But the battery life and design could be better
Sony's WF-1000X headphones are great for noise-cancelling
Sony’s WF-1000X headphones represent the next significant step forward for truly wireless headphones, after Apple took the concept mainstream with its AirPods in late 2016.
The Japanese firm’s earbuds, launched in the UAE in November for just over Dh900, have adopted the AirPods’ wireless functionality and now offer noise-cancelling. While their design and battery life leave a little to be desired, their brilliant audio performance makes them well worth considering.
Design-wise, Sony’s new headphones eschew the divisive suspended white tails of the AirPods, instead resembling (for better or for worse) a pair of mini Bluetooth headsets. It’s not the most interesting design, but the earbuds are unobtrusive enough, and fit comfortably in my ears, with a range of tip sizes to fit all ear canals.
Likewise, the WF-1000X’s rectangular charging case is functional but prosaic compared with the AirPod’s exquisite model. Once again, however, it is not a deal breaker.
Setup is not as simple as with the AirPods, but is easy enough over Bluetooth and NFC. Once the initial connection is made, the headphones will automatically reconnect to the most recent audio source after being removed from the case. If left unused for a while, the connection can be a little choppy and delayed, but it soon sorts itself out.
Controls on the WF-1000X are limited to a power button on the left earbud (also used for the initial Bluetooth setup and adjusting the noise-cancelling settings) and a play/pause/calls button. All work OK, although volume controls would be a welcome addition, as is the case with the B&O Beoplay E8. More conspicuous is the lack of an auto pause feature when you take an earbud out, perhaps the AirPods feature I missed the most.
All of the above make the WF-1000X a solid pair of headphones. Their audio performance, however, elevate them close to the top of the pile.
Noise cancelling performance is exceptional, and gets very close to the high standards set by the likes of the Bose QC35 and Sony’s own MDR-1000X. The effect is most pronounced on lower frequencies, making a noticeable difference on my recent flight to the UK. The ambient sound setting of the MDR-1000X also features on the WF-1000X, but as before isn’t particularly useful.
Combined with the noise-cancelling capability, the WF-1000X has exceptional audio performance for a pair of truly wireless headphones, far outclassing the (albeit cheaper) AirPods. The delicate instrumentation and vocals of Sufjan Stevens’ Tonya Harding are brilliantly rendered; the beats of Justin Timberlake’s Filthy are present and correct, with a punchy enough bass that does not overwhelm.
What’s not quite there is battery life; you get about three hours of usage per charge, coming in well below the AirPods' five hours and other (admittedly non-noise cancelling) alternatives. It’s fine for a basic commute or a regular movie, but it was a shame to have to put them away less than halfway into my flight from the UK.
The WF-1000X are not quite the finished article, given their battery life, and their design could be better. Plus, their pricing comes in a little on the high side compared to the AirPods, which are available for about Dh680. But their noise cancelling functionality and exceptional audio still make them an option that’s worth considering if you’re in the market for some discreet headphones that can shut out the world, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time.