First, let’s look at what they are – it is not just a set of buds but the neck collar that goes with it to give a perfect listening experience – from a set of buds!
The 61g neckband houses a 10-hour battery. No, it is not as long as the headphone version simply because there is a lot of electronics to fit into a small space.
Here you have NFC pairing, micro USB input (battery charge and conversion from 3.5mm and aircraft audio) and the usual Bluetooth controls on/off, ANC on/off/ambient, volume up/down, and forward/back track
Charge time is around 3.5 hours. No charger is supplied, and it refers to using a PC or Mac – that is usually 5V/500mA. Sony claim fast charge (presumably on a 5V/2A charger) of 15 minutes gives 70 minutes use.
Here is my only complaint – the unit, like its headphone sibling, cannot be used during charging.
In tests, I was able to replicate Sony’s claims of 10 hours with noise cancelling and 13 hours without. I was unable to test the ‘standby’ time (used as noise cancellation only) of 17 hours.
How does it sound?
All tests were done using aptX HD source. I did not have a Sony LDAC device that would have transmitted even more data.
The trick to all buds is to get the right fit. It supplies three sets of silicone rubber in SS, S and L sizes and three sets of Triple comfort (Comply) foam buds in S, M, and L as well as an M set on the earbuds.
I have average sized ears but needed to use the large foam buds. I did not mind the silicon buds – I just felt more comfortable with the foam ones.
You cannot reliably measure volume in buds – they were head-bangingly loud. Nor is it easy to measure total harmonic distortion – imperceptible. Sony claim a 3-40,000kHz frequency response – well beyond human hearing and beyond what Bluetooth can transmit.
The straight unadulterated sound has good bass and mid-range and slightly recessed treble – a typically warm and sweet Sony sound signature which means you can pump up the bass or ramp up mids for vocal.
The Sony Connect apps pre-set include Arena, Club, Outdoor stage and Concert Hall. Equaliser pre-sets include Off (default), Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Vocal, Treble boost, Bass boost, Speech, and two custom settings. These are saved to the buds memory.
What is noticeable is that the full ANC is amazingly good – I cannot even hear the clunky mechanical keyboard right in front of me as I type nor the smartphone ringing.
If you need to hear the outside world, simply switch to ambient sound control.
The smartphone app uses its accelerometer to determine whether you’re stationary or moving and will alter the noise cancellation accordingly – if you’re in walking mode it allows slightly more ambient noise to hear traffic.
Bluetooth 4.1 supports A2DP, HFP, and aptX HD and Sony’s LDAC. If you have an aptX HD source, it streams at 24bit/48kHz resolution, as opposed to the regular 16bit/44.1kHz of aptX Bluetooth.
In summary – great sound from buds rivalling its sibling headphones.
Supports hand-free calls when paired with a smartphone Google Assistant at the next firmware update.
Unfortunately, no and yet it is not necessary for this type of use. Sony obviously see you sweating it out in Business or First Class – not at Fitness First.
Until the WH-1000XM2 I would not have included Sony in the ‘must consider’ premium market – it was Bose, Sennheiser etc. It changed my opinion as it should yours.
In a few words – stunning sound and noise reduction. It is the portable version of sibling WH-1000XM2 headphones.
I have tried Bose, Beats, Sennheiser, Plantronics, and many others. This is now the one to beat.
Great bass and midrange – typical warm and sweet Sony sound signature
The Connect app offers highly customisable sound
Very effective noise cancelling especially for buds
DSEE HC audio upscaling works very well on MP3
Premium product, looks good
You are going to either love or hate the horse collar, sorry neckband
No IP rating
No multipoint connection
Can’t use while charging (it needs to be seen as a USB sound device)
Overall: 4.4 – higher if you can bag a bargain
Features: 4 out of 5 – needs to have digital playback via USB and basic IP rating
Value for Money: 5 out of 5 – but only if you don’t pay full price or knock this rating down a notch
Performance: 5 out of 5 – top sound especially on aptXC HD, LDAC and ANC
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – easy to install and use but the app can be a little intimidating
Design: 4 out of 5 – love or hate the horseshoe
$449.95 but have been seen online for under $300 from reputable stores