Apple AirPods vs. Sony noise-canceling WF-1000XM3: Which are the better earbuds?

If you’re in the market for pair of true wireless earbuds, you’ve likely had your eye on a pair of Apple’s best-selling AirPods. With great iOS connection, decent sound, and one of the best charging cases in the business, it’s easy to see the appeal. But lately, we’ve seen a number of very exciting contenders for your wireless earbud purchase — including the new Sony WF-1000XM3.

Sony’s second generation wireless in-ears come with excellent noise-canceling, awesome battery life, and fantastic sound, making them one of our favorite models on the market right now. So which one should you buy? Let’s find out.

Design and fit

Apple AirPods
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Apple’s AirPods boast the same golf-tee style looks that you’ve probably come to expect from Apple over the past decade, with plastic eartips — rather than silicone — making them a one-size fits all option. The included charging case (the headphones cost $160 without wireless charging built into the case, $200 with) is a floss-like flip-top that perfectly fits in your pocket, making them easy to tote around with your during your daily errands.

Sony’s latest model features a peanut-shaped exterior that is similarly large to the AirPods, but a bit less sleek — though the headphones come in a more understated black, making them less noticeable on the street. Likewise, the flip-top charging case is a bit less convenient to carry along in a pocket, though it does come with a pretty copper-colored top that makes it easy to set on flat surfaces.

Overall, we’ve got to give the upper hand to the WF-1000XM3 for one simple reason: They come with six pairs of eartips in three different sizes, all but guaranteeing you’ll get a perfect fit. We just can’t say the same about AirPods, which can get uncomfortable after hours of use.

Winner: Sony WF-1000xM3

Features, controls, and battery life

Apple AirPods
Riley Young/Digital Trends

When they first came out, the AirPods were easily some of the most fully-featured true wireless headphones you could buy, and that still remains (mostly) true. They feature a still-solid 24 hours of listening time when you include the charging case, five hours of listening time, built-in touch controls, sensors that tell the headphones when they’re in your ears (which only work for iOS) and excellent pairing, thanks to Apple’s house-made H1 chip. You can even say Siri’s name aloud to pull up the company’s voice assistant.

Unfortunately for Apple, products like the WF-1000XM3 have now caught up to their advanced features — and surpassed them. The latest Sony model also offers touch controls and in-ear sensors, but include one killer piece of functionality that’s missing from the AirPods: Noise-canceling. Two microphones on the outside of each earbud contend with the sounds of the outside world, and you can even choose to pipe in sound with a hold of the touchpad on the left earbud.

That, and they offer better battery life than the Apple model even with noise canceling on. You’ll get six hours when blocking out sound and eight hours when not, with 24 total hours in the case if you’re using noise-canceling, and up to 30 hours with it off. That’s a heck of a lot of juice. There’s also a quick charging feature that allows you to get 90 minutes of play time with just 10 minutes of charging.

The Sony Connect app adds even more functionality to the WF-1000xM3, allowing you to adjust equalization, specific levels of noise reduction, and enable or disable the company’s DSEE-HX engine, which upscales music to the highest possible quality.

With so many extra features and better battery life to boot, we’ll give this category to Sony, too.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Sound Quality

sony wf 1000xm3 review 9
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

In this case, there’s no contest: The Sony model, with its silicone eartips, adjustable EQ, and better processing, sound significantly better than the AirPods. That’s not to say that the AirPods are a total slouch — they offer an impressive amount of bass response for a pair of headphones without the ability to seal out the outside world.

But the fact of the matter is that Sony’s processing, coupled with their excellent noise-reduction, offers some of the best sound you’ll find from a pair of true wireless headphones, competing with more expensive models like the Beats PowerBeats Pro and Sennheiser Momentum. If you’re looking for the best sound of the two, you’ll want to buy the WF-1000XM3.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Overall

With healthy wins in all categories, we’ve got to hand it to the Sony WF-1000XM3 — they’re the better pair of earbuds. That said, there are still reasons you might choose AirPods. The first is price: Apple’s AirPods cost $160 for the non-wireless charging case option, which is significantly cheaper than the Sony model’s $230 price tag. That, plus the fact that the AirPods work extremely well with iOS devices may be enough to sway many buyers. Still, if you’re looking for the best true wireless headphones between the two pairs, the Sony are the clear winner, thanks to their great sound, battery life, and noise-canceling ability.

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