A couple of years ago Sony launched the WF-1000X true wireless earbuds which were the first to offer noise cancelling. Apple’s EarPods didn’t, and neither did any of the others you could buy.
They weren’t perfect, and you can read more about the finer details in our WF-1000X review. Rather than just make a few tweaks, Sony has completely redesigned the earbuds – and charging case – and it has another winner on its hands with the WF-1000XM3.
Price & Availability
In the US, the WF-1000XM3 costs $229.99 from Crutchfield.
So they do cost more than most true wireless earbuds, including Apple’s updated AirPods at £169 from Amazon, and more than the RHA True Connect which currently occupy top spot in our roundup of the best wireless earbuds.
Features & Design
Still eschewing the toothbrush-head design favoured by Apple and RHA, the new earbud design is a little like the WF-1000X, and still has a touch of the Bluetooth hands-free kit look about it. Each one is relatively bulky as earbuds go, but very lightweight.
The finish, although plastic, looks and feels good and the part-rubber section over the driver enclosure really helps the WF-1000XM3s to stay snug in your ears.
If the standard silicone tips aren’t a good fit, you’ll find six other options in the box, which is good to see.
Sensors on both earbuds mean you can remove one and any music or video will stop playing so you can pay attention to something else, and it will resume when you reinsert it in your ear. This feature can be disabled in the Sony Headphone Connect app, which you’ll want to install to access all the settings and functions, though it is possible to pair and use the earbuds without it.
One of the biggest changes is new touch-sensitive areas which allow you to control various functions although, oddly, not volume.
When you first pair the headphones with your phone, you’ll be asked – on an Android phone at least – if you want to use the Google Assistant. This remaps the touch key on the left bud so when you hold your finger on it, it calls up the Assistant. This disables the default function which is to toggle between Noise Cancelling, Ambient Sound and Ambient Sound Control Off.
Usefully, if you do decide to use the Assistant it will ping to let you know there’s a notification. You can then double-tap the left touch key to have the Assistant read it out.
The right touch key controls media playback and can also be used to answer phone calls, but via the app you can choose what each touch key does, so you could assign Ambient Sound Control to the left and Google Assistant to the right, or vice versa.
The charging case has enough power to recharge the buds fully three times, so that’s 24 hours in total – an impressive runtime.
A full charge in the case takes 90 minutes, but 10 minutes of charging is enough to provide 90 minutes of music playback. The case itself takes 3.5 hours to full charge via its USB-C port, though note that a mains charger isn’t supplied.
The only annoyance is that there is no battery indicator on case, so you can’t easily tell how much capacity is left, which seems like a basic thing to leave out – especially at this price. A red light tells you the earbuds are charging.
It’s important to remember that the WF-1000XM3 has noise cancelling, which you won’t find on any of other wireless earbuds. And it’s improved when compared to the WF-1000X – Sony says quality is 40% better.
It’s not exactly the same as you get from the WH-1000XM3, which is Sony’s over-ear headphones, as the QN1e chip in the WF-1000XM3 (confusingly similar names, we admit), performs 24-bit processing rather than the 32-bit you’ll get with the over-ears.
Noise cancelling is on by default and in this mode, a full charge will give you six hours of music playback. Disable it and this rises to eight hours.
It’s very effective, too, removing background noise and allowing you to set the volume to a lower level.
In terms of sound quality, the WF-1000XM3 – with the EQ turned off – is initially a little disappointing, sounding flat and lacking bass. But pick a preset in the app or set your own custom EQ and Clear Bass level and you can tune them to your liking. And they can sound pretty fantastic for earbuds.
There is plenty of bass available, without having to sacrifice detail. The piano and guitar in Diana Krall’s The Look of Love have a lovely warm tone, her voice crisp and clear, as is the double bass.
Another treat on these headphones is Tracy Chapman’s (remastered) Fast Car where instruments remain nicely separated and her voice ultra-clear even in busier chorus. Bass is smooth and strong throughout.
In fact, the WF-1000XM3 handled all the genres we played admirably, from the strident guitar in Sigala’s Just Got Paid to the much more distorted version in AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.
If you’re more into classical, you’ll love the wide soundstage and detail on offer.
We didn’t have any issues with dropouts, nor lip sync problems – except in Huawei’s own Video app which seems to be problematic with all Bluetooth headphones.
We were big fans of the WF-1000X and the new version is even better. There are cheaper true wireless earbuds, but they don’t have noise cancelling and lack some of the handy features that Sony has built into the WF-1000XM3.
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