Excellent audio performance with rich, full lows and solid clarity in the highs. Secure, comfortable in-ear fit.
Poor battery life. Noise cancellation is good, not great. Earpiece charging contacts in case don't always line up.
- Bottom Line
The Sony WF-1000X earphones delivers some of the best audio performance we've heard from a true wireless pair, but so-so noise cancellation and some design quirks holds it back a bit.
As seemingly every manufacturer jumps on the true wireless bandwagon, Sony's $199.99 WF-1000X earphones are among the more expensive options we've seen so far. Part of the reason for this is the inclusion of noise cancellation circuitry, a feature that only a few cable-free models include. Audio performance is strong, with excellent bass response and clarity in the highs, while noise cancellation is merely decent. Some design quirks hold the earphones back a bit, too, including charging case contacts that don't always connect with the earpieces. Like most of the true wireless models we've tested so far, Sony's WF-1000X earphones have potential, but are far from flawless.
Available in black or gold models, audio is delivered from 6mm drivers in each earpeice. The included charging case is narrow and rounded at the edges—not too bulky for most coat pockets, but perhaps a little large for pants. Sony includes seven total pairs of eartips in various sizes and materials, as well as two pairs of fins that slip onto each earpiece for added stability. With so many options, it's not difficult to get things to fit comfortably and securely.
The earphones get a paltry three hours of use per full charge, while the case can carry three full charges. As weak as these numbers are, there are very few true wireless options that have solid battery life—in fact, these so-so numbers are pretty much par for the course.
It's very easy to place the earpieces in the case and think that they are charging, only to discover that the charging contacts didn't quite connect. You need to check and make sure the LEDs light up each time, which becomes tedious. Sony isn't the only manufacturer to create a case with this specific issue thus far, but it's probably the weakest aspect of the product's design.
The right earpiece has a single tactile button. Press it once to play or pause, twice to skip forward, or three times to skip backward. Holding the button summons your phone's voice controls. The left earpiece button switches between noise cancellation modes, as well as answers and ends incoming calls. It's unfortunate that there's no onboard control for volume—you can only adjust that on your mobile device itself.
Pairing is a very simple, quick process. You are essentially pairing two devices with your phone, so it's not as simple as it may seem, but in this case you simply need to press the buttons on each earpiece and get the LEDs blinking, then select WF-1000X on your device's Bluetooth menu. The case itself is NFC-enabled, if your mobile device is compatible.
The Sony Headphones Connect app has improved greatly over the last year—its latest interface is clean, simple, and automatically detects the earphones when paired. Within the app there are controls for adjusting the noise cancellation and the ambient mics that allow you to monitor your surroundings. You can also adjust EQ (or disable it, though there's no customizable setting, just presets), control playback, and switch sound quality modes (Sony gives you the choice of higher audio quality or a stronger, more stable Bluetooth connection).
The built-in mic offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we were able to understand each word we recorded clearly. However, like some competing true wireless models, only one earpiece is used for phone calls, which can be a little annoying.
The WF-1000X's noise cancellation circuitry is decent, but not excellent. Like many competing models, it adds an audible high frequency hiss to the equation when in use. It's not unpleasant, similar to tape hiss and not loud enough to really distract from music when there's a track playing. Regardless, it's the sign of merely average noise cancellation circuitry—you won't find similar issues with Bose's QuietComfort offerings. Still, it's useful enough in noisy environments. The ambient mics have settings for Voice and Normal modes, which allow you to hear your surroundings without taking the earpieces out.
Sonically, it's possible to get a decent range of sound signatures out of the WF-1000X by adjusting its EQ, but we preferred listening with it off, which still provides a decent sense of bass depth and solid clarity in the highs. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the WF-1000X delivers excellent bass depth combined with strong high frequency presence and clarity. The sub-bass on this track is powerful through the WF-1000X's drivers, yet the balance of the mix doesn't feel ridiculously off.
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Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. The drums on this track often sound overly thunderous and intense on bass-forward earphones, but through the WF-1000X, they sound natural—full and round, but not overly heavy. Callahan's baritone vocals also receive some pleasant low frequency boosting, but it is subtle—just as prominent in the mix are the high frequency percussive hits and the strum of the acoustic guitar. This is a full, vibrant, clear sound—there's really not an aspect of the frequency range that isn't delivered with solid clarity, and the bass sounds full without ever feeling overpowering.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop's attack gets plenty of treble edge, allowing it to slice through the layers of the mix, but the loop's sustain also receives a decent amount of low and low-mid presence. It's not as boosted and hefty as it can sound through seriously bass-boosted earphones, but the loops sound strong and clear. This leaves plenty of room for the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat—they're not delivered with the type of over-the-top gusto many bass-forward models summon, but their depth and power is still obvious. The vocals on this track are delivered with excellent clarity—things never veer into overly sibilant territory despite the vocals having a crisp, bright presence.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound superb through the WF-1000X. The lower register instrumentation is given a wonderful fullness and depth that sounds natural. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals have a clean delivery to them—we get a clear sound that's never too bright or sculpted.
Occasionally, there were playback glitches—one earpiece would drop audio from time to time. I wouldn't call this a deal breaker, but it's an issue that isn't shared by most of the competition.
From a noise cancellation standpoint, Sony's WF-1000X earphones are merely decent, from an audio performance standpoint they're great, and from a design standpoint things are mixed. If the small performance and design quirks were eliminated, it would be easy to put the earphones at the top of our true wireless list. As things stand, the quirks and so-so noise cancellation take it down a notch, but it's still one of the top few pairs we've tested in this growing category.
The Bose SoundSport Free remains our Editors' Choice, thanks to excellent audio performance and relatively few compromises. The B&O Play Beoplay E8, Jaybird Run, and JLab Epic Air are also worth checking out. If audio performance is your top concern, however, the WF-1000X is definitely a pair to consider.
Other Sony Headphones
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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