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The Best-Sounding Truly Wireless Earbuds?Posted
I am an audiophile, but more specifically, a headphone fanatic. I own far too many pairs of headphones to count—each with its own purpose. I own headphones as cheap as those that come with your flagship smartphone— all the way to high-end headphones that cost $1k. Whether it's bluetooth or wired, I'm out to find the best and only recommend the best to consumers like you. UNBOXING: The packaging for the WF-1000X is small, which is to be expected, as they're earbuds. Inside the box is the pair of earbuds with their charging case, 3 extra pairs of foam tips, 3 extra pairs of hybrid silicone tips, an extra pair of fitting supporters (silicone wings), as well as manuals and warranty info. Sony is definitely doing things right by including so many options. I immediately swapped out the default silicone tips for the small-size foam tips and found those to fit excellently. While many products are semi-charged out of the box, these were not—at least for me. I docked the earbuds into the charging case and plugged it into a USB wall charger using the included microUSB cable. After waiting the suggested 1hr 30 minutes to go from 0% to 100%, I paired the earbuds with both my iPhone 7 Plus and my brand new Google Pixel 2 XL and downloaded the Sony Headphones Connect app on both devices. SOUND: I listen to a lot of different music—ranging from EDM, Pop, Jazz, Progressive Rock/Metal and much more. The good news is that The WF-1000X handles them all really well. Color me impressed. The default sound signature is very pleasant with great bass extension (especially for EDM), sparkly highs for cymbals, crystal clear mid-range for dynamic guitars, and recessed sibilance to prevent fatigue from consonants in vocals. Listening to "Fantasy" by the rock band Eternity Forever, the WF-1000X handles the guitars wonderfully with good instrument separation and clarity. The bass guitar maintains its clarity, and the drums remain tight in the mix with the kick and snare being very impactful while the hi-hats and cymbals shimmer in a way I've not experienced from other Bluetooth earbuds. The vocals remain balanced without fatiguing the ears, letting you enjoy the entirety of the mix. Moving on to "Dreamer" by the prog-influenced jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara, I am once again impressed by the WF-1000X. It is easy to get lost in the dynamic nature of Hiromi's playing in addition to Simon Phillips' drums and Anthony Jackson's bass lines. Despite having small 6mm drivers, these earbuds continue to do justice to these masterful compositions. Unlike other Bluetooth earbuds I've tried, I have no issue listening in on a specific instrument in a mix. Switching to EDM, songs like "Shelter" by Porter Robinson, "Live for the Night" by Krewella and "Clarity" by Zedd maintain their bass presence while also delivering the excited mid-range and treble that the genre is known for without drowning out the vocals. Considering the types of mixes and masters that are typical of this genre, the bass extension may vary from artist to artist, but overall, I was certainly pleased. But if you're expecting rumbling bass, you will have to move up to over-ear headphones to enjoy such an experience. IN-APP EQUILIZER: In my opinion, the equilizer in the Sony Headphones Connect app is not worth recommending. The default sound signature of the WF-1000X is already quite impressive. No matter what I was listening to, I always preferred the sound without an equalizer applied. It's also worth mentioning that you cannot adjust individual paramaters of the equalizer—you can only select one of Sony's presets. If you absolutely must use an equalizer, you might be better off using your device's native EQ or a third party app. NOISE CANCELLATION: If you're familiar with Sony's top-of-the-line wireless over-ear noise-canceling headphones like I am, you'll be pleased to know that their active noise cancellation has made it to the WF-1000X, as well. To engage the noise canceling feature, you can press the button on the left earbud or enable it from the companion app. While the noise cancellation isn't as good as those found on Sony's over-ear headphones, it is certainly best-in-class among truly wireless earbuds. The WF-1000X does an impressive job at filtering out unwanted noise while maintaining clarity in your music. I would have no problem trusting these on a short domestic flight. It's important to also mention that there is no noise canceling optimizer nor atmospheric pressure optimizer like that found on the most recent flagship over-ear model from Sony. Even so, I took the earbuds outside and used them while operating a garden vacuum to pick up leaves in the yard. The vacuum is quite loud, so having the WF-1000X made things much more tolerable, as I could listen to music and focus on my yardwork without feeling like I was damaging my ears from the constant stream of loud noise from the vacuum. AMBIENT SOUND: The utility of the ambient sound feature while listening to music at reasonably volumes is incredibly limited. If this feature was a major factor in your purchase decision, you may be disappointed. To enable ambient sound mode, you can simply press the button on the left earbud until you hear the built-in alert say "ambient sound". Unfortunately, the hardware button only engages the "voice mode" mode, and doesn't allow you to engage the "normal mode" that is accessible from the app. Whether it's set to "voice mode" or "normal mode", the ambient sound mode isn't very effective unless you're listening to music at lower volumes. And unlike the latest over-ear model, you cannot adjust the volume of the ambient sound. To make this feature more effective, Sony would have to prioritize external sounds over your music—which defeats the purpose of calling this feature "ambient" sound. The "normal mode" might be useful to you if you are in a loud industrial/city environment and want to be a bit more alert of your surroundings, but the "voice mode" is lackluster and would require someone to really raise their voice for you to distinguish them from your music. ADAPTIVE SOUND CONTROL: Additionally, you can enable the "adaptive sound control" feature in the Sony Headphones Connect app. This feature will determine if you are sitting, walking, running, or on public transportation. Based on this status, the app will automatically switch the sound profile between noise canceling and the ambient sound modes. When it automatically switches modes, it will disrupt your music entirely to play an ambiguous alert tone in your ear that does not tell you which mode it is switching to. PLAYBACK CONTROLS: The playback controls are accessible from the right earbud or from your device. To pause or play, simply press the button on the right earbud. To skip forward a track, quickly double-press the button, and to navigate back to a previous track, quickly press the button three times. Unfortunately, there is no volume control on the earbuds, so you'll have to adjust the volume from your source device. Additionally, you can hold the button to spawn your phone's default voice assistant. BATTERY LIFE: Unfortunately, the WF-1000X doesn't break any records with its battery performance. Compared to other truly wireless earbuds from well-known brands, the battery performance is subpar. You're only going to get 3 hours of use before they require a charge. Thankfully, a quick 15 minute charge from the charging case can get you 75 minutes of use, but that's still overshadowed by a competitor's 15 minute charge for 3 hours of use. Regardless, I do feel as though I wouldn't want to use the WF-1000X for more than 3 hours at a time, anyway. The charging case can deliver up to 9 hours of charge to the earbuds, so if you use them quite often, then you'll find yourself reaching for a charging cable more frequently. COMFORT: Some may feel differently about this, but I tend to experience fatigue from in-ears much quicker in comparison to over-ears. I'm honestly not sure that I could keep the WF-1000X in my ears for more than 2 hours at a time. Even so, the WF-1000X remains snug in my ears using the smaller foam tips. I haven't had any issue with them slipping out unless I start jumping. CONCLUSION: Overall, I think the WF-1000X is a good first attempt from Sony at making truly wireless earbuds. Their sound signature is excellent, they have a comfortable fit, and the noise cancellation is best-in-class. The ambient sound features, while not particularly useful at normal listening volumes, don't take away from the overall experience of the product. Even so, it's the only product of this class to have such a feature, and some may find it to be useful. I look forward to seeing the improvements made over time with software updates and new hardware revisions. Sony definitely has a winner on its hands, and with each hardware iteration, I hope to see Sony learn from its shortcomings.
I would recommend this to a friend