Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Still excellent, but no longer unique
“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
For years we have considered Sony to be one of our favorite headphone manufacturers in the game. The noise-canceling WH-1000XM4 (and its three predecessors) consistently tops our list of the best headphones and receives the “Editor’s Choice” award from Digital Trends.
When Sony released its true wireless earbud version, the WF-1000XM3, in 2019, we weren’t at all surprised when they impressed us for years with significant noise cancellation, high fidelity, and the same great app-based features we’ve enjoyed Companies.
But in the period since its debut, some strong competitors have emerged. Apple’s AirPods Pro were launched along with the Google Pixel Buds 2 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. We still appreciate the WF-1000XM3 very much, but these competitors have proven that Sony’s performance is no longer unique.
Fit and ready
Confusingly, the name of the WF-1000XM3 bears an “M3” or Mark 3, which corresponds to the hugely popular over-ear WH-1000XM3 (which has since been superseded by the even better WH-1000XM4), although this is only Sony’s second edition in this special line of true wireless earbuds. The new buds come in a sleek black and copper charging case with a flat top embossed with the Sony logo.
The USB-C case is a considerable size, but still fits in most pockets. The flat top makes it easy to lay it upside down on surfaces when you have the buds. The cap flips up to expose the two earbuds inside and a large red LED on the front of the case to indicate if they’re charging.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Aesthetically, these buds aren’t much to write home about. This is likely a deliberate decision made by the Sony team. Given that many noise-canceling headphones buyers are commuters and business professionals, it makes sense for the company to stick to a tried and true design with simple, pill-shaped cases and a black-and-gray color scheme with small copper accents. They’re bulkier than the AirPods Pro, but also an understatement when compared to Apple’s iconic white golf tees.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a long time, the look is well known: the earbuds are similar to miniature versions of the Bluetooth headset you might have worn around town in 2006. The oval shell connects an ergonomic interior area 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 will suit you.
Functions and controls
There are very few wireless earbuds that can compete with the Sony WF-1000XM3 in terms of features. For starters, the headphones offer a solid eight hours of battery life with noise-canceling and an AirPods Pro that performs best for six hours when the device is on. The case also contains a lot of juice and offers three full charges for 18 hours of backup battery if you use the headphones with the noise cancellation activated and 24 hours without the camera switched off.
There’s also a quick charge feature that allows you to watch 90 minutes in just 10 minutes – great for those who forgot to charge before commuting or short flights. A newer pair of Sony earphones, the WF-SP800N, has the XM3 beat in the battery department. The SP800N offers nine hours of playback with the ANC on and 13 hours with the ANC off.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
A glossy touchpad on the outside of each bud allows you to play and pause music, access your voice assistant, and change songs. Sony also built in some other nifty perks, including the ability to long-touch the left earbud to temporarily feed in sound from the outside world so that you don’t have to take off your headphones while trying to listen to announcements or make a drink order on the plane.
Speaking of removing earbuds like the AirPods Pro. The WF-1000XM3 has sensors that pause the music and eventually go to sleep when removed. Put them back in and they’ll resume playing or turn on and reconnect depending on how long you haven’t used them.
These headphones offer amazing noise reduction due to their size.
In terms of the marquee feature, the noise cancellation, Sony packed the tiny buds with its QN1e noise canceling chip (the same in the popular over-ear noise cancelers) and attached two microphones to each earbud to block out the outside world. This processing works like an absolute magic and easily drowns out keyboard clicks, noise from public transport and loud conversations in the office.
You won’t get the same insane reduction you will hear on the larger WH-1000xM3 over-ears, but these headphones have an amazing reduction for their size. Coupled with the fact that they themselves provide excellent passive noise isolation, we are very impressed with their performance in noisy rooms.
It’s worth noting that Apple’s AirPods Pro deliver ANC performance that is equivalent to, and possibly better than, the 1000XM3.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Each earbud can also be used separately for calls or for music, and the microphones and noise cancellation did wonders for the clarity of the calls. The sound quality is similar to many dedicated Bluetooth headsets.
Unlike many headphones, where apps are primarily designed for pairing, the Sony Connect app has some great features, including the ability to adjust the balance, set the level of noise reduction you want, and assign the button for Google Assistant – the primary ones Voice assistants these headphones.
Since Sony seems to be agnostic about voice assistants, you can talk to Siri or even Alexa from Amazon instead.
They do not have an IP rating for water resistance, so use of the fitness room is at your own risk.
For some, the biggest shortcoming of the WF-1000XM3 is that it lacks water resistance. Use of the fitness room is therefore at your own risk. Also, on startup – and when we first checked it – you couldn’t control the volume without reaching for your phone or calling your voice assistant. Sony has since addressed this issue with a new option in its app that lets you choose between volume control and ANC on / off.
Ordinarily, we would criticize a $ 230 worth of in-ear headphones manufacturer for lack of water resistance, as one of the best uses for true wireless earbuds is in the gym, where sweat can be a major factor. However, we don’t think the absence here is a big deal for two reasons.
First, the headphones appear to be more intended for office and business trips than the Iron Palace, and second, Sony claims there have been no complaints about the previous generation’s earbuds breaking in the gym. Sony seems confident that you can use the WF-1000XM3 for workouts provided you don’t sweat buckets.
Still, Apple’s AirPods Pro IPX4 have the most bells and whistles. Sony’s own WF-SP800N offers IP55 water resistance, which suggests that Sony thinks this model should be checked out if you are really worried about water.
Sony has equipped its latest earbuds with its proprietary DSEE HX engine, which is designed to improve lo-fi sound for better overall clarity. It works wonders on the WF-1000XM3 and combines with noise cancellation the best fidelity you can find in wireless earbuds.
We’ve listened to everything from the lush pop of Gen Z icon Billie Eilish to indie rockers Golden Daze, and we’ve been consistently impressed with everything we’ve heard.
The highs are crisp and crisp, and there is a beefy lower end that never turns into a mud pit. Instead, songs feel like they have a weight and depth that we often miss with other pairs of true wireless earbuds that feel a bit 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 tweak it via the EQ settings in the app so you never get annoyed with the way the headphones handle certain genres. Do you want a little more shine and shimmer in your jazz recordings? Just add one touch to the treble. Problem solved.
While the EQ settings are fun to play around with, most of our listening time was spent with the headphones in the normal, flat EQ position. This is because they feel very well adjusted from the factory. Everything we heard about the WF-1000XM3 immediately sounded fantastic, and that’s really all we can ask of any headphones, especially true wireless in-ears.
The WF-1000XM3 may no longer be the only great wireless earbuds that offer noise cancellation, but it’s still the best when you consider sound quality, battery life, and tons of additional features and customizations. If you can get them up for sale, you should, but even at a regular price of $ 230, these earbuds are worth every penny.
Is there a better alternative?
Since the Sony WF-1000XM3 debuted, Apple’s AirPods Pro have been available for $ 249. They’re a miracle as they prove to be on par with the WF-1000XM3 in terms of noise cancellation and come very close in sound quality. Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 is also a good comparison, though they’re more expensive at $ 300.
However, the real 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 solid for $ 30 less. Not sure which one to buy? Check out our comparison between the WF-1000XM3 and WF-SP800N.
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 will be any different. It is worth noting that the life of all true wireless headphones is limited by the life of the battery. However, we assume that you will have at least a few years before the batteries show signs of severe wear.
Should you buy it?
Yes – especially if you are an Android user. If you are looking for feature-rich headphones with real cords and you like the sound of silence, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is still one of the best you will find.