Sony WH-1000XM3 Review

Sony WH-1000XM3 Review

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones are a superb pair of noise-canceling headphones. Even though they’re a few years old and have been replaced by the Sony WH-1000XM4, they’re still a good buy.

Sony has tried to perfect its headphones’ audio playback and noise cancellation over the years – and unlike most noise-canceling headphones on the market, the Sony WH-1000XM3 creates not just a single sterile sound barrier, but multiple types of barriers that can be adapted to any situation. 

Although this adaptability has been pushed a little further with the WH-1000XM4, that noise cancellation technology is one of the reasons why the Sony WH-1000XM3 were the best headphones for two years in a row, until the WH-1000XM4 snatched it away.

Therefore, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are the best headphones you can buy right now – and they provide a significant improvement over the Sony WH-1000XM3s – but you should still consider the older Sony headphones.

Now that the XM4 is available, they’re often on sale, making them a more affordable option for those who want an excellent pair of headphones but can’t afford a high-end price.

Sony WH-1000XM3: Design

sony

  • Weighs less than its predecessors
  • New padding along the bridge
  • USB Type-C port to charge
  • Touch controls

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones have been redesigned to be lighter, more form-fitting, and more comfortable than the Sony XM2. 

Compared with their predecessors, the headphones shed about one ounce (22 grams). That might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re planning on wearing these for a long period of time like a transcontinental flight, every ounce counts. 

Other changes include a new flush fit that replaces the old padding on the bridge with something a bit more cushiony. These over-ear headphones are more comfortable, and they look less dorky when they’re on your head. The earcups have been widened and Sony has replaced the silver accents on the side of the headphones with copper instead. 

In addition to this, Sony also removed the micro USB port from the right earcup in favor of a USB Type-C port.

Aside from these minor changes, these are still minimalist headphones – which appeal to the business-class customer Sony is targeting. 

Sony offers only two colors – all-black or gray-silver – and other than an engraved Sony logo atop each ear cup, the WH-1000XM3 is completely unattractive. Unlike Beats headphones, these headphones sound great and are comfortable to wear.

You’ll find the only two buttons on the headset around the left earcup. One toggles between Power/Bluetooth and other toggles between the three noise cancellation settings: On, Ambient Mode, and Off. On the other earcup, you’ll find a USB Type-C port that’s used to charge the headphones along with an auxiliary jack. Inside the box, you’ll find a USB-to-USB Type-C cable, a 3.5mm AUX cable, a two-pronged AUX adapter, and a hard carrying case.

Playback can be controlled by pressing or swiping the touch-capacitive ear cups. You’ll need to swipe right on the right earcup to skip forward or swipe left to go back. Double-tapping is used to pause and resume your music. Similarly, you can turn down the volume by swiping down on the right earcup and turn it up by swiping up. 

Using it for a week makes it seem second nature, but it takes some getting used to.

Sony WH-1000XM3: Performance

Sony WH-1000XM3 Review

  • Strong noise cancellation
  • Quick Attention Mode
  • aptX and aptX HD support
  • Little difference in audio performance
  • Google Assistant integration
  • Better call quality – but not great

Obviously, what you’re buying noise-canceling headphones for is their ability to effectively block out ambient noise. Before the XM4, there was no better device than the 1000XM3. 

Sony tested the 1000XM3 and found it to be four times more effective at canceling noise than the 1000XM2 – an impressive feat considering how well the M2 did.

The claim certainly held true in practice when faced with both low-frequency noises, such as those found on trains or planes and high-frequency noises like loud music or people talking. In almost every situation, the WH-1000XM3 performed admirably, usually reducing loud hums to manageable buzzes – or even completely eliminating exterior noise. 

The 1000XM3 headphones have the same ability to selectively allow some noise into the headphones as their predecessors. You can listen to announcements made over train station PA systems when Ambient Noise mode is selected, and you can use Quick Attention Mode to bring external audio in without removing the headphones. You do this by lowering the volume of the music and using the microphones on the outside of each earcup. Numerous headphones, including the AirPods Pro and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, have replicated this feature since the launch of the XM3.

Although noise cancellation has been enhanced, audio quality is still similar to what we heard on the 1000XM2. This might have been more disappointing if the M2 weren’t already such an impressive pair of headphones.

When you use an Android device that supports the aptX HD standard, the Sony WH-1000XM4 will sound better. But even on an iPhone, they sound great. There are clear mids, crisp highs, and a solid bass that can have a lot of slam. It works best on devices that support the LDAC codec, such as the Sony Walkman, but they’re not limited to those devices.

The noise cancellation button can also summon Google Assistant or Alexa so that you can ask them questions. With Voice Assistant for Siri, iPhone users can control their smartphones simply by touching touch-sensitive earcups.

Last, but not least, is the quality of the 1000XM3’s calls. When we spoke to people using the headphones, the people said we sounded clearer – if a bit quieter – than if we had used the phone’s built-in microphone. Sony’s headphones contain extra microphones as a result of the extra mics built into them. 

However, while these headphones are fine for an occasional call or two, they’re not what you’ll want to use if you frequently make phone calls in an office setting – call quality isn’t as pristine on the 1000XM3 as it is on other business-ready headsets.

Battery life

  • 30-hour battery life
  • Quick Charge mode
  • The auto-off mode through the app

What is the battery life of these headphones? After testing for a few days, we found that 30 hours or so is a good benchmark. During a four-day testing period (five hours a day x four days), the headphones didn’t need to be recharged at all, with around 30% battery life left on the last night. 

Compared to the Bose QuietComfort 35, it lasts about 10 hours longer when used wirelessly and about 10 hours less when used wired. Regardless of how you slice it, it’s still more than enough juice to get you across the Atlantic and back if you’re coming from the West Coast of the US.

With the 1000XM3, you don’t have to worry about running low on power – the “Quick Charge” feature enables you to get around 5 hours of playback in just 10 minutes. After we connected the charger to the wall for exactly 10 minutes, we went from about 30% battery life to 50%. Verified. 

If you’d like your headphones to last a bit longer, you can use the Sony Headphones Connect app to shorten the time it takes for the headphones to go to sleep. As a default, you can reduce that number to five minutes if you want to squeeze every last bit of life from them.

Pros Cons
30-hour battery life Mediocre call quality
Quick Attention Mode Small tweaks from 1000XM2
Fantastic sound quality
Outstanding noise cancelation

Conclusions

Sony’s XM3 is yet another impressive pair of noise-canceling headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM3 are exactly the headphones we’ve come to expect from the new leader in noise-canceling headphones.

Although they’re a bit too close to the XM2s in terms of comfort, they’re still among the best headphones you can buy nearly three years after they were released, only being surpassed by the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Due to recent price drops, the Sony WH-1000XM2 can be found for even less than the Sony WH-1000XM1.