“Audio-Technica created the best challenger to the Sony WF-1000XM3 we've seen yet.”
- Comfortable design
- Superb sound quality
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Average battery at best
The Sony WF-1000XM3 have long been the undisputed champion of the true wireless earbuds arena, with competitors struggling to match the pair’s both incredible sound quality and active noise cancellation at a comparable price. After this review, the Sony buds will get to keep the crown, but man, Audio-Technica came threateningly close to usurping the throne.
Audio-Technica’s new true wireless earbuds, the ATH-ANC300TW, represent one of the most direct contenders to the WF-1000XM3 yet along with the Technics TSW EAH-AZ70W. With an identical MSRP of $230 (though the Sonys often can be found for less now) and packed with similar features, the 300TW took direct aim at the king. Here’s why they just missed the mark, but also why they’re still an excellent option to consider.
Out of the box
There’s nothing inherently special about the packaging that the ATH-ANC300TW arrive in. Lifting the lid of the white box introduces a protective layer of foam, with the earbuds and the rest of their accessories sitting just beneath.
Audio-Technica provides the usual stocking stuffers — a USB-C charging cable, and tons of documentation — but does exceed expectations with its array of included eartips. There’s extra small, small, and large silicone eartips (they come with the medium iteration already on the buds), as well as a pair of medium Comply foam tips. If you were trying to ensure a customer gets the right fit for their earbuds, this is an ideal way to do it.
Connecting them is straightforward, with the pairing process pretty much starting and ending at finding the buds in your mobile device’s Bluetooth settings and making the link. The ATH-ANC300TW have Bluetooth 5 technology and tout that coveted 33-foot range of connection, and my at-home testing of these buds has verified as much. Beyond that, I haven’t had a connection snag in the week-plus that I’ve been using these buds.
The ATH-ANC300TW are built almost deceptively. When I initially pulled them out of their charging case, I thought there was no way they wouldn’t stick sorely out of my ears. But that’s what I get for judging a book by its cover.
The curved housing of the ATH-ANC300TW gives them a compact, comfy fit, despite them looking destined for just the opposite. I found them to be sufficiently secure, allowing me to get a handful of runs in without them falling out. There are far better workout-oriented buds out there, but these will rise to the occasion in a pinch.
Apart from the Audio-Technica logo inscribed on the end cap of each bud, there isn’t much else that sticks out aesthetically about these earbuds, which are coated in a sleek shade of black. There is a single button on the top of each bud, with the action these buttons enact varies depending on how many times you tap them. They were easy enough to use, especially since the accompanying app lets you choose between a right-handed or left-handed pattern. We’ll dive deeper into the app later, but it was worth mentioning now that Audio-Technica didn’t forget about all the southpaws of the world.
The charging case takes a similar approach to aesthetic simplicity, adorned in a black-and-grey color scheme. It’s a little bulkier than I’d like for pocket travel, but I wouldn’t call it a hindrance.
There’s a laundry list of features to comb through with the ATH-ANC300TW and they’re mostly exceptional, with a few tangles twisted in.
The 300TW come with an IPX2 weatherproof rating, meant to protect them against dripping water like rain and sweat. That’s better than Sony’s WF-1000XM3, which has no official weatherproof rating. But buds like the Google Pixel Buds 2 or those aforementioned Technics TSWs offer an IPX4 rating for a cheaper or similar price. I didn’t encounter any rain while wearing the 300TW, but as a profuse sweater during workouts, I’ll vouch that these can hold up through that level of perspiration.
Battery life, I’m sorry to say, is just average. The 300TW can last up to 4.5 hours on a single charge, with 13.5 hours of additional power added to the charging case. This would have been fine a few years ago, but we reside in fast-moving times. The Sony WF-1000XM3 eclipsed those numbers long ago with six hours of playback and 18 extra in their case. Newer products, like Sony’s WF-SP800N, feature nine hours of playback with active noise cancellation enabled. It’s a genuine bummer with the 300TW because buds that sound this good shouldn’t have such a short listening span.
Audio-Technica included a nifty bundle of technology into these buds, and while the average owner may not bat an eye at them, they do help improve the overall experience. There’s Qualcomm cVc (Clear Voice Capture) tech to aid conversations during calls, a low-latency function called Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus that lets you stream without audio disruption, and SCMS-T technology that protects content transmitted via Bluetooth between compatible devices.
It’s been a while since I heard earbuds that sound this good. Sure, I liked the sound of the Google Pixel Buds 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Buds+, but we’re talking about a different class of audio quality with the ATH-ANC300TW.
My favorite sounding
Whatever it is, it’s superb. Think of any of the endless catalogs of classic riffs in music — from Led Zeppelin’s electrifying intro to Good Times Bad Times, to the dancing instrumentals of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to The Moon — and these buds instantly make them even better. They’re remarkably clear and, with a frequency response of 20-25,000 Hz, showcase a masterful soundstage. I’d give the WF-1000XM3 the edge in low end, with bass being the one area with the 300TW that’s not as impactful. That said, the bass provided is likely to be more than adequate rumble for most people.
There’s no included EQ within the app for the 300TW, though I hardly find that to be a fault; the sound quality offered here is awesome as is. The app does, however, display the audio codec that’s active, and allows you to navigate between them if you so choose.
Active Noise Cancellation
I’d like to publicly apologize to all the neighbors that heard me repeatedly say “wow” over the past week. As odd as it may have been to see someone saying that unprompted while walking his dogs, I promise it’s warranted.
The active noise cancellation built into the 300TW is truly exceptional. Audio-Technica employed hybrid noise-canceling technology, meaning there are microphones both in front and behind each driver to analyze the most environmental noise possible, process it, and prevent it from tampering with the delivery of your sound. It’s a similar technology to what Panasonic is doing with its RZ-S500W or the Technics TSWs. As was the case in those buds, the ANC in the 300TS does one heck of a job.
I tested the 300TW’s ANC abilities with whatever I could throw at it — a busy street, my lawnmower, a towering John Deere tractor out at my local park — and they responded admirably. The app includes three different ANC modes, but rather than the typical low/medium/high, they are labeled for the environments they could be best suited for: Airplane, On The Go, and Office/Study.
Of course, at least two of those three intended environments aren’t really a thing at the moment and so I couldn’t put them up against the real deal. But I did toggle through each mode, and each responded as they were intended to: Airplane mode dampened lower frequencies, On-the-Go targeted street noise well, and Office/Study helped with quieter situations.
Active noise cancellation this strong requires an ambient sound function that’s just as effective. The 300TW’s Hear-Through function is the ideal complement, with the ability to adjust the amount of noise that you let in. Interestingly, ANC is the default setting for the 300TW, and the alternative is Hear-Through. The only way to listen without either of these settings is to disable them within the app. Then again, I don’t know why anyone would want to do such a thing.
For all the glowing praise I’ve given the 300TW and its ANC capabilities, I still think Sony’s WF-1000XM3 is better with its noise-cancellation. But with as close as Audio-Technica is, I’d be more than a little worried if I were Sony right now. And though we really liked the noise-canceling prowess of the Technics TSWs, the added situational granularity found in these buds is a big bonus.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC300TW may not have great battery life, but they make up for it in nearly every other category. These are great earbuds, no two ways about it.
Are there better alternatives?
The $230 Sony WF-1000XM3 have better battery life, bass, and active noise cancellation, all by very slim margins. The Technics TSW buds have better battery life and excellent noise cancellation, but slightly weaker bass performance and higher price tag. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 will sound better but at a cost of $300.
How long will they last?
The 300TW are durable in the elements with their IPX2 weatherproof rating, and have technology backed up by consistent firmware updates. These buds should be built to last.
Should you buy them?
Yes. They may not have succeeded in unseating Sony, but Audio-Technica did succeed in creating one of the best challengers to the WF-1000XM3 we’ve seen in the ATH-ANC300TW. So, while Sony remains the top dog on campus, it is going to have to start looking over its shoulder cautiously.
- Best Sony headphone deals for January 2022
- Best Beats Headphones Deals for January 2022
- Best TVs for 2022: Which should you buy?
- Next-gen AirPods could let others override your ANC
- The best smart speakers for 2022