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Apple AirPods 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM3: Which Wireless Earbuds Win?

Apple AirPods 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM3
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

There is no denying the mass appeal of the Apple AirPods 2. These all-white danglers remain one of the best wireless earbuds money can buy, as well as an essential companion accessory for iPhone lovers. They are also the best-selling model in the category, globally.

However, in a market where legacy audio brands speak loudly, Sony has something to say, and looks to do so, uninterrupted. The all-new Sony WF-1000XM3 delivers warm sound, great battery life, and one killer feature no non-Sony model has offered in a pair true wireless earbuds: noise cancelation. And guess what? It performs very, very well.

Apple reportedly has AirPods Pro on the way with noise cancelling, but they're not yet confirmed.

Whether you’re Team Apple or Team Sony, only one side can claim bragging rights after this battle. Proceed forward as we breakdown the Apple AirPods 2 and Sony WF-1000XM3 to proclaim a true winner.

Apple AirPods 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM3: Specs Compared

Apple AirPodsSony WF-1000XM3
Price$159; $199 (with wireless charging case)$288.00
ColorsWhiteBlack and Silver
What's in the BoxCharging case and Lightning cableCharging case, 2 types of ear tips (3 pairs of each in different sizes) and USB-C cable
Battery Life5 hours, 24 hours (charging case)8 hours, 24 hours (charging case)
Size0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches1.10 x 0.7 x 1.3 inches
Weight0.14 ounces, 1.4 ounces (case)0.3 ounce, 2.8 ounces (case)

Design

Both sets of buds have their own unique designs, which can either be labeled attractive or atrocious, depending on your taste. Personally, I find the WF-1000XM3 to be the more stylish model. The fact that it comes in more than one color (Black and Silver) is already a win. Sleek detailing like the copper accents and circular touch panels at the edge of each earbud complements the WF-1000XM3’s overall look. Also, the charging case looks and feels premium, especially when opening it to showcase the buds charging.

Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

While some Apple fanboys see the AirPods’ design as ultramodern, others feel they resemble a tampon without the string. We agree with the latter. But even when looking past the AirPods peculiar mold, they just lack flare. The glossy white plastic construction of the buds and charging case provide little protection, while the chrome accent at the bottom doesn’t exude the same charm or elegance as the accents on Sony’s buds.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Comfort

The AirPods and WF-1000XM3 offer quality comfort, but poor in-ear stability. Also, neither makes for the most discrete pair of buds to sport in public. If we have to settle on one, then the AirPods are the more pleasant wear.

Apple’s buds are lighter (0.14 ounces) and slimmer (0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches), and the flat earplug design is shaped perfectly to sit right on the concha. Fatigue will never be an issue when wearing these buds for several hours. The real problem is that without any ear tips or wings, the AirPods constantly fall off your ears. They are fine for stationary listening, but not for speed-walking or fitness. For a more secure fit, look into some third-party AirPods ear hooks, or consider its sportier sibling, the Beats PowerBeats Pro.

Apple AirPods 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Sony’s buds are more horizontal and wider (1.10 x 0.7 x 1.3 inches), which makes them stick out a bit. At least they weigh little at 0.3 ounces, individually. The angled sound port lets you easily slide the buds into your ears, but the soft-touch ear tips have poor grip control. Tilting your head sideways will likely cause one of the buds to hit the ground. 

Winner: Apple AirPods 2

Controls

When it comes to touch controls, accuracy is everything, and only one model gets it right: the AirPods. Even if each bud can only be assigned one shortcut (Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track and Previous Track) at a time, you’ll be thrilled with the AirPods’ swift-responding tap gestures. 

The AirPods also have intelligible features that enhance the user experience. On-ear detection automatically pauses playback when removing the buds from your ears. Removing one Pod enables a mono-listening mode to still enjoy music or phone calls on one ear. There’s also the "Hey Siri" feature for enabling Apple's digital assistant to performance voice commands. All of these controls operate smoothly.

Apple AirPods 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Sony managed to program multiple tap gestures into each earbud, but the results are disastrous. Neither the touch controls, nor on-ear detection operates well. My only way around using them was by performing slide gestures instead of taps, which, oddly, was a more effective solution for controlling music and noise cancelation.

In addition, the AirPods and WF-1000XM3 don’t have on-board volume controls, meaning you’ll have to adjust the volume manually through your audio device.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Apps and Special Features

Sony is not one to skimp on features. The WF-1000XM3 is loaded with several that elevate the listening experience on multiple levels. This includes different listening modes (ANC, Ambient Sound Control), Bluetooth 5.0, Google Assistant integration, NFC and a companion app with lots of sound personalization options.

Sony WF-1000xM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Let’s jump right into the biggest x-factor: noise cancelation. Sony’s first two attempts at ambient sound neutralization – the WF-1000X and WF-SP700N – both failed to hit their marks. The WF-1000XM3 is a vast improvement over its predecessors, thanks to a second noise-cancelling mic that Sony squeezed into each bud to enhance ANC performance. The results are impressive. I absolutely loved riding the subway and walking the streets free of environmental distractions. Ambient Sound Control can also serve purpose for those who want to be more aware of their surroundings without stopping the music.

The Sony Headphones app is where all of the action takes place. You’ll find a built-in EQ to either create your own sound profile or pick from nine different presets to boost the sound quality on specific music genres. Being able to adjust the Ambient Sound levels is pretty cool too. The inclusions of Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC allow for instant pairing; the former lets you to connect the buds to two devices at once. You can also toy with voice commands via Google Assistant (or Siri), which works great on WF-1000XM3 and provides solid speech recognition.

Sony WF-1000xM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The features list on Apple’s buds might be scarce, but the AirPods’ greatest strength comes in the form of connectivity. Apple’s all-new H1 processor brings forth seamless pairing and interaction between iOS-compatible devices, along with better wireless range (up to 40 feet) and voice-activated Siri, which works flawlessly to answer voice commands without any hesitation. 

As great as the AirPods perform, it’s impossible to look past the ANC performance and sound optimization settings that the WF-1000XM3 affords listeners. It’s also worth noting that Sony’s buds are more Android-friendly.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Audio

The WF-1000XM3 sounds great and lands somewhere in-between the Sennheiser Montemtum True Wireless and Master & Dynamic MW07. Punchy lows dominate the sound profile, but Sony tweaked its drivers to give mids and highs more breathing room. Nas’ monotonous flow on “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” sounds bright over an infectious, thumping bass-line, while Lauryn Hill’s melodies are compelling throughout the track. Film scores are even more satisfying to hear. The buds did a stellar job of reproducing the operatic resonance of Avengers: Endgame, especially during the climatic Avengers Assemble scene.

Sony WF-1000xM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple’s attempt at enhancing its audio profile has been duly noted. Sadly, while the AirPods sound good, their track record against other audio savants like the Powerbeats Pro and Jabra Elite 65t proves them to be the more inferior-sounding model. Lows and mids carry a strong presence, especially on hip-hop songs, but highs and distinct sounds get lost in recordings. Bass can also be a bit overzealous on hard rock songs.

When dealing with true wireless earbuds, noise isolation should always be considered. Neither set of earbuds creates a tight seal to prevent rumblings from seeping into the soundscape. At least the WF-1000XM3 has ANC at its disposal to keep any incoming noise to a minimum. It’s also helpful that ANC mode increases the bass. The AirPods tend to let in as much noise as they also seem to let out – sound leakage is very high.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Call Quality

The AirPods are better for screening calls. One major benefit they have over the WF-1000XM3 is wind resistance. Apple’s dual-mic system amplifies vocals, so that the caller on the other end can hear you more clearly when you’re stuck in drafty conditions. My only complaint is that high-frequency noises like crying babies and sirens sound annoyingly loud.

Apple AirPods 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

I don’t recommend the WF-1000XM3 as a calling headset. My girlfriend said that my voice dropped out every few seconds and sounded muffled in rowdy environments. There were also times when the mics randomly went mute when answering or making calls.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Charging Case

Both charging cases have a chic-looking design, extended battery life, and wireless charging capabilities. The real difference maker lies in portable convenience, which places the AirPods case at the front of the line.

Apple Airpods 2 vs. Sony WF-1000xM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

At 1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1 inches and 1.4 ounces, Apple’s compact case is simpler to carry around. It fits comfortably in any backpack, briefcase, business suit or jeans pocket. I also appreciate how well it secures the buds when recharging. You’ll get about four to five charges out of it; just enough for an international flight or weekly commutes to work. The wireless charging case is available for an extra $40 and works with most Qi-compatible chargers.

Sony’s charging case has its own perks that includes up to 18 hours of juice and NFC. On the other end, its elongated form will bulk up your denim pockets, which isn’t flattering.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Battery Life

When it comes to a single charge, the WF-1000XM3 falls in the same tier as the PowerBeats Pro with about 8 hours of juice on a full battery. I was able to get about a week’s worth of Spotify listening and Skyping at 1.5 hours daily without suffering low-battery anxiety. Knowing a 10-minute quick charge would net me 90 minutes of playback was reassuring as well.

Sony WF-1000xM3

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple rates the AirPods at 5 hours, but it’s more like 4 to 4.5 hours, depending on your streaming vices and volume levels. Luckily, they support quick charging to get you 3 hours on a 15-minute charge. 

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

Price

Great noise cancelation doesn’t come cheap. Sony provides this luxury not only at a competitive price, but also in a smaller, more convenient form factor. Stronger battery life and a highly serviceable companion app adds to the WF-1000XM3’s value.

For a more streamlined experience with fewer bugs, the AirPods II is well worth the money. However, those looking to extend functionality have little to work with outside of accessories, meaning you’ll have to spend more to get more out of them.

Overall Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3

The Sony WF-1000XM3 is an ambitious, high-performing pair of true wireless earbuds worthy of the win here. The sound engineering on these buds is remarkable, from the dynamic sonics to the effective noise cancellation. It’s earned a spot on our Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones list for a reason.

Apple AirPods 2Sony WF-1000XM3
Design (15)1012
Comfort (10)76
Controls (5)43
Special Features and Apps (15)1013
Audio (25)1822
Call Quality (5)43
Charging Case (10)98
Battery Life (15)813
Total Score (100)7080

The AirPods are still a solid pick for those who live and die by iOS. You’ll get the best wireless performance available and reliable battery life. The lightweight carry case is another benefit for those who require extra juice on the go. Just don’t expect elite sound quality or a vast number of features.