, and try out a Bose demo if you can. ANC headphones aren’t meant to block out everything to total silence, rather, they’re meant to reduce outside noises greatly so that you can enjoy your music largely free of distraction.
If you’re looking for complete silence, the only real road is either custom IEMs or custom ear plugs.