Sony WF-1000XM3

True Wireless in-ear headphones with adaptive noise cancelling

With the WF-1000X, Sony was already playing at the top of the True Wireless league over two years ago. Now the manufacturer is sending a fresh player out onto the highly competitive playing field with this new second version.

These Bluetooth-5 headphones are available in black or silver and their matt surfaces have a stylish and high-quality appearance. Due to their design, they protrude out of the ear but, thanks to the different size adapters that are included and well-thought-out construction, they sit quite securely in the ear canal. However, I wouldn’t call them sports headphones, especially since the manufacturer does not specify any special measures against sweat and water.

The two earphones each have their own microphones and can also be used separately. They can be stored in a custom-made, decorative plastic case that not only protects, but also acts as a charging cradle with its own battery capacity. The earphones find a safe “parking space” here thanks to a magnetic storage form, while they can be recharged either through the case or via a USB-C connection.

There is a comprehensive range of features: In addition to Bluetooth 5, the WF-1000XM3 offers adaptive noise cancelling, touch functions, clever automation, an app with various functions and support for language assistants including Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. An internal memory like in the WF-SP900 has, however, not been included with this model.

In practice

The WF-1000XM3 are easy to use in daily life. Once paired, the earpieces quickly connect to a corresponding smartphone (in the case of this test, an iPhone 8). By the way, according to the manufacturer, when both headphones are transmitting, they are independently tuned by the transmitter to get a better synchronization of the sound. Their Bluetooth range almost completely covers a large apartment and although there were occasional interruptions of the pairing, it was reactivated again quickly. Improvements from the manufacturer are available in the form of firmware updates (we tested version 2.1.0).

These headphones have sensors that automatically pause the music when you remove them from your ears – which can be useful for situations like having conversations. If required, the headphones can also be switched off automatically if both earpieces are removed from the ears.

The controls on the device are comfortable to use but functionally limited by the two touch fields on the outside of the earpieces. For further configuration, Sony uses the free app “Headphones Connect” (iOS, Android) and also provides multilingual language assistance.

You can configure one master function per tab, which can then be further subdivided depending on whether you make clicks or a continuous touch. For example, you can set the controls to call up the ambient sound function mentioned below on the left, and on the right use the playback control to start, stop, skip through tracks and, in addition, set a function to call your voice assistant. Of course, you can also accept calls.

The sensor technology itself takes some getting used to as it requires higher accuracy than with over-ear models. Also due to the way they are designed, touching the sensor can also lead to knocking noises being detected in the eardrum.

These headphones have a typical runtime of five to six hours with the noise reduction switched on. In addition, the case offers three times the charging capacity, resulting in considerable usage times that will confidently cover daily operation and longer journeys. The charging time for the case is 3.5 hours; the headphone charging time is 1.5 hours. However, just ten minutes in the case will give you 90 minutes of playing time.

Noise cancelling

Sony is considered the market leader in the field of noise cancelling. The WF-1000XM3 only strengthens this position, as for true wireless headphones they deliver remarkable results. The technical basis for this is the built-in signal processor (QN1e), which carries out 24-bit conversion as well as the associated calculations. Apart from wind sensitivity, noise-cancelling not only works efficiently, but it can also be variably configured and has dynamic adaptation to the environment (Adaptive Sound Control). Depending on the user’s movement pattern, the headphones change between four settings, which can also be used in a static mode. In the “Transport” setting, the level of noise reduction is at its most intense and is wonderfully effective. At the same time, the inherent noise of the electronic components remains pleasantly low.

As usual, the noise reduction works particularly efficiently for low frequency and static noise. In this way, the WF-1000XM3 actually create a quiet zone, which intensifies the enjoyment of music or even provides space for relaxation. This is a real selling point, particularly in open-plan offices. The aforementioned adjustable ambient sound function allows for improved perception of your surroundings at the touch of a button when listening to music and lets you enable selective communication. But it also allows you to make various adjustments to the levels of ambient noise.

Sound

In the headphones we tested, the dynamic 6 mm drivers work with neodymium magnets. The results in terms of sound are quite remarkable. These headphones are fun to listen to and convinced us with a powerful sound quality, which is especially suitable for pop and rock. Maximum neutrality is less in the foreground here, because the WF-1000XM3 are not so much an audiophile model, but rather a flexible pair of headphones for mobile use with particular suitability for office use.

Even without EQ they hit hard. Due to their good fit and noise cancelling, the results are a thoroughly enjoyable music listening experience. In the bass, the headphones are contoured with corresponding boundaries of pitch, length and dynamics. The WF-1000XM3 sound quite rich but don’t exaggerate, and the same goes for the perfectly audible low bass. In the midrange they push distorted rock guitars, transmit voices with clear intelligibility and give instruments like an acoustic grand piano the necessary warmth and space. Also quiet music like classical or Nick Cave’s current album “Ghosteen” can really be enjoyed with these headphones. Finally, in the treble range, they reveal a lot of detail, although I felt they ultimately lacked transparency and airiness. I didn’t find any unnecessary harshness, but rather a meaningful sense of limits with the appropriate passages in the source material. The noise-cancelling function influences the perception of sound, as with noise-cancelling switched on there was an improved signal-to-noise ratio and also a noticeable pressure boost.

With the six-band equalizer, the sound image can be tackled both clearly and at the same time musically. You can improve the sound here and save your settings as a preset and increase listening pleasure.

Another exciting feature of these headphones is their support for 360 Reality Sound. Here, Sony is trying out a three-dimensional sound image (immersive audio), which can be accessed via streaming services such as Tidal, Deezer or nugs.net where appropriate content is available. The app also allows users to take photos of their own ears and incorporate their specific form into the processing of sound.

Because I lacked access to the appropriate material, I could only try this function with demo material from the Sony website. It offered nice prospects but I can’t confirm any additional benefit from the built-in DSEE HX sound enhancement.

In view of such options, I consider the non-inclusion of higher quality codecs to be quite a glitch. The WF-1000XM3 only supports SBC and AAC, which has to be chalked up as a minus point or as a missed opportunity by the developers of LDAC.

Finally, these headphones receive a high score for the quality of telephone calls with their high speech intelligibility. Since they can be used for calls with just one earpiece, they are recommended for office use or even for use on car journeys.

Ulf Kaiser
6 months ago by Ulf Kaiser
  • Rating: 4.25
  • Sound
  • Handling
  • Price/Quality
  • Function

With the WF-1000XM3 model Sony succeeds in a clear improvement. For headphones in the True Wireless class, this is impressive equipment; only the lack of high-quality Bluetooth codecs lets them down. The wearing comfort is just right, the battery life is strong, and both the features and the sound hit the right notes. With these headphones, Sony once again asserts its supremacy in noise cancelling and, at 249 euro, they come in just under the price of Apple’s current top model, the AirPods Pro.

Technical specifications

  • Ear couplingIn-ear
  • Typeclosed
  • Transducer principledynamic
  • Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
  • Weight without cable2x 8,5g, gesamt 77 g
  • Cable length20 cm

What's in the box

  • Two types of earplugs in different sizes
  • USB-C charging cable

Special features

  • BT codecs: SBC, AAC
  • BT version: 5.0
  • BT profiles: HSP, HFP, A2DP, AVRCP
  • Loading time: approx. 1.5 hrs.