The Battle of the Truly Wireless — Sony WF-1000X vs Apple AirPods
Sorry, audio purists, the writing is on the wall…rather, on a flagship phone near you. Headphone jacks are soon becoming a thing of the past, with Apple and now Google having made the once-ubiquitous port go the way of the dodo.
Sure, you can still use adapters, but let’s face it – they’re irritating to carry around everywhere and surprisingly easy to lose…going wireless seems to be the way forward. And once you go wireless, nothing touches the sheer carry-everywhere-and-plug-in-anywhere convenience (not to mention a complete lack of entanglement!) that truly wireless earbuds offer.
Now, while the segment wasn't created by Apple – the Bragi Dash holds that honor – its AirPods are the first to sell in noticeably large quantities and may well be the first truly wireless headphones most folks have heard of.
It’s no surprise many consider AirPods as the benchmark for truly wireless earphones, courtesy the solid implementation which works well with iOS and Siri and a sticker price which while isn’t exactly cheap, isn’t excessively pricey either.
But are they the best truly wireless set around? Sony would disagree, and its new WF-1000X earphones (Rs. 14,990) have mounted a solid challenge to Cupertino. We pit the two to see how they compare.
Design and Fit
Pop the AirPods out of their dental-floss-style case and they pair instantly with your iPhone, pausing the music automatically when you take one of the buds out.
AirPods work reliably, connecting/pausing every single time, though their aesthetics leave a bit to be desired…and I still think they look a bit silly, even after a year of seeing them out at airports and malls.
The WF-1000X look rather normal and discrete in comparison…and the only oddities are the blinking lights to indicate status. When it comes to fit, the AirPods come in two options – either they fit your ears or they don’t!
Sony has a bunch of different earbuds, some silicon and others foam-based, so there’s certainly one that will create the perfect snug fit for you.
The fit is very comfortable and is fine for walking around, but I wouldn't recommend these for anything vigorous like exercise.
Both earbuds connect to Android and iOS devices, but Sony’s companion app lets you fiddle around with EQ settings and noise cancellation levels.
AirPods hold the connection between both ears pretty solidly, and while initial international units of the WF-1000X faced serious issues with left-right connectivity, I only ever had them momentarily disconnect the one time in my two weeks of use.
There is an audio lag issue I noticed only while watching video on the laptop, an issue that wouldn’t go away even after I toggled the connection priority in the Sony Headphones Connect app to prefer a more stable connection (over better sound quality).
AirPods are considered just about passable in terms of sound quality, more so if you prefer music without deep bass, although call quality for calls is pretty decent. The Sony earbuds are a big leap forward in terms of music quality, far beyond what one would expect from their tiny 6mm drivers.
Music is crisp and balanced, and the bass boost mode enabled by the companion app give bass levels that any bass head would appreciate. The noise cancellation, an unusual addition in this category, is pretty insane, given how Sony has managed to pack in the circuitry in such a miniaturised form factor.
Like any good earbuds, the WF-1000X offer a good seal in your ears, but there’s an extra layer of silence on top of that noise isolation courtesy the noise cancellation wizardry. Full marks to Sony for managing so much in so little.
The excellent noise cancellation comes at the cost of battery life, with the Sony lasting about 3 hours on a single charge, which stretches to 9 hours with the charging case.
That’s if you manage to charge them in the case – I’ve often found that the case doesn’t charge the buds, either because I’ve inserted the buds wrongly (or they aren’t seated properly in the case) or that the case itself has run out of juice (since it lacks any external indicator of how much charge is left).
That’s a fair bit short of the nearly 24-hour backup charge that Apple offers. If your usage is typically around a couple of hours of music/calling at a stretch, and are diligent about carrying the charging case along with you, you should be okay with the Sony.
Sony’s metal charging case looks like long medicine box and can fit into a pocket for easy portability, but it’s in no way in the same league as the petite AirPods case…not to mention the W1-chip-enhanced voodoo that the AirPods ship with.
Neither cases have a way to display the charge level from the outside, but the AirPods’ case charge level is handily displayed on the iPhone the moment you connect.
Sony uses the archaic micro USB port to charge the case, rather surprisingly so when the world has moved onto USB Type C, while the AirPods play well with your iPhone Lightning cable.
With the AirPods priced at Rs. 12,900, which is the truly wireless headphone to go for? While Sony scores high on audio quality and packing in noise cancellation in an impossibly small form factor, it is let down on poor battery life and minor connectivity concerns, both areas where AirPods impress.
My takeaway after several weeks of using the Sonys was that as impressive as its first attempt at truly wireless earbuds is, it’s got its share of flaws as well…and it stops just short of greatness.
If you’re looking to ditch wires altogether and AirPods happen to fit your ears well, there’s still no better option.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter: @2shar.)