High-Level: AirPods Pro vs. WF-1000XM3 vs. QC20i
Pictures once it’s light out … but I spent a bit of time comparing the Sony WF-1000XM3, Apple AirPods Pro and the Bose QC20i (wired).
These are all things I would use for travel or walking, but not units I would choose to sit and listen to critically. And my travel usage is pretty much in airports and on planes, so the high levels of background noise, even with ANC and mechanical isolation, limit the degree of fidelity one can achieve to the point of “good enough” to “very good” at best.
At a very high level, I’d rank them, by category as follows:
Sound: WF-1000XM3 >= AirPods Pro = QC20i
ANC: AirPods Pro -> WF-1000XM3 > QC20i
Comfort: QC20i > AirPods Pro > WF-1000XM3
Convenience: AirPods Pro > WF-1000XM3 > QC20i
Battery (w/o Case): QC20i > AirPods Pro = WF-1000XM3
Operation: QC20i = AirPods Pro > WF-1000XM3
Connection: QC20i > AirPods Pro > WF-1000XM3
The actual ANC is very similar between these units, but the QC20i do not seal into the ear canal the way both the Sony and Apple models do, so there is less mechanical isolation as a result and a bit more noise is audible.
QC20i are the most comfortable, precisely because of how they sit in the ears. I’ve routinely worn them for 10+ hour flights with no discomfort at all. The Sony’s I would have to pop out every couple of hours for a few minutes. The AirPods I got a bit of tenderness in one ear with the medium tips after about 45 minutes, though after taking them out, waiting 5 minutes, putting them back I ran the batteries down (another 4+ hours) without any further issue.
The AirPods Pro are easily the smallest package, being half the size (or less) overall (including the case) than either the Sony or the Bose. And the lack of wires, combined with functionality that “just works” (at least with an iPhone) is really nice. The Bose are completely reliable, but the cables are a distraction and get in the way. The Sony’s controls are a bit hit and miss, half the time I’ll turn on “Quick Attention” mode and then not be able to get it to turn off without multiple attempts or going into the app.
If the Sony “Headphones” App is not closed out and killed, it screws up the phone automatically connecting to my car.
The Sony’s can use conventional IEM tips. Both the Bose and Apple have proprietary tips. Though I am 100% sure it’s only a matter of time before third-parties off tips for the AirPods Pro.
When walking the WF-1000XM3 pick up the passage of air past the microphones and that’s distinctly audible. If there’s any wind at all, the same thing happens. So you want ANC off if using these in an urban setting and walking (not a bad idea from a safety perspective anyway).
Almost all ANC sets (in or over ear) I’ve tried exhibit low-level hiss when no music is playing as well as a sense of pressure on the ear drums. The pressure part doesn’t affect the QC20i, as they don’t seal the same way, but they have a slightly higher level of self-noise than either the Apple or Sony units. The WF-1000XM3 do have that “sense of pressure” thing going on. The AirPods Pro are the quietest AND do not have the pressure issue (probably due to their venting).
Proper details on sound a bit later.