Sony WF-1000XM3 review: True wireless with stellar noise-cancelling

Over the past couple of years, Sony has stepped up its game in the audio department; from the premium MDR-Z1R open-back cans to its class-leading over-ear noise-cancelling headphones, the WH-1000XM3.

The company’s latest, the WF-1000XM3, are true wireless earbuds that house Sony’s latest QN1e chip – a scaled-down version of the company’s QN1 chip that handles the active noise-cancelling (ANC) processing of the WH-1000XM3.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best true wireless earbuds in the UK

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: What you need to know

The Sony WF-1000XM3 are pocket-friendly true wireless earbuds that are among a handful in the market to feature noise-cancelling technology. They have touch-sensitive media controls, provide quick access to Google’s virtual assistant and have proximity sensors that detect and pause music when they’re taken out of your ears. The only caveat: they’re among the most expensive earbuds on the market.

READ NEXT: RHA TrueConnect review

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Price and competition

At £219, these will set a dent in your bank account. Despite their steep price tag, they’re not the only ones that break the £200 mark. The uninspiring, fitness-orientated Beats Powerbeats Pro will set you back the same amount, while the best sounding true wireless earbuds on the market, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless, cost £240

Aside from these supremely expensive earbuds, there are a few others to consider if money is tight. The stylish RHA TrueConnect, and my favourites for the gym, the JLab Epic Air Elite, will set you back £150 a pop. Tone down the style and you’ll find my favourites, the Creative Outlier Air at £75. 

None of the aforementioned earbuds feature noise-cancelling technology, however, the all-new Libratone Track Air+ at £179 are, in theory, Sony’s closest rival.

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Comfort, connectivity and design

The WF-1000XM3 are available in two colours: black and silver. Like Sony’s over-ear headphones, the latter isn’t really silver at all, and rather has a creamy Baileys-like colour. 

No matter the colour you choose, the design of the buds themselves leads to a rather large footprint, which could pose a problem for those with smaller ear canals. A rubberised nozzle keeps the buds firmly in place, but without over-the-ear hooks or in-ear fins these won’t be suitable for strenuous workouts. The same could be said for those who love having music while cycling, as due to their rather large design, they attract a lot of wind noise.

At 16g, they’re on the heavier side for earbuds, weighing nearly a third heavier than the 11g Libratone Track Air+. Despite their size and weight, I find these perfectly comfortable for commutes. They’re rather practical to use, too: both left and right buds have circular-shaped touch-sensitive pads, which can be used to access Google Assistant, controlling playback, and toggling through the ambient sound modes.

They’ve also got proximity sensors built-in that automatically pause your media when the buds are removed from your ears. They’ll automatically resume media when you pop them back in, though, although I found this feature simply didn’t work with Android app PowerAmp. That’s likely a software fault rather than a hardware issue.

To stow the buds away, Sony provides a rather large charging case that weighs 92g with the earbuds placed inside. It’s sizeable in comparison to Libratone’s equivalent that weighs just 48g but, in Sony’s defence, it’s smaller than the humongous Powerbeats Pro case, which tips the scales at 130g with earbuds in place.

Sony’s case has a magnetic lid and innards that make it easy to slot the buds in-place. On the outside you’ll notice an NFC tag, which allows you to quickly pair them to a device, and a USB Type-C port for charging. The case can’t be charged wirelessly but the fast charging support means it can have 90 minutes of playback from a ten-minute burst.

On a full charge, the earbuds will last up to six hours and the case itself can fully charge them a further three times, which means an impressive 24 hours of use without needing to reach for a wall charger. Turn off ANC and you’ll get up to 32 hours – brilliant.

As for connectivity, I had absolutely no issues with pairing and they behaved perfectly in crowded environments. They maintain a stable wireless connection between left and right buds, and retain connectivity to my Android smartphone at all times – something that couldn’t be said about the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. However, unlike Sennheiser’s buds, the WF-1000XM3 only support the AAC and SBC codecs 

It’s, to me, an odd hiccup as the company has been praised for its support of the highest-quality codec, LDAC, on its over-ear headphones. This can cause a few implications on Android, whereby AAC (that boasts better audio quality over SBC) isn’t properly optimised and can cause lip-sync issues when watching videos on popular video platforms, such as YouTube. If you do encounter problems, I’d advise switching to the lowest-quality SBC codec, which can be done through the developer settings on all Android phones. iOS users can ignore this: AAC works flawlessly on all Apple devices. 

The omission of higher-quality codecs becomes even more baffling as Sony includes a Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HX) support on the WF-1000XM3. This essentially aims to upscale MP3 or AAC tracks to near-lossless quality – making them, theoretically, sound more detailed and refined. In practice, however, the earbuds are limited by the amount of compression incurred over Bluetooth, namely when using the SBC codec.

To enable and disable the option, you’ll need Sony’s Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android. Through it, you’ll also be able to see the remaining charge on each bud, view the codec that’s being used, customise the touch controls, choose whether you want them to pause when taken off, set an EQ, toggle the automatic power-off function, enable notifications to be played through the buds, and tailor ambient sound controls to your liking.

READ NEXT: Creative Outlier Air review

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Active noise cancelling performance

The ability to tailor the ambient sound level to your tastes is a fantastic bonus, and there are 20 levels to choose from. There’s even the option to fine-tune the buds to focus on voices while ignoring other ambient sound: ingenious. 

But it doesn’t end there. There’s also adaptive sound control, which detects the environment you’re in and automatically adjusts the level you hear from your surroundings; you can tailor the four options – staying, walking, running and transport – through the app, too.

As for the ANC performance, it’s as the manufacturer claims – class-leading. With no audible hiss in quiet environments, there’s simply no competition from other earphones or earbuds. I’d say its closest rival are the Libratone Track Air+, but even those struggle to cancel out mid-to-high frequencies.

The WF-1000XM3 excel at cancelling sound throughout the frequency range and quite frankly, it’s astonishing at how well they perform. The only drawback is that these don’t passively block out as much noise as over-ear headphones, simply because they don’t block as much of the ear. If that’s all important, the WH-1000XM3 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 do a better job at isolating you from the outside world, but they’re obviously more bulky by design. It’s a trade off, whichever way you go.

READ NEXT: Beats Powerbeats Pro review

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Sound quality

The brilliance doesn’t stop there: these are a marvel to listen to as well. In terms of sound quality, they’re among the best true wireless earbuds I’ve used to date, competing with the Libratone Track Air+, the Creative Outlier Air and, the leader of the pack, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.

What really stands out is their dynamism, which many rivals fail to satisfyingly deliver. They’re exciting throughout the frequency range and deliver excellent instrument separation to keep you engaged and tapping your toes.

The lows are a little over-emphasised. The WF-1000XM3 provide plenty of mid-bass slam in even the least bass-orientated songs. The likes of Micheal Jackson’s “Rock With You” and The Pussycat Dolls’ “Sway” ring out a surprisingly thunderous punch.

As a result, vocals take a hit with the lower-mids sounding slightly recessed. This creates a V-shaped, warm sound signature, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they’ll sound exciting and fun to most. By comparison, the Libratone Track Air+ and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless have a far greater emphasis on the mids – vocals really shine with those sets.

Maintaining a fun sound signature, the Sonys reproduce plenty of sparkle and energy at the top-end. There’s a healthy extension in the highs and Jason Derulo’s balloon squeaking song, “Pull Up”, isn’t too harsh on the ears, either.

Their only weakness, truly, is their lack of airiness and openness. These are two words that I’d associate with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless and Creative Outlier Air, and both of these provide far greater width and depth when listening to music. That’s not to say the WF-1000XM3 are closed-sounding –  far from it – they’re just not as well-versed in this department as the other two.

READ NEXT: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless review

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Verdict

The Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless buds follow in the footsteps of their larger sibling, the WH-1000XM3 headphones. They are, quite simply, the best noise-cancelling earphones and headphones on the market. The earbuds offer a fun sound signature, a stable wireless connection and have ample amounts of battery life.

They’re not quite perfect, however, as their design and lack of sweat or water resistance won’t cut it for gym-goers. The omission of higher-quality codec is quite baffling to an audiophile and the somewhat lacklustre soundstage isn’t as impressive as some of its competitors’ offerings. They’re not cheap either: at £219, they’re among the most expensive true wireless sets on the market.

Under most circumstances I’d only dish out Expert Reviews’ Best Buy award to a faultless product. But the Sony WF-1000XM3 have industry-leading ANC performance and offer a great all-round package, so it would feel wrong to give these anything lower than a perfect score.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *