Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Sony hits another noise cancelling product out of the park with the Sony WF-1000XM3. These are the true wireless version of the company’s flagship ANC headphones and boast impeccable low-frequency noise cancellation, making them a great option for travelers with limited space in their bags. The firmware can be updated via Sony’s free app, so as far as totally wireless earbuds go, these earbuds a great long-term investment.

Editor’s note: this review was updated on January 10, 2020, to account for price changes.

Who are the Sony WF-1000XM3 for?

A picture of a woman wearing the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds and reaching for the touch panel of the left 'bud.

Touch controls are customizable via Sony’s Headphone Connect app.

  • Listeners who are enticed by the Sony WH-1000XM3 noise cancelling capabilities but not by the bulky nature of over-ear headphones will enjoy these true wireless earbuds. They’re as portable as ANC technology gets and rest comfortably thanks to the ergonomic three-point fit and non-slip rubber nozzle.
  • General consumers who don’t mind paying a premium for something premium. These handily outperform the AirPods (2019) and Apple AirPods Pro; plus, they’re a bit cheaper than the latter.
  • Not sweaty listeners. These earbuds offer zero sweat-resistance; they don’t even have a nano-coating to wick water away. If they malfunction, you’re stranded without a paddle, so if you intend to exercise with them, you may want dedicated workout earbuds instead.

What’s it like to use the Sony WF-1000XM3?

Aerial photo of the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds in the case which is open.

The USB-C charging case uses magnets to secure the earbuds in place.

Let’s start by judging a book by its cover: whether you go for the silver or black version, these earbuds radiate sophistication. The understated design exudes Sony’s confidence in its latest product. The pill-shaped earbuds have three contact points designed to comfortably distribute pressure along the outer ear. These are by far and away some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve worn when paired with the default ear tips.

These are supremely comfortable. I wore them until the battery died without experiencing discomfort.

Touch controls are accessible from either earbud. By default, double-tapping the left earbud alternates between noise cancelling and ambient sound modes, while double-tapping the right earbud skips tracks. You can also access Google Assistant by saying, “Ok Google.” Either of the touch panel controls may be remapped via Sony’s app.

Under the hood, the earbuds use a dual-microphone array to combat external noise. This updated system is far more effective than the company’s WF-SP700N noise cancelling earbuds. I was astounded by how well they blocked out an airplane’s engine on my flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The WF-1000XM3 also features a new ANC processer, the QN1e. This facilitates 24-bit audio signal processing while acting as a DAC. Sony claims this also improves energy efficiency, meaning you get to enjoy extended listening times.

A picture of the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds in the palm of a left hand with a beige book and leather watch on a table in the background.

The earbuds don’t offer any sweat-resistance, which may be an issue for anyone living in a humid climate.

Just like its over-ear sibling, you can enter a conversation at a moment’s notice without removing the earbuds. Holding a finger over the left earbud decreases volume and allows ambient noise through. It works, but I felt rude doing that rather than just removing an earbud. After all, the earbuds support automatic ear detection, something we’ve seen in the AirPods, Samsung Galaxy Buds, and Beats Powerbeats Pro. This allows the proximity sensor in each earbud to detect insertion and removal, thereby playing and pausing music accordingly. I prefer this method over the Galaxy Buds’: you only need to remove one of the Sony earbuds to automatically pause playback whereas Samsung’s earbuds require you to remove both simultaneously.

Related: Best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds

While the charging case’s design is classy, it’s also stocky. Like many competitors’ charging cases, Sony’s features a magnetic interior which secures the earbuds onto the charging pins. The case itself doesn’t require much effort to open.

Is the Sony | Headphones Connect app necessary?

A picture of the Sony WF-1000XM3 extra ear tips on a black table.

Sony provides plenty of ear tips, ensuring you’ll find the proper fit.

The earbuds will function fine sans-app. If you want to EQ the sound, customize controls, or make other adjustments, you’ll need to get the app. One of the worthwhile features it supports is adaptive sound control. This automatically modifies ambient sound settings to your environment. For instance, if you’re in an airport, ANC may be increased whereas it may be decreased in the quiet of your own home.

How long does the battery last?

According to our objective testing, the earbuds allow for 4.76 hours of constant playback with noise cancelling on. The earbuds support quick charging: 10 minutes affords 1.5 hours of playback, which came in handy while I was traveling. Once the earbud batteries are fully drained, it takes 1.5 hours to complete a charge cycle and 3.5 hours to fully charge the case, which provides an additional three charges to the ‘buds. Just like the Sony WH-1000XM3, the WF-1000XM3 case uses an included USB-C cable for charging.

How do you connect the Sony WF-1000XM3 to your smartphone?

A picture of the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds on a beige book with the closed charging case closed in the background.

You can pair the earbuds via NFC or the traditional Bluetooth pairing process. They can only connect to one device at a time.

You can pair the Sony true wireless earbuds via NFC or the traditional Bluetooth pairing method. Either works perfectly fine. The earbuds operate via Bluetooth 5.0 and support a 10-meter wireless range. Generally speaking, connection strength is impressive, perhaps due to the new antenna placement within each housing. You can’t connect to more than one device simultaneously, though.

The curious case of Bluetooth codec support is perplexing: AAC and SBC are supported but not Sony’s own LDAC nor any of the aptX codecs. However, DSEE HX functionality upscales compressed audio files, somewhat explaining the omission.

Sound quality

Sony WF-1000XM3 frequency response chart.

Bass frequencies are slightly elevated with the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds.

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 great as Sony provides ample ear tip options. Pair the properly fitting sleeves with Sony’s top-tier noise cancelling and it’s game over for any competing ANC true wireless ‘buds. Low-frequency sounds like a drying machine or plane engine are effectively quieted. While it doesn’t completely mute external noise, it’s good enough that I never increased the volume to combat incessant environmental noise.

Lows, mids, and highs

In Chastity Brown’s song Colorado, her vocals remain clear throughout its entirety. Even when a horse of instruments accompanies her voice during the 0:53 mids are clear. The only moment obvious auditory masking occurs is when she raises her pitch at the end of the word “follow” (1:14). She stair-steps her pitch upward and the last syllable becomes lost behind the drums.

Treble frequencies are relayed with some emphasis as denoted by the clear spike from 5-8kHz. This only really affects instruments harmonics, like the recurring tambourine hits during the choruses. While the emphasis isn’t conducive to a neutral sound, it’s more enjoyable for most consumers as it feigns clarity by making high-pitched resonances easily detectable.

Low-frequency noise cancellation is impeccable for a pair of in-ears.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 boosts all the right frequency ranges with enough restraint to prevent overblown percussion and ear-splitting highs. I quite enjoyed the alterations over a neutral sound one may expect from studio cans. When using these on a four-hour flight, the exaggerated bass coupled with the excellent noise cancelling made it easy to hear a given songs key elements.

Is the microphone good for phone calls?

Sony WF-1000XM3 microphone frequency response chart limited to the human voice band.

The microphone does a great job at accurately recreating voices of all frequency ranges, so long as you’re in a quiet environment.

It’s pretty good. The person on the other line can tell you’re using a headset, but voices are relayed well enough and through both earpieces. My mom and friends never once mentioned I was inaudible. As I sat outside to take a call, my friend heard the wind, traffic, and surrounding passersby. Of course, you can determine for yourself if the microphone quality is passable for you. It may be fine for extended business calls, just make sure you’re in a quiet space.

Sony WF-1000XM3 microphone demo:

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Which is better, the Sony WF-100XM3 or Apple AirPods Pro?

A picture of the Apple AirPods Pro in a man's left hand (foreground) with an iPhone and the AirPods Pro wireless charging case in the background.

The redesigned AirPods Pro now have dedicated nozzles that insert into the ear, making for a more stable fit and improved audio quality.

Our full-length versus piece revealed the Sony WF-1000XM3 to be the better earphones when compared to the Apple AirPods Pro, but it comes down to a matter of personal preference.

If you want the best noise cancelling total wireless earphones currently on the market (as of November 19, 2019), the Sony WF-1000XM3 is the best package as they attenuate bass and sub-bass frequencies effectively. iPhone users may have different priorities, however, such as ease of use. By remaining in the Apple ecosystem for all you’re technology, you benefit from the smoothest user experience out there. From initial pairing to switching between source devices, nothing compares to using Apple H1 chip products in tandem with one another.

What’s more, if you want to have the option to exercise with your earphones worry-free, the Apple AirPods Pro are the better ‘buds because they’re officially IPX4-certified. Listeners who want better sound quality should go with the Sony WF-1000XM3, though: they edged out the Apple AirPods by 0.3 when objectively measuring frequency response.

A third option are the Amazon Echo Buds, which retail for significantly less than Apple or Sony’s products. The Echo Buds don’t use active noise cancelling but do benefit from Bose noise reduction technology which works surprisingly well to quiet external noise. Alexa integration makes it easy to control your smart home and have incoming messages read aloud the same way Google Assistant or Siri does.

Should you buy the Sony WF-1000XM3?

Close-up image of a Sony WF-1000XM3 earbud with the touch panel clearly visible.

The WF-1000XM3 earbud nozzles are angled, which alleviates pressure along the ear canal.

Yes, and these earbuds are an even greater value now that the price has dipped below $200 as of December 18, 2019. The Sony WF-1000XM3 is a prime example of how far true wireless earbuds have come. The earbuds’ noise cancelling runs circles around their few competitors while the sound quality, fit, and design are all stellar. The Sony WF-1000XM3 remedy many issues users have with true wireless earbuds. Connection strength was never a problem during testing, and you can even choose to prioritize wireless stability over sound quality if you run into stutters. While AAC quality isn’t great for Android users, DSEE HX processing works wonders.

I wish these went through the rigors to receive an official IP rating. If you could exercise with them, without worrying about water damage, they would be undoubtedly more versatile and alluring than the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Alas, every product has its shortcomings, and even with their foibles, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are some of the best true wireless earbuds to date.

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