Sony WF-1000XM3 Review: World Class Noise Cancellation in a Small Package

October 19, 2020

The WF-1000XM3’s are Sony’s answer to the coveted new wireless earbud market, offering quality sound with incredible noise cancellation.

Specifications

Sony WF-1000XM3 diagram

  • 🔋 Up to 6hrs with NC on
  • 🎨 Black or Silver
  • 🎁 Active noise canceling, NFC
  • 🔌 USB-C, Wireless Charging
  • ⚖ 5.6g earbuds, 2.8oz charging case
  • 💸 $230
  • 📅 2019.08

Great Sound Quality, Excellent Noise Cancellation

Sony’s sound signature out the box is relatively neutral, if not a little bass heavy, but a fully customizable EQ within the Sony Headphones Connect app solves for any personal preferences. There’s also a Clear Boost dial option for some additional punchy bass, if you’re into that. Otherwise these earbuds perform best at the lows and mids, worst at highs, but are very solid overall. I couldn’t see anyone having a problem with the sound quality of these buds for the price, unless you’re an audiophile with particular tastes.

The noise cancellation technology for these buds are among the best, with the ambient sound microphones and Sony's QN1e processor working in tandem to provide an uninterrupted listening experience. You can read more about how this actually works on their device page if you're curious, but otherwise all you really have to is that it works, and its' amazing.

  • Great sound quality across the board
  • equalizer in the app allows 2 custom equalization settings as well as a bunch of nice presets, really helps to tailor the sound to your music tastes
  • I personally just added a bit of the clear bass bass boost which gives a more defined and punchy bass

Good Physical Design and Fit

Sony WF-1000XM3 case plus earbuds

The design is nothing to rave about, the drivers, battery, and bluetooth are attached to the rest of the buds like many other earbuds like it. They fit in your ears like traditional soft tip earbuds, which personally isn’t my favorite, and start to become uncomfortable after a few ours for me.

The buds themselves are large enough to notice hanging out of your ears, and they can easily fall out if you’re moving your head speedily, ie mid quarantine dance party, so I doubt they would have any chance of staying in for long on a morning jog. You might find some more success with a better earbud tip fit, but results may vary. These buds are also not IP rated, and Sony themselves don't recommend them for gym use. But there have been some reddit users claiming that they had no issues with using them during workouts, so you could try it out, at your own risk.

Otherwise I think they are perfect for commuting, grocery shopping, and other light activities. They also work great just sitting at home, but can get uncomfortable to wear after long periods. 2 hours was the limit for me, but I was rocking the default bud tips out the box.

The case that holds and charges the earbuds is pill box sized and rectangular, and fits in a jean pocket snuggly next to your phone, but any pockets smaller than that won’t do. The case is also curved at the bottom so they can’t stand up, which was strange to me. The magnetic lid is sturdy and the charging light at the lip of the lid is a great indicator. There’s only 2 ways you can possibly put the buds in the case, you might put them in the wrong way the first couple times, but flip them around and all is well. You get the hang of it pretty quickly, and it helps that the buds light up when they’re in the case properly.

  • Good case design, a bit more rectangular than I’d like but they can still fit in your pocket next to your phone (depending on the pocket). Fit in my jeans just fine, if not a tad bulky.
  • Simple to put back and starts charging immediately
  • The earbuds themselves look bulky, but when you actually put them in your ear and look, they actually stay on decently well if you have the right bud tips on Tthe ones that come out the box fit fine for me, many more sizings and options in the box.

Poor Battery Life (with the buds)

With an advertised 4 hour battery life with the buds alone, my expectations were already low, but I would say that actual use is more like 3 and a half hours, and that just wasn't enough for me. If you don't use the noise cancellation, you will probably get much better usage hours, but that's the feature we're all paying for here, right?

Let's be fair though, if you're putting these on for short periods of time with time to charge the buds in the case in between uses. If that sounds like your lifestyle, the battery life probably won't bother you much, and you would probably also appreciate the large amount of battery the case comes with. I would guess that they'd be perfect for travelling and commuting, but the quarantine lifestyle really doesn't favor these earbuds. So if you're looking to use these all day and have them on all day, that's not happening, They'll need to be charged multiple times a day, and keep in mind the charge time is about 1.5 hours. If that's okay with you, you can still give em a try.

Okay Interface and Good Customization

To set up and turn on these buds for the first time, its best to get Sony's Headphones Connect App from the app store. Their setup experience there helps you connect and set up every aspect of your buds for your phone. If you're looking to connect your buds to other devices however, like a laptop or PC, you'll have to dig around a bit to find out how to turn on bluetooth pairing (touch and hold for six seconds on both buds).

The Bluetooth connection itself is solid. It seems that both buds come with their own Bluetooth, which I'm not sure helps with the connection, but I did notice a few times where one bud would drop its connection. Otherwise, no issues.

Controlling your buds is a simple touchscreen tap or tap and hold interface on the side of the buds, with each earbud controlling a different setting, which can be customized in the app (although it requires a reconnect to change the settings). I personally wasn't a fan of tapping and tapping and holding to adjust my volume, which is awkward to use at best. The controls for noise cancellation on the earbuds are also less versatile than the one in the app, with only 3 options (noise cancellation, ambient sound, or ambient sound control off).

Extra Features

Adaptive Sound Control is an interesting cutting edge feature in Sony's app that you can use with these buds. It essentially tries to detect what you're doing and toggles noise cancellation/ambient sound on and off depending on your movements. The idea is great, but the execution as of now is...not great. I found my noise cancellation toggling on and off seemingly at random, or any time moved or walked a couple steps. It doesn't help that your buds make a sound every time this feature activates. I tried using them on a grocery run and I heard the adaptive sound control toggling sound more often than I heard any music.

  • The tap and long tap controls of the earbuds aren’t the best interface controls
  • ideal use is with your phone, not as customizable if paired with anything else
  • tap to increase volume, long touch to decrease volume? Das janky af bro
  • you can customize what controls are on each earbud, I have volume controls on the right and noise cancellation controls on the left.
  • Adaptive Sound Control feature is meant to automatically switch between ambient sound and noise cancellation settings, although it can be a tad intrusive when it toggles, making a notification sound that cuts between your music. At first I didn’t know why the sound was happening at all.
  • It doesn’t always work, sometimes would just change even though nothing has happened and I’ve just been sitting here. I like the idea though.
  • The Sony Headphones app allows you to choose between multiple levels of ambient sound/noise cancellation. If you just use the ambient sound controls on the earbuds, you only have 3 options: noise cancellation, ambient sound, and ambient sound control off.

Final Thoughts

These are some great quality all round earbuds that offer excellent noise cancellation. It's greatest weaknesses are the battery life and the physical fit. ~4 hours of listening time is mediocre at best, and a mediocre fit and the lack of an IP rating makes them much less versatile. If these criteria aren't an absolute requirement for you, you'll have no problems running these earbuds daily. But at around $230 USD, they're on the pricier end for earbuds, so I'd still recommend waiting for a sale to grab a pair.