Sony is well and truly back. After letting most rivals enjoy what can be best referred to as their free period last year, Sony has dropped what can perhaps be safely described as a category changer for wireless earbuds. The Sony WF-1000XM3 follow up a couple of years after the original WF-1000X, but clearly, the time has been spent well in the Sony offices. The Sony WF-1000XM3 lands with a feature set that is quite unmatched among the rivals, noise cancellation that could very well be the best there is among wireless earbuds and battery life that wouldn’t require you to be bothered about charging these up often. A lot of that is also because the WF-1000XM3 adopt the same QN1e audio processing hardware which made the WH-1000XM3 the king of the noise cancelling headphones category.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds are priced at Rs 19,990 though there is an introductory offer in place which makes this a best buy price of Rs 17,990. This means the Sony WF-1000XM3 has a competition spectrum which is wider than most earbuds have to contend with. The price of the Sony WF-1000XM3 pegs it close to the very good Jabra Elite Active 75t but those don’t have noise cancellation. At the same time, the feature set that Sony has given the WF-1000XM3 means much more expensive wireless earbuds must be worried too. At least they should be, if they aren’t already. Those would include the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which is priced around Rs 24,990, and I had really appreciated the performance it delivers, including the very good noise cancellation. Yet, with this big a price difference, it will be natural for a potential buyer to pause for a moment and take stock of the competition. Bose, mind you, will now have a tough job on their hands when their noise cancelling earbuds finally land in the next few months.
Design: Beauty And Brains, Never In Doubt
This is what you get when a brand spends a lot of time getting everything right. The Sony WF-1000XM3 look positively sleek and sophisticated. They aren’t the smallest true wireless earbuds that you can probably find, but they don’t really stick out of the ear. That is immediately a point scored over rivals that include the Bose SoundSport Free Wireless, which genuinely stick out of the ear and look very ungainly to say the least—that being said, Bose launched those a long time ago and designs have evolved since. Interesting to note with the Sony WF-1000XM3 is that the design isn’t exactly a circle as how Bose and more recently Sennheiser chose to design their flagship wireless earbuds. And neither is it a teardrop, in a tribute to the Apple AirPods Pro.
This refreshed design isn’t just about the looks. It has been designed in such a way that when you wear the Sony WF-1000XM3, they deploy what Sony calls the tri-hold mechanism that fixes the earbuds at the Tragus, Antitragus and Antihelix points of your ear. At the same time, it leaves a gap at the crucial points to allow for air circulation and to keep your ears cool. That could be really handy if you are wearing these for a long time at a stretch. Also, the part of the buds that resides in your ear is finished with a soft rubber surface, which adds more grip for the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds to stay in place. Each earbud weighs 8.2 grams, yet when I wore these, they felt much lighter, well balanced and no point did they lean unnecessarily or cause any stress in the ear because of pressure.
On the outside, each earbud has a nice matte finish with a very subtly done Sony logo and a circle that has been highlighted. This is where the touch panels are on each earbud, for the tap gestures.
Now we come to what is frankly not the smallest charging case for wireless earbuds but most certainly the prettiest you can find right now. Yes, the case has a curved base which means it isn’t exactly usable to keep this case upright—and it always has to be kept flat on a table or anywhere you are keeping it. The lid has a gorgeous copper finish which really stands out in a sea of sameness that true wireless earbuds have become with mostly black colour cases—Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 with the fabric draped charging case bucked the trend with its sophistication. The Sony WF-1000XM3 dual-tone finish case weighs about 77 grams. It however doesn’t have any indicators that tell you how much charge is left in the case—you will need the app for that. Yet, it is quite simply forgiven for its slightly larger footprint and the lack of battery charge indicators, simply because it looks absolutely great.
That is not all. Sony’s attention to detail is perhaps best established by the fact that each Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds pack bundles four pairs of silicon hybrid ear tips and three pairs of what Sony calls “comfort” ear tips which is made of a slightly thicker yet softer material than silicon hybrids and is better poised if you want to use the noise cancellation to the fullest. No other wireless earbuds bundle so many ear tips, and two different varieties of materials, while at it.
Yet, it is surely very perplexing that Sony has gone to town with the WF-1000XM3 buds at the higher end of the wireless earbuds segment, and yet these don’t offer any sweat or water resistance. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and the Apple AirPods Pro get the IPX4 water resistance rating, which means those buds will have no problem with an accidental splash of water, sweat or even getting caught in a momentary shower as you run for cover. You can however, take no such risks with the money that you have spent on the WF-1000XM3—if you see the clouds gathering, get these into the case and into the backpack.
Features List: The Smartest Earbuds Out There
There is a lot about the innards of the Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds that takes us back in time to the brilliance that was the Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless noise cancelling headphones. The party piece has to be the Sony HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1e—this chip handles the digital noise cancellation algorithms, the 24bit audio signal processing and the digital to analogue conversion with amplification duties. The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds also support the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX) feature which uses the prowess of this hardware chip to upscale audio files to improve their resolution and bring them closer to the High-Resolution Audio without the content being originally High Res ready. This option is turned off by default in the Sony Headphones Connect app (free for Android and iOS) but I would recommend you turn this on, because it genuinely makes a very audible difference, for the better, with Apple Music as well as Spotify music streaming.
Sony is also using a different Bluetooth connectivity method with the WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds. How most earbuds do it is that one bud connects with the source device, which may be your phone or tablet. Then that bud circles around the connection to the other earbud—something known as relay transmission. In case of the Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds, both buds connect with the source device, that is your phone or tablet, directly. This means a more stable connection (I did not notice any dropouts or audio glitches) as well as low latency which means you won’t notice a delay in the audio that you hear if you are watching a video. In each earbud, the Bluetooth antenna has been redesigned too for stronger signal, which means wireless congestion around you or even an increase in distance. I did step away from the iPad for a bit and it did not impact the connectivity the way it does on most other wireless earbuds, two walls in the way.
The app can also be used to customize the touch controls for the right and the left earbud. By default, the left bud is configured for noise cancellation and ambient sound modes as well as quick attention, while the right earbud focuses on music playback controls. The Headphones Connect app lets you tweak these as per your preference.
Sound: You Choose The Power. Or, The Power Chooses You
It is perhaps only sensible to start with the noise cancellation feature as we detail the performance and my experience with the Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds. These are competing with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 that also offers active noise cancellation. Till now, that did a stellar job of keeping the Apple AirPods Pro company. Now however, I have to say that Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds, along with a bunch of unique features in tow, has completely reset the benchmarks. Not surprising, considering how the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones using the same chip reset the way we approached noise cancellation in larger headphones. You can choose the level of noise cancellation you want, and you can adjust the slider accordingly to get it exactly how you want it. At home with the usual noisiness that happens indoors, even 50% is more than enough. But as and when you can step outdoors, you will appreciate the ability to dial this up as you like it—noisy airport terminals and aircraft journeys with a slightly unhappy child on board will be more pleasant with the Sony WF-1000XM3 in your ears.
Not only are the Sony WF-1000XM3 most effective when it comes to noise cancellation, but the detailed options that are part of the Sense Engine 4.0 make for a much smarter wireless earbuds experience. For instance, there is the Adaptive Sound Control, which based on what you are doing at the time and your location, changes the sound mode of the earphones—traveling, walking etc. There is the Quick Attention mode which lets you hear someone who may have come to have a chat with you or pay attention to any announcements around you, for instance.
In each earbud are 6mm audio drivers, which is largely the same size as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds. There are a lot of more affordable wireless earbuds that claim to have larger audio drivers, but a lot has to do with how these are tuned and not just the size. Sony has, by pairing these with the QN1e audio processing chip, has given the WF-1000XM3 a very solid base to build on. The net result is these are high energy earbuds, which offer extensive amount of details, a wide soundstage, crisp vocals, powerful bass, adequate mids and an overall richness of sound that cannot be achieved at all by artificial boosts. The DSEE HX feature that I mentioned above, does a fantastic job of extracting details from a track that may otherwise have been lost on you. The companion app offers enough EQ tweaks that let you alter the sound as per your preference. Such is the neutral sound of the Sony WF-1000XM3 out of the box, I really had to increase the bass to make the trance tracks sound alive.
If we are to compare with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 as we must, the Sony WF-1000XM3 sounds chirpier by default in comparison, while the more restrained Sennheiser sound shows its true colours as you go through the playlists one by one. It must also be noted that the Sennheiser buds support the aptX codec while the Sony WF-1000XM3 doesn’t—in fact, it also doesn’t support Sony’s own LDAC codec. Yet, in a way, the DSEE HX does make up for it in a way, for most, except the finicky audiophiles.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 can also detect if you are wearing one earbud or both earbuds and can alter the sound for the best possible experience on the fly. As far as getting in touch with voice assistants go, the Sony WF-1000XM3 works with Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, depending on which device you have connected the earbuds with.
Battery Life: Charge It. Forget About It.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 are the sort of earbuds that you charge once and then forget about charging these up for a few days at least. With noise cancellation active and depending on the intensity of NC you have set in the app, this will last up to 24 hours on a single charge, which includes 6 hours battery life from each earbud and up to 18 hours more from the charging case. If you are indoors and keeping NC off most of the time as I did during the tests, these will go a bit more than 32 hours—that’s 8 hours and a bit for each earbud and up to 24 hours more usage time when topped up with the charging case. There is the quick charge option as well, where a 10-minute splash and dash of the battery is good for 90 minutes of music playback on the Sony WF-1000XM3.
The Last Word: The Sony WF-1000XM3. It came. It Saw. It Conquered
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is actually facing competition not just from the likes of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and the Apple AirPods Pro, but also from buds that are a bit more affordable and yet quite good—the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+, the Jabra Elite 75t and the second generation Apple AirPods. That means, your loyalties towards Sony and the need for powerful noise cancellation will be really tested. That, and whether you are able to get over the fact that the Sony WF-1000XM3 does not have any sort of water resistance capabilities. All said and done, it is very easy to see what Sony have gone for here. Powerful sound, very well-designed earbuds and noise cancellation that leads the way in the ecosystem at this time. Sony already has a big lead over Bose, which has still not launched its noise cancelling earbuds. All in all, the Sony WF-1000XM3 will be money very well spent. You will really enjoy the music you listen through it, the clarity of voice calls, the myriad of features and all that backed up by robust battery life that most rivals don’t even come close to.