Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone
- Lightweight and extremely comfortable.
- Sound quality is a bit bass-heavy out of the box, but with a little EQ, it becomes class-leading.
- Can be connected via Bluetooth, NFC or analog wired.
- AptX, AptX-HD, AAC and LDAC Bluetooth codec support.
- Touch-sensitive controls on right ear cup are a revelation.
- 30 hour claimed running time on a full charge.
Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone Introduction
Sony WH-1000XM3- Front View
Secrets has had a decent selection of some of the more current wireless active noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones in for review lately. As such, it was only a matter of time before the Sony WH-1000XM3 made an appearance at my doorstep. Over the past few years, these headphones have developed popularity and a reputation on par to the Bose Quiet Comfort series in this product category. And while I can appreciate the aspects of an advanced noise cancellation system and next-level Bluetooth performance, I am primarily interested in the overall sound quality of the WH-1000XM3. Gone are the days where Bluetooth ANC headphones were considered more of a convenience. If the last few reviews of similar headphones have shown us anything, it’s that you no longer have to sacrifice sound quality for wireless and ANC convenience. Sony has been designing and building headphones for a good, long time. Some, sound truly outstanding. My first pair of real headphones were a pair of Sony MDR-CD777 that I bought back in 1989, just after I started Art college. They went everywhere with me and I loved the way they sounded hooked up to my cassette Walkman. And let’s say that more than a few joke drawings were done of me wearing freakishly huge headphones during art classes! Thirty years later, I’m holding a very similar looking pair of high-performance headphones in my hands, just with no wires this time around. I’m feeling more than just a little bit of déjà vu here.
Closed-back, Over-the-Ear Headphones with Dynamic Drivers
40.0 mm with Neodymium Magnets
Manufacturer Freq. Response:
4 Hz – 40 kHz (wired), 20 Hz – 20 kHz (wireless)
Bluetooth Codecs Supported:
SBC, AptX, AptX HD, AAC, LDAC
47 Ohms (wired active), 16 Ohms (wired passive)
Battery Charge Time:
3 Hours for Full Charge, a Quick Charge feature will provide 5 hours of playback in 10 minutes of charging
Black or Silver
One detachable 3.94-foot headphone ribbon cable with 3.5mm plug, one 9-inch USB-C charging cable, one dual-prong airline adaptor, carrying case
Sony, WH1000XM3, Wireless, Bluetooth, ANC, AptX, LDAC, Noise Cancelling Headphone Review 2019
The WH-1000XM3 ear pads and headband are nicely padded and extremely comfortable. They both seem to use some type of memory foam as their base and are covered with a soft leatherette. And, joy of joys, the ear pads completely surround my earlobes making a nice tight seal without an unpleasant amount of clamping force.
Now we come to what I personally think is the most genius design touch of the Sony WH-1000XM3, the touch-sensitive controls on the outside of right earcup. Simply touching the right outside earcup and swiping up raises the volume, swiping down lowers it. Swiping forward skips to the next track, while a swipe back will go back a track and a double-tap will pause/resume play along with answering phone calls. If you gently cup your hand to the outside of the right earcup, your music and ANC will pause and allow you to hear any outside announcements or conversation that you want to catch. Pulling your hand away resumes your music. I have not seen any other active-wireless Bluetooth headphone implement a control system like this and once you experience using it, it quickly becomes intuitive and second-nature.
Internally, the WH-1000XM3 use a pair of 40-mm drivers that feature aluminum-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragms. These are said to be the same drivers found in Sony’s well regarded MDR-1AM2 closed-back headphones. Sony has updated the microphone array from the last generation model for improved voice clarity and better noise rejection during phone calls. Other improvements include the move to a new noise-canceling processor called the QN1 which Sony claims, offers four times better performance than the previous version.
The WH-1000XM3 offer a wide range of Bluetooth codec compatibility. They will operate on SBC, AAC, AptX, AptX HD, and Sony’s proprietary LDAC codecs. AptX HD and LDAC offer the largest “bitrate pipe” for lossless sounding transmission, but Apple users should still get very good results with AAC as well.
Battery performance is claimed at 30 hours of moderate use from a full charge. A handy quick-charge feature allows you to get 5 hours’ worth of use from only a 10-minute charge. Useful if you have a short layover between flights or find yourself too time limited for a full charge.
Sony offers an iOS and Android app called Headphone Connect that is very similar to what Bowers & Wilkins uses with its PX headphones. Sony’s app can control all the basic features of the headphones along with allowing the user to tailor the strength of the ANC, providing EQ with presets, surround environment processing, allowing compatibility with Google Assistant, configuring auto shut-off, and handling firmware updates to the headphones.
Sony WH-1000XM3- Headphones and Accessories
Accessories that come with the Sony WH-1000XM3 include a hard-shell carrying case, a 4-foot traditional headphone cable with 3.5mm connectors on both ends, a dual prong airline adapter, and a 9-inch USB-C charge cable.
For this review, the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones were primarily paired with my iPhone 6S Plus using the Onkyo HD Player app, my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet running J River Media Center 24 and a Shanling M0 DAP. Connections were made using both Bluetooth wireless and traditional wired. All audio files were lossless FLAC. My iPhone uses the AAC Bluetooth codec while the Shanling DAP has standard AptX, AAC, LDAC, and LDAC HD codecs at its disposal. I could not get a bead on what Bluetooth codec the Surface tablet was using, unfortunately.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones arrived nicely packaged and were completely folded up inside the included hard-shell travel case. When you remove the headphones from the case, you’ll see a conveniently provided insert that shows how to orient the headphones for proper storage in the future. Even without the travel case, the headphones will collapse to an agreeable size such that they will easily fit in a backpack, carry-on or another similar bag. In terms of included accessories, it’s a pretty sparse selection. There is a single headphone cable allowing the headphones to be used in traditional wired fashion, either in a completely passive or in the active mode (which allows the use of ANC).
Also included is a dual prong airline adapter, which I have honestly not seen a suitable jack for on either a domestic or international flight in many moons. Finally, there is what I can only describe as a comically short USB-C charge cable, all 9-inches of it. Keep those charge ports extra close!
Let me first start by saying that the Sony WH-1000XM3 are some of the most comfortable wireless headphones that I have ever worn. When I had them properly adjusted, they exerted a minimal amount of pressure on the top of my head and the clamping force at the sides was perfectly acceptable with the earpads having just the right amount of comfort and give. Their general lightweight made them an easy choice for extended listening sessions, but the headphones also were good at staying put during workouts at the gym or while walking our hyperactive dogs. I understand that there were some complaints about premature splitting and breakage regarding the headband on the previous generation unit.
The headband on the WH-1000XM3 has been redesigned and I encountered no quality related issues in my 2 months of using these headphones almost daily.
Fresh out of the box, I found the sound quality to be very good but a bit bass-heavy with a somewhat polite sounding top-end for my taste. I typically don’t feel the need to use EQ with most headphones but, for me, the Sony’s needed to have some tweaking done before I could give them a fair assessment. The Sony Connect app has a built-in 5-band equalizer with an additional bass setting called “Clear Bass”, along with several EQ presets and two custom EQ choices available to pick from. With a little boost to the mids and highs and a little cut to the bass, I was able to dial these headphones in to achieve the sonic balance that I was after. Note that the app only works with the headphones when listening through Bluetooth. In wired mode, I essentially used similar EQ settings in whatever playback software I was using on a given device. Newly EQ’d to my taste, I quickly understood why the WH-1000XM3 had become so popular. They really are some of the best sounding wireless Bluetooth headphones out there. Compared to all the other similar headphones that I have heard up to now, the Sony’s sound just a little bit richer with a bit more detail and transparency to my ears. Very much like the Bowers & Wilkins PX but with the low-end extension that the PX lacked. There was bass in spades if you wanted it of course, and I suppose, as a practical matter, it is easier to dial back if the bass as opposed to boosting it if it’s lacking. And, for comparison, these headphones, through Bluetooth, sounded practically the same as they do when used wired, especially when using the AptX HD or LDAC codecs.
For sheer usability, the touch-sensitive controls on the right earcup are a joy to work with and are so much better than fumbling around with buttons. Once I got used to the gestures, which took all of 5 minutes, navigating the interface was easy and it remained consistently responsive during all my use. And the whole cupping-your-palm-over-the-earcup-to-allow-you-to-hear-through-the-music-and-ANC thing is brilliant!
Sony’s Active Noise Cancelling system, as found on the WH-1000XM3, is as effective as any other equivalent that I have encountered. The Sony Connect app allows for effective adjustment of just how strong you want the ANC to be, with specific tailoring for allowing only the voice to come through. It also has an adaptive setting that monitors your activity and adjusts the level of noise cancellation to your environment. I really didn’t mess with this as I found that I was able to get the right level of ANC, that was comfortable for a given situation, manually. At full strength, I personally felt a noticeable amount of pressure exerted on my eardrums. It was to a level that I found uncomfortable and while that level created a dead silence, I don’t personally care for a complete absence of noise in my listening. Adjusting it down by two or three notches gave me a good amount of noise rejection and no discomfort. The sound of the music changed minimally to me when the ANC was turned on or off indicating a well-designed and integrated system.
Other features worth noting: Microphone and general audio quality with phone calls were very good. The conversation was consistently clear and easy to understand. Battery life was outstanding. Sony claims 30 hours of moderate use on a full charge. While I have not kept a detailed runtime tally, in two months I have charged the WH-1000XM3 only twice and that is with regular, almost daily use with ANC being used for one-third of the time.
Some of my favorite playlist tracks to listen to with the Sony WH-1000XM3 are:
Billy F Gibbons, The Big Bad Blues
Missin’ Yo’ Kissin’, Concord Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
Being a ZZ Top fan from way back and an avid admirer of blues guitar, I had high hopes for this album when it was announced, and it most definitely delivers. As one of my favorite tracks, “Missin’ Yo’ Kissin’” is an upbeat blues number with a deep, chunky distortion-filled lead guitar. The bass reach of the Sony WH-1000XM3 gives a greatly added grunt and punch to Gibbon’s lead while the guitar’s distortion still sounded crisp and detailed.
The bass line throughout the track was thick and powerful through these headphones. It created a great acoustic floor that just rumbled with authority and drive. Kick drum hits sounded like they had a good solid force to them while cymbals still retained a nice shimmer. Amongst all this, Gibbon’s vocals come across clearly with his distinct and gravelly drawl being front and center. The harmonica solo, at about two-thirds through the track, had a great bite to its sound with the notes coming across cleanly and without harshness.
The New Stan Getz Quartet, Getz Au Go Go
Corcovado, Verve Records, FLAC 24/192.
From one of my absolute favorite jazz albums ever, this live version of “Corcovado” features the distinctive vocals of Astrud Gilberto to great effect over the WH-1000XM3. Right from the off, the sound of Ms. Gilberto’s vocals are big and they reverberate through the whole of the headphones, but there is still enough detail heard in even the smallest of her inflections to give her singing an odd sense of intimacy at the same time.
Stan Getz’s tenor saxophone sounds almost tangible and all-encompassing with its smooth phrasing and complete control in this song. I can also clearly hear the reverberation from the club through the Sony’s, thus adding another layer of dimension to the experience. These headphones already inherently impart an added sense of depth to most music that I heard through them. Thankfully, it’s not an overwrought or artificial sounding effect but its just enough to sound pleasing with most studio music, and it can be very agreeable with live music such as this.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Anthology
Blue Collar, Polygram Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
Classic Canadian Rock and Roll, although this particular song veers more towards jazz sensibilities. Imagine BTO with a bit of a Steely Dan twist. The WH-1000XM3 penchant for bass brings the most out of C.F. Turner’s bass line thereby adding some extra weight and shape to the song. It’s been my experience that “Blue Collar” can sound notably bass-shy on some speakers and headphones, but it most certainly does not on these Sony’s!
On the other end of the spectrum, details like the maracas sounded very clear and detailed and seemed to be originating from outside the confines of the earcups. Randy Bachman’s absolutely sublime mid-song guitar solo was rendered with excellent tonality and detail. And when we get to his outro solo, weaving in and out with the drum cymbals, I got the impression that while these headphones may be aggressively tuned for bass, it won’t overwhelm the finer details, particularly if you take a little time with the EQ. These are a very tweakable and forgiving set of headphones.
Jerry Goldsmith, Star Trek The Motion Picture Soundtrack
Main Title-Klingon Battle, La-La Land Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
So, while we’ve covered Blues, Jazz, and Rock music, how does a bombastic orchestral piece fare with these headphones? Well, it doesn’t get much bigger than this one, the iconic “Main Title theme, and Klingon Battle” from Star Trek TMP. The orchestration is memorably huge and the WH-1000XM3 take advantage of that by throwing up a big image that extends outside the boundary of the headphones.
The bass tuning also makes the most out of the tympani and bass drum impacts, making them feel almost tectonic. The horn and string sections both sounded especially clean and clear, with plenty of detail. The horns, being particularly prominent (and loud) in the opening, showed no signs of compression. As we transition to the “Klingon Battle”, which is a moodier sounding piece, I was able to notice plenty of bow work in the violins, cellos, and bass during the quieter passages. Interspersed among that were some flutes playing well into the upper registers. I was impressed at how natural they sounded at that volume and pitch, eliciting no wincing from yours truly. And, of course, the deep organ that signals the Klingon’s impending doom at the might of V’Ger, was deep enough to free a few bats from my belfry. Yes, the Sony WH-1000XM3 can handle both power and finesse in equal measure.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are, without a doubt, some of the best wireless headphones that I have heard to date.
- Exceptional sound either wireless or wired.
- Effective, adjustable, noise cancellation technology.
- Touch-sensitive controls are a dream.
- Light and supremely comfortable.
- Excellent battery life.
- Longer charge cable. 9-inches? Are you kidding?!
- Would be perfect if touch sensitive controls worked in wired mode too.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones are a class-leading example of what is available in this product category. They are light, comfortable, have effective ANC that can be tailored to your need, and a rich and detailed sound quality that many a listener should find appealing. Plus, the touch-sensitive controls are an inspired feature. I found them to be bass-heavy at first, but it took very little tweaking with EQ to get them to sound completely satisfying for my taste. Once EQ’d, I found the mids to be detailed with an appealing amount of warmth, the highs to be clean and extended, while the bass remained potent and impactful but not bloated. I suspect the WH-1000XM3 are tuned like this by design so that these headphones can appeal to the widest possible audience.
If you want bass, it’s there. If you want less, it’s very easy to turn down. For smartphone users, the Sony Connect App is a handy and effective way to tune and manage your headphones. If you are pairing the WH-1000XM3 with a DAP, I would recommend you use one with a built-in equalizer so that you can tune the Sony’s to your liking, should you feel the need. I would certainly put the Sony WH-1000XM3 at, or near, the top of the wireless headphones that I’ve heard. If you are looking for a pair of Bluetooth noise canceling headphones, certainly check out a few different brands in your search. Do not, however, neglect to sample the Sony WH-1000XM3. They set the standard, end of story.