- Astounding ANC
- Comfortable over Long Use
- Phenomenal Battery Life
- Superior Sound Quality
- Much Better than Previous Generation
- All things USB-C
- 3.5mm Connectivity
When we bring up Noise Cancellation headphones, there are a lot of options in the market but a handful good ones that’s worth picking up. With that said, the battle between brands (you know who) to make the perfect ANC Headphones is so real that the game is getting interestingly exciting. Sony kickstarted with their MDR-1000XM and now we are at WH-1000XM3, the third-generation noise cancellation headphones from the Japanese brand. Question is: Is the Sony WH-1000XM3 worth picking up in stores, even today? Here’s our final verdict – this is our Sony WH-1000XM3 review.
Looks and Feel
Right out of the box – well, this is possibly the cleanest packaging we have ever seen. The moment you open the package, you are greeted with a simple note up top and the hard-shell case which contains the headphones, a Travel Adapter, 3.5mm Cable and a USB-C Cable. I got my hands on the Black with bronze accent – which has a very subtle yet rich accent that makes the headphone look pretty premium. They have another color – Ivory, if you are a fan of off-white color, then that’s for you.
The WH-1000XM3s has an understated look with an all-black finish and to add some contrast, they have added copper accents for the logo and the microphone – nothing over the top or flashy, imo. Sony has opted in for a soft-touch matte finish all around the headphone – it’s constructed out of high-quality material. The feel of the headphone – to put it in one word, it’s extremely comfortable. On the band, they have a soft padding – so as you rest it over your head, it doesn’t hurt during long hours.
The earcups are made of softer memory foam like material that doesn’t apply too much pressure around the ears but seals perfectly well around to make sure that there isn’t any sound leak or issues with the ANC. The WH-1000XM3 are foldable and easier to store – with swiveling earcups and solid joints on the headphone which feels robust. Overall, I dig this look and the feel of the headphones. I was wearing these headphones for long hours and I have to say that I didn’t have any sort of discomfort that bothered me in anyway.
Connectivity and Features
The WH-1000XM3s have two way of connecting to your device – the first way, is obviously via Bluetooth connectivity. Sony uses Bluetooth 4.2 for their headphones and the second option is, via a 3.5mm cable, a wired connection. Finally, we have a USB-C port on the headphone to charge.
The WH-1000XM3 is decked out features. These support Hi-Res Audio via Bluetooth and has the capability to give up to 30 hours of battery life. With support for Google Assistant and Alexa, you can choose your favorite assistant to take control of your actions. They have other features – which are more focused towards the audio side of things – such as LDAC, DSEE HX, DANC, Sense Engine – which we will talk about more in the experience.
Let’s start off with the whole navigation and control. Sony took a smart step in making the headphones as minimalist as possible. Controlling the headphones is as easy as swiping up, down and tapping at the center. They have included a gesture-based controller on the right earcup. As you see in above, swiping up/down lets you control the volume, left/right to control the track and double tapping in the middle lets you control the music and calls. If you were to long tap, you will awaken the assistant – in my case, Google Assistant.
On the left side, there are two buttons and the NFC tag. You can either turn on by pressing and holding the power button or by tapping your phone’s NFC on the side, turn it on and pair seamlessly. The Noise cancelling and Ambient mode button is on the left side as well. It’s easy to identify as the power button is shorter and the NC button is longer. The 3.5mm audio connector is on the left side as well. Getting used to the whole control is pretty easy and with certain nifty tricks like covering the right earcups with your palm, activating quick Ambient Mode to listen to voice is pretty darn cool.
The headphones take complete advantage with the help of the Headphones Connect app, which you can find it in App Store and Play Store. In the app, you can customize and control the way you want the ANC, Sense Engine works and even customize your headphone’s EQ to suit your taste. In fact, you can allow if you want the headphones to use DSEE HX and customize what the Ambient button to do. Very clean interface, straightforward setup.
Now coming from an in-ear Bluetooth earphones from Sennheiser – in fact, it’s been a long while since I even used a proper over ear headphones, especially when I travel, the WH-1000XM3 were nice addition to my travel. Sure, it does take up a section of my bag, but it was worth it. During my time using the 1000XM3, I used it at a lot of places – during my commute in public transport, at café, while working and even once at gym. The first thing I want to bring up is how rich the sound quality was.
These headphones have a 40mm driver on both sides to pump in the perfect audio listening experience you’d want in your headphones. To make it better, they added a Liquid Crystal Polymer diaphragm into the headphone – they have a better sound integration in general and has a fantastic sound dynamic. Sony has been using these LCP Diaphragms with their previous headphones – more towards their pro-grade audio gears, which delivers rich audio. Listening to music – we used Spotify Premium and local FLAC files, I have to say, the sound these headphones produce – it’s magnificent.
One song we tested with these – Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful with no tinkering done via FLAC. The moment it detected the song, the headphone worked in LDAC mode which gives the music a rich experience via Bluetooth. The sound was rich with the orchestral music and her voice was still present in the midst of amazing music as certain headphones tend to suppress the vocals but, in this case, the song was just as I wanted it to be – being real. I am a bass head, and I love extremely heavy bass – for this, I chose TroyBoi’s Snobby. The reason why I chose this song is because for a trap like music – it has very distinctive notes and I was able to even pick up crackling sounds from the song, it sounded refined. A simple comparison is just switching to SBC and you can tell how limiting the audio volume is and LDAC just pushes the limit to a whole another level.
Now using EQ, well, it only makes the listening experience to your liking. I set my Bass Boost to 5+ and I was already feeling that insane bass thumping and reverbing around my ear, sending shivers down to my spine.
Active Noise Cancelling
Let’s talk about the feature we are all here for – the elephant in the room, Active Noise Cancelling. Before we talk about Active Noise Cancelling, remember it is NOT the same as Noise Isolation – we will talk more about this in our next article. With that out of the way, Sony took a rather interesting approach with their ANC. Unlike the competitor, they chose to leave the ANC control in user’s hands. The whole magic happens with a chip inside the headphone developed by Sony, which is the QN1.
I will be very honest – certain headphones leave a lightheaded feeling the moment you toggle ANC on. Sony’s approach on this is relatively simple. With the help of the app, you can set your personal NC by analyzing your surrounding and that includes Atmospheric Pressure as well – which is extremely important if you are flying and when the cabin pressure is already nauseating. The moment the voice assistant says, “Noise Cancellation on.” – you can feel the ANC activating and the change is instantaneous but subtle. You can still hear very tinny outside noise but the moment the music kicks in, say goodbye to social interactions. My personal favorite thing about their ANC is how it’s staged from Level 1 to 20 – and you can pick which type of NC you are comfortable with, very impressive.
Sony has been using their Ambient Mode technology ever since the Walkman days – one of my personal favorite, the Sony NW-WS413 – had it. The ambient mode is more like having super ears. Say if you want to listen to your music but also be able to hear your surroundings, you can do that with the Ambient mode, which gives a much conscious presence around you. You can also choose which kind of Ambient mode, to go for as well – there’s even an option just to focus on Voice – which happens to work really well and my favorite as I don’t have to take my headphones off my head.
What happens if you combine ANC and Ambient Mode together and have the ability to “sense” your surroundings. This is where Sense Engine comes to play and get ready because this is pretty exciting.
Sense Engine – as the name suggests, senses your environment and adapts accordingly. Toggle this on your Headphones App and you will notice how well it works. Personally, I found this extremely handy when I was on the move – in commute. As I stand still and wait for the train, the headphones tend to go into ANC, and it cancels of everything. When an announcement was being made at the station, the headphone was able to recognize that it was some announcement, it automatically focused on voice and I was able to hear the announcement clearly. Next was walking. As I walked, in order to give a better sense of my surrounding, it switched to Ambient and made sure that I can hear what’s happening around me.
I can say this for sure – that it uses a lot of resource to make this work, but I have to say, the way it controls the sound automatically and adjusts the ambient sound was near perfect.
Truth be told, I barely had any complaints with the WH-1000XM3 – well, actually none. When I was playing with the second generation of these headphones, the 1000XM2s, those required tinkering in the sound department, and it was only getting better – which is pretty neat. Now with the WH-1000XM3s, I can safely say that they have fixed all the gripes I had with the previous gen and it’s perfect.
If you are out looking for the right Active Noise Cancelling headphones, I can strongly say that you cannot go wrong with the Sony WH-1000XM3. It gets a Gold from us. The RRP for this starts at RM 1499 but you can now find it outside for as low as RM1069, so keep your eyes on the lookout.
Check out our Playlist we use to test our headphones below, it’s on Spotify.
Disclaimer: I purchased the Sony WH-1000XM3 for my personal use and thought it deserves a review, so, there you have it.