What’s best? In the world of True Wireless earphones, where Bluetooth carries the digital audio signal from smartphone to both earpieces (hence ‘true’), Apple Airpods (Gen 2, €179) are often the first touchpoint.
Apple’s earbud design – where the earpiece sits in the outer-ear (not inner) – makes them number one for comfort. Further, the Airpods’ ability to minimise environmental noise during phone calls is seriously impressive.
On music playback, the Apple earphones fall over. A lack of low bass has them sounding papery and dry. Two videos discussing their audible shortcomings were shelved in favour of turning that frown upside down and taking the review process (and camera) out of the house in Berlin and all the way to Budapest. Additional listening (sans camera) was conducted on a later trip to Copenhagen. Months of listening went into what follows.
The $10 VE Monk earbud sits in a superior league to the Airpods but they also return us to a hard-wired connection where the end result is dependent on the smartphone in play: the quality of its DAC and headphone amplifier — considerations that have this commentator swearing by LG’s V series.
In looking for a better sounding True Wireless option, we are confronted with a cast of thousands. Every audio company and his dog could be seen exhibiting a pair of True Wireless at IFA 2019; every day we read of a new model. No reviewer on the planet could hope to keep pace with the news, let alone locate a ‘best’.
My self-imposed brief was to find something better for music than Apple’s Airpods with a first call going out to Manhattan’s Master & Dynamic whose past form straddles the audiophile and fashion worlds. Would their MW07 (€269) True Wireless IEM be ‘best’ because it 1) sits inside the ear canal and 2) specifies Qualcomm’s aptX over and above Apple’s AAC? The latter largely depends on the source device. iPhones don’t do aptX. Some Androids do. To wit, end-users must keep themselves abreast of advanced level codecs.
Now look at the Sony WF-1000XM3 (€250): like the Airpods, they’re an AAC-only IEM. On sound quality, the MW07 sound more natural with an aptX-capable smartphone than do the Sony with the same smartphone paired via AAC. The Master & Dynamic must surely be better? Not so fast.
Sony has included active noise cancellation, a feature that must make it the ‘best’ of the three!? Again, not necessarily. “WHY NOT?!” you scream in desperation for a black and white world that doesn’t exist. Three words: implementation, implementation, implementation.
A True Wireless earphone’s sound quality isn’t solely defined by its internal Bluetooth streamer. It also carries with it a DAC and a bespoke-fit amplifier: a complete audio system not unlike active loudspeakers with streaming smarts.
The closer we look, the less clear cut a buying decision becomes.
The MW07’s smaller earpiece size means we can push them further into the ear for better passive isolation than the Sony. Where does that leave Sony’s ANC?
But a product’s appeal doesn’t only reside in its sound quality. Functionality matters too.
The Master & Dynamic have hardware buttons for volume control and playback control. The Sony have touch controls for the latter – as well as some ANC adjustments and Google voice integration – but force us to reach for our smartphone to turn the volume up and down – annoying.
What about looks? We wear earphones just as we might wear a watch or a ring. The Master & Dynamic look better but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and many beholders will prefer the Sony’s longer nose.
And neither rival is as effective at rejecting wind noise as the Apple Airpods — still the kings of phone calls and podcasts.
In this three-way split, searching for ‘best’ is a fool’s errand:
Camera: Olaf von Voss | 2nd camera: John Darko | Editor: Jana Dagdagan