Top positive review
Fabulous for music, phone calls, bluetooth range...just a bit tight.
20 January 2018
I have written a comparison of 4 bluetooth headphones. This one is being published under the Beats product page. Why not 5 stars? Despite being a great all-rounder I think that they could be more comfortable to wear. The clamp does get to you after a while!
So, I thought I had my headphones sorted. Since my new iPhone dropped the audio socket I have been wireless. I’ve tried a few, but had settled on the Plantronics Backbeat Fit for running, the Beats Solo 3 for everyday use, and the Bose QC35 for when I wanted peace & quiet. (Plus a pair of Soundmagic E10s for the Nintendo Switch).
I alternate between the QC35 & the Beats for my London commute - but tend to favour the smaller sized Beats.
So - it was sorted until I got hold of a pair of Sony WH-1000XM2 on the Amazon Vine program (lucky me). I thought I should do a proper review comparing the 4 wireless headphones and assessing their strengths and weaknesses.
Backbeat Fit - these are a sport band type, in lime green. They look good, and are very sleek. Cyberman rating 0/10.
Bose QC35 - these are, for big headphones, very svelte. They look streamlined on the head (I have the black variety). Cyberman Rating 5/10
Sony - these are big. Wide cups. They look chunky on. Again, mine are black (or dark grey). Cyberman rating 8/10
Beats Solo - despite small cups these are at least as noticeable as the Sonys. The headband attaches to the outside of the cup and this creates a lot of space between head and band at the side of the head. Cyberman rating 9/10.
Fit & Comfort
Backbeat - you wouldn’t know it is there.
Bose - as light as a feather. So comfortable, can wear these for hours at a time. Hardly any clamping force and the cups fit totally around my big ears. You can drop these around your neck, but the cups face outwards, which is odd.
Sony - they feel solid and superior - but you can feel them. They clamp more strongly than the Bose, and are a little tighter fit around the ear. Like the Bose there is a padded headband which is comfortable. It is possible to drop these round your neck, but the extra clamp force feels uncomfortable.
Beats - clamp as tight as a vice. On-ear (rather than round-ear) - I’ve not had a pair like this before. They are good for up to an hour but after that can get uncomfortable. Easy to wear around neck if not using them.
Backbeat - definitely the best sports headphone I have ever used
Bose - commuting/flying
Sony - commuting/flying
Beats - commutes/around the house
Ease Of Connectivity
Bose & Beats both excel here for different reasons. The Plantronics & Sonys are standard bluetooth 1-at-a-time devices. If I am listening to something on my iPad and want to switch to my phone I first have to disconnect the bluetooth on ipad then connect on the phone. Fiddly.
With the Bose, you can have up to 8 (or 10?) devices in its memory, of which 2 can connect simultaneously. This is brilliant for me on the commute - I can be watching something on the iPad, suddenly realise that its my stop, pause the video, stuff the iPad into my bag, get off the train, press play on my phone and the music starts. No disconnecting/reconnecting.
With the Beats, the main advantages come if you are deeply immersed in the Apple ecosystem. My phone, tablet, watch, laptop & desktop are all signed into my iCloud account. As soon as I paired the Beats with my phone for the first time, all my other devices knew about the Beats. It doesn’t do the 2 device thing like Bose (well it does - but only Apple Watch & iPhone) - but switching between iPad & phone is just done by selecting the Beats on the device you wish to use. No deselecting as there is on the Sony & the Plantronics.
The Backbeats very occasionally glitch when I’m on a run - which is a little frustrating.
The Bose I used every day for nearly a year and never had a day where they didn’t suffer an audio dropout. I usually have my phone in my coat or jacket inside pocket - and the bluetooth would sometimes drop out if I turned my head to watch for traffic.
The Beats have never had a single dropout. Absolutely rock solid connection.
The Sonys I have used for two days on commutes and - not one dropout, which looks promising.
Up The Stairs Test
Bose - Died at step 24, brief dropout on step 5!
Sony - All the way to the top (30 steps) with no dropout
Beats - All the way to the top (30 steps) with no dropout
Plantronics - 28 steps
Garage To Kitchen Through 2 Doors test
Bose - 17 steps (2 closed doors)
Sony - 27 steps (2 closed doors)
Beats - no dropouts, my house isn’t big enough to test its range!
Plantronics - 24 steps (2 closed doors)
I shan’t bother reviewing the songs on the Plantronics - except to say they sound a whole lot better than 2 pairs of cheaper sports headphones I own (Phillips & some Far East no-brand).
Song Test 1: Abba “Take A Chance On Me”. That’s right - you don’t get What HiFi doing Abba do you? This was the first song I played on the Sonys (turn on music app - select first band you see - you know how it is). This sounded awesome. Vocals warm and rich, Depth of bass absolutely present. Faultless. The Beats sounded good on this track, but the sound seemed more biased to bass. The QC35 - wow - the female vocals are so harsh! This is a bright sound indeed. On this track, way too bright.
Song Test 2: Ghostpoet “Freakshow”. Brooding bass-heavy track with some distorted guitar breaks. The Bose do a good job here. They lighten the gloomy sound and create an open feel. I played the Sonys next and the sound is a lot more claustrophobic - probably what the artist wanted. The guitar is less harsh, and I honestly thought I heard more of what was making the layers of noise work. Again the Beats had a sound that was more biased to bass - which works well but I felt that I could distinguish less of the component sounds.
Song Test 3: Spoon “Knock Knock Knock” My go-to test song! It sounds great through headphones. I tried the Beats first. The kick drum & bass sounds fantastic, and the headphones deal well with the vocals and guitar - but its the drums here that grab you. The Sonys make less of a deal of the drums and bass, presenting vocals as the focus whilst the guitar has a nice warm balance. The Bose - its all about the guitar and hi-hat! Really interesting this. I like how it sounds on all 3 - the QC35 sounds more nimble than the other two - but the drums on the Beats win out.
Song Test 4: Idlewild: “Actually Its Darkness” - an attack of guitars. The Bose puts all the action at the top end - accentuating the distortion - its quite thrilling. The piano break two thirds of the way through actually sounds quite hollow though. The Sonys sound too polite, this is a rock band tearing it up and it sounds like a blanket has been put over the sound. The Beats get the balance right - the bass & drums are noticeable, and the top end is allowed to let rip too.
As for volume, I’d say the Beats and the Sonys have a maximum level approximately the same as each other, whilst the Bose go up to eleven. Just a tad louder. The Backbeat Fit can go quite loud too, at the top end they can obliterate other noises in the gym and on the road - but not as loud as the other three. A caveat to the sound - the Sony headphones to have an app which includes a graphic equaliser, so you can tune the response of the headphones to your taste. I did not use the equaliser for these tests.
With noise cancelling on, the Bose & Sony both have 20 hours claimed, and that has proved accurate. I’ve not tested ANC off (on the Sony) but apparently it adds another 10 hours. The Plantronics lasts for 6 hours. The Beats may as well last forever. I’ve used them almost daily for 2 months, and have only charged them once, and that was more out of curiosity than necessity.
Bose Active Noise Cancellation - when you put these on, with no music, the absence of noise is amazing.
Sony ANC - there is an effect noticeable with no music playing. Its almost like a pulsing wind, a very faint noise - but not the dead silence of the Bose.
Beats & Plantronics do not feature ANC.
I played a youtube video of airplane noise to see which could block out the most - interestingly both the Sony & Bose reduced the sound by a lot - but a little more of the lower frequencies got through the Bose filter - and a little more of the higher frequencies got through the Sony. All in all I actually, and possibly controversially, think the Sony deadens the aircraft noise best.
The Beats - with passive noise isolation (tightly clamped cups) - could not compete, and there is no isolation at all on the Plantronics.
The Bose are straightforward and the best. Slider switch to turn on & pair devices, three buttons - volume up, volume down and track control. The latter is pause (one tap) next song (two taps) previous song (three taps). The Beats have a power button (hold down to pair), a volume up, a volume down and a centre track control button that works as the Bose. However the buttons feel a bit sticky and I often pause instead of skipping a track. i notice I use my phone controls more when I have the Beats on.
The Sony’s controls are awful. firstly the power button is flush & hard to find, secondly it is very easy to get the wrong button - there is an adjacent button that manages the ANC mode. As for volume & track control - it is touch controlled. The right cup is touch enabled (slide down/up for volume, slide left/right for skip back/forward, single tap for pause). I nearly always get the wrong result when doing this swiping.
Plantronics has no ‘previous track’ - the left bud has a button for pause/play/skip. The right bud has answer call.
When answering calls - the Beats, Plantronics and Bose are precise, click a button and answer a call. The Sony - you end up stabbing the cup hoping that you don’t turn up the volume or disconnect the call. Quite unsatisfying.
All four sound OK when taking calls. I asked a friend to rank each one out of 10 for my voice clarity.
Beats - 9/10 - really clear
Sony - 7.5/10 - bit muffled
Bose - 6/10 - muffled and cut out
Plantronics - 4/10 - crackly sound.
All of these charge with micro-USB and each comes with a charger cable. The Bose, Beats & Sony also come with a 3.5mm audio cable for wired listening.
Each has a case - the Plantronics arrived with a running case for a standard phone (strap to arm style). The Bose & Sony have hard shell cases of broadly similar sizes, the Beats has a semi-rigid soft case.
The Beats perform surprisingly well. They are a really good daily headphone, as long as you can stand the clamping force. Whilst they have no ANC, you don’t really notice that much on a train when playing music. Nor do you need it when just using them around the house. And the battery life, and bluetooth range are the best here.
The Plantronics are niche, they are my running headphones. And having tried many - these are the best by a wide margin.
The interesting comparison is between my beloved & well used Bose and the new Sonys. I prefer the sound and the bluetooth signal solidity of the Sonys. I prefer the multi-device connectivity, comfort & controls of the Bose. I expect I’ll be restricting the Bose/Sony to long train journeys, flights etc whilst using the Beats on my commute. So do I need the multipoint connectivity? The sound should be king, but would I miss the absolute comfort of the Bose?