Truly wireless earbuds are currently enjoying their moment in the sun. As their name suggests, there are no wires whatsoever, meaning you have just two earbuds you pop in your lug holes. That means freedom from cables, which can only be a good thing, right?
They’re a new breed of headphones, of which Apple’s AirPods are probably the most well known. Now in their second generation, they offer good sound for the money and fantastic usability.
But they’re not the only wireless buds out there. Sony’s WF-1000Xs have been a long-time favourite of ours thanks to their superb acoustics, excellent fit and tempting price.
So which is better? We’ve compared all the key areas below so you can see which pair best suits your needs.
This area is key for any wireless headphones. The added convenience of having no wires is cancelled out if the device doesn’t last long enough before needing recharging.
Both pairs come with a carry case that doubles as a portable charger. But Apple’s adds significantly more than the Sony case.
The Sonys were among the first pairs of true wireless earbuds to launch back in 2017 and their specs are a bit behind the times by today’s standards. They give you just three hours of music playback, plus another nine from the carry case. The Apple AirPods give you five hours of playback, plus a whopping 19 from the carry case.
*Winner: Apple AirPods*
Design and fit
Another crucial section: it’s no good having great-sounding headphones if they’re so uncomfortable you can’t wear them for more than five minutes. Or worse, they don’t stay in your ears, making them easy to lose.
The Sonys clearly have the edge here. They come with six alternative pairs of buds – three pairs in different sizes with both rubber and foam options. So you’re sure to find one that fits you, even if that means a different size in each ear.
The AirPods, by contrast, are a bit like Marmite when it comes to fit. They only come in one size, with no changeable buds included. Some people swear by them, claiming they’ve never had a more comfortable pair, while others say they fall out with the lightest of movements. Our advice? Try them for yourself before buying. That way, you’ll know if you’ll love them or hate them.
*Winner: Sony WF-1000X*
Here the AirPods are more elegant than the Sonys. They don’t have any physical buttons, which means you have to perform a series of double-taps or talk to Siri (Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant) to perform functions.
The Sonys have one button on each earbud. The left one controls the noise-cancelling, while the right playback, phone calls and voice controls using Google Assistant or Siri. Cue lots of single-, double- and even triple-clicks. It can be a bit like learning Morse Code at first, but you do get the hang of it.
Neither solution is ideal, but we prefer Apple’s streamlined approach. As long as you don’t mind strangers thinking you’re talking to yourself.
*Winner: Apple AirPods*
The all-important one. Traditionally, wireless headphones have struggled compared to their wired cousins in terms of sound quality. But some major advancements in recent years have meant they’re now catching up.
Despite being older than the AirPods, the Sonys have the edge here. They serve up lots of detail, with the instruments given plenty of texture. This is complemented by a pleasing amount of drive and punch, and a surprising level of bass. There’s also noise-cancelling tech onboard, which, while not on a par with over-ear noise-cancellers, still makes music clearer.
The AirPods, by contrast, sound a little flat. They’re more impressive sonically than their predecessors (not to mention louder), but they sound a little harsh at high volume, and struggle to convey rhythms as simply as the Sonys. It’s far from a bad performance – they’re exciting and engaging, with plenty of detail. But the Sonys are more listenable over long periods.
*Winner: Sony WF-1000X*
Both pairs connect wirelessly using Bluetooth, but just because they use the same technology that doesn’t mean they perform the same.
In fact, we experienced the odd drop out with our first pair of Sonys, though they were one of the first pairs off the production line.
The AirPods connected flawlessly in our testing, with no dropouts whatsoever. The setup is typically seamless, but you can only use them with an Apple device. If you’re an Android user looking for a wireless pair, best look elsewhere.
It’s a close-run thing – the Sonys definitely pip the AirPods for sound quality and the fact they have decent noise-cancellation sets them apart. But the AirPods edge the user experience and boast significantly better battery life. If you own an iPhone, we can see why the AirPods would get your vote.
But you need to own an iPhone before you’d even consider the AirPods. The Sonys might be longer in the tooth, but they have broader appeal and in our eyes are still the pair to consider if you’re seeking the best sound quality you can get for your money. Check out our full reviews of each to find out more.