Sony is definitely among the first names that come to mind when someone talks high-end premium bluetooth earphones or headphones. The company’s 1000XM3 series have been a revelation to most who’ve coughed up enough moolah to buy them and they offer great sound along with what’s arguably best-in-the-industry noise cancellation in both over-ear and true wireless options.
That said, Sony certainly doesn’t feel that neckband-style wireless earphones are dated in 2020 and therefore, despite being late to the party, the WI-1000XM2’s are here and these pack the same QN1 chip from the WH-1000XM3. Sony’s testing finds that the WI-1000XM2’s not only do a better job of blocking out sounds around you, but the same chip uses less power for noise cancellation, offering better battery life on paper.
Priced at INR 21,990, the WI-1000XM2’s aren’t in any way cheaper than Sony’s XM3 headphones, but that premium price tag also means that you get all the bells and whistles that you could possibly expect on a pair of earphones. However, the whole point of this review is to understand if these perform as well as other flagship bluetooth noise-cancelling earphones and headphones.
Design and Fit
As is standard for many neckband designs, the Sony WI-1000XM2 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. There is just one button on the neckband for power, along with a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm socket to connect a stereo cable for wired listening (which I don’t recommend, more on that later).
Two short cables extend from the neckband towards the earpieces, with an inline remote on the left cable. Apart from controls for volume and playback, there is also a customizable button on the remote which can be set to control the noise cancelling level and ambient sound mode, or invoke the Google Assistant or Alexa.
Instead of playing around with a number of materials, Sony’s leant towards a clean and classy, matte-finish overall with copper accents for the Sony branding. Since these are neckband-styled, you also don’t have to go through the hassle of learning gestures. In fact, I’d been using the OnePlus Bullets Wireless before I switched to this and being accustomed to having media controls on my left, it barely took me a few hours to get used to the controls on the Sony’s.
As for the earbuds themselves, Sony says the WI-1000XM2’s angled earphone design ensures a tight seal against the ear canal, and means the earbuds sit “deeply within the ear”. They certainly felt extremely comfortable throughout my testing period, although I did need to try a few different ear tip sizes before I found the perfect fit. I do recommend not giving this ‘finding the right ear tip’ chore a skip because it’s crucial in achieving the kind of seal needed for optimal noise cancelation.
Overall, they felt light to wear over long hours, although I don’t quite like how chunky the plastic bits look. It certainly made me pay more attention to collars as they’d have a tendency to jut out or just look odd at times. I don’t think there much to hate here and as far as quality of materials go, I’d definitely give it a nine on ten.
Sony also throws in a very nice looking case to carry these around, along with a whole range of silicon and memory-foam ear tips to choose from — you’d expect that given how much these cost, but they haven’t forgotten it, in case you’re wondering.
Audio Performance and Noise Cancellation
I had lofty expectations from Sony when it came to audio performance and I wasn’t disappointed at all. If you’re listening to rock or alternative rock, vocals are crystal clear, sitting at the very front of the mix and coming through with clarity and power with fantastic separation between the frequencies.
The hybrid driver system inside which comprises of a 9mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature driver creates a wide-range of frequencies resulting in defined, accurate playback. The lower notes also come through well, without being too overpowering. You can also dive into the ‘Headphones Connect’ app and play around with the EQ to tune the response to your liking. All in all, for dual-driver earphones, the audio through these sounded far better than the AirPods Pro, I reviewed a while back.
As for the noise cancelling, it’s definitely among the best out there in getting rid of unwanted, background sound. Sounds such as the whirl of a fan or a loud hum of the air conditioner, traffic, and chatter in crowded places, were silenced to a good extent and could only be heard faintly if we really tried to listen. Other sounds such as people near you speaking were softened to a point where they weren’t a distraction. The one thing that I really like about Sony’s approach here is that the noise cancellation isn’t too aggressive or unnatural.
That processor chip I mentioned in the beginning, by the way, also features “32-bit audio signal processing, high quality digital to analogue conversion, and headphone amplifier”, all built-in.
There’s also a Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which upscales your compressed MP3 files – and while that won’t get you perfect lossless audio, Sony says it does bring you “closer” to the quality of High Resolution Audio. Streaming music from Spotify (on my Android phone) and Apple Music (on the iPhone), I didn’t notice a dramatic change in quality switching on the “DSEE HX” toggle, but that’s more of a feature for audiophiles to discover.
As for the 3.5mm pass-through, I noticed a major difference in audio quality with the earphones distorting highs far too much for me to complete a track. I tried this around with a number of smartphones and laptops and it’s definitely an area which Sony engineers seem to have missed.
Connectivity is definitely an area where the premium price tag is justified. Latency is greatly reduced in comparison to most other true wireless headphones and that isn’t something you can say of more affordable neckband-styled pairs.
On most wireless earphones and headphones, the left earbud/ear cup receives the audio and then relays it to the right earpiece. The Sony W1-1000XM2 headphones (similar to the WF-1000XM3s) use simultaneous Bluetooth transmission technology, which means each bud receives the audio at the same time. This won’t matter much if you’re just listening to music, but if you’re gaming or streaming Netflix, you’ll definitely appreciate it.
The advanced Bluetooth 5.0 standard utilised also reduces drop-out and makes them easier to pair with an iPhone or Android device, apart from improving range as well.
The pairing process is a little odd at first though, requiring you to hold on to the power button for a good seven seconds to allow the earphones to dive into pairing mode before it’s visible on your list of devices you can pair your phone with. Those with Android phones can thankfully use NFC to pair, which definitely makes things much easier.
Sony claims an average battery life of around 10 hours with noise cancellation on at all times. Well, my usage with volume up at 70% on my iPhone got me around 8 hours of usage on a full charge and while that’s bad at all, I hated the fact that I’d have to manually switch the headphones off every single time.
There have been several instances where I may have manually paused the media on by phone but forgot to switch the earphones off and come back to zero battery.
I would really appreciate the magnets on the earbuds would automatically pause music when they snap — something I absolutely love having on more affordable neckband-style headphones — but the magnets don’t do anything of the sort here.
You can get more than an hours worth of juice in just 10 minutes of charging but juicing these earphones all the way up to full does take close to 3 hours.
Verdict and Price In India
While the Sony WI-1000XM2 is certainly expensive for neckband style earphones, having used it for a couple of weeks, I can somewhat vouch for Sony and say that these are worth the premium — but only if you absolutely hate truly wireless earbuds for some reason. I have nothing against neckband-style headphones in general but I really think that TWS earbuds are just less cumbersome to lug around.
That said, there’s very little that I can complain about the WI-1000XM2. Apart from minor niggles with media controls and how chunky it looks with certain attire, there’s little to go wrong with here. Sony’s done an excellent job of essentially bringing everything people love on the 1000XM3 line of headphones to these earphones, making it the best pair of premium ANC neckband earphones you can buy.