Sony WF-1000XM3 Review

The Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless headphones have a lot to live up to: Launched as part of the brand’s lauded 1000X family of noise-cancelling headphones – that includes the award-winning Sony WH-1000XM3 – and the expectation is that these true wireless earbuds will offer superior noise suppression and no small amount of style.  The good news? They don’t disappoint on either count – and that’s why the Sony WF-1000XM3 are still our top true wireless earbuds for 2020.

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In November 2019, Sony released a firmware update for the WF-1000XM3 headphones that brings a bunch of improvements, including Amazon Alexa support, volume control via the headset and a visible battery level indication of the charging case in the Sony Headphones Connect app.

The WF-1000XM3 earbuds most prominently have a more efficient version of Sony’s noise-canceling chip: the QN1e. Not only does the feature help obstruct the environment around you, it also uses less power to do so. Here’s the strong ANC doing magic to improve overall sound. Don’t get me wrong, the WF-1000XM3 sounds great both in Ambient Sound mode and switched off with noise-cancel. It’s activated with the ANC though, that they really shine. Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds had previously offered the best sound overall. But it was Sony that gave the crown to me. And that is partly thanks to the power of the WF-1000XM3 to effectively remove any background noise.

With these earbuds there is a lot of depth to the sound, which isn’t always the case with true-wireless versions. More often than not the audio tends to feel distorted flat and static. It’s not a noise cancellation issue per se, it’s a general issue with that kind of earbuds. Some companies have succeeded at creating open, airy sounding true-wireless headphones, but they typically charge $300 or more for that luxury. Not only has Sony designed an expansive and well-tuned soundstage, it’s doing so for $70 less than much of the competition.

In terms of sound consistency, the WF-1000XM3 checks just about every column. Such earbuds are really catching the accessibility of songs such as The Appleseed Cast’s The Fleeting Light of Impermanence, complete with distorted guitar riffs, rhythmic percussion fills and spacey synths. This is exactly the style in some earbuds which can be compressed to a boring mess. But with Sony’s new, the tone appears wide and airy, keeping individual drums clean, plucking the guitar riffs over top instead of getting lost below. With the WF-1000XM3 also the bass-heavy styles sound excellent. The sound at the low end is wide and boomy, but it never gets too much. When it comes to hip-hop, these earbuds don’t deliver the same thump as over-ear headphones, but they handle it better than most true-wireless options. Denzel Curry’s ZUU can be a bit much for them at times, but that album is thick with heavy bass. The WF-1000XM3 soars with slightly mellower hip-hop like Flying Lotus’ Flamagra and Anderson Paak’s Ventura.

The design and finish

The name of the WF-1000XM3 confusingly bears an “M3,” or Mark 3, to suit the uber-popular WH-1000XM3 over-ear, even though these are only the second pair of truly wireless earbuds from Sony. The new buds come in a sleek black-and-copper charging case with a flat top with the Sony logo embossed.

The USB-C powered case is considerably wide, but it can still fit in most bags, and the flat top helps you to set it down on surfaces comfortably when you have the buds in. The cap flips up to reveal the two inner earbuds, and a large red Light at the front of the case lets you see if they are loaded.

With regard to convenience, the WF-1000XM3 fit inspires confidence. Twisting cleverly into position, protected by the shape of your neck, they sound cozy and reasonably comfortable (let’s face it; you’ll never want to wear in-ear headphones all day long). Importantly, they don’t seem like they’re likely to drop out as you bop down the street and they’re easy to live with headphones-just throw the charging case into your pocket and you’re free to go. A large range of non-slip rubber and silicone earbud covers are included in the package and choosing one that offers the best fit / comfort is worth experimenting with.

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Battery life

The earbuds qualify for 4.76 hours of continuous listening, with noise cancelling enabled, according to our objective test. The earbuds allow fast charging: 10 minutes allows 1.5 hours of playback, which came in handy while I was on the drive. Once the earbud batteries have been completely drained, it requires 1.5 hours to complete a charging period and 3.5 hours to fully charge the device, which allows the’ buds an extra three cycles. As with the Sony WH-1000XM3, the WF-1000XM3 case uses a USB-C cable included for charging.

Connection

You can use NFC or the standard Bluetooth linking approach to paire the Sony true wireless earbuds. Everything works absolutely perfectly. The earbuds work over Bluetooth 5.0 and allow a wireless range of 10 metres. In general terms, the frequency of the communication is remarkable, possibly due to the new positioning of antennas within each housing. However you can not attach concurrently to more than one computer.

Bluetooth codec support’s curious case is puzzling: AAC and SBC are enabled but not Sony’s own LDAC or any of the aptX codecs. DSEE HX apps, however, enhanced compressed audio files, justifying the exclusion bit.

Sound Quality

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They sound great. Bass frequencies receive a bit of a bump as do the mids. That way, vocal masking from low-end sounds is minimal as the frequency ranges are about the same loudness. While I was dubious of Sony’s decision to omit aptX support, DSEE HX processing does a fantastic job rendering clear audio. Regardless of what genre I listened to, the instrumental separation was great. I felt there was an honest perception of space, which made music infinitely more immersive than a cheap pair of ‘buds.

Passive isolation with the headphones is perfect because Sony offers enough choices for ear tips. Pair the properly fitting sleeves with the cancelation of Sony’s top-tier noise and it’s all over for any opposing ANC true wireless’ bud. Low-frequency noises such as a washing machine or aircraft engine are essentially silent. While it doesn’t silence external noise entirely, it’s decent enough that I’ve never raised the intensity to counter incessant noise from the setting.

Treble frequencies are transmitted with some emphasis, as the simple 5-8kHz spike denotes. This really only involves harmonic parts, such as the repeated tambourine hits during the choruses. While the focus is not conducive to a balanced tone, for most audiences it is more desirable because it feigns clarification by making high-pitched resonances readily noticeable. The Sony WF-1000XM3 improves all the right frequency levels with ample control to stop overblown rhythm and peaks of ear splitting. I quite enjoyed the alterations over a neutral sound one may expect from studio cans. When using these on a four-hour flight, it was achieved by the excessive bass combined with the excellent noise cancelation.

Features

When it comes to functionality, there is little missing: in addition to the Bluetooth NFC pairing, Google Assistant help and common Sony audio processing refinements are usable, like DSEE HX, to restore subjective information to loss streams. There is also funding for calling through hands-free voice.

Much better, the Sony Headphones Link software allows you to make changes to the EQ if required (we never found it necessary), which is a choice that not every headphone provides these days. You can also use the app to make Bluetooth communication a priority over sound quality, but why make the sacrifice?

Unlike their full-size stablemates, there is a range of physical controls on display, though the limited headphone area allows a tad more fiddly to use.  Like the Powerbeats Pro and other true high-end wireless earbuds, wearing tracking is given by a proximity sensor, so the WF-1000XM3 still recognizes when they are in operation. Take one out and as you put it back in order the music will stop, resuming. A touch panel press can stop your songs, or resume them.

There’s also a Rapid Attention feature accessible on the right ear bud which was a favorite in the WH-1000X series over-ear so you can click the earbud to clearly hear ambient sound. Sadly, though, there is no on-bud volume control; that can only be achieved via the device. 

More bad news? There is no support for aptX HD, or the LDAC Bluetooth extension for high headroom Sony. Additionally, the WF-1000XM3 utilizes a 24-bit audio processor, not the WH-1000XM3 32-bit silicon. Sorry audiophiles, if you want all the best features you’ll need to buy the full-size glasses.

Performance

Tiny 6 mm drivers exude rhythm and clarity; these superb little music-makers miraculously conjure up a wide, spacious sound-stage, with convincing spatial information.  If the podcasts are your walking addiction, the median is silky smooth. We ride with the rest of them if you want to rock it out-guitars have steel, drums are close and heavy. Dance and rock blends sound practically frothy as an alternative.

There’s an appreciable bass there, but no boom. If you want a thump that’s more noticeable then over-ears will always be a better bet. The real test for the WF-1000XM3 is of necessity its noise-cancelling capability.

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There is high noise suppression. The headphones, thanks to dual noise sensors in each bud, are extremely good at eliminating nearby chatter.  We find it virtually impossible to engage in a conversation with Active Noise Cancelling-which is a good thing if you’re trying to keep a lack of discussions outside on an airplane, train ride or day at the office. However, the diminutive buds proved too much for aircraft cabin noise. While the WF-1000XM3 was able to lower an aircraft’s drone in flight, they certainly did not eliminate it with the WH-1000XM3’s same ruthless efficiency. So while daily travel is within sight, for a long-haul flight we wouldn’t be changing to these.

Stability of the Bluetooth has consistently proven strong. Sony has put the Bluetooth antenna in the headphone’s pointy bit, which uses a modern simultaneous L / R transmission system that eliminates lag, useful if you watch TV on your mobile. It also increases the reliability of the sound, reduces the power consumption and helps you to attach only one earbud if appropriate.

There are very few wireless earbuds that compete with the Sony WF-1000XM3 in terms of features. For starters, the headphones boast an outstanding 8 hours of battery life per charge with noise-canceling off, and a still AirPods Pro-besting 6 hours with it on. The case also has plenty of juice, offering three full charges for 18 hours of backup battery if you’re using the headphones with noise-canceling on, and 24 hours with it off.

FINAL VERDICT:

Such earbuds are an even greater value now that, as of February 112, 2020, the price has fallen below $200. A prime example of how far truly wireless earbuds have come is the Sony WF-1000XM3. The noise cancelling of the earbuds runs laps through a few rivals whilst the sound quality, build and design is all outstanding. The Sony WF-1000XM3 solves other consumers concerns with truly wireless earbuds. Link reliability has never been a problem during training and if you run into stutters, you may even choose to choose wireless compatibility over sound quality. While AAC quality isn’t great for Android users, DSEE HX processing works wonders.

Battery life is above average, and that compact charging case is pretty slick too. On-ear volume controls similar to the PowerBeats Pro would’ve been nice, but again, that’s really not a deal-breaker in our books.

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