Wireless noise-cancellation has become much more common over the last year, but that doesn’t mean the category has improved dramatically. Other than the best-in-class Bose QuietControl 30, there aren’t too many good choices—most are either too expensive (relative to the Bose model) or offer subpar noise cancellation, or sometimes both. Enter the Sony WI1000X. In terms of audio performance, the $299.99 WI1000X earphones deliver arguably better sound than the QC30. As for noise cancellation, they surprisingly offer an experience that’s nearly as effective as Bose. It’s been a while since Bose released the QuietControl 30, and while its noise cancellation still sets the standard for the category, some competitors are clearly starting to catch up.
Review of The Sony WI1000X Wireless
1. Design & Comfort
As is standard for many neckband designs, the Sony earphones are horseshoe-shaped; thinning towards the top of the arch, with thicker portions covered in plastic towards the ends which house the internal components and play home to the external controls.
One thing must be said for the WI-100X’s design: Sony has made great use of a variety of materials. The back of the collar’s exterior is a thin, curved strip of aluminum, which also acts as the supporting structure to ensure it’s both strong yet pliable. In other words, it keeps its shape, but it’s also easy to put on and take off.
Inside the collar there’s soft padding covering the arch that sits on the back of the neck, making it comfortable to wear for long periods. The Sony isn’t as light and “invisible” as V-Moda’s Forza Metallo Wireless, but they’re well balanced and don’t shift around much at all. That’s to say you can feel that you’re wearing them, a little, but they’re not inconvenient in the slightest and are very easy to ignore. It would be nice if they were a little more flexible if only so they felt a bit better fit.
Controlling audio – either playing, pausing, skipping or adjusting the volume – is a key element in use. In this case, we can’t help but feel Sony got things a little wrong. The buttons aren’t intuitively positioned or easy to press.
Traditionally, in virtually every pair of earphones, ever, the volume buttons are placed in a trio along with the play/pause button. Usually, the play/pause button is in the middle and the volume button is below it, with the volume up button above. With the WI1000X, the play button is right at the end of the left side of the neckband. About a finger’s width up is the volume up button, with the volume down button right above it, while the power/pairing button further up the band. It took some playing around to learn which button did what. Eventually, we got the hang of it, but using controls on a headphone shouldn’t require any learning curve at all.
As for ear comfort, Sony ensures your needs are catered for by shipping six extra pairs of ear tips in different sizes. Three are the usual silicone, while three looks and feel a little more like memory foam. They’re more textured, making them a little grippier.
Regardless of which tip we chose during testing, it was never perfectly comfortable in the ear, and – although they never did fall out – we did have that unusual feel like they would, even though they were secure and snug. A strange sensation indeed.
On the whole, the WI1000X looks like a proper, premium pair of high-end in-ears. The combination of materials added to the dark and greyscale color scheme on our review unit was a winner. Despite the oddly placed buttons and comfort not being 100 percent on point, there’s very little to criticize here.
2. Sound Performance
For years, audiophiles have rejected wireless audio and for good reason; Bluetooth compression destroyed dynamic range, sound staging, and detail. However, after listening to the Sony WI1000X, which features aptX HD support, we think it’s finally time for audiophiles to embrace the wireless revolution.
Listening tests were done using an LG G6, which supports the aptX HD codec. For the unfamiliar, aptX HD allows the transmission of 24-bit/48kHz audio vs the 16-bit/44.1kHz audio of regular aptX. This increased resolution helps Bluetooth audio regain the dynamic range that’s often missing with wireless audio.
The result is a balanced sound signature that offers a ton of soundstage depth, especially for in-ear headphones. The Sony WI1000X wowed us with aptX HD enabled, providing deep, rumbling bass while not sacrificing sparkling highs and mellow mids. In terms of tonal balance, the WI1000X are slightly warm in the mid-bass area, which makes them fun for mainstream music without muddying up the mids for vocal, jazz, or classical music.
Noise cancellation is also excellent, though still slightly behind Bose. There’s a slight hiss when noise cancellation is active without any music playing, something Bose managed to dial out of their headphones like the Bose QuietComfort35 II. On our coast-to-coast flight, the noise cancellation did an excellent job of drowning out the rumble of the jet engines and voices.
Noise cancellation isn’t the WI1000X’s only trick, though – Sony’s app adds unique features as well. On top of the typical EQ tweaks, the app allows you to adjust the level of noise cancellation so commuters can allow ambient noise to enter for situations like walking on a busy street. The app can also use your phone’s location and accelerometer to detect the activity you’re doing and will adjust the noise-canceling strength with a feature called Adaptive Sound Control.
We found this feature worked well, but often with a delay when transitioning between activities. For example, the app would take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to detect when we stopped walking. Thankfully you can disable the activity auto-detect feature if you just want 100% noise-canceling all the time.
One last thing to mention is that the Sony WI1000X offers a “Noise Cancellation Optimizer,” which adjusts to the ambient air pressure. If you’re sensitive to the weird pressure that some active noise-canceling headphones give, you’ll love this feature.
The WI1000X has a good battery life of about 10 hours with ANC on. This should last you for a whole day without too much problem. They do however take about 3 hours to charge fully, which is a bit above-average. They can save power by going into ‘waiting mode’ and last up to 100 hours with ANC off according to Sony’s specs sheet. They can also be used wired even if the battery is dead, with the provided micro USB to 1/8″ TRS cable.
4. Calling Quality
The recording quality of the microphone is mediocre. The bump around 90Hz makes these headphones prone to pops and rumbling noises. The dip around 160Hz means speech recorded/transmitted with this mic may sound a little bit thin. The HFE (high-frequency extension) of 2.5KHz results in a speech that is muffled and lacks detail.
In conclusion, If you like around-the-neck design and are looking for a versatile pair of headphones that can do it all, get The Sony WI1000X. You’ll be able to use them in your daily commute thanks to their good ANC feature and their low-leakage performance will be suitable for the office as well. Their breathability and stability will be suitable for sports, and you can also use them wired if you want to watch video content on your phone without latency issues. They have a decent audio reproduction and come with an excellent EQ, so you’ll be able to listen to your favorite songs during different use cases, at any time of the day thanks to their 10-hour battery life. However, they won’t be ideal for gaming and calls since their microphone isn’t the best. On the upside, they have a companion app that lets you EQ their sound signature to your preferences, and they are one of the better-built around-the-neck headphones we’ve reviewed so far.