The Sony WH-1000XM3 (that name though) are Sony’s latest high-end wireless over-the-ear headphones. With this model, Sony promises not only great sound quality, but also improved active noise canceling over the M2 model, going as far as adding a feature that optimizes the sound for changes in air pressure, so you can get the best audio experience even at 10,000 feet in the air, with no engine noises humming in your ears.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 have a very clean and inconspicuous design. You won’t be turning heads walking down the street, but in our book, that’s a plus. They come in two colors: black with copper accents and silvery gray with brass accents. The headphones are made of plastic, but that doesn’t make them feel cheap. The build quality is very good: the adjustment mechanism feels sturdy, as do the hinges that allow the headphones to fold into their carrying case.
The earcups fit snuggly around your ears without squeezing your head, just tight enough for good noise isolation. They have soft padding and provide enough room around your ears but are not too deep, so if you’ve had trouble with other headphones squishing your ears, you should try these on before buying.
When you want to take a break and put the headphones around your neck, the earcups swivel towards your body, which protects the speakers and makes them stick out less, so you can comfortably have them under your jacket.
The carrying case is elegant and as small as possible while still having space for not only the headphones, but all the accessories that come with them. The headphones are easy to place inside once you rotate the speakers and fold them. It even has a mesh pocket on the outside where you can put… something.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones have only two physical buttons, discretely placed at the bottom of the left earcup, but very easily pressed with the thumb on your left hand. One of them is the power button, used besides that for activating pairing mode with a long hold. A short press of the power button during use will let you know how much battery you have left. By default, the other button is used to switch between three modes: full-on active noise canceling, Active or Ambient Sound Control (depending on your settings within the Headphones Connect app), and no noise canceling. Through the app, you can remap the button to make it activate the voice assistant functions.
The rest of the controls are cleverly hidden in the right earcup, which has a touch-sensitive surface. Using different gestures, you can switch tracks, play/pause, adjust the volume and answer/end calls. Because the headphones are noise canceling, there is one additional cool feature. Putting your palm on the right earcup will turn the volume way down and let you hear the ambient sounds around you. If you see someone talking to you, just put your hand up to the headphones and you’d be able to clearly hear them. The sensors only react to the touch of a hand, so don’t worry about triggering the function while resting your head on a pillow. The gestures are designed to avoid any accidental input from handling the headphones and we haven’t had any issues with that.
Some additional features of the headphones can be unlocked by using the dedicated Headphones Connect app by Sony for Android and iOS. While the app isn’t necessary for the headphones to work, we recommend that you download it. The app gives you control over many functions, and these are the more interesting ones.
If you want to let a certain amount of outside sounds pass through, you’re better off using Ambient Sound Control. This is a similar function (with a confusingly similar name), but it is different in that it keeps the noise canceling level constant until you change it. If you’re not using full noise canceling, it has an extra feature that amplifies voices to separate them from the background noise. If you don’t have any music on, it will actually help you have a conversation with someone in a loud environment (or hear other people’s conversations). It works surprisingly well.
Pairing the headphones to your smartphone can be done either by using NFC (Android only), or by discovering them through the Bluetooth menu. Once paired, you can open Sony’s Headphones Connect app and tap Connect to use the additional functionality we talked about above.
We had no issues with connectivity during regular use, it was only when we tried to put it to the test that we got some interference after going about 40 feet away from the phone and behind two brick walls. Unless you live in a mansion, you can comfortably wear these while doing stuff around the house or in your yard, without having to carry your phone with you. If your use case requires even more distance from your phone, the app allows you to switch modes so that you get a better connection but at slightly reduced sound quality because of the different codec being used.
Using the included audio cable, the Sony WH-1000XM3 can be plugged into any device that has a 3.5 mm audio output. The cable is short (about four feet) and with the included adapter you can even connect your headphones to the entertainment system on a plane, so you don’t have to rely on the cheap headphones they hand out.
Overall, the lack of wires is not only great when you’re on the go, but very convenient when working on a desk as well. It’s very easy to get used to the freedom the wireless headphones provide.
The most important question regarding high-end headphones is if they sound good. The short answer: Yes, they do.
With these headphones’ emphasis on noise canceling, we should focus on how they sound in the conditions they’re meant to be used. This is where the WH-1000XM3 shine. To be clear, active noise canceling is not perfect and it won’t turn you completely deaf for the outside world. However, these Sony headphones are doing a great job at reducing any distracting sounds to almost unnoticeable levels. Even without any music playing, turning on the headphones immediately makes some sounds straight up disappear. If this is your first time trying headphones like these, it’s shocking how well it works.
While you have music playing, you can practically forget about most external sounds. An airplane taking off is one of the loudest sounds you can hear in a city. While looking at one from the opened office window, we couldn’t hear it. Any monotonous rumblings, fan noises, and clattering sounds are either canceled completely or very heavily reduced. We even tried the earphones while cleaning, and the noise of the vacuum was something in the background that we had to consciously listen for to notice. And all that at average volume. At full volume, the headphones get so loud it’s pretty much impossible to hear anything else. Keep in mind that Sony’s app has a separate volume slider that’s controlled by the headphones, independent from the media volume of your phone.
Battery life is shown in 10% increments, which doesn’t give a very accurate idea of how much time you have left, considering the long battery life. If you don’t check often and see 20% left, it could have been 30% a minute ago, meaning you have about 6 hours of listening time left, or it could be at the end of the 20% and drop to 10% in a couple of minutes, leaving you with around 3 hours of battery life. Not ideal, but headphones aren’t as vital as your phone, so we can look past it.
They do, however, work with the wired connection even when the battery is empty, but you’ll lose the active noise cancelation. The passive one isn’t too bad either, so you’ll still be able to enjoy your music without many distractions.
All said and done, there’s one question that’s left to answer. Are the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones worth the price of $350? And the answer is: it depends. Shocking, we know. If you have the lifestyle that will make the most out of the noise canceling, you value good quality sound and are ready to pay top dollar for some ear pampering, then this pair of headphones will not disappoint you. For the average user that spends their days in an office and commuting using public transport, the benefits of these headphones may not be enough to justify the price. If you have a close relative or significant other that fits the target group for these headphones, they will make a great gift.