Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Earbuds REVIEW
Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Earbuds REVIEW
PAT PILCHER stuffs his ear holes with Sony’s newest ear gear and falls head over heels with the all-round innovation.
Sony’s latest truly wireless earbuds have arrived at an interesting time. Apple has upped its game with their AirPods. while every other consumer electronics outfit and their dog also have introduced their own wireless earbud brands.
This is, of course, both ‘good and bad news’ for Joe and Joanne public. More competition equals more innovation. And this in turn, equals more bells and whistles, as sound quality continues to increase at a rapid clip. The downside is that more market hype and noise … also equals growing levels of confusion.
So, the big question is this: Is Sony’s efforts with the WF-1000XM3 enough to make them stand out from the crowd?
After spending time with them – crammed into my noggin – during my Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds review, the answer is a definite ‘yes.’
One of the most critical considerations with any truly wireless ear gear is comfort. If you’re going to bung two of these widgets into your lugholes and wear them for several hours at a stretch, they need to be as comfy as possible. Equally important, they need to stay put.
On the comfort front, Sony has avoided the small pellet-like design favoured by so many other brands. They’ve thankfully also avoided the slightly ridiculous stretched golf tee design of Apple’s AirPods. Instead, they’re opting for a small shield-like design. One with an integrated earpiece on their ear-facing side.
“The headphones fit snugly, stay put, and feel comfy”
While it sounds a little odd, in practice this works surprisingly well. Intelligent design touches such as what Sony calls their ‘Tri-hold Structure’ uses three key in-ear points for grippiness. So the headphones fit snugly, stay put, and feel comfy.
This is helped along by the use of rubberised surfaces. Which helps them grip the wearer’s ears. In my case, they stayed put with the default silicon ear tip used (Sony also supply several dozen other ear tips to accommodate as many different-shaped ears as possible).
Because Everyone’s ears are different, your mileage may vary. But the prevailing consensus amongst fellow journalists at the launch event is that the WF-1000MX3’s were a comfortable fit.
Fit aside, they are also attractively designed. The earbuds and charging case come in two finishes – black and copper or white and silver, the same colours as used with the highly rated Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear cans.
The outside of each earpiece has a small, shiny, circular patch. These are touch-sensitive control pads, whose function depends on how you’ve set them in the Sony Connect for Android and IOS.
By default, the left pad enables/disables noise cancelling. Tapping and long-pressing fires up the Quick Attention feature, which is handy when someone nearby asks you a question without having to pause any music or remove the buds from lugs.
On the right are the playback controls. One tap will play or pause; two taps skip forward and three backwards. The ‘tap’ and ‘long-press’ manoeuvre fires up Siri or the Google Assistant. Removing either or both buds also pauses music playback. Frustratingly, there’s no touch volume control.
“This equates to a 40 per cent improvement in noise-cancelling quality over earlier models”
Under the hood, Sony has worked some clever tech magic. The QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor (the very same as the WH-1000XM3’s) is used. Sony says that this equates to a 40 per cent improvement in noise-cancelling quality over earlier models.
Audio is handled using an energy-efficient 24-bit audio processing engine, with the Sony processing chip also handling noise-cancelling, DAC and (as in the WH-1000XM3’s) analogue amplification. This gives the WF-1000XM3’s a distinct edge in terms of their musicality, even though they don’t support the aptX audio codec.
The charging case isn’t petite. But it is pocketable and is a particularly striking piece of gear thanks in part to its copper on black finish. Speaking of batteries, the buds score well in the battery department. With noise-cancelling enabled, I got just under six hours of playback.
Sony says that playback can be extended up to eight hours with noise cancellation disabled. Adding further to this is the charging case which can supply three additional charges. Which equates to a whopping 24 to 36 hours of use. Equally nice, 10 minutes of charging delivers 90 minutes of use.
“Playback can be extended up to eight hours with noise cancellation disabled”
As with other Sony cans, getting the WF-1000XM3’s connected is aided by Sony’s Headphones Connect app. It’s a free download for iOS and Android, and it allows the earbud users to see battery levels, tweak audio/sound stage details, and customise touch controls.
Noise cancelling tweakage is also available, and instead of an on/off option as used by so many other brands, Sony has opted for a slider to vary the level of noise-cancelling available. There is also a voice focus mode. Which, when a loud voice is heard nearby, drops noise cancelling. For flyers wanting to travel light, this makes hearing in-flight announcements a doddle.
Another useful setting is what Sony calls DSEE HX. Which is ‘upscaling’ sound processing that can take average audio and give it a good polish for higher fidelity and added crispness. Testing this with a low bitrate Mp3 of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ (a sibilant mess, complete with that horrible underwater sound that is so typical of low bitrate compressed audio) saw a marked improvement.
While DSEE HX won’t give the same depth and punch as native hi-res audio, it does make an average to good quality Mp3 track sound just that much better.
Firing up Pitch Black’s Ape To Angel album saw thick bass reverberating around my skull while trippy drums and fruity reverbed loops filled my head. The WF-1000XM3’s played anything I threw at them with a wonderful musicality.
Audio sounded as if it was being delivered via a decent pair of chunky over-ear cans instead of a tiny pair of wireless earbuds during this Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds review.
“Thick bass reverberated around my skull while trippy drums and fruity reverbed loops filled my head”
Classical (Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’) and blues (Clapton’s ‘Alberta’) both felt rich, warm and detailed. Music through the WF-1000MX3’s has velocity and power but just as crucially, subtle detail, nuance and balance that many larger over-ear headgear makers struggle to capture. That Sony has managed all this with these tiny wireless earbuds speaks volumes about their engineering chops.
It isn’t just music that impressed. My pair is a good fit in my ears, which gives then a significant degree of natural sound isolation. Flicking the noise-cancelling slider in the Connect app all the way up to max did a decent job of killing environmental sound.
That said, a pair of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones still does a better job, but the gap is now so small that it’s almost unnoticeable.
A key pain point with truly wireless earbuds has been addressed by Sony. Where most truly wireless earbuds have a single Bluetooth connection to an audio device and both earbuds connect directly to each other, Sony has tweaked their Bluetooth hardware.
Both WF-1000MX3 buds now connect directly to your audio source. Sony says this makes for improved connection reliability. And in practice, this indeed proved to be the case. Wandering around the crowded RF environment that is Wellington’s CBD, there were no audio dropouts whatsoever. Sony also says that the new Bluetooth setup should improve latency. Which will result in better audio sync issues when watching video.
Call quality also proved to be good. This is in part due to the mics built into both the earpieces. Answering calls was also a doddle, and simply involving a tap on either earpiece.
Sony’s WF-1000XM3s set a new benchmark for other truly wireless earbud makers to follow. Audio playback is excellent. Battery life is stellar. And they deliver rock solid active noise cancelling. About the only fly in the sonic ointment is a lack of apt-X support. But the audio performance of these buds makes it a non-issue.
If you’re thinking I’m impressed by the outcome of my Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds review, you’d be dead right.