Sony WF-1000X review: Noise-cancellation makes for a great alternative to AirPods
As diverse and populated as the category of ‘true wireless’ earbuds has quickly become, there’s still yet to be a true contender for the crown when it comes to the audio quality. At this early stage, everyone is still playing with more or less the same fidelity. Thus far, the point-of-difference between the competing brands has usually down to either what fitness tracking, battery life or technical inclusions like on-board storage are integrated within their true wireless offering. Until now, that is.
Sony are finally making their move into the category, and the company’s first set of true wireless earbuds make a compelling argument that this wait was well worth it. The WF-1000X true wireless earbuds might lack hi-res or lossless codecs like AptX but the inclusion of noise-cancellation still manages to make all the difference - leaving the WF-1000X an easy choice for audiophiles looking for an alternative to the AirPods.
Better late than never.
The Sony WF-1000X are a set of wireless in-ear headphones that pull audio from a connected smart device via Bluetooth 4.1. The earbuds boast 6mm neodymium drivers with a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range and digital noise-cancellation with support for Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control tech.
On their own, the Sony WF-1000X earbuds tout a battery life of three hours. However, as per usual, the carry-case for the earbuds doubles as a charger. All told, a full charge on the buds plus the case will net you nine hours of total use.
The WF-1000X earbuds also come with a suite of customization options, including five silicone rubber earbuds tips, two fitting supporters and four triple-comfort earbuds.
While they sound great (more on that later), the Sony WF-1000X just don’t look or feel as slick as some of the competition. On the whole, their aesthetic is more “futuristic-gizmo” than “ergonomic-wearable”. Each bud is a neat silver pod with one translucent end - containing the antenna used to pair the two units. When worn, they feel just a little too heavy and conspicuous - even if these qualities are sometimes partially-masked by the isolation of the noise-cancelling.
The fact that they’re intended to be worn antenna-side forward further confuses the issue as it looks and feels like it should be worn the other way around. Still, for the most part, they are more comfortable to wear than they look - even if the fit just isn’t quite as neat as the Jabra Elite Sport or the Samsung Gear IconX.
Of course, while the WF-1000X earbuds do have one big feature that their competition doesn't - they also lack any sort of durability features like water resistance, dust or sweat-proofing.
The Sony WF-1000X do have a built-in mic, allowing you to both use them for calls and easily pull up either Siri or Google Assistant. Regardless, they’re probably not going to cut it as sports headphones. Sony have designed them - and the carry-case - with commuters in mind more than they have athletes.
Speaking of the charger case: it’s alright. It is a little taller than some of the other charger cases I’ve used in the past - and works pretty much just as well. Sony say that 15 minutes of charging will net you 75 minutes of playback. There’s nothing particularly different or exceptional worth noting here, aside from the fact that Sony have set the buds to go right into pairing mode the first time you open the case.
In terms of performance, it shouldn’t surprise that the WF-1000X sound noticeably sharper than pretty much every major true wireless option out there. Noise-cancellation is absolutely the secret ingredient here and the difference is night and day. Filtering out the ambient noise allows to 6mm drivers in the WF-1000X earbuds to really rev up deliver the best possible results. Even if it’s definitely not on the same level as Sony’s bigger over-ear and on-ear NC products, it’s still a huge leap ahead of the competition in the true wireless space.
In addition, Sony further emphasize and empower you to deliver a better listening experience via the Sony Connect app. You can tinker with the settings and profile settings for the noise cancellation feature. You can also delve into the equalizer, adding an extra dimension of customization often (but not always) omitted from the true wireless equation.
You can even shift the WF-1000X’s into a mode where they prioritize connection stability over sound quality, helping cut down on dropouts. Thankfully, I didn’t need to rely on this mode too much. In terms of reliability, our everyday with the WF-1000X earbuds wasn’t spotless. Dropouts between your phone and earbuds or between the primary and secondary bud aren’t frequent - but they do happen from time to time. However, for the most part, it definitely matched the average for where the category is right now.
About 90% of the time, they worked without a hiccup. At their worst, all it took was a quick reset to repair the two after a dropout.
The Bottom Line
Though there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to the form factor and durability of these buds. The Sony WF-1000X earbuds are a clear winner when it comes to audio quality. If you’ve been waiting for a true wireless option that sounds not just good but great, the WF-1000Xs are clearly worth the premium price.
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