Which noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are best for Android users? Read on to find out.
The Apple Airpods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 are the two most popular truly wireless earbuds you can buy right now, thanks in large part to them both including true noise-cancelling technology. And, if you’re an iPhone user, the choice is fairly clear: the AirPods Pro work so seamlessly with iPhones that the convenience outweighs the better audio quality of the Sony’s. But, what about Android users. Well, I grabbed a pair of each to find out.
Apple Airpod Pro specs
Earbud dimensions: 30.9 x 21.8 x 24.0mm (HxWxD)
Earbud weight: 5.4g x 2
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Earbud driver: Custom high-excursion Apple driver
Bluetooth spec: Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP, 10m range
Earbud battery life: 4.5hrs listening, 3.5hr talk time
Earbud battery charge time: 5 mins for 1hr listening
Total battery life with case: 24hrs listening, 18hrs talk time
Case size: 60.6 x 21.7 x 45.2mm (WxHxD)
Case weight: 45.6g
Charging cable: Lightning, Qi wireless charging
Other: Sweat and water resistant (IPX4), H1 chip for instant pairing, adaptive EQ, Active noise cancelling, vent system for pressure equalisation, Siri
The most immediately obvious thing is the size of the cases.
The Sony’s case is roughly 50% bigger in every direction, making it feel far
less portable. And this is one of those situations where, it’s not just that
the Airpods score a few extra review points here. It makes a big practical
difference, impacting which situations you’d feel comfortable taking the case
Conversely, the use of a Lightning charging port is a big downside for the Airpods, for Android users. You do get a USB C to lightning cable in the box but it still proved a major pain having to keep track of an extra cable.
When it comes to fit and comfort, though, well, we’re right back to the Airpods being on top. They’re far and away easier to fit, more comfortable and more secure: they just slot so effortlessly into the ear while also providing a reasonable seal. Obviously, this depends somewhat on the shape of your ear, but in my testing the XM3s just never felt like they were seated securely. As a result, the rubber tips didn’t seal very well, they were far more noticeable when wearing them and they were really easy to knock out of my ears, to the point I’d be paranoid about wearing these out and about.
This situation can be vastly improved by swapping the included tips for Comply TX-400 tips. These are the sort you have to squeeze and roll up before inserting the earbud into the ear, and they work amazingly well for blocking out external noise and providing a secure grip for the XM3s. However, they’re a hassle to fit, they’re still far less comfortable than the Airpods Pro and it means having to buy something extra. For convenience sake – which is hugely important for true wireless earbuds – the Airpods Pro win hands down.
What’s more, the noise-cancelling of the Airpod Pros is far superior. In fact, it’s astonishingly good. In my local gym or listening to simulated airplane noise, the Airpod Pros produced almost complete silence whereas the Sonys merely reduced things a little. A lot of reviewers have said the Sony’s have better noise cancelling but this simply isn’t the case. The Sonys block more noise but they don’t cancel it, and this is an important distinction. You can wear the Airpods Pro and they will silence low to mid-level background noise almost completely yet they still have a certain transparency to them that allows momentary loud noises through (so engine noise is silenced but you’ll still hear a car horn), making them generally quieter but feel far safer to wear when out and about. The Sonys, though, don’t entirely silence low to mid-level background noise so you’ll still hear a lot more engine noise for instance, but do isolate you more from external noise. In this sense they’re the worst of both worlds.
All of which is a big shame because where the Sonys really pull out a big lead is in sound quality. These are a great sounding set of earbuds, with a rich, full sound that’s packed with detail. In comparison the Airpod Pros just sound bad. By all means, they’re a vast improvement over most previous Apple earbuds, with the rubber tips providing a better seal and thus a much better bass response. The overall sound signature is reasonably flat and natural too, with no particularly forced bass or treble, though they do have a little bump in the mid-range.
However, the level of detail of the AirPods Pro is not good at all. Maybe it’s as a result of all the processing for the noise-cancelling but they sound almost digital and lifeless, like low bit rate mp3s. By all means, I’m being a little picky here and many users will be more than happy, but if you’ve ever spent anywhere close to £250 on headphones before, you’ll be disappointed.
Finally, we come to the overall convenience and connectivity
aspects of these two sets of earbuds, which is where the Airpod Pros would really
pull things back if you were using an iPhone. They pair instantly, you can use
Siri, they’ll automatically pause music when removed, all that stuff. However, almost
none of that works with Android. They’ll pair manually over Bluetooth of course
and you can pause and skip tracks and turn noise cancelling on and off by
squeezing the stalks, but that’s about it.
Not that the Sony’s do a huge amount more but they will
automatically pause your music if you remove one earbud and you can temporarily
pause noise cancelling by holding your ear up to the left earbud.
So in the end, which is best? Well, I have to say, neither
is anywhere close to perfect. The Sony’s sound so much better and they use USB
C but everything else about them isn’t as good. They’re bulky, they don’t fit
very well, they fall out easily and the noise cancelling is not as good.
Meanwhile the Airpod Pros fit amazingly well, the noise-cancelling is excellent and the only really major inconvenience, other than the Bluetooth connection dropping out every now and then, is the lightning cable charging for the case. But, they sound compartively lifeless.
Put it this way, I bought both these pairs of earbuds with the intention of keeping the pair I liked the most, but at one point I thought I might just return both, so underwhelmed was I with several aspects of both. In the end, though, after using both pairs for several weeks back and forth, it was the convenience, comfort and noise cancelling of the Airpods Pro won out.