Premium Earbuds Comparison: Apple VS Sony VS Sennheiser VS Devialet VS Bowers & Wilkins VS Sams
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Today we’ll be doing a comparison between the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, Sony WF-1000XM4, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 (MTW 2), Devialet Gemini, Apple AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
Let’s talk design.
We can pretty much divide up the cases pretty evenly by size. The AirPods Pro, Galaxy Buds Pro and MTW 2 cases are all pretty pocketable, while the PI7 and Gemini cases are pretty chunky. You’ll definitely want to keep those two in a bag instead of your jeans pocket. One great thing about the Devialet Gemini, though, is that the case has a removable bottom cover so that you can replace the battery when needed. The Sony WF-1000XM4 is kind of in the middle, really. It’s just a bit smaller than the AirPods Pro height-wise, but it’s a bit longer length-wise and depth-wise. There’ll definitely be a bigger bulge in your pocket with this, but it’s still somewhat pocketable.
All these cases use USB-C to charge, except, of course, the AirPods Pro that has a Lightning port. That being said though, there’s wireless charging in every single one of these cases, except the MTW 2. So if you’re deadset on having a case that can be set down on a wireless charger, you’ll probably want to eliminate the MTW 2 here. Otherwise, on we go.
The earbuds themselves come in a variety of different shapes. The AirPods Pro are the only earbuds with a stemmed design here. The Gemini have a more oval shape, which looks a lot like the Devialet Phantom speakers’ side panel, and I love it. The PI7 actually sticks out of the ear quite a bit because of the raised area for touch controls, but I like the contrast between the gold and black. The XM4 is a bulkier looking earbud, but I like the beige sandstone-ish colour as well as the overall texture, which also extends to the case. It’s a soft-touch coating on the plastic that feels somewhat rubber-ish.
The MTW 2 has a pretty standard earbud design, with the signature metal ringed faceplate. The Galaxy Buds Pro retained the shiny faceplate from the Buds+ and somewhat of the bean shape from the Buds Live, and it’s actually the option that doesn’t protrude out of my ear as much. I’ve actually fallen asleep on my side with these before, so that’s a testament to how comfortable and small they are. I won’t claim a winner here because design is super subjective, but my favourites are probably the XM4 and Gemini.
Moving on to battery life, we have the XM4 coming out way on top here, with eight hours in the earbuds if you keep ANC turned on. Following that, we have the Gemini at six hours with ANC on, the Galaxy Buds Pro and Sennheiser MTW 2 at five hours with ANC, and the PI7 and AirPods Pro come in tied at 4 hours with ANC on. I’d say that the clear winner here is definitely the XM4, especially if you don’t use ANC because Sony claims you can get up to 12 hours of battery life in the earbuds with ANC off. That’s really quite incredible.
Let’s talk about some highlight features for each earbud. The AirPods Pro work with Apple’s spatial audio, of course, and if you’re a fan of surround sound technology when watching shows, you’ll definitely want to at least give these a try. Samsung also has a 360 audio feature, but unfortunately, I’m unable to test this as I don’t have a Galaxy phone with One UI 3.1 and above.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 has a companion app that’s chockful of features, but I’ll say the standout one is speak-to-chat, which automatically lowers music volume and pipes in external noise when the earbuds detect you’re speaking. Alternatively, there’s the Quick Attention feature where you can tap and hold the left earbud to lower music volume and turn on Transparency mode for short conversations. There’s also Sony’s 360 Reality audio and a comprehensive EQ feature.
The Gemini earbuds don’t have that many software features, but the earbuds are supposed to have cascading decompression chambers to ensure ideal inner pressure in the ear, and I have to admit, they’re incredibly comfortable to wear for long periods of time, possibly because of this. There’s also Ear Active Matching, in which the earbuds analyse the listener’s ear shape and position of the earbuds in the ear canal to adjust the sound in real-time for an optimal listening experience.
The coolest one has to be the PI7 though. Sure, there’s no EQ feature in the app, but the case itself works as a retransmitter. This means you can plug it into a computer, phone, or even a Nintendo Switch and the earbuds will pair to the case and audio will be streamed to the earbuds in aptX Adaptive. It’s incredibly cool.
The winner for me though is the XM4, simply because of how feature-packed the Sony Headphones app is. I really love the inclusion of the EQ feature as well as the Quick Attention feature.
On to connectivity and codec support. All the earbuds here are using Bluetooth 5.0, which is pretty standard, with the exception of the Sennheiser MTW 2 using Bluetooth 5.1 and the Sony WF-1000XM4, which is using Bluetooth 5.2! Now, there’s not that much of a difference, but Bluetooth 5.2 does mean better battery life and higher data transmission at lower power consumption.
The AirPods Pro are the only earbuds here that support just two codecs, SBC and AAC. The Galaxy Buds Pro and WF-1000XM4 support both, as well as the Samsung Scalable Codec and LDAC respectively. The MTW 2 and Gemini support both as well as aptX. The PI7 takes the cake, though, with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive. Winner here? It’s subjective. If you want LDAC, the WF-1000XM4 is the only one to support it. Otherwise, the PI7 with aptX Adaptive is probably the best available.
Okay, we come to ANC. This is one feature that I value very much in a pair of true wireless earbuds. I’m not a fan of being able to hear the train rumble when I take the subway, and with many of us working from home now, it means we’re stuck with potentially a lot of noise when neighbours are doing renovation works. I would know, both my neighbours upstairs and downstairs have taken turns renovating their flats over the last month. So let’s talk about which one might cancel out the most noise for you.
All these earbuds have ANC in them, but here’s my personal ranking. The Sony WF-1000XM4 takes the crown. It’s effective with pretty much everything, and out of all these earbuds, they were the ones I reached for first whenever the renovation drilling became too much to bear. After that, the AirPods Pro and Momentum True Wireless 2 are pretty much neck and neck. Third place is pretty much a three-way split between the Gemini, PI7 and Galaxy Buds Pro. If I had to pick, I’d say the Gemini and Buds Pro are ever so slightly better than the PI7, especially when it comes to higher-pitched stuff like voices.
But of course, nothing really means much if your earbuds sound like shit. So let’s talk sound quality. Needless to say, this part is, truly, a personal preference. Let’s start off with the Buds Pro. These are pretty neutral earbuds with just a bit of bass boost. Audio is clear and detailed, but if you’re expecting something fun and exciting, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The AirPods Pro are the same. They’re balanced, they have a good amount of bass and the midrange is relatively neutral. All in all, they work well across a wide range of music, and even for stuff like podcasts.
Moving on, we have the four earbuds that have really great sound quality and quite different sound signatures too. Let’s start with the Sennheiser MTW 2 first. There’s a slight emphasis on the bass with plenty of detail in the treble. It’s a pretty well-controlled sound, and honestly, Sennheiser’s MTW series is known as one of the best sounding true wireless earbuds around for a reason.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is really interesting because while the others tend towards a more neutral sound, the XM4 goes the other way. I’ve always used this word to describe Sony’s WF earbuds, and it’s musicality. There’s just this incredible element to the sound that really is very appealing to me. You get so much clarity in the bass, and plenty of accuracy and detail even into the mids and highs. I’ll be very, very sad when I have to return these to Sony. You might think, “that’s pretty high praise, I guess that’s the winner for the sound quality segment”, but no. Because we still have the Devialet Gemini and the Bowers & Wilkins PI7.
These two earbuds are really neck and neck. You get excellent bass in both, but I found the PI7’s to be a bit richer in the low end while the Gemini was a bit crisper. Mids are great on both, and the PI7’s treble is even better than the Gemini. The downside for these is that the Gemini’s highs end up a bit harsh at higher volumes, while to me, the PI7’s vocals are a bit too laidback. But again, these two are incredible sounding earbuds. Three years ago, I would never have expected true wireless earbuds to evolve to this level of sound quality. The winner? Well, it’s a toss-up between the PI7 and the Gemini. Personally, I think I’ll go with the Gemini simply because it actually sits more comfortably in my ear.
Lastly, we come to the price. Working our way from the most affordable to the most expensive, we have the Galaxy Buds Pro at US$199 or S$308, the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Pro are tied at S$379 each, but for some reason, the AirPods Pro go for US$249 while the XM4 goes for US$279.99.
Following that, we have the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 which retailed at US$299.99or S$449 and the Devialet Gemini, which is also priced at US$300 or S$459. Lastly, we have the most expensive of the lot. The Bowers & Wilkins PI7, which goes for US$399 or S$602. Yeah, this isn’t something that most people will be able to go out and buy on a whim.
Quick conclusion? Get the Sony WF-1000XM4 if you want the best ANC, best battery life and a really musically engaging pair of earbuds. Get the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 if you want the best sound quality, aptX Adaptive and that cool retransmitter feature in the case. Get the Devialet Gemini if you want excellent sound quality at a more affordable price than the PI7.
Get the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 if you’re looking for a pair of earbuds that sound really good and you want to save some cash, because these are going on sale pretty often these days. Sennheiser just sold off their consumer audio business back in May, so I really have no idea if they’re gonna come out with an MTW 3 any time soon, but if they do, well, there’s gonna be a lot of competition.
Get the Apple AirPods Pro if you have an iPhone because let’s be real, there are very few earbuds on the market that work as seamlessly with an iPhone. Fast Pair on Android devices is nice and all, but nothing compares to how frictionless it is when you’re using everything Apple.
Lastly, get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro if you’re using a Samsung phone and you just want something that works, because of that Samsung Scalable codec. You get better audio quality and pretty much no audio delay if you have a Samsung phone paired with Samsung earbuds.
Content by Cheryl Tan