When you think of noise cancelling headphones, you immediately think of large cans covering your ears. Sony wants to change that perception, and is out to impress consumers with its latest earbuds.
While the Japanese company makes one of the best pairs of over-ear noise cancelling headphones with the WH-1000XM3, it has turned its attention on miniaturizing its technology to offer a similar listening experience in the extremely tiny and totally wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM3.
These new earbuds feature the Q1Ne noise cancelling processor as well as dual microphones on each bud to either drown out the noises around you or to enable ambient mode to listen in on announcements or conversations. While this technology has been present on the much larger WH-1000XM3, it’s quite a feat to have it working on a product as tiny as the WF-1000XM3. But has Sony cut any corners while miniaturizing all that tech? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Pricing and availability
The Sony WF-1000XM3 were announced in mid-July and are already on sale in some parts of the world. In the Middle East, Sony has set the pricing at $229 / £220/ AED 899 and you’ll be able to buy them before the end of July.
That pricing is well thought out, as Sony definitely wants to put the WF-1000XM3 at a segment above the likes of the cheaper Apple AirPods.
There are other products in this market segment priced considerably higher as well such as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless and the Bang & Olufsen E8 Motion.
Sony sits in between these two in terms of pricing and is more in line with the Bose SoundSport Free – but they don’t offer noise-cancelling technology, making Sony's offering more attractive.
Design and Features
The Sony WF-1000XM3 comes in two colors - black or white, and both have a really nice finish to them that makes them feel like a premium product. Their oval shape somewhat reminds us of small Bluetooth headsets from years back but they are fairly modern and nice to look at. They’re also quite light-weight at 8.5 grams each and we had no issues feeling comfortable even after prolonged use.
The challenge - like most wireless earbuds - is making them stay in your ears. Without any additional support to rest on your ears such as a hook behind your ear or a fin that rests inside your ears, we couldn’t get the WF-1000XM3 to stay in our ears for extended periods, and they would eventually loosen up and fall out.
This isn’t something that’s particular to the WF-1000XM3 - every other set of wireless earbuds we’ve tried without additional support (such as the AirPods) do eventually fall off. Speaking of the AirPods, Sony’s offering is definitely more comfortable thanks to the silicon tips. Sony provides a range of sizes in the packaging and we suggest you try them to find one that stays the longest in your ears.
Like all other wireless buds, the Sony WF-1000XM3 come with a charging case that lets you recharge them when on the go. The case is bit bigger and wider than others on the market, which doesn’t make it easily pocketable.
Sony claims that the case can provide three full charges, with each charge lasting you 6 hours with noise cancellation or 8 without noise cancellation. For a quick charge, popping the earbuds in the case for 10 minutes can give you 90 minutes of playback.
The case charges though USB Type-C which is good but doesn’t support wireless charging. Having said that, getting 32 hours of playback on a full charge with the case, we’re ok with the current model not supporting wireless charging.
You control the WF-1000XM3 through touch sensors located on each bud. By default the left bud either enables Google Assistant (on Android) or cycles between the ambient noise modes. The right ear bud lets you play or pause your music or skip through tracks.
The controls mostly work fine, but not always. There were quite a few times when we had to tap more than once to try and pause audio, which also sometimes resulted in accidentally skipping forward or backwards. Though this isn’t a big issue when you’re listening to a 3-4 minute song, it can be extremely frustrating when you try and pause an hour long podcast in the middle and end up going back to the start.
There is also no way to control the volume levels on the earbuds, and you’ll need to pull up your phone to do that. We can imagine how that could’ve been difficult to implement swipes on such a small touch sensitive areas, but it’s an important feature that is sadly missing here.
Sound quality and noise cancellation
Sony has done really well with the sound quality of their 1000X series and we were expecting good things from the WF-1000XM3 irrespective of its diminutive size. And we were right - these little buds sound excellent. They’re noticeably better than the AirPods or Galaxy Pods and we’d put them at the same level as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.
Having said that, you really shouldn’t expect these tiny buds to compare to on-ear headphones with much bigger drivers but for their size, the WF-1000XM3 produce a really good and balanced sound. Maximum volume is also reasonably loud, given their size.
The active noise cancelling works well, provided the earbuds are snugly fitted in your ear. Again, you can’t really compare these wireless buds to over-ear headphones that can block a lot more noise purely because of their larger size and placement. When not tightly fit into your ears, you can hear noises and chatter around you at mid-volume levels.
The ambient mode which lets you hear announcements or conversations works to a degree - you can definitely tell there’s chatter but it needs to be loud enough for you to clearly hear it. We don’t think this feature was extremely impressive on the larger WH-1000XM3, either.
Coming to the call quality, while it’s easy to converse with the person on the other end of the line, the voice felt more processed than natural. Also, callers on the other end could hear a bit of an echo. Volume levels were fine and we didn’t have any issues with us hearing the other person or them hearing us. Sony will likely tweak the processing on voice over the next few updates.
Most of the controls can be customized using the Sony Headphones Connect app. You can chose the function for the touchpad on each earbud such as bringing up Google Assistant (on Android) or cycling between the ambient modes.
The app also allows you to set custom sound modes such as Speech or Bass Boost or set the equalizer to your liking. The app does take a while to connect to the earbuds even if you are connected to them through the phone's bluetooth.
With the WF-1000XM3, there is no doubt that Sony has pushed the boundaries on capabilities of wireless earphones. There is so much technology crammed into these truly wireless earbuds and most of it works really well.
Sony has also priced the WF-1000XM3 competitively - they’re understandably more expensive than the AirPods but not overly so. Our biggest complaint is that these earphones aren’t waterproof which could deter people living in wet climates or ones who want to use it at the gym from buying one.
Also worth highlighting is that these tiny buds won’t exactly replace larger over-ear cans that are capable of producing higher volumes and cutting out sound almost completely. But if over-ears are too big for you and you prefer something lighter to carry around, you can’t do better than the Sony WF-1000XM3 for the moment.
All images credit: TechRadar