“The Sony WH-1000XM3 are quite possibly the best ANC headphones launched this year”

Silence is golden – the adage which was coined decades ago, has laid the foundation for companies like Bose, who’ve sold millions of noise-cancelling headphones to commuters who dread the sound of a crying baby. In fact, up until 2016, Bose was the face of the noise-cancellation industry but then, Sony decided to get in on the action and the rest is history.

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I reviewed the Sony WH-1000XM2 last year and was in awe of the pair’s noise-cancellation and sonic capabilities. Now, Sony has come up with the successor to the M2 in the form of the WH-1000XM3 and after using the headphones for a week, I am confident that the cans will thwart the crown off Bose’s head and emerge as the new leader in the noise-cancellation industry. Here’s why.

Design and Comfort

On the face of it, the Sony WH-1000XM3 look and feel a lot like its predecessor, though the cans feature some subtle yet meaningful changes. For starters, the headphones are noticeably more comfortable to wear over long hours, thanks in no small part to the increased footprint of the earcups as well as added padding on the headband. So much so, I used the cans for six straight hours during a flight and even dozed off at one point whilst wearing them. It was only after I was nudged by my co-passenger that I woke up from my comfortable slumber.

Sony WH-1000XM3 review12What’s more, the cans now sit closer to the head, thereby closing the gap between the headband and a user’s head. Sony calls this the ‘Mickey-Mouse’ effect and in a nutshell, the newer design ensures that you don’t look like a clown whilst wearing the headphones. It also helps in locking the pair more securely, so you’ll seldom have to reposition the headphones back in place if you’re jamming your head to the tunes.

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Now, there are some cosmetic changes onboard the headphones too, though they are far and few in between. The Sony logo, as well as the trim surrounding the microphones now, comes with a rose-gold polish on the black colourway of the headphones, which looks exquisite. Sony has also done away with the texturised earcups of the WH-1000XM2 and has instead opted to furnish those on the M3 with a smoother finish, as was seen on the original MDR-1000X (review).

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Other than that, the buttons are now noticeably more tactile and don’t sit flush to the chassis, as was the case with the unit’s predecessor. Lastly, Sony has shaved off some weight from the newer model too, which is now 20g lighter than the M2 from last year. While it might not seem all that much at first, the lighter form factor of the headphones will make a world of a difference for everyday commuters.

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Before I wrap up the design section, let’s talk about the controls. The Sony WH-1000XM3 ship with a power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a button to switch between the different ANC modes on the left earcup. The right earcup is the home to a USB Type-C port, which is a welcome departure from the micro-USB standard utilised by last year’s model. What’s unchanged, however, are the nifty touch controls which are present on the right earcup. A swipe up or down increases or decreases the volume, a swipe towards the right takes you to the next track and a quick double tap pauses or resumes the music playback.

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While I wasn’t a fan of the touch input last year, I am quite satisfied with the accuracy of gestures on the WH-1000XM3. That said, my favourite feature of the headphones is still the quick attention mode which debuted with the original MDR-1000X. To sum up, placing your hand over the right earcup automatically reduces the volume levels and increases the sound that’s entering the headphones via the microphones, allowing you to engage in a conversation without having to remove the headphones completely.

Audio quality and Battery life

If you have a busy day job, then chances are that you seldom hunt for new songs to listen to on a regular basis. However, I’ve been scouring Apple’s curated playlists ever since I got hold of the Sony WH-1000XM3, as the headphones make listening to songs a truly enjoyable experience. There’s really something magical about the headphones’ sound signature which makes me nod my head to a track’s beats and smile blissfully at my screen whilst writing articles.

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Part of the magic that makes listening to songs on the WH-1000XM3 so much fun is the inclusion of Sony’s brand new QN1 noise-cancellation chip, which comes with a built-in amplifier as well as a 32-bit DAC which offers high-quality sound output. Coupled with 1.57-inch drivers positioned inside each earcup, the headphones can reciprocate the entire frequency spectrum up to 40KHz.

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What’s more, much like its predecessor, the WH-1000XM3 also comes with support for a myriad of audio codecs, including Qualcomm’s aptX HD, SBC, AAC as well as Sony’s high-bitrate LDAC, which thankfully is no longer limited to smartphones from the brand’s stables. I for one managed to play FLAC files off my OnePlus 6 as it runs Android Oreo and therefore, supports Sony’s proprietary codec. Just make sure to select ‘Priority on Sound Quality’ from within Sony’s companion app for the headphones as the audio codec is locked to SBC by default.

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Now, if you’re an audio purist then you might be disappointed with the headphones’ coloured sound. However, if you’re not the type to analyse every single note, then you’ll love the lush mids, the thunderous bass and the pleasant highs the headset has to offer. To my ears, the M3 sounds eerily similar to its predecessor with some minor differences. For starters, I feel that Sony has let the headphones off the leash as I felt a significant difference in the bass output of the WH-1000XM3 over its predecessor.

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The low end on the M3 has an excellent extension and the mid-bass has a distinct rumble to it which makes listening to songs like Darkside from Alan Walker an absolute treat. That said, if skull-shattering bass is not your thing and you want to enjoy the headphone’s brilliant mid-range, then you can fine tune the sound coming out of the cans easily with the help of Sony’s Headphone Connect companion app. Just select the ‘Vocals’ EQ and enjoy the lyrics from your favourite tracks come to life.

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Despite not delivering technically accurate sound, you’ll find it hard to put down the WH-1000XM3, thanks to the headphones incredibly wide soundstage. Take Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s Shallow for instance. The strums of the acoustic guitar at the beginning of the track sound noticeably denser on Sony’s offering, however, that didn’t make me gravitate towards a more balanced pair of cans, primarily because I felt as if I was watching the stars perform live in my drawing room.

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And the best part? You can lose yourself in music for days on end, thanks to the WH-1000XM3’s excellent battery life. To give you some context, I’ve been using the headphones non-stop for almost a week, listening to music and watching shows for around three hours daily and I’m yet to drain the unit completely. What’s more, if you use a fast charging brick, then you can achieve a whopping five hours of music playback off a 10-minute top up.

Noise-cancellation and App features

I’ve probably covered the M3’s ANC capabilities in bits and pieces in the previous subheads but it’s so good that I feel it deserves a special mention. Now, as you already know, Sony has a brand-new chip in place to tackle environmental noise, dubbed the QN1 processor. Although I can’t get into the specifics of how the chip works, I can tell you from my personal experience that it counters ambient noise unlike any other pair of headphones. You see, most noise-cancelling cans can drown steady frequencies, such as the hum of an airplane’s engine or a vehicle’s motor. However, the Sony WH-1000XM3 takes it a step further by blocking out voices and other sporadic frequencies which might fly under the radar of the competition’s offerings.

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What’s more, much like last year’s model, the WH-1000XM3 also ships with ambient sound control which can be turned on from within the Headphone Connect app. The M3 then works in conjunction with the sensors on your smartphone to determine whether you’re sitting on a chair or walking outdoors and correspondingly, switches the ANC profiles automatically. You can even choose how much noise you want to block out for each ANC profile.

Verdict

The Sony WH-1000XM3 retails for Rs 29,990 and for the price, is quite possibly the most complete pair headphones I’ve ever reviewed. The device checks all the right boxes and offers an excellent sound output, mind-boggling battery life and unparalleled active noise-cancellation capabilities, all packaged in an elegant design which is extremely comfortable to wear over long hours.

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Now, if you already own the Sony WH-1000XM2, then you need not upgrade to the newer model as the WH-1000XM3 is more of a refinement than an upgrade over the M2. At its price, the WH-1000XM3 faces competition from Bose’s QC35 II (review), but having tested both the headphones, I can confidently say that you’ll get more bang for your buck from Sony’s offering. Not only does the latter offer better battery life and a more comfortable design, but the WH-1000XM3 has a much better sound signature than the Bose QC35 II too.

That said, the Bose QC35 II is due for an upgrade and with Sony ramping up the stakes in the premium audio space, I can’t wait to see what other brands (including Bose) come up with next.

Editor’s rating: 4.5 / 5

Pros: 

  • Incredibly comfortable 
  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Excellent ANC capabilities
  • Fun sound signature 

Cons: 

  • Touch controls need more work 
Photos by Raj Rout

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