Sony WF-1000X In-Depth Review: Noiseless Bliss
- Small and Portable
- Good looking and elegant design
- great, neutral sound quality
- Active Noise Cancelling
- Premium build quality
- Less than premium feel charging case
- Short battery life compared to competition
- Premium Pricing
- Case is larger than most competition
- Phone call audio less than stellar
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is a new audio phenomenon introduced only in the past five years or less. The world also thinks that it is the next big thing in immersive entertainment, tuning out in the midst of the noisy and bustling city; in trains, buses, or even while walking through the park – basically your daily commute to work, or the shops. Why not? It was promising for fully immersive entertainment, be it music or movies. You technically tune the whole world out, it gives you a sense of privacy as well.
What is Active Noise Cancelling though? How does it work?
For those uninitiated, ANC technology has been around since the birth of the first Google Nexus One back in 2010 and beyond. First patented in 1936, the idea is to cancel noise by introducing an anti-noise. The result of the concept is promising. The application is much more complex than that though resulting in the lack of adoption.
The Google Nexus One in 2010 brought back that concept through the revolutionary introduction of a second microphone to identify external noise and automatically applying the right level of anti-noise into the audio interface to create a rich and clear phone conversation. It worked like a charm; everyone went into a dual microphone frenzy. That is the reason why you have two to three microphones on your smartphone these days.
ANC on headphones and strictly audio devices though started even before that. It pumps an anti-noise into the output to deliver an undisturbed audio experience; at least that is what they are supposed to do. Early designs did not actually include a secondary or any microphone set up to feed external noise information to the devices. That means that anti-noise is simply being pumped into the devices to block out external noise.
The result of that is a weird vacuuming noise, or slightly muffled audio experience. For most casual users, it may not be too big of an issue. It still does give you a sense of isolation in the midst of a crowd. For audiophiles (like me) though the implementation is annoying at best. But that is where Sony comes in its own class, welcome to the WF-1000X. An MYR899 wireless electronic earplugs designed to isolate yourself from the world.
The WF-1000X is Sony’s answer to completely untethered music experience that has become a thing since the Samsung IconX was introduced last year. Be minded that this is no competitor to the IconX though, it is designed for a completely different market in mind. It is designed for the more discerning listeners, a niche group of audience who wants premium music experience on-the-go. It is even designed with elegance in mind, and priced as such.
First things first, we did not get to choose the colour of the earphones that we got for review. It was the Champagne Gold among the two colour options available. In my honest opinion the black looks a little better and less chintzy (for a male user anyway). The gold colour makes the case looks a little on the gaudy side in my opinion. But the earphones itself looks quite good in gold. The deep indents that was built into the plastic body of each earplug accentuates its elegant and futuristic look somehow (again, it will look good in black). The clear plastic finish at the tip of the case is purposeful but quite weird at the same time with holes designed into it. The earpieces themselves are made of rubber or silicon and there is a weird loopy thing that sticks out like a sixth finger. That is designed though to keep the earphones snug in your ears and prevent it from falling off. It works, to a certain degree.
Once you open up the charging case though the loops you see on the rubber “sixth finger” and the clear plastic tip makes plenty of sense. The rubber loops help you place your WF-1000X properly and snug in the case. A simple push into the case and you hear clicks as the earphones latches on to the case and the gold contacts of the case and the earphones touch. Then you see red lights from the built-in LED through the clear plastic tip. Your earphones are charging.
The only complaint I have in this department, or probably ever for this product is the charging/carrying case itself. It is made of plastic to keep the weight down. It does have a certain metallic feel to it but that could be due to the paint job. The case feels a little on the cheap side though. It feels slightly hollow despite the storage layout. We think that the layout and the extended hinge are well though out but we wish that we did not have to pry the cover open with pure strength (it was not all that much strength though). A buttoned, mechanical latch and spring action cover may make the case feels plenty more premium in our opinions. The hinge however feels that it can last forever, it is a Sony product after all.
The earphones come with a bunch of alternative earbuds and earpieces that should fit any ear size. Note that if you want noise cancellation to work, find a size that fits snugly in your ears (you need a tight seal). But once you do find the right size the WF-1000X sits in your ears like they belong there. It is light so you might forget that it is there after a while. The silicon material does not irritate (for me at least) and it does not wiggle that much so it is a tight fit most of the time. The rubbery loops obviously helps with the placement of the earphones and the snug fit.
Using it on train rides or bus rides is a bliss. It felt light all the time so half the time you actually feel untethered. Because of the weight, or lack of it you might even forget it is there in the first place if not for the music you play. When you are walking briskly it does not feel like it will fall off anytime soon. The grip from the silicon material obviously helps plenty. It never felt like a hindrance or a worry to work with when you are out and about.
|Driver||6mm Neodymium Magnet|
|Frequency Response||20Hz-20,000Hz @44.1kHz Sampling|
|Battery||Approx. 3 Hours each side|
|Approx 9 Hours additional via Charging Case|
|Features||Active Noise Cancelling|
|Ambient Sound Mode|
When you talk about earphones, or headphones, or headsets the first thing you would ask is obviously “what does it sound like?”, or “does it sound good?”. With the Sony WF-1000X that is no different. It is after all a casual audio product made for music on-the-go.
So, what does it sound like? Does it sound good?
To answer the latter question, in a single word; yes. That is too simplistic of an answer though. The Sony WF-1000X is one of those earphones that cost a little more than the average products out there. It will set you back MYR899 for goodness sake. For that kind of price though you are getting what you pay for.
To answer the “what does it sound like?” question then. In short the Sony WF-1000X’s sound stage is neutral. We tested the device with a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, with all the built-in preset equaliser and sound enhancements at neutral balance or off to get more a more accurate sound signature from the earphones. Music is courtesy of Spotify (No we are not sponsored by Spotify).
When we say that the Sony WF-1000X is neutral we do not mean that it sounds flat though. The neutrality of it means that you do not get an overly Bassy sound signature, or too sharp of an audio no matter the song. The earphone produces very vibrant and crisp audio though. It maintains a near perfect balance of highs, mids, and lows (technical talk here, maybe we will do a section talking about audio signatures; comment below). Keep in mind that plenty of pop songs these days emphasise the use of bass (low) elements. The WF-1000X may not be what you are looking for if you do like your bass more prominent than normal.
The crisp audio that we hear from the earphones itself is a high testament to the little 6mm dome type driver fitted into two wireless casings. The vibrant reproduction that you get from the Sony WF-1000X is thanks to the dynamic range of the drivers itself too. With a regular run-of-the-mill earphone music like ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles might sound quite good. In a regular earphone though you only get the meat of the song – the melodies accompanied by average vocals, and some bass. The guitar solo sounds good too obviously because, ‘Hotel California’.
The WF-1000X sets itself apart here though. You hear details that you’ve never heard before previous times you play with your regular earphones. The string instruments are more pronounced, and more distinct. The bass plays with a soothing smoothness without jarring your teeth. The vocals have plenty of depth in it that you can almost touch it. It sounds so natural, so vibrant, so clear, so crisp; any songs you play on it gives you that satisfaction, that soothing sensation that comes with music.
Downside? One; call quality. Despite the great audio quality making calls using the WF-1000X is on the horrid side. This is the most frustrating part of the experience by far. Voices, during any phone calls, sounds muffled most of the time. The muddled sound quality makes it tough for us to make out proper words from the other side of the call. Even the other side also reports that our voices were muddled in the phone call.
Active Noise Cancellation
This is its main selling point, tuning the world out. Does it work? Oh, yes. The technology has existed for sometime now and plenty of manufacturers have been banking on that technology. While most of them work, they are not perfect. A lot of the Active Noise Cancellation audio products tend to muddle any audio you play on the devices.
Sony though is touted to be the best in the business in Active Noise Cancellation. It showed in their older, first generation MDR-1000X over-ear headphone. In these new generation of audio devices they have improved it.
The ANC on the Sony WF-1000X is probably the best type in its class. It really does work if you find a good tight fit with the earbuds. With the Sony Headphone app installed on your Android and iOS you can control the amount of noise cancelling the earphone does for you. When it is fully on though you can really lose yourself even when in a mildly noisy crowd. The best part of this ANC system though you can turn it off without touching your app. It also works without altering the audio quality you get from the earphones, which is a tall order considering that the previous generation MDR-1000X’s ANC ever so slightly affects audio quality.
By covering your right ear completely while the earphones are on, and in your ears you allow ambient noise to come through. That allows you to still have normal conversations with another person. Despite the ambient noise being pretty soft the feature works well enough that you can still have a conversation in a less noisy environment. Personally I still don’t like having conversations with an earbud stuck in my ear.
The ANC also is pretty unique. While the ANC on the Sony WF-1000X drowns out the crowd and environment to give you that immersive experience it does not cancel out PA announcements. The Sony sorcery allows you to not miss things like your flights, or your next train stop. Since this is designed mostly for daily commute, we do like the feature a lot.
The quoted battery life of the headphones itself is three hours on each side. In our daily use, we seldom get past 3 hours of collective use per day. But we did drain the batteries on both the charging case and the earphones itself. That was done in the course of nearly five days of on and off use in various commutes, especially in trains. The quoted battery added battery life that was given for the case was nine hours which adds up to a total of 12 hours in usage. While we have not tested those claims to its full extent we are confident enough with the claims. Besides most of your daily commutes rarely surpass anything beyond two hours.
Though the battery life may not sound like much the device supports ANC and we do find that the drivers are a little more powerful than other earphones of its type out there.
As previously mentioned all you have to do to charge the earphones is to slot them in their respective seats in the case and press them in to secure the latches. When you see red lights from the earphone it means that the earphones are charging. Quoted charge time for the earphones is about one and a half hours from empty. We got it up and running from flat in about that time as well. The case itself though charges amazingly quick in less than two hours via Micro USB cable.
Ease of Use
Connecting via Bluetooth
Obviously with wireless earphones you pair them to your devices via Bluetooth. Unlike plenty of completely wireless earphones out there though you cannot choose which side of the earphone is the primary listening device. By default the left piece is the main device.
All you need to do with the earphone is to turn the left side or both sides on and switch them to Bluetooth connecting mode (long power button press). Or, if your smartphones are equipped with NFC, download the Sony Headphone app for free and connect via NFC through the app. The case itself is NFC enabled which makes things so much simpler; every Bluetooth earphone should come with NFC. The pairing process, at least on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, is hassle free and quick that you are up and running within a minute.
It also does work with Windows devices as long as you have a Bluetooth receiver on the device. It can only connect to one device at a time though so choose your devices.
Sony Headphone App
The proprietary app that you can download for free on Google Play Store or Apple App Store works for all Sony’s wireless earphones and headphones. In our opinions every wireless audio product should come with an app solution. So in the case of Sony Headphone App for the WF-1000X; we approve. You can connect the earphones even without the app though.
Through the app you can control the amount of ambient noise that you allow through the earphones or completely turn off ANC if you feel like it (though we cannot really fathom that). We also like the fact that you could use the built-in equaliser in the app itself to tune the earphones to your preferences. There are some preset settings in there too so you can go wild with the listening experiences.
Via the Sony Headphones app as well you can see the WF-1000X constantly monitors your environment and your activities to cleverly alter your listening experiences. When you are walking in public the earphones detects it and allows a certain amount of ambient noise through so that you would still be in the know of your environment. When you sit at home or in a train the earphone cranks the ANC up to full to give you an unadulterated, uninterrupted music experience until the PA announces anything. It is clever.
Is This For Me?
Before we answer this question, we have to clarify that the product does cost a little bit at MYR899. Its closest rival (in product type) costs about MYR200 less (Samsung Gear IconX 2). The price, for some may seem premium. That is because it is a premium product.
The thing about audio and sound quality though, you sometimes pay plenty to get a marginally improved listening experience. In the case of the WF-1000X though you are getting quite a bargain. You get superior audio quality compared to plenty of its rivaling products. On top of that you get integrated ANC, a first in these types of devices. It is an ANC that actually works without making your music sound like its been dragged through a paddy field.
Before you buy the product though you should know that it is not made specifically for sports. In fact it is not IP certified at all which makes it even less ideal for any sort of water sports. It is splash proof though so you still can wear it while its drizzling. But if you do want to use it for sports, use it at your own risk.
The WF-1000X is made for casual listening while you are on your feet, while you are doing your daily commute. In that sense if you are anything close to an audiophile or if you are one, you would understand it. It does not completely transform your daily listening experience per say. But it does enhance it quite a little bit. It allows you to be in your own zone too if that helps.
If you are anything like me, and you have MYR899 lying around somewhere this is that late Christmas present you have been looking for. I know I will not be the only one that agrees to this. Do you have one though? What do you think? let us know in the comments!
Also published on Medium.