Sony WH-1000XM3 Review: The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

It wasn’t too long ago that Bose was the undisputed king of noise cancelling headphones. If you were looking for something to take on the airplane, Bose was the way to go. In recent years, that has have changed. Sony, starting with their MDR-1000X, has disrupted Bose’s dominance by providing equally impressive noise cancelling ability, better sound quality, and quality of life features. The WH-1000XM3, their third iteration, only further solidifies their lead in being the best all-around noise cancelling headphone.

Specifications

 
  • 🔋 Music playback 30 hrs (NC on), 38 hrs (NC off)
  • 🧱 255g
  • 🎨 Black, Silver
  • 🔌 USB-C
  • 💸 $280
  • 📅 03.08.2019

Noise Cancelling still top-notch

Sony for the third straight year has made a pair of headphones with top-notch noise cancelling. The WH-1000XM3's noise cancelling abilities are on par with the best Bose headphones. Although neither the Sony or the Bose fully drown out all sound, it is sufficiently strong enough that you might not notice your stove timer or the loud rumbling on the plane. If you add in some music, the noise is further drowned out to the point where your surrounding can easily be ignored as ambient sound.

Lively sound signature

Comparing the Bose QuietComfort 35s with the Sony, you will notice that the Sony's have a livelier sound signature. The Bose seem to muddle the highs and lows a bit making it sound a lot flatter. This may be a personally preference, but I prefer the sound of the Sony WH-1000XM3s. I do not think you will be disappointed by the sound of the WH-1000XM3.

Quality of life features: Charging and USB-C

 

Sony includes quite a few “quality of life” features in the WH-1000XM3s that you do not get with other noise cancelling headphones. The headphones charge via USB-C, meaning if you own a recent smartphone, you will be able to bring one cable. Even if you don’t, the headphones have upwards of 30 hours of battery meaning you will rarely need to charge them. The headphones also support fast charging where 10 minutes of charge will give you 5 hours of playback.

Quality of life features: NFC, Controls, and Ambient Sound

There are plenty of other niceties that the WH-1000XM3s has. The left earpad has a NFC tag where you can tap your phone to easily connect to it. The NFC tag is something I use constantly to switch between the connection between device. It is more reliable and convenient compared to having to go into settings and manually connect to the headphones. It would have been nice to see these also support dual connection, but given that I tend to use more than two devices, the dual connection might not be as useful for me personally.

The right earpad has touch sensitive controls that allows you to change volume, playback, and toggle the digital assistant. The controls are pretty reliable given the large surface area. These are my primary method of changing volume when I use them. Covering the right ear cup with your palm triggers a feature that Sony calls “Ambient Sound”. It lets in sound from the outside world into your headphones with your music, allowing you to hear the outside world without having to take the headphones off. I don't use these often but they are nice when you need to hear an overhead announcement without having to take them off.

Quality of life features: The Sony app

 

Unlike the previous generation, the WH-1000XM3s do come with its own app. The application allows for things like updating firmware, switching the ambient sound button to a digital assistant, and changing the equalizer. A unique feature that the Sony application has is the ability to use the location of your phone in order to determine the amount of ambient noise to let into the headphones. This feature allows you to use them on the go, automatically pulling in the ambient sound when you are walking. In my experience, the location grabbing can be unreliable, but Sony has made great strides in improving it over the past couple of months. I tend not to use the WH-1000XM3 while walking so I do not use this feature. Not to mention, it can get annoying when the app thinks I am walking when in actuality I am on a bus stuck in slow traffic.

Microphone leaves much to be desired

Despite having some great noise cancelling ability and multiple microphones, the microphone quality is very lacking. During conference calls, people often comment on how they can hear the music in the background better than my voice. I have had several instances where I needed to retreat to a quiet room in order to make calls. If your primary use case for these is video conferencing and calls, I would look elsewhere.

Recommendations

The Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best all around noise cancelling headphones on the market. The price that they command is not joke either. At $350 MSRP, the only noise cancelling headphones that are more expensive are the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. You can however get these when they are on sale. They have reached as low as $180 in the US for a pair of new ones. At that price, it really is a no brainer for frequent travellers.