There’s no question that these Bluetooth headphones are performers - but are they headliners?
- Best headphones for music: supercharge your listening
Sony WF-1000XM3: Features
They may be small, but the WF-1000XM3’s are packed with winning tech. A twinned proximity sensor provides wearing detection, so the headphones know when they’re out of place, while a Quick Attention mode is available on the right-hand ear bud; you simply touch to hear any ambient sounds around.
They also work with Google Assistant, and support hands-free voice calling. There’s no on-body volume control though. You’ll need to resort to the companion app for that.
Pairing is straightforward, helped along by NFC (if your mobile device has it). To ensure a strong Bluetooth connection, Sony has positioned an antenna in the nose of each bud. A crafty L/R simultaneous transmission system is used to improve signal stability and reduce latency, useful when watching Netflix on your phone.
Sony WF-1000XM3: Performance
Out and about, these little headphones blew us away.
High-grade 6mm drivers offer outstanding clarity and musicality. Crank up Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames (Inhuman Rampage, Amazon Music), and Herman Li and Sam Totman’s guitar pyrotechnics sound positively symphonic.
The WF-1000XM3 may be wireless, but the soundstage knits together like chain mail. The mid-range is smooth and highs sharp, bass lands with brutal force. Nothing seems to be missing from the mix.
When the piano rings out at the opening of Welcome to the Black Parade (Spotify), the keys have weight and believability, making way for the militaristic march to follow. Before you know MCR are all over you like a cheap hoodie, and it sounds wonderful.
Similarly there’s tangible space in the sparse instrumental of Save The Day’s At Your Funeral. There’s a consistent musicality about the WF-1000XM3 that’s almost irresistible.
But there are caveats. There’s no support for aptX HD or Sony’s high headroom LDAC Bluetooth extension. The audio processor is 24-bit, not 32-bit as found in the step-up WH-1000XM3. But in the wild, this doesn’t seem to be an issue.
The partnering Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to tweak EQ, although to be honest we used them on their default settings without any issues.
Active noise cancelling is effective, and certainly more than able enough to mute the average commute. But we found they struggle to combat in-flight roar, so we probably won’t be packing a pair when we fly off to Rock Fest Barcelona this summer. If we were to rate them in the Sony ANC hierarchy, we’d put them below the mighty WH-1000XM3 and comparable to the brand’s second-gen WH-1000XM2 over-ears.
Bluetooth stability proves consistently good. There’s an option to prioritise the Bluetooth connection over sound quality, but we weren't having any of that nonsense.
The WF-1000XM3’s are at their best with high quality streams (be it Tidal, Spotify, Amazon HD or Deezer), but they’re not high-res capable. If you do use them with a compressed source, like a music station on TuneIn, Sony DSEE HX post processing can be used to reclaim detail.
Sony WF-1000XM3: Comfort and Accessories
The WF-1000XM3 are disconcertingly light. At just 8.5g each, you’ll barely know they’re in. They also look good.
Entering your ear with a slight twisting action, they fit well and are relatively comfortable given the form factor – larger over-ear headphones are always going to be more comfortable over longer periods of use.
A selection of non-slip rubber and foam earbud covers are supplied in the box, so you can experiment to find the best fit/comfort.
The WF1000-XM3 ship in a smart looking rechargeable case, which refreshes the buds when they’re not in use, so you shouldn’t be caught short. Battery life is above average for headphones of this ilk, at 6 hours. That means they’ll last a little longer than Apple AirPods, for example. The carry case fully charges over USB-C in about three hours.
- Read the Sony WH-1000XM3 review
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