Sony WF-1000XM3 review – the noise cancelling TWS earbuds to beat | better than Apple Airpods Pro

Rating: 8.6/10

Introduction

Last year, when everything was alright, when the world wasn’t in such a bad shape, a couple of journalist friends of mine purchased a Sony WF-1000XM3, while returning from a press conference abroad. And, everyone who got a chance to test them out (I wasn’t on that trip)  were raving about the sound quality of these truly wireless earbuds with active noise cancelling. I had a major FOMO!

Thankfully, Sony India has decided to launch these exactly a year later. And, at the risk of losing your attention by preempting the verdict, I don’t want to send these back to the company once I am done with my review. These are that good.

P.S. We send most of our review units back to brands and this one will go back too. I’ll probably end up buying it.

Sony WF-1000XM3 – Design and specs

The WF-1000XM3’s charging case is definitely massive in comparison to the tiny cases I’ve tested lately. You can get these earphones in two colourways Silver and Black. Ours is the silver variant but it looks more like a dual shade of Bronze on the lid, and Clay-ish Grey shade on the box and the earbuds. At the bottom you get theType-C port scooped out into a cavity. Opening the lid with one hand is possible but it is not the smoothest experience. A lot of that is because holding the entire case with one hand is difficult to begin with. 

Once the lid is open, you’ll see an LED indicator that showcases the charge level of the case. Similarly, you get LED indicators on the buds themselves. As for the buds, these are constructed in a triple layer structure. You have the bore with the silicon/foam tip that enters your ears. This bore is attached to a rubberised extended portion to secure an even tighter seal so it doesn’t fall off your ears. Which is further attached to the bigger housing, which I presume has the 6mm driver unit per bud and the crazy noise cancelling wizardry inside it. 

By the way, the WF-1000XM3 employs a Dual Noise cancelling technology using both – feedback and feed forward mics – on each buds. If you want to know more about Feedback and Feedforward microphone technology, here’s a LINK.

Anyway, this tech makes it doubly effective at noise cancelling and this hybrid method is by far the best way to do NC. What I noticed they managed to effectively block out the constant whirr of the fan with the ease of Dravid hitting the boundary with a forward defensive stroke. But yes, uneven sounds like people talking is still a tall ask. What I particularly like about the NC on these is that it doesn’t create a vacuum in your head. I have to mention this, more than half the reason why the NC is so great is because of Sony’s proprietary Noise-cancelling processor QN1e ported directly from the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones.

Sony WF-1000XM3 – Controls, fit, & app

I found the fit of the WF-1000XM3 to be extremely comfortable for long listening sessions and not once did it fall out of my ears. As for the controls, you can customise it to your heart’s content from Sony’s Headphone Connect app. You can configure it to switch between the Ambient Noise Control and Noise Cancelling on the fly, reduce/increase the volume, invoke Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and finally use it for Playback Controls. I liked the default configuration of Ambient Noise Control on the left earbud and Playback Controls on the right one, so kept using it. 

The app also gives you the option to control many other functions. For example, you can change the connection quality to prioritise a stable connection or sound. You can also tweak the equaliser for a more personalised sound and it responds beautifully. I also particularly like the feature where you can switch off the wear detection feature that automatically pauses music when you take the earbuds out of your ears. By the way, this feature works flawlessly on the WF-1000XM3. This level of control is refreshing to see, honestly. That’s not it though, you get over-the-air updates using this app. 

Plus, I really like how the device uses a proximity sensor to determine if you are sitting, walking, or running to set the level of ambient noise control. You can also long press either earbud to put it in ambient mode to ensure you are not blocking out the external noise. 

Sony WF-1000XM3 – Sound quality, call quality and battery life

The WF-1000XM3 uses BT 5.0 to connect to other devices. You can also use NFC to establish the connection. Now, the connection was extremely stable for the most part and the 10m range was pretty accurate too. As for the codec support, I am definitely disappointed that you don’t get support for LDAC or aptX, considering these are expensive. However, Sony’s reasoning is that it’d affect battery life further and that makes sense to me considering the battery life with ANC on is not exceptional. Sony, claims 6 hours with NC on. But, I used ANC and DSEE HX audio enhancement and it lasted me 4 hours on a single charge at 100% volume, which is average at best. But, you should expect better battery life at 70% volume and BT connection set to Stable mode.

Now, coming to the most important part of the review – the sound quality. This is where the Sony WF-1000XM3 just shines. Sony’s tuning is a balanced one with slight lifts in the mids and the low end of the frequency range. This makes the sound signature more approachable and it is a one-size-fits all approach. I listened to everything from Rahman to Rage Against the Machine and the WF-1000XM3 plays them back near-accurately almost – ‘as the artist intended’ – into your ears. In a song like Veerapandi Kotayile from Thiruda Thiruda, one of Rahman’s early albums, you can hear a range of sounds from thumping bass to pristine treble and the clean and detailed sound reproduction of the WF-1000XM3 managed to capture the dynamic range very well. 

The instrument separation in Arithmophobia by Animals as Leaders was extremely nuanced and clear. Plus the soundstaging is pretty decent for a pair of TWS. Yes, the treble does roll off in the extreme high end but that’s not a big issue or anything. And, if you listen to a lot of tracks with an emphasis on the vocals, such as Arijit Singh and Shashaa Tirupati’s melodic duet Khulke Jeene Ka from Dil Bechara, you are bound to be captivated by the performance of the WF-1000XM3 in the mids as well. It is just a well-rounded sound signature that I can’t help but keep praising. The icing on the cake is you get support for the new 360-degree Reality Audio encoding as well. I tried it on Tidal using VPN and it did create a slight sense of surround but I suppose you need a pair of headphones to create a better sense of spaciousness. 

If you do end up buying these, set it to Sound priority in connection quality and switch the DSEE HX processing on for the best possible sound quality. 

As for the call quality, you don’t get the same kind of isolation that you get with music. Therefore, a fair bit of environmental noise creeps in. Also, since the mics are slightly far away from your mouth you won’t sound as loud and clear as the Airpods Pro. It is alright for calls, if you ask me. Don’t trust me hear this recording for yourself. 

Sony WF-1000XM3 – Should you buy the WF-1000XM3?

I’ll be honest, launching it a year late has given Sony a bit of a price advantage compared to the Apple Airpods Pro, Master & Dynamic MW07, and Sennheiser Momentum TWS 2 – three of its most immediate competitors. I am convinced that Sony has the better NC tech compared to these three thanks to the fact that it has trickled down from the WH-1000XM3 headphones. The tech inside the Sony WF-1000XM3 is totally worth its price and is one of the most desirable TWS earbuds across categories. And, the sound quality is definitely better than the Airpods Pro, if not the Sennheiser and the Master & Dynamic. 

But yeah, don’t buy the WF-1000XM3 if you want something for your runs or exercise routine. You can go for the Jabra Elite Active 75T or Sony’s very own WF-SP800N instead. Also, don’t look at these if you want something for gaming. These are purely meant for auditory bliss by shutting out the entire world. Like I mentioned in my introduction, I am absolutely infatuated by the WF-1000XM3. I am sure you will love ‘em too once you get to try ‘em out. 

Do let me know in the comments section below what you think about the Sony WF-1000XM3. Until next time, this is Ershad from Mr. Phone signing off. Goodbye and Godspeed my friends.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?