01 Feb 2018 19:02 IST

Sony’s WF1000x - Shed the wires and the noise

Sony’s WF1000x are wireless in-ear buds that also have active noise cancellation

Truly wireless earbuds are becoming common, but there aren’t many that come with as many innovative features as in the Sony WF1000x earphones. These arrive in an elegant box which, when opened, reveals superbly packed components — a case, the earbuds, a charging cable, and a whole array of extra silicone tips and wings. The whole package looks ever so hi-tech and totally worthy of Sony, pioneers in the field of portable audio.

Sadly however, I experienced numerous problems that I didn’t expect. Some of these I see have been echoed by other reviewers. I did cross-check and looked through others’ reviews of these earphones and came across several that praise it, but my experience didn’t endorse that.

The earphones are two large buds that look as if they might be uncomfortable, but are certainly not. Not once did they threaten to fall off and I didn’t even have to readjust them — and that’s without changing the default ear tips. I felt they fit in deeply enough and snugly with the single button on each bud being easy enough to reach.

From the start, I found them entirely unintuitive, so maybe this is one product for which one should read the manual. I put them into the case, which is the charging cradle and also tops-up the level when unplugged. A red light turned on, as one would expect, but after a while it just went off. Now did this mean something was not connected properly or did it mean the charge cycle was complete? Who knows. But after giving it several hours of charging, I tried to connect via Bluetooth to a phone to no avail. It was when I spoke to someone at Sony that the gizmo suddenly decided it wanted to connect — I could swear gadgets just know when you’re asking for help. Once past the first-time connect, I found the WF1000x wouldn’t automatically switch back to phone when I took them out of my ears, or even when I put them back in the case. I was rather surprised to hear a piece of music playing away inside the case when it was shut. And on the other hand, when they were in my ears, I made a phone call that went over to the phone’s speaker. Whether all this is by design or error, it certainly proved very frustrating and confusing. And I was just starting to feel relieved that one earbud wasn’t switching itself off, as I had learnt was another problem experienced by some reviewers, when exactly that happened. I had to plant the earbuds back into the case and take them out again to see if they had synchronised.

The WF1000x’s problems don’t end there. They also tend to have a latency between sound and video so they are not perfectly in sync. Nor does it react instantly when you ask it to do something such as switch off music or change a track. There’s just enough of a delay to make you wonder whether the command was registered or not. The problems were very much there when I switched from an Android device to the iPhone X.

The odd glitch is however something you can learn to live with if the product is brilliant at what it’s really supposed to do. In fact, the WF1000x earphones sound just okay. You wouldn’t expect outright bad sound from Sony and you won’t get it, but they don’t sound fantastic. Detailed, clear, loud, but perhaps short on bass just enough to make it feel like something is missing.

To use these earphones, you need to download the Sony Headphones Connect app, which is where you’ll find various controls and an equaliser. The equaliser didn’t do anything I particularly liked to the sound except to make it more sharp or highlight speech, etc.

The companion app is also one place you can get access to some of the innovative features this pair of earphones has — despite its glitches. You can toggle noise cancellation or ambient sound (when you want to hear them without stopping the music) from a tiny switch on the earbud, but also from the app. Noise cancellation is practically non-existent in wireless earbuds, and on this set it’s there but just ok, not dramatic. The battery life is around three hours with top-ups from the battery case after that.

The earphones also use a smart technology called Adaptive Sound Control, which tries to detect your activity and where you are to figure out whether you need ambient sounds or not. In many ways, this and the other devices from the current range from Sony show what the future of audio products could be and how intelligence will be built into them. If only they had fewer problems at the price they command.

Price: ₹14,999

Pros: Comfortable secure fit, case charges battery, lots of choices of earbud tips, clever use of intelligent technology to listen to ambient sounds, rare use of active noise cancellation in a wireless format

Cons: Sound quality missing something, connectivity problems, one earbud turns off now and then, non-intuitive use and confusing

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)