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Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Wireless noise-canceling magic

By Marcus Wong - 3 Aug 2019

Sony WF-1000XM3 review: Wireless noise-canceling magic

Note: This article was first published on 22 July 2019.

Sony WF-1000XM3 performance review

Sony's WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds boast some fancy noise-canceling capabilities.

As promised, here's our performance review of the WF-1000XM3!  If you'd like to catch up on the technical aspects of these true wireless earbuds, jump to this newspiece here. To take a walkthrough of the internals of this device, head to this gallery here.

Otherwise, here's a quick summary of the main points to start:

  1. The WF-1000XM3 gets Active Noise-canceling features adapted from the WH-1000XM3.
  2. It uses a new Bluetooth chip that does simultaneous transmission to both left and right earbuds instead of the conventional left-right relay transmission for lower latency.
  3. It has a brand new HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1e that boosts battery life and gives it quick charging capabilities (90 mins battery life after just 10 mins charging).
  4. You can get six hours of playback with ANC on, and a full 24 hrs of playback using the case.

Now, on to the review proper!

 

Noise-canceling maximized

As you might have guessed from the picture above, Sony gave us sets of the WF-1000XM3 to use on an actual train ride, and the results were simply impressive. We tested the Adaptive Sound mode and found that the WF-1000XM3 switched between its ambient noise mode to the full noise-canceling mode soon after the train started moving.

More importantly, it stayed in this mode through our journey, only switching back to the ambient noise mode after we were stationary.That sounds simple enough, but hasn't been as effectively implemented with other brands. The switching could be a bit faster, but it certainly does work as promised.

Switching takes a while, but it 's pretty accurate.

The actual level of noise-canceling achieved was also impressive considering the effect was coming from a pair of true wireless earbuds and not full-sized headphones. Once activated, most of the train noise melted away, so there was really nothing left but our music. Suffice to say, someone trying to get your attention will have to really raise his voice to do so! 

 

But how does it sound?

Pretty good really. The WF-1000XM3 was obviously engineered to appeal to a wider audience, so the sweet spot runs runs the gamut of the mid-range, falling off some at the extremes. Bass is a little tighter than we’d like, but has just enough punch to be felt.

For example, on a recording of Temptation by Diana Krall, the earbuds delivered the track with a clean, measured bass line and warm vocals. We could have done with a bit more sparkle from the highs in this piece, and a bit of decay from the lows would have drawn you in more, but the earbuds delivered an enjoyable listen overall.  

Moving on to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody gave the earbuds a chance to show off their stereo imaging capabilities. The earbuds handled the stereo effects in this piece well, and did just enough so the frantic mash of instruments in the bridge didn’t become one big audio mess.

Finishing off with Concerto no.1 in E major by the English Chamber Orchestra, and the earbuds showed that they could easily keep up with the faster moving piece, with a lively rendition.

 

So it's all good?

You get good audio quality, but that's not what stands out most.

Well, not really. It seems like these true wireless earbuds are only optimized for iOS and Android devices for now. We tried pairing them with our own FiiO M7 and had to run the player at full volume to get a proper listening experience. 

It's probably because of the way the new Bluetooth chip transmits to both earbuds simultaneously - something the M7 (and probably most current portable media players) is yet unable to support fully. That aside, we have to report that we did still experience the occasional bits of distortion/static, though it was never enough to cause a complete drop out. 

We'd also have liked to see the earbuds support pairing to multiple devices. If not simultaneously, then at least a list of last stored devices so you can easily switch between devices. Given that you'll need the companion app to adjust settings on the earbuds, that functionality would allow you to more easily switch back to your main media player if you did need to make any changes.

 

Conclusion

The WF-1000XM3 is close to a really good true wireless audio experience.

When we got the technical presentation from Sony on these true wireless earbuds, we were hopeful that Sony's simultaneous Bluetooth transmission might finally bring a truly stable connection to true wireless. They don't, but they're closer than any other brand has come at the moment. The audio performance you get for S$349. is certainly well worth the money, but the true magic here lies in the superb active noise-canceling capabilities.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 will let you enjoy your music without distractions, and might actually be better than what's present on some of the full-sized headphones we've tested, which is no mean feat indeed. Throw in the fact that the included carrying case gives you enough juice for a full 24 hours, and take into account the fast charging feature that has you ready to go in just 10 minutes, and the WF-1000XM3 certainly presents itself as a worthy option.

  • Design 8
  • Performance 8
  • Features 9
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Active noise-canceling works well
Good battery life
Relatively well-priced
The Bad
Performance at both extremes is lacking
Doesn't seem to work as well with dedicated portable media players