The WF-1000XM3 in-ears are Sony’s follow up to its WF-1000X true wireless earbuds. Sony hasn’t rested on its laurels with its latest pair, with claims of improved noise cancellation, stronger wireless connectivity and an even better sound.
When we first reviewed the original WF-1000X, we were so impressed we called them the “best wireless earphones in the world”. That was at a time where true wireless earphones were still relatively new, and few had taken the “sound first” approach that dictated Sony’s entrance into the market.
It was a decision that paid off handsomely and, since then, the market for true wireless earbuds has exploded. Audio brands big and small have launched efforts to grab a piece of the pie, but few have matched Sony’s first attempt – hence the reason these have remained top of our true wireless best buys.
But that’s about to change. Sony is back with the WF-1000XM3, building on the originals with improvements in practically every area.
With the WF-1000XM3, Sony has set its stall out to make the best true wireless earbuds on the market. On that front, it’s absolutely succeeded.
Sony WF-1000XM3 design and build – A comfortable pair of true wireless earbuds that sport an elegantly refined look
What’s apparent from the off is the WF-1000XM3’s sculpted look. They’re small, though not as tiny as the Earin M-2. There’s a bit of bulk to them but they don’t look cumbersome, nor are they shaped like miniature ear trumpets.
This is all a way of saying they’re an elegant and fetching pair of in-ears, with Sony paying as much attention to form as it has to totting up the features.
Placing them in your ears is like a capsule rendezvousing with a space station. They fit vertically, with the Sony logo pointing down, before the final flourish of a twist so they face forward. Sony said it’s studied thousands of ear shapes and the result is a pair that sits snugly and comfortably thanks to Sony’s Ergonomic Tri-hold structure – the kind of technobabble that’s almost endearing. Almost.
They come with several ear-tip sizes if the default option doesn’t fit. If I had to quibble about the fit, my ears do get a bit itchy after a lengthy session.
The transparent tip of the original is no longer there, replaced by an LED light that indicates charging or when they’re out of the case. On the other side are touch panels, the functions of which can be customised through the Sony Headphone app.
Unlike the originals, they can’t be powered off by touch, a feature relegated to the Headphone app along with the battery-level indicator.
Take them out of the charging case’s magnetised housing and the WF-1000XM3 immediately switch on and pair with the last connected device, with the right ear for playback control and the left responsible for ambient noise settings. There’s no volume control so you’ll have to fish out your smartphone or portable music player for this.
On the underside are proximity sensors that stop playback when the earbuds are taken out. Bring the earbuds back and playback resumes.
The WF-1000X charging case has been described as chunky and, while the WF-1000XM3 charging case is virtually the same, I don’t feel it is particularly bulky. It’s bigger than most but not by a considerable margin and also supports USB-C charging.
With noise cancelling on, the WF-1000XM3 boast six hours of stamina, with three more charges in the case for 24 hours in total. That’s similar territory to the AirPods (2019), but below Cambridge Audio’s Melomania 1.
It’s a very respectable score, especially with the added drain of noise cancellation. Switch that off and eight hours of battery life is possible, with the case supplying three more charges for a total of 32.
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Sony WF-1000XM3 features – Snug fit makes for a very impressive noise-cancellation performance
You may have noticed Sony has called this the M3. Whatever happened to the WF-1000XM2? Well, as you’ve likely figured, they don’t exist.
One of the reasons Sony jumped to the WF-1000XM3 is to bring them in line with the WH-1000XM3 over-ears: the two models share the same technology in the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1e.
There’s one in each earbud, containing a DAC and analogue amp, digital noise-cancellation engine and a 24-bit signal processor. While the end result isn’t as good as the WH-1000XM3’s over-ear performance, that it’s in the same ballpark is excellent progress for true wireless in-ears.
That’s down in part to their snug fit, with the WF-1000XM3 ace at blocking ambient noise. Having tried them on public transport, airplanes and walking around a couple of cities, the world around is reduced to just above a murmur. Turn them off and you’re aware of just how loud everything is.
Wireless connectivity is resolutely sticky. However, there’s no support for Sony’s LDAC or aptX Bluetooth. Regardless, there have been few, if any, moments of signal interference or latency.
This is down to a redesigned antenna structure that firms up the earbuds’ connection, as well as a switch to left/right simultaneous Bluetooth transmission, rather than the signal being sent to the left earbud and then passed to the right.
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The touch panels can be customised through the Headphone app, so the function can be changed to access voice control in Google Assistant, or the left earbud can control playback, which would be useful for left-handed users. There’s also the option to have no function assigned. There’s a mic in each earbud for receiving calls, too.
The Headphone app is where the equaliser, sound quality, noise cancellation et al can be tweaked. You can tinker with the level of Ambient Sound Control, from a scale of complete bliss to letting in an ever-increasing amount of sounds as you slide through the different options. It’s great to have, especially in busy cities.
When engaged, the Adaptive Sound Control responds to what you’re doing and changes noise cancellation on the fly. The feed forward and back mic measures the noise levels, and when it works it feels like magic, as the app recognises whether you’re standing up, sitting down or walking, and can tell if you’re on public transport or not.
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The issue with Adaptive Sound Control is there are times where it becomes intrusive. There are “ping” sounds as it tries to ascertain what you’re doing and a brief pause in playback as it adapts. This can happen more than you might like, but can be remedied by turning it off completely.
Sony hasn’t divulged any details on IP ratings but has said the WF-1000XM3 aren’t designed for working out or sport. When I used these at the gym, it didn’t take long for one earbud to fall out. If you’re thinking about using the WF-1000XM3 for exercise, it’s probably best to reconsider.
All that said, there aren’t any other true wireless earbuds packed with this much tech in such a small-form factor and in such a smart way. The results are fantastic and we haven’t got to the best part yet.
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Sony WF-1000XM3 sound quality − A terrific performer that can handle any musical genre you can throw at it
That the WF-1000XM3 have a sound signature close to the WH-1000XM3 is a remarkable feat of engineering on Sony’s part. It’s presentation is a measured, balanced and musical one.
Having tested all manner of tracks, from ‘50s pop to ‘80s R & B, nu metal, Hollywood film soundtracks, jazz compositions, Motown, rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock and classical music, the WF-1000XM3 come out on top.
John Wasson’s arrangement of Caravan offers a sumptuous flow, with brass instruments well articulated and a depth to the soundstage that produces a sense of where each instrument is in the mix. It keeps up the dynamics of the track with poise, never ever dragging or sounding harsh.
They can dig up plenty of detail with confidence, but more than that, there’s a subtlety and nuance to how the WF-1000XM3 go about their business. They reveal the character of a track without being particularly showy about it.
With the M3, you get straight to the heart of the music. If a track requires some muscularity, the WF-1000XM3 can produce more oomph. If a track calls for a delicate touch, they can capably handle that too.
Playing Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, vocals are rendered with a clarity and emotion that’s hard to resist. Switch to Alan Silvestri’s Portals from the Avengers: Endgame soundtrack and the WF-1000XM3 conjure up a wide soundstage, as well as exhibiting a flair for the dramatic as that song builds to its conclusion, with an expert sense of timing and plenty of power to boot. Turn it up to full volume and there’s little suggestion of distortion or loss of composure. Bass performance is smooth and textured without being overpowering.
It’s a sound I haven’t got tired of listening to yet. When I use this pair of in-ears, I end up paying attention to the details of whatever is playing.
As an all-round effort, the WF-1000XM3 are an irresistible pair of in-ears.
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Should I buy the Sony WF-1000XM3?
There have been plenty of great true wireless efforts, but none offer an all-round package as good as Sony’s.
The Earin M-2 put in a very good audio performance, but battery life is weaker and pairing is patchy. The Apple AirPods (2019)’ wireless connectivity is impressively stable and arguably the best of the field. In other areas, especially sound, Sony surges past.
And then there’s Cambridge Audio’s Melomania 1. They’re cheaper and have better stamina. They lack noise cancellation, though. For those on a budget, the Melomania 1 are worth considering in light of being less offensive to the wallet.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 deliver top quality features and sound. They’re the best pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds since, well, the Sony WF-1000X.