AirPods vs. Bose SoundSport Free vs. Jaybird Run vs. Sony WF1000X
Apple introduced AirPods on Sept. 7, 2016, the same day they axed the headphone jack.
Critics ripped Apple before giving AirPods a shot.
- AirPods will get lost easily. Reality: They won’t get lost if you store them in their case. Plus, you can locate them with Find My iPhone if you do misplace them.
- AirPods look odd because there’s no connection cable. Reality: Critics said the same thing about the first EarPods: why would you put headphones inside your ears? My question is: why would you disqualify an improved product just because it looks different? Early adopters are willing to wear things that aren’t yet mainstream.
- AirPods are going to fall out because there’s no cord. Reality: A cord wouldn’t prevent them from falling out. The original Apple EarPods fall out of your ears due to the weight and pull of the cord, not because of the fit.
But once AirPods were in the ears of the people, they were an instant hit. I’ve had AirPods for over a year, and I’ve loved them since day one.
The market realized Apple was onto something with their completely wireless solution.
Now, it’s my turn to find the best true wireless headphones on the market.
To get a reliable baseline, I bought Amazon’s highest-rated pair of wireless earbuds under $100, the Parihy PA-01. These are rated four stars, but they can’t compete with the higher-end options. You get what you pay for, and you’ll have to spend a little more if you want high-quality earbuds.
We’ll consider six categories: sound, software, fit, design, battery, exercise and compare four brands: Apple AirPods vs. Bose SoundSport Free vs. Jaybird Run vs. Sony WF1000X.
Has anyone dethroned AirPods yet?
Here are things all four headphones do and don’t do:
- Because they’re not attached to each other, they’re easier to lose if dropped in snow, leaves, couch cushions, under the bed, etc.
- They have mics and a voice assistant, but the voice assistant is slow to start.
- They all cost about the same. Price shouldn’t be a consideration. AirPods have been $159 from the beginning, while Jaybird and Sony have recently come down to that price point. Bose SoundSport Free headphones are the most expensive at $199, but the extra $40 is worthwhile if you want the best.
- You may miss the cord because it’s more apparent to people that you’re wearing headphones when there’s a cord dangling. For instance, when I’m working at home with my headphones on, my roommates know not to bother me.
#4 – Sounds ultra compressed.
Jaybird Run (F)
- Battery (Ranked 3rd): The battery is solid. You’ll get four hours of playback with an additional eight with the case.
- Fit (Ranked 3rd): They fit and stay in well. Jaybird X3s stayed in my ear well too, but I prefer Run’s design because it’s more comfortable and not as stressful on the ears.
- Exercise (Ranked 1st): These aren’t moving from your ears during the hardest of workouts. You have to exert power to pull them out of your ears. The connection can be shaky during vigorous activity, but it’s more reliable than Sony.
- Software (Ranked 3rd): The phone app is great with useful tutorials and preset equalizer settings based off of famous athletes. But…
- They have the same video lag issue that Bose had, where the video and audio are a second off, but Jaybird hasn’t addressed this yet.
- The connection between the left and right bud is shaky. The right always stays connected to the phone, but it loses connection with the left frequently.
- I had lots of issues switching audio sources. When going from my MacBook to iPhone, I’d often have to disconnect from my MacBook, tap “Forget This Device,” and put my Runs into pairing mode before they’d finally reconnect. But sometimes only the left bud wouldn’t sync with the right.
- Sound (Ranked 4th): Music sounds like it’s been compressed ten times over. I can’t get a good sound no matter what equalizer settings I use (although some settings are better than others). I’m not sure if this is a speaker quality issue. It might be a tradeoff to maintain connectivity. The sound is something you could get used to, but once you try any of the other three models, you’ll notice the difference. Any reviewer that claims these sound good hasn’t tried anything else.
- Design (Ranked 3rd): They fit closer to the ear without sticking out like Bose and Sony, but I don’t like the feel of the buds or charging case because they’re cheap plastic. I also don’t like the location of the buttons because when you push the buttons, you push them deeper into your ear, which isn’t pleasant. The case design is poor too: there’s no way see the battery life, and it’s hard to tell if you’ve positioned the headphones in the dock correctly.
#3 – Good in perfect conditions.
Sony WF1000X (D)
- Sound (Ranked 2nd): They have noise cancellation and something called “Adaptive Sound Control” that detects your activity, such as walking or sitting, then adjusts the sound settings accordingly. Neither of these features does precisely what’s intended, but that’s due to the size limitations of the buds. If you get a tight fit and aren’t moving much, they sound amazing. They block out more surrounding/outside noise than any of the others I tried.
- Software (Ranked 4th): There are many software issues.
- Setup is challenging, not intuitive, and Sony’s guide isn’t helpful. You need to sync the left bud first by pressing the power button for seven seconds, but the power must be turned off for it to work. Then, you sync the right bud to the left, but it doesn’t often work the first time.
- The left and right bud stay in sync and don’t cut out, but only if you don’t move and your phone’s not in your pocket.
- The new firmware update might fix some of the cutout issues, but after four tries, I haven’t been able to get the update through my phone. The download fails halfway through.
- The audio lag on video isn’t as drastic as Jaybird, but it’s still there.
- This happened twice: I stopped using them, paused the music, disconnected from my MacBook, and placed the buds in the case. Ten minutes later, I played a YouTube video and the Sonys were used as the audio source while still in the case.
- Switching sound sources means powering off and repairing, which is always a tedious process and it’s tough to get both buds synced.
- Battery (Ranked 4th): You get three hours of playback (closer to two hours in my real life testing) and an additional nine hours (closer to seven) with the case. This isn’t good enough.
- Exercise (Ranked 4th): These aren’t made for exercise.
- They’re not water or sweatproof.
- They cut out when you move, even during a casual walk. It’s better if your phone is out of your pocket and if it is in your pocket, it had better be the left one.
- Because the ear wings are small, the buds fall out easily. These shouldn’t be used for any activity more than a light stroll.
- Design (Ranked 4th): The buds stick out of your ears more than the Bose, making you look goofy. I like the thinness of the charging case, but the buds don’t always snap in well and there’s no battery indicator.
- Fit (Ranked 4th): The earbuds go inside your ear canal. There are seven different earbud tips with different sizes, some made out of silicone and some foam. The foam tips feel better, but I couldn’t get a tight seal with them. They don’t sound good without a tight seal, so I stuck with the silicone tips, but that makes them uncomfortable to wear. But that’s just my opinion. Some people like that the inside the ear canal fit.
#2 – Best sound by far.
SoundSport Free (B+)
- Sound (Ranked 1st): They sound amazing and blow the others out of the water in this regard. You get an incredible level of depth and clarity that I’ve never experienced in wireless earbuds. They’re not noise-canceling, and you can hear your surroundings (that’s intentional).
- Software (Ranked 2nd): The release was shaky by Bose’s standards. Users reported lag issues between video and audio. These problems were patched with the latest firmware update. Bose gets the most out of Bluetooth, but there are frustrating limitations. For instance, phone calls only work with the “master bud” (right), and you can’t pair with multiple devices and switch quickly. Here’s what they get right:
- Like AirPods, there’s no on/off button. They’re on when they’re out of the case. This makes things easier. They shut off automatically when they’ve been inactive or are put in the case.
- Changing audio sources isn’t as seamless as AirPods, but it’s light years ahead of Sony and Jaybird. When connected to a device, hold the Bluetooth button for a few seconds, and it’ll disconnect and enter pairing mode. It remembers previously-used devices.
- The app is great. You can see all of your Bluetooth connections, change the standby timer, look at cool tutorials, and play a sound on your buds if you lose them. (It’s much louder than AirPods’ finder and is great for finding them when they’re buried in the couch cushions).
- Overall, the connection is good, and you won’t experience many dropouts. The only time I had an issue was when I had my phone in a thick coat pocket while shoveling.
- Fit (Ranked 2nd): They’re made of soft silicone and sit ON your ear canal (similar to AirPods) rather than inside the ear canal. This makes them more comfortable.
- Battery (Ranked 2nd): You get five hours of playback with an additional 10 hours from the case.
- Exercise (Ranked 2nd): They are sweat and weather resistant (with an IPX4 rating), and they won’t fall out, even with the most rigorous of exercises.
- Design (Ranked 2nd): The buds feel solid yet light and they’re the only pair to have a dedicated volume button. The charging case feels great, has a battery life indicator, and the buds snap into the case nicely (unlike Sony and Jaybird). Everything is extremely well-built but Bose falls short when it comes to aesthetics. These are huge, bulky, and look awkward with how far they stick out of your ears. I’m normally a stickler for attractive design, but with everything else SoundSport Free earbuds bring to the table, it was a worthwhile sacrifice considering the brilliant battery, fit and sound.
#1 – W1 Chip is a gamechanger.
Apple AirPods (A+)
- Software (Ranked 1st): Apple’s W1 Chip removes friction that typically comes with Bluetooth and it’s a game changer. The W1 Chip is the most important new feature in any technology product released in the last five years. (You can use AirPods with Android devices, but the W1 Chip won’t do you any good).
- The setup is a complete departure from the configuration of most Bluetooth headphones. When you open the AirPod case, your iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch immediately recognize the AirPods and are connected. You never need to go into the Bluetooth settings.
- Unlike the other true wireless options, there isn’t a “master” earbud. Due to Bluetooth limitations, only one bud talks to the phone, then that bud talks to the other. With AirPods, both are connected to the phone simultaneously, and the connection between the phone never drops. I haven’t seen a drop out in the year I’ve been using AirPods.
- There are no power buttons. AirPods recognize when they’re in your ears. When you have music playing while wearing both, and take one out, the music pauses. The music plays again once the AirPods put back in. But if you prefer, you can listen with just one AirPod in too.
- They work with iCloud, making switching between Apple devices seamless and automatic. You don’t touch the settings, just tap AirPods from whatever service you’re listening to.
- You get the battery status of the case AND the AirPods in three different locations: the headphone selector, the notification screen, when opening the AirPods case.
- AirPods make a noise when you press the Find My Phone app when you misplace them.
- Phone calls work wonderfully, and the person’s voice gets played through both AirPods.
- Fit (Ranked 1st): If the original Apple EarPods (included with iPhone) fit your ears, these will fit the same. (Many people can’t get the iPhone EarPods to stay in their ears, so test first before buying.)
- These babies refuse to fall out of my ears. I intentionally tried to get them to fall out by running, jumping and doing other activities and they wouldn’t budge.
- They’re the easiest to put in your ears. You’ll know exactly how they go in without explanation, whereas with the others there’s a slight learning curve. (My mom still can’t figure out how to get the SoundSport Free headphones in her ear correctly.)
- Design (Ranked 1st): The design is perfect.
- The charging case is half the size of the others and will fit in any pocket.
- The AirPods snap in with magnets.
- The white color of the AirPods and lightweight are the perfect combination.
- I wear them for five consecutive hours and because they’re so light without stress on the ears. Sometimes I’ll have them in my ears after the music stops because I forget they’re there. I want technology to disappear in the background, and this is it.
- Battery (Ranked 1st): You can use AirPods all day! They last five hours on one charge, but the charging case gives an additional 25 hours of battery life. And you can plug the AirPods into the case for 15 minutes to get an additional three hours of juice.
- Sound (Ranked 3rd): The sound quality is fine. It’s better than the EarPods that come with iPhone, but they don’t offer noise cancellation or anything close to a premium sound. However, if you’re disappointed with the sound quality, you’ve missed the point of AirPods. They are about ease and convenience.
- Exercise (Ranked 3rd): I run, bike casually, and shovel snow with AirPods and they don’t fall out of my ears due to sweat or movement, and they don’t cut out. AirPods aren’t technically sweatproof, but I haven’t had issues, but I can see how it would be an issue for people who sweat excessively.
Which one is for you?
Apple has a huge (and unfair) advantage over competitors because they can simultaneously control the software on iPhone and AirPods. Apple restricts software access to other companies, and they’re not looking to do anyone favors because they own Beats.
Non-Apple headphone manufacturers are faced with all of Bluetooth’s faults and there’s not much that can be done to combat them.
Does this mean there aren’t good options? No.
But there’s only one option: Bose.
For most of you, Bose SoundSport Free headphones are your best bet. They’re durable for workouts, fit well, get the most out of Bluetooth, and the crisp sound is remarkable.
Jaybird Run headphones will stay in your ears, but the sound leaves much to be desired.
Sony WF1000X headphones sound great under ideal conditions. But if clothing gets in the way or you’re moving, they’ll fall out or cut out.
The Jaybird and Sony connections are too inconsistent and can’t be recommended.
I’ll be keeping my Bose for bike rides and when I want to jam.
But If you’re an iPhone user and Apple’s original EarPods fit your ears, and you’re not vigorously exercising, you want AirPods.
AirPods are my favorite tech product in a long time. It’s the perfectly executed device. I was expecting AirPods to be priced over $200 and would have gladly paid because they’d be worth that cost. $159 turns out to be a great value.
You’ll miss out on all AirPods great features if you’re an Android user, so I can’t recommend them for non-Apple users.