The Sony WH-1000XM2 took the gadget world by storm, taking over the top spot of active noise cancelling headphones and knocking Bose out in the process. While the newer WH-1000XM3 is more of a subtle upgrade than a complete redesign, it makes these headphones a way better buy for anyone who is interested in shutting out the world when they listen to music.
Who are they for?
- Casual listeners. Pretty much everyone can find a use case for a great pair of active noise cancelling headphones whether you’re a student or CEO.
- Commuters. If you tend to spend a lot of your time commuting on public transportation, these will help you drown out the annoying sounds of the people around you.
- Frequent flyers. Due to the great noise cancelling in the lower frequencies, the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones do a good job at blocking the low rumble of the airplane.
What is it like to use the Sony WH-1000XM3?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 isn’t much different than the previous version at face value, but when you look a little deeper some key improvements become apparent. For one, the earpads on the WH-1000XM3 have more depth to them, which allows for a slightly more comfortable fit. If the last model fit a little too snug for comfort, then the newer model should be right up your alley. Another important update is the addition of a USB-C charging port, which futureproofs these headphones for much longer than the previous micro-USB model. While it’s hard to justify upgrading to these if you already have a pair of WH-1000XM2’s, basically anyone one who is in the market for headphones should have these on their “have to try” list.
While the new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 might have a sleeker design, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are still not an outdated pair of headphones. They have a fairly classic headphone design that won’t look out of date anytime soon and even then, who cares? The Sony MDR-7506 headphones are still one of my personal favorite pair of over-ears to date and they were released decades ago. One thing that was nice about using the Sony WH-1000XM3 is that you rarely ever have to reach for your phone in order to control music playback.
The touch-sensitive earpads let you swipe left or right to skip between tracks, or up and down in order to adjust volume. Tapping will pause or play your music, and if you download the Sony Headphones app then long-pressing the button on the side will activate your phone’s personal assistant. You can now also use the app to set that to Amazon Alexa if that’s your assistant of choice. Another useful feature is the ability to hear the world around you by cupping your hand over the right earcup. This will use active noise cancelling microphones to let outside sounds pass through the headphones instead of them being actively cancelled. I found this to be super helpful while listening to announcements on the subway without needing to completely take off my headphones or pause the music.
How are these headphones built?
For anyone who used the previous Sony WH-1000XM2, there’s nothing new that will surprise you about the WH-1000XM3’s. These are basically the same headphones aside from the aforementioned earcups and USB-C charging. There are also new buttons that have a bit more click to them, which means you’re not left wondering whether or not you pressed the button hard enough.
Battery life is also fantastic on the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones. Our sibling site SoundGuys runs every pair of headphones through the same battery test, which is to play music at a constant output of 75dB until the battery runs dry. That specific output was chosen because it’s the level that most people should choose for listening safely: 85dB and up is the point where you may start to experience noise-induced hearing loss. At 75dB, the Sony WH-1000XM3 lasted 24 hours of constant music playback — with active noise cancelling turned on. You can easily grab a few more hours of playback if you turn it off. Or, you can plug in the included audio cable to save battery by skipping Bluetooth when you listen with active noise cancelling.
Are these better at noise cancelling than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?
Let’s cut straight to the chase. If you’re reading this you should know that there are another pair of dominant ANC headphones worth consideration: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. So which one is better? The answer is that the Sony WH-1000XM3 is still the better pick, but this is the part where we show our work.
The graphs above show more or less how much noise both pairs of headphones can cancel. The way to read these graphs is easy if you go by the colors. The higher the peaks (green and blue), the quieter those particularly notes are. You can immediately tell that while the Bose headphones have a higher peak or two, the overall trend of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones has more green and blue. This is especially true in the lower frequencies (between 100 – 1000Hz) where the Sony WH-1000M3 headphones do a better job at cancelling low rumbles and the ambient noises around you.
What about against the older Bose QC35 II?
Don’t worry, we went through all the main differences between them in this video as well!
How’s the sound quality of the Sony WH-1000XM3?
If your primary concern is sound quality, then the Sony WH-1000XM3 won’t disappoint. Just like the previous model, these sound great. Not only doe they have a subtle emphasis on the low end that will make most consumers happy, they also use Sony’s own LDAC Bluetooth codec which has some of the highest data streaming rates in the game.
However, that should be taken with a grain of salt because once you reach the 660 or 990kbps modes the connection becomes worse. Even the streaming at 330kbps is less stable than the default SBC connection that all audio Bluetooth devices use. Still, that’s only once you get nitpicky, because in general use these headphones encounter very few issues. It’s probably best to keep the setting at 660kbps, as you’ll get a good connection and good enough sound quality as well. Besides, even the 660kbps setting exceeds human hearing.
Bass is heavily emphasized in the LDAC and default SBC modes, but you can change this by using Sony’s app if you wish. However, you may elect to keep things as they are to really feel the bass in recordings that underplay it a bit. You may find that engine noise masks a bit of the bassline and bongo thumps to the one and only recognized version of September.
Mids and Highs
Mids take a bit of a backseat to the bass if you use the stock LDAC connection without swapping off to equalize your music. You may want to turn the bass down a bit if you’re jamming out to old Queen records.
How’s the microphone quality on the Sony WH-1000XM3?
Despite not having a microphone positioned near your mouth, the Sony WH-1000XM3 has a pretty good microphone. The important bits of a voice are different for everyone, but tend to lie around 100 – 3000Hz. As you can see from the graph, the emphasis is fairly flat (close to 0dB emphasis) throughout the entire frequency range. That means that your voice won’t be altered too much by the microphone when you speak to someone on the phone, which is good for anyone who takes a lot of phone calls.
Should you buy the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones?
This may sound like a cop-out, but the truth is it depends. While the WH-1000XM3s are as good as it gets when it comes to ANC headphones available right now, they are also super expensive. If you’re on a budget, you can get 70% of the way there by saving $100 and picking up the Sony WH-XB900N instead. The best doesn’t come cheap, and if you have the budget for the WH-1000XM3 then you won’t be disappointed. The upgrade to USB-C and the deeper earcups is what makes these a must-have.