The wire-free earphones race is hotting up, with some of the bigger-name audio companies getting in on the action. For the Sony WF-1000X, however, it's not just about a great sounding pair of earphones, it's about killing the noise with excellent in-ear noise-cancelling too.
It's an ambitious play from Sony, especially at a sub-£200 price point, but the proof of the pudding is - as always - in the eating. Or, in this case, the hearing. So just how good are Sony's wire-free earphones?
Sony WF-1000X review: Design
- Wire-free design
- Weigh 70 grams
- S/M/L silicone and foam tips included
As wire-free earphones go, the Sony pair are among the most professional looking we've seen. They're shaped like mini blimps, with a mock metal paint on the majority of the casing and a dark, translucent narrow front portion.
It certainly makes for a unique aesthetic, especially with the blue light flashing at the top. But the translucent portion is there for more than just looks - it's where the Bluetooth antennas are housed. By using a more radio transparent material, it ensures that the two earbuds stay in connection with the phone/audio source and each other.
One thing we really like about the Sony design is that the earphones are still small and comfortable to wear. They don't have the same snug and slightly uncomfortable fit as the Jabra Elite Sport. Instead they're light and compact, so they don't need much to hold them in your ears. There's a very small rubber "fin" to provide a little extra support. In our testing they never fell out, or felt loose, although that didn't stop us feeling a little nervous about the lack of snug-ness.
The included charging case is one area where we see Sony's love for over-engineering come into play. It's a long plastic, pill-shaped box that's made mostly from plastic and covered in a thin metal outer casing. The lid is held on by a two-point hinge which you pull up, then away to access the earphone cradles.
Each earphone fits into its own cradle, labelled with a white "L" and red "R", colour matched to the same labels on the actual earphones. There are two contact points for charging, and two clips for holding them in place in the case. Rather than use magnets that snap them in magically, you have to press them in until they click into place.
It's undoubtedly a cool hinge system, and the clips holding the earphones in place certainly feel more secure than the Jabra Elite Sport (which have nothing except the force of the lid keeping them in secured).
However, we wish that Sony had spent a little more time perfecting the application of metal onto the plastic innards. In our unit - and in others we saw - the metal casing became detached from the lid, and wouldn't stick back on again, thus leaving us with a plastic, unprotected portion of the case. And that happened after just a day.
Sony WF-1000X review: Sound
- 6mm dome drivers
- 20Hz-20kHz range
There's a lot to like about the way the WF-1000X sound. There's plenty of bass - and good quality bass at that. It doesn't get overly muddy or undefined, yet manages to create a full and enjoyable profile. That's not always common for in-ears.
Likewise, the details are retained well in the mid and high frequencies too. Whether you're listening to sparse acoustic music, bass and synth-heavy dance music, or vocal-driven pop, the Sony sound works well.
When listening we could still hear subtle background details, like the plectrum brushing across strings. Being super critical, however, we got the sense that the overall sound could be a little clearer and ring more purely. Especially considering these cost £200
That said, the WF-1000X is easily one of the best-sounding wire-free earphone options we've tested so far, if not the best.
Sony WF-1000X review: Noise cancellation & ambient noise
- Digital noise-cancelling
- Voice and Normal ambient noise modes
Last year, Sony's noise-cancelling technology impressed us in the over-ear MDR-1000X headphones. Now, the company wants to build on that success with the inclusion of adaptive noise-cancelling in the WF-1000X in-ears.
As noise-cancelling goes, it's among the best we've experienced in the in-ear category. It successfully cuts out airplane noise, bustling high streets and general chit-chat. In fact, with them in your ear canals, the WF-1000X close you off in a world where you can purely focus on the music.
Unless you turn your volume down really low, you won't hear a single thing except maybe a faint murmuring in the background. It's really impressive.
Like the Bragi Dash Pro, the Sony also has an ambient noise pass through system that can be tailored to suit your environment. Using Sony's app it's possible to adapt it to prioritise people speaking, or set it to normal mode to let general noise through (traffic/sirens, etc). Problem is, when listening to music at a reasonable volume the ambient pass through really doesn't work that well - not as well as the Bragi.
With the vocal setting chosen on the WF-1000X, we could barely hear people speaking to us in the same room, unless they raised their voices. We tested the normal mode using a Boeing cabin sound playing loudly in the background. And we could definitely hear it droning in the background with the ambient setting switched on.
In real-life everyday situations, however, the ambient noise just didn't seem to come through clearly, or it - while clearly not being killed by noise-cancelling - wasn't clear enough to make the ambient control system worthwhile.
Sony WF-1000X review: Performance and battery life
- Bluetooth 4.1 with 10m range
- 3 hours playback between charges
- 9 hours total playback (from charging case)
One issue we've had with Bluetooth earphones in general is their reliability to stay, consistently. But for Sony, it's not been an issue at all.
Thanks to the aforementioned Bluetooth radio placement and design, the earbuds stayed connected to each other the entire time we tested them. Not once did we experience a drop-out, not even for a split second, not even when our phone was in our pocket.
Battery life lived up to the promised three hours of continuous playback as well. In comparison to the Jabra Elite Sport's 4.5 hours, that's not hugely impressive, but it's perhaps a slight compromise in order to make an earphone that's small and comfortable to wear. It's plenty to get you through even the longest daily commutes, or even through an entire movie, before needing to dock them in the case to recharge.
All-in, including the battery top-ups offered by the battery-equipped carrying case, you get around nine hours of use before you need to plug them in using the Micro-USB cable. It's some way short of the Jabra in this regard, but better the Bragi's Dash Pro in real-life use.
Sony has been making a big push in the headphone market over the past few years, and the WF-1000X show the company is serious about challenging in the in-ear market too.
The combination of top audio quality, an attractive design, noise-cancelling and a comfortable fit make the WF-1000X the wire-free in-ears to beat. Especially as we were expecting far more compromise at this £200 price point. That sees Sony comfortably undercut and outperform its nearest rivals from Bragi and Jabra in the areas that matter for music lovers.
Simply put: the WF-1000X are comfortably the best all-round performing earphones in the wire-free category. Bravo Sony, bravo.
Alternatives to consider
Jabra Elite Sport
As wire-free sports earphones go, Jabra has this one nailed. They're super snug, the battery lasts for ages and the fitness tracking is both accurate and useful. Even to the point of telling you how long to rest until your next exertion. They sound good too.
Read the full article: Jabra Elite Sport (2017) review
Bragi Dash Pro
While they're great for music listening, and attractive to look at, it's Bragi's drive to enhance earphones with modern technology that's most impressive. The Dash Pro can automatically track exercise, have brilliant passive noise cancelling, clear ambient noise pass-through and can even translate for you in real time using iTranslate. They're more expensive than Sony's, and weren't quite as reliable in our testing.
Read the full article: Bragi Dash Pro review