From battery life and in-ear comfort to connectivity and all-important sound quality, STYLE puts the top two noise-cancelling wireless earbuds head-to-head: Apple Airpods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM3
Diehard Apple fans are no doubt still rejoicing that the active noise-cancelling Airpods are finally here. The function has been a surprisingly long time coming but it's understandably difficult to pack so much into two tiny true wireless earbuds. If you're willing and able to fork out the extra US$50, the Airpods Pro are definitely a huge improvement on the Airpods 2 - but how do they measure up to arch rivals, the Sony WF-1000XM3?
Form and comfort
As far as size is concerned, the Airpods Pro win hands down. At almost half the size of the Sony WF-1000XM3 physically and weighing 5.4 grams, they can lay claim to being the lightest active noise cancelling true wireless earphones in the market. The charging case is a broader but shorter version of the classic Airpods, and fits into pockets just as snugly.
However, I found it very fiddly and often required several attempts before I managed lift them out of their magnetic grooves. The Sony earbuds were slightly better because I didn't have to deal with the longer stick design.
The much-ridiculed stick design is still there, but it's a lot shorter than its predecessors' and less of a beacon for scorn. The flawed design of the classic Airpods that allowed sound to leak, and never fit comfortably into anyone's ears, has been rectified by the addition of rubber tips that come in three sizes.
One of the most laudable features of this is the plastic cap inside the tips that allow them to snap on firmly with little effort. And Apple has included a sound diagnostics within the music app that will tell you if there is sound leakage so you know you have the right-sized tips. With the smallest tips on, I could barely feel the earbuds and didn't feel like they were about to drop out as with the old Airpods.
Much as I love-hate the stick, with the Airpods Pro I felt they actually helped balance the fit and felt a bit more secure. To be fair, the Sony WF-1000M3 also fit very snugly and securely but I always had this hidden fear that one would drop out and roll away.
The Airpods Pro are also water and sweat resistant, which the Sony earbuds aren't.
Winner: Airpods Pro
Connectivity and controls
What can I say? It's nice to be able to connect a pair of earphones without having to download yet another app as with the Sony earbuds. If you are like me and often switch headphones, you end up with way too many sound apps that truly do nothing much anyway.
Like all Apple products, the Airpods Pro sync seamlessly with the iPhone. All you need to do is to open the case and the earbuds connect automatically. When they connect, a window pops up on your iPhone to show the battery level. After that, it is pretty much picking your playlist and tapping the play button.
Unlike the Sony, which require you to tap on the earbud for controls, you control the Airpods Pro through physical buttons, which aren't very visible, and which require a few practice runs before you can find the right spot to press intuitively. Still the button is a lot more straightforward, and faster.
One press stops the music, two clicks takes you to the next song while three takes you back a song. A long press will take you through a scroll of noise cancelling or transparency (ambient sound) mode. The signal is a higher tone for transparent mode and a lower tone for noise cancelling.
With the Sony earbuds, the tapping is a bit irregular. The choice of noise cancelling or ambient sound is announced by a female voice which causes a two- to three-second delay before the control kicks in. It's easy to overshoot the scrolling or think you have, and that can lead to some frantic tapping.
Winner: Airpods Pro
Sound quality is high on my list of essentials when it comes to headphones. The Airpods Pro offer decent sound but definitely not the best that I have heard. The treble is just a tiny bit too shrill and the bass just a tad weaker when compared to the Sony WF-1000XM3, which offer richer tones for vocals and stronger bass.
You can adjust the sounds for the Airpods Pro through the programmed equaliser in the iPhone's music app. But this requires you to go in and changing the settings every time you change genres and, to be honest, the difference isn't that great. The Sony earbuds have better balance.
Winner: Sony WF-1000MX3
Battery life and charging
Off the bat, the Airpods Pro can be wirelessly charged while the Sony earbuds cannot, but the Airpods offer only 4.5 hours with noise cancelling on from a single charge while the Sony ones allow six hours of play. The Airpods Pro offer a quick charge of five minutes for an extra hour of use, while 10 minutes with the Sony earbuds give you an extra 90 minutes. Less than five hours will last you on a flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, for example, but it's not much if you're on a long-haul flight. However of you don't mind recharging halfway through a movie or an album, the in-case charging for both earbud options will take you up to 24 hours.
For iPhone users, nothing will beat the Airpods for the convenience of a seamless connection, intuitive controls and chic design - but the Sony WF-1000MX3 are US$20 cheaper and offer better sound quality.
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