You may have noticed a bold emerging trend in the headphone market as of late – true wireless earbuds. The fascination for those of us who want to seriously be free of wires was sparked a number of years ago with Bragi’s The Dash. That device itself was a buggy letdown, but we have to give Bragi kudos for launching the concept, which numerous mainstream manufacturers have jumped on by now.
Sony is one of the most recent to kickoff its first-gen device, the WF-1000X. Sony isn’t new to wireless headphones. It has one of the best over-ear offerings, the WH-1000XM2 (which we deemed the top choice of its class), out right now. The company is also isn’t new to noise-cancellation technology, and this is what they’ve managed to pass on to these tiny wonders. But do the WF-1000X suffer from first-gen syndrome? This Synopsis will cover what you can expect.
As the title of True Wireless suggests, the WF-1000X earphones are simply just earpieces – no wire whatsoever. They are the in-ear (or in-canal) type, not like the Apple earbud style that sits outside of the canal, so a good seal is important for sound quality and isolation. Their design is rather unique, being an L-shape that goes out from your ear and a little forward (relative to your face). They’re a little bigger than most of the competition, but others don’t have active noise-cancellation (ANC).
- Premium chassis and sturdy construction
- Variety of silicone and foam ear tips
- Earpieces are comfortable and stay in place
- Solid carrying case that can charge the earbuds three times over
- Active noise-cancellation from such a small unit
- Fantastic sound quality all things considered
- Less than three hours battery life
- Carrying case is large
- Wireless signal can drop and struggle to recover
- Must use Sony Headphone app to access full volume level
- Not waterproof
What it’s like to use
- Donning the earpieces are a little weird at first, but it becomes natural after a few times. The nozzles are angled to match the shape of the ear canal. Simply point the L-shape forward and stick ’em in (and give it a couple small twists to make sure a seal is made).
- The earpieces look relatively large, but they’re lightweight and disappear when donned. Comfort is of no concern here.
- Sony’s ear tips are bullet style and go deep in the ear canal, so it’s not hard to get an appropriate seal. Like many manufacturers of true wireless earbuds, the silicone material is made to be stickier than usual. This tremendously helps the earpieces stay in place but also attracts lint like no tomorrow.
- Also like other manufacturers, the earbuds are charged through the case. They click in place in their silos (specifically for left and right) and charge via a couple magnetic pin connectors.
- You have to give them a firm press to get them seated correctly. We learned this the hard way when we ended up with no juice in one earpiece.
- We tried working out with them, and even though they reliably stay in place and it is completely do-able, we wouldn’t quite recommend it. Firstly, they’re not waterproof, so sweat may ruin them. Second, the wireless connection couldn’t solidly handle all the movement. The connection wasn’t breaking up like crazy, but enough to be notable.
- Speaking of connection reliability, it is best described as hit or miss. We’ve had sessions with no problem whatsoever, and others where it was overly sensitive. All true wireless earbuds break up to some extent, but we’ve never seen such inconsistency as on the WF-1000X. It can decide to lose it in just a small movement between the earpieces and the source device. Usually when it happens, the slave (the right earpiece) goes and struggles to regain the connection. It does eventually, but after too many seconds.
- The case also doubles has an external battery, which you’ll need considering that these earbuds are rated for only 3 hours from full to empty. There’s also juice in the case to charge them through 3 full cycles; so you’ll potential get 9 hours of use before having to charge the case.
- We like the rectangle shape of the WF-1000X case, because it slips in the pocket easier than some of the capsule-shaped cases in the market. That said, it’s a bit too thick and visibility sticks out in pants pockets (we wouldn’t recommend them in skinny jeans pockets).
- Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite reach that 3 hour rating. It was more like 2 hours and 15 minutes. And when cranked up the volume for those rock out sessions, the WF-1000 could only muster an hour and a half. This is not a headphone for the road-warrior, unless you don’t mind taking a break while the earbuds recharge.
- Speaking of the volume, from out of the box, we were hitting the volume ceiling. The earbuds don’t have physical volume controls, so it’s all software driven. When we followed Sony’s instruction and installed their accompanying Sony Headphone app, we then discovered that the app controls an independent volume setting for the earbuds. We ended up maxing it from that end so we could have primary control from the phone system’s settings. We don’t like this operation, because you don’t necessarily have to use Sony’s app to use the headphones. But they’ve hidden a crucial control and made their app mandatory. Tsk tsk.
- The transparent portion at the front of the earpieces has a red and blue LED. A blue flash indicates that the earpieces are on and trying to connect (but stop flashing once they’re set). The red shows when they’re charging in the case, and shuts off when they’re fully charged.
- The earbuds shut off when you place them in the case or hold down the power button (on the left earpiece). With a single press, the power button cycles between ambient mode (makes ambient sounds audible) and ANC off or on. The right ear piece also has a button, which controls playback: play/pause (single press), next track (double press), previous track (triple press), and mobile device’s voice assistant (long press).
- These true wireless earbuds use a master/slave relationship, meaning that one handles the primary connection and the other links to the primary. So the case where the slave fails to link may happen, and you get audio out of just the primary. Replacing the earbuds in the case resets and restores the link – annoying because you’re out of luck if you don’t have the case around. But this issue is not unique to just Sony.
- The proficiency of the noise-cancellation isn’t going to blow anyone away that has used the technology on a full-fledged headphone (i.e. Bose QC 35 or Sony WH-1000XM2). We’d say that the strength of the WF-1000X’s ANC is about half of those. To us, this is still great considering how small these things are. It sufficiently blocks out low-end rumbling like that of a dishwasher or airplane jet engine. And if you use the foam tips to achieve substantial passive isolation, you can greatly block out the world.
- Frankly, the WF-1000X are the best true wireless earbuds we’ve heard (compared to the Bragi Dash, Samsung IconX, and Motorola VerveOnes+).
- We were initially sad to learn that the WF-1000X neither have Sony’s high fidelity LDAC wireless audio nor any variant of AptX. But that somehow isn’t of substantial consequence. These little guys can still pull notable detail. No, it’s not the crystal clear and extended fidelity you’ll get from a top-notch wired earphone, but these are closer than they are far.
- Like most wireless headphones, the WF-1000X aren’t exempt from a little low-level hiss. Particularly, you hear a whoosh-like sound with ANC enabled. But the music does drown it out.
- Sony’s fullness is present in the sound, as well as a nice balance across the spectrum. We’re really glad that they didn’t settle with a V-shaped sound signature like many companies default to. Having good mid-range presence makes for an engaging sound. That said, the bass is more punchy than deep.
- While the WF-1000X aren’t going to win any soundstage awards, Sony was able to make the sound open/airy and allow for some dynamic movement and depth in the space. The WF-1000X punch above their weight in this respect.
The WF-1000X are frankly a mixed bag, and if they’re the right pair of true wireless earbuds to get is going to come down to what matters most to you and in what situations you will use them. Sound quality is easily their best attribute. In that respect, the WF-1000X jump right into the fray and push their way to the front. This is furthered being that these are one of the only true wireless earbuds that offer active noise-cancellation. But these are totally a first-gen device, where other early starters are rolling out their second or third iterations.
We don’t recommend the WF-1000X for working out. It can be done but sweat could ruin them. Battery life may also be another deal breaker. Some true wireless earbuds out there can push 5 hours in one go, like the Apple AirPods or newest Samsung IconX. Lastly, like in a lot of first gen earbuds of this kind, the wireless connection reliability needs some work.