(Pocket-lint) - The Sony WF-1000XM3 is one of the finest pairs of true wireless in-ears on the market, thanks to market-leading noise-cancelling tech, great sound, and solid battery life. It's also an expensive product, which is where the much more affordable WF-XB700 comes into play.
The XB700 takes a slightly more no-frills approach to design, but attempts to keep key features in tact, offering a practical and durable design, great sound and performance, in a package that's far more appealing to those on a smaller budget.
Practicality over style
- Available in black or blue/teal
- IPX4 sweat- and rain-resistant
- Single physical button (per 'bud)
- Carry case with translucent cover
Being one of the more affordable pairs in the WF series of true wireless earphones, Sony had to make cut-backs in a few places, so to see some of that in the design and materials used isn't surprising. When you look at the rougher texture of the plastic on the exterior of the case and the earbuds, plus the less refined lines and seams, it's kind of obvious. But it's not all that bad.
The shape is a little unusual: the external part which protrudes from the ear when worn is a rough textured teardrop shape, which is raised and offset somewhat from the surface that fits into the ear. What's interesting about this particular surface design is that it's designed to come into contact with the ear in three places, acting as a sort-of anchor, without the need for any extra grippy fins or over-ear hooks.
In all the time we've been wearing these earbuds during testing, the earphones felt secure. They didn't feel off balance, despite that exterior protrusion, and never felt too snug to the point of being uncomfortable. Both earbuds felt properly in place, and are suitably lightweight. That said, after a couple of hours of listening, our ear canal entrance and the part of the ear immediately next to that started to feel a bit sensitive.
Each earbud has a single button on it, which is both a positive and a negative. That means no fiddly touch-sensitive controls, but also means there's no dedicated volume up and down. The single button on the right earbud plays and pauses the music with a single press, or skips back or forward with a triple- or double-click. The left earbud was a bit of a mystery to begin with, but in the end we figured that a continuous long-press turns down the volume, while a short press turns the volume up. It's fine once you're used to it, but it's a little different to the usual up/down controls.
The case is practically designed too. It's still that same rough plastic feel, but the top lid has a semi-transparent look to it, which means you can see the red lights within the case when the earbuds are docked for charging, or the case is plugged into its cable for additional topping up. The docks within hold the earbuds securely in place with magnets, and even with some quite vigorous shaking, these 'buds won't come loose.
Thanks to their secure fit, lightweight design, and the fact that the earphones are splash resistant, we'd have no trouble recommending these for running or other exercises.
Battery life and performance
- 9 hours music playback
- 18 hours total battery life (inc. case)
- 10 min fast-charge for 1 hour music playback
As far as music playback goes, the claimed nine hours per charge on offer is solid. It's not market-leading, but it's still impressive and certainly enough to get you through almost any of your long listening sessions. As a comparison point, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ offer around 11 hours of music playback when fully charged.
Where the Sony pair could improve is in the charging offered by the case. You only get one additional full charge, giving you somewhere near 18 hours of use in total from a fully charged case and earphones. That's some way short of the 25-35 hours you'd get from many others.
However, we managed to listen for longer than claimed. After around five days of listening for two or three hours per day, the earphones still used a digital voice to inform us that the earbuds were fully charged when we placed them in our ears. So that's a minimum of 14-15 hours.
Getting a good overview of battery life remaining is tricky though. The two earphones don't show up in Apple's battery widget on iPhone, for example, nor is there a downloadable app for managing the earphones. Sony does have an app - just not one that's compatible for the WF-XB700.
Extra Bass by name
Wireless performance is strong too. There was never a single instance of one earphone connected and not the other, or glitching while playing music - even when listening to a device that was in the next room.
As for sound, it's Extra Bass by name and extra bass by nature. If there's one thing you can guarantee from a pair of Sony's Extra Bass branded audio products, it's that you get lots of bass.
Listening to a song like Degenerates by A Day to Remember brings the earphones' qualities right to the fore. It begins with some really low, skull-imploding bass, before swiftly moving into some energetic distorted guitar and high impact drumming. Each of those elements is ideally suited to the sound produced by the XB700.
But it's not just about being noisy and bassy. The sound is well controlled and has enough detail so that those quieter moments still deliver subtleties in the accompanying instruments.
There's no escaping the amount of bass, though, which for some will be a major plus point. For others, who want a more neutral sound, it'll be a major minus point. There are times when the bass is a bit overpowering and gets a little 'boomy', but even in those instances it doesn't seem to make a difference to the detail or clarity of the higher frequencies.
Then there's the sheer volume on offer. You can crank these buds up dangerously loud. Even at an uncomfortably high volume the quality of the sound doesn't break up or distort. And at lower volumes, you still get that full low-end and clarity.
If there's any complaint about the audio quality - and it is a minor one - it's that there's a minor muddiness compared to some of the more expensive flagship earphones out there. But there's really not a lot in it.
True wireless earphones are getting cheaper with each year, but more importantly is that the quality of those cheaper models is getting better each year. If you're not looking to spend a couple of hundred on a pair of completely wire free earphones, the Sony WF-XB700 is an astonishingly good pair for the money.
The design is a bit weird, but at the same time very practical. Performance and sound are all top notch, providing you're happy to get lots and lots of bass in your ears.
Sure, we'd like to see more battery replenishment from the charging case, a compatible app for better monitoring and equaliser adjustment, but on the whole, this is easily one of the most accomplished and enjoyable pairs of earphones in its price category.
On the whole the XB700 delivers a massively enjoyable to listen. The sound is fun, dynamic, loud and super easy to recommend.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+
Samsung's Galaxy Buds+ are similar in a few ways to Sony's WF-XB700. They don't sound as good, but do have longer battery life, an ambient noise passthrough feature, and a case that charges wirelessly.