“The WF-1000XM3 is a groundbreaking pair of fully wireless earphones.”
Excellent sound and call quality
Fantastic battery life
Great noise cancellation
Convincing app-based functions
No water resistance
A bit bulky
This review was last updated by Nick Woodard, employee of Digital Trends A / V, on June 5, 2020.
For years we have considered Sony to be one of our most popular in-game headphone manufacturers. The noise canceling WH-1000XM3 (and its two predecessors) tops our list of the best headphones and deserves the publisher’s award. When Sony introduced its new true wireless earbuds, which feature the same amazing noise reduction technology that the company packed into its award-winning over-ears, we paid attention to that.
The new WF-1000XM3 earphones are everything we hoped for. They offer significant noise cancellation, high fidelity, and the same great app-based features we’ve loved by the company for years. But in the period since its debut, some strong rivals have emerged. The AirPods Pro from Apple were launched along with the Google Pixel Buds 2 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. We still highly value the WF-1000XM3, but competition has shown that Sony’s performance is no longer unique.
Fit and ready
The name of the WF-1000XM3 confusingly bears an “M3” or Mark 3 that matches the hugely popular over-ear WH-1000XM3, although this is only the second edition from Sony in this special line of true wireless earphones. The new buds come in an elegant black-copper charging case with a flat top that is embossed with the Sony logo.
The USB-C case is of considerable size, but still fits in most pockets. With the flat top, you can easily lay it on top of surfaces when you have the buds. The cap flips up to reveal the two earbuds inside and a large red LED on the front of the case indicates whether they are charging.
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The buds look good aesthetically, but there’s not much to write home about when it comes to style. This is probably a targeted decision by the Sony team. Given that many buyers of noise canceling headphones are commuters and business people, it makes sense for the company to stick to a proven design with simple pill-shaped cases and a black-and-case – gray color scheme with small copper accents. They are bulkier than the AirPods Pro, but also inconspicuous compared to Apple’s legendary white golf tees.
If you’ve been in the work world for a while, the look is familiar: the headphones resemble miniature versions of the Bluetooth headset that you may have worn in the city in 2006. The oval shell connects an ergonomic interior with rounded acoustic chambers that culminate in soft silicone earplugs. Sony offers two different tip thicknesses in three sizes (small, medium and large), but they guarantee that you will find a pair that suits you.
Features and controls
There are very few wireless earbuds that compete for functionality with the Sony WF-1000XM3. For starters, the headphones offer a solid battery life of 8 hours per noise-canceling charge and an AirPods Pro that performs best for 6 hours when the device is turned on. The case also contains plenty of juice and offers three full charges for 18 hours of backup battery when using the headphones with noise canceling activated, and 24 hours without the camera turned off.
There’s also a quick charge feature that lets you play back 90 minutes in just 10 minutes – ideal for those who forgot to charge before commuting or on short flights. However, a newer pair of Sony earphones, the WF-SP800N, has the XM3 beat in the battery department. The 800N offers 9 hours of playback with the ANC on and 13 hours without.
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A glossy touchpad on the outside of each bud allows you to play and pause music, access your voice assistant, and change songs. However, Sony also has some other useful extras built in, including the ability to long-touch the left earbud to temporarily generate sound from the outside world, so you don’t have to take off your headphones while trying to hear announcements or order drinks on the plane do.
Speaking of removing earphones like the AirPods Pro. The WF-1000XM3 has sensors that pause the music and eventually go to sleep when removed. When you reinsert it, playback continues or the connection is activated and re-established, depending on how long you have left it.
These headphones offer amazing noise reduction due to their size.
Regarding the marquee function, noise cancellation, Sony has packed the tiny buds with its QN1e noise cancellation chip (the same one in the popular over-ear noise cancelers) and attached two microphones to each earphone to hide the outside world. This processing looks like an absolute magic, which drowns out keyboard clicks, noise from public transport and loud conversations in the office.
You won’t get the same insane reduction you’ll hear on the larger WH-1000xM3 over-ears, but these headphones have an amazing reduction in size and are linked to the fact that they are excellent passive noise isolation very impressed with her performance in noisy rooms.
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Each earphone can also be used separately for calls or music, and the microphones and noise canceling have worked wonders for the clarity of the calls. The sound quality is similar to many dedicated Bluetooth headsets.
Unlike many headphones where apps are designed primarily for pairing, the Sony Connect app offers some great features, including the ability to adjust equalization, the level of noise reduction you want, and the button for Google Assistant – the primary voice assistant – assignable on these headphones.
They do not have an IP protection class for water resistance, so the use of the fitness room is at your own risk
For some, the biggest shortcoming of the WF-1000XM3 is that it is not water resistant. The use of the fitness room is therefore at your own risk. At the start and the first check, you couldn’t control the volume without picking up your phone or calling your voice assistant. Sony has now fixed this with a new option in its app that allows you to choose between volume control and ANC on / off.
Typically, we would pursue a $ 230 manufacturer of in-ear headphones for lack of water resistance because one of the best use cases for real wireless earphones is in the gym, where sweat can be a serious factor. However, we do not believe that the absence here is a big deal for two reasons. First, the headphones seem to be designed for office and business trips rather than the Iron Palace, and second, Sony claims there have been no complaints about previous-generation earphones breaking in the gym. Sony appears to be confident that you can use the WF-1000XM3 for workouts, provided you don’t sweat buckets.
Nevertheless, the AirPods Pro from Apple manage to offer IPX4 with the most bells and whistles. Sony’s proprietary WF-SP800N also offers IP55 water resistance.
Sony has equipped its latest earbuds with its proprietary DSEE HX engine, which is designed to improve the lo-fidelity sound for better overall clarity. It works wonders on the WF-1000XM3, combining noise cancellation with the best fidelity you’ll find in wireless earbuds.
We listened to everything from the lavish pop of Gen Z icon Billie Eilish to the indie rockers Golden Daze, and we’re all impressed with everything we’ve heard.
The highs are clear and crisp, and there is a strong bottom end that never becomes a mud pit. Instead, songs feel like they have a weight and depth that we often miss with other pairs of real wireless earphones that feel a little over the top in terms of their sound profiles.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Plus – and that’s a big plus – the sound is customizable. If the sound signature isn’t quite what you want, you can adjust it using the EQ settings in the app so you never get annoyed with the way the headphones treat certain genres. Do you want a little more shine and pool shimmer in your jazz recordings? Simply increase the heights by one touch. Problem solved.
While playing around with the EQ settings is fun, we’ve spent most of our listening time with the headphones in the normal, flat EQ position. This is because they feel very well adjusted at the factory. Everything we heard about the WF-1000XM3 seemed to be exactly what the mixing technician intended, and that’s really all we can ask of any headphones, especially real wireless in-ears.
The first great wireless noise canceling earphones are here with a Sony logo. With the WF-1000XM3, Sony has managed to offer a pair of groundbreaking earphones that seem to be worth the $ 230 premium easily.
Is there a better alternative?
Apple’s AirPods Pro has been launched for $ 249 since the Sony WF-1000XM3 debuted. You are a miracle. They prove that the WF-1000XM3 is equivalent in terms of noise cancellation and comes very close to sound quality. Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 also offers a good comparison, although they are more expensive at $ 300.
However, the actual competitor here could be in-house, as the Sony WF-SP800N outperforms the XM3 in important categories such as battery life and water resistance. They don’t sound as good or have the noise canceling capabilities of the 1000XM3, but the SP800N still sounds less solid for $ 30.
How long will they last?
Sony has been making great headphones for decades, and we have no reason to believe that the build quality of the WF-1000xM3 is different. It is worth noting that the lifespan of all real wireless headphones is limited by the lifespan of the battery. However, we assume that you will have at least a few years before the batteries show excessive wear.
Should you buy them
Yes – and especially if you are an Android user. If you’re looking for feature-rich headphones with real cables and like the sound of silence, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is still one of the best you’ll find.