As someone who’s always looking to optimise for the best tech gear to travel with, the Sony WF-1000XM3 had my interests piqued.
Music for me is a really big part of travel, and even photography. Especially when I’m solo travelling or solo shooting, I love nothing more than to throw on a pair of earphones and roam around town snapping away.
I’ve been using a combination of Sony’s award-winning over-the-ear headphones, the WH-1000XM3, and Apple’s super convenient and pocket-friendly Airpods to serve my needs. When I want a true noise cancelling, high quality sound experience, I use the headphones. For all other times, I use the earphones.
For the most part while travelling, this combo has served me well. But now that I’ve had a chance to put the WF-1000XM3 through its paces, it’ll now be accompanying me with the headphones on my adventures, and the Airpods will be staying at home.
Convenience vs the Airpods
One of the greatest things about about truly wireless earbuds is the convenience, so let's get a couple of these negative things out of the way first.
Compared to the Airpods, the WF-1000XM3 unfortunately isn’t on the same level. The case itself is about 2-3 times larger than Apple’s dental floss case, even though it’s still plenty pocketable.
The experience of pulling the actual earbuds out of the case isn’t as seamless an experience as the Airpods either, although both have magnetic latches to ensure a perfect seating every time (but on the plus side, I find I can single-handedly pull out an earbud from the WF’s case much easier than I can with the Airpods).
That’s not to say that Sony’s new earbuds aren’t convenient. By comparison to just about any other wireless earbuds on the market, they’re actually great. However the Airpods are just too convenient, and maybe it has to do with the form factor - earphones vs what's effectively a canalphone... So perhaps it’s not even fair to compare them in this area after all.
However I thought I’d start the meat of this review with these two negative points because really, they’re the only negatives I have, and holistically, they’re a drop in the pond compared to how good the rest of the WF-1000XM3’s are. On the whole, using them is still a handy, convenient and pleasant experience.
So let’s continue the review here, with noise cancelling; perhaps the standout feature of these earbuds.
Sony’s big brother 1000XM3 headphones have industry-leading noise cancellation, and these small 1000XM3 earbuds are following suit.
While they’re not on par with the headphones, they’re still fantastic. They’re equipped with what Sony is calling “Dual Noise Sensor Technology”. In other words, two microphones on each earbud, one that faces towards you and one that faces outwards; a “feed-forward” and “feed-back” ordeal. The brains behind that is Sony’s new QN1e noise cancelling chip does all the heavy processing while using less power than the previous model. Whatever magic is going on here, it works.
With a good seal, listening without music playing and active noise cancellation activated, you can still hear little noises, but as soon as the music comes on, the world fades away pretty quickly.
My experiences walking around the city with noise cancellation on and music up to a moderate 50% volume on my iPhone washes away most if not all of the chaotic urban pitter patter, bar for some fly-by busses or fire truck sirens whizzing past. For the most part, the city is an eerie, quiet bliss.
I might pause here to mention that seal thing again - Sony supplies an armada of ear tips to guarantee you a good seal, and with these, I would rate the quality of my seal after having tried all the sizes at about a 7 (maybe I just have weird earholes). However, upon upgrading to Comply’s foam tips, I would rate the seal to about as close to a 10 as I’m going to get. Grab the Comply foam tips - highly recommended for good passive sound isolation and sound quality.
Much like the headphones, Sony has given these earbuds 3 noise level modes you can toggle through by tapping on the left earbud’s circular touch area. Cycling through Noise cancelling, Ambient sound, and Off is intuitive and easy, with a gentle voice alerting you which mode you’re in as you cycle through.
A tap and a hold on the left touch area gives way to a feature borrowed from the headphones - an ambient sound control that persists until you let go of the touch area. This is super useful for listening to outside alerts perhaps at a train station or an airport without having to take the earbuds out.
Let’s get this out of the way - Airpods sound like hot garbage compared to the WF-1000XM3.
With a good seal, these earbuds sound fantastic.
The powerful 0.24” driver delivers a deep, clear and rich sound, and in tandem with the 24-bit audio signal processing and in-built AMP and DAC, most people will find the character of the sound from these really enjoyable.
For me, they’re a tad lacking in the midrange (but I enjoy the default lower-end emphasis, it’s just good fun) - a symptom most earbuds face. However Sony’s Headphones Connect app allows you to custom adjust the EQ to your liking, allowing you to make up for any frequency ranges you prefer to prioritise.
The WF-1000XM3 has a high-quality, solid plastic build throughout.
The earbud is sleek and discreet, a modern look that doesn’t protrude too far out of your ear like some other designs. On the outside, the black version has a clean matte finish aside from its glossy circular touch area, and is accented with a rose gold coloured microphone ring and Sony logo, a design language shared from its bigger brother. Together with the name change (they’re both “M3” now), both the WF-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM3 look right at home next to each other.
On the inside of the earbud, the base of the stem is thoughtfully considered, changing texture to a grippy, almost rubber like material to assist with securing the bud into your ear, while the rest of the stem houses a sensor and the drivers.
While it’s charging, the tips of both earbuds and the middle of the case light up red to indicate charging, while the buds light up blue when looking for bluetooth.
The case itself is black with a matte finish, topped with a rose gold coloured lid. Sony advertises up to 24 hours of total listening time, which I've found to be pretty close to the mark. It breaks down into 6 hours on the buds themselves and 3 extra charges using the case with noise cancelling on. Without it, the total hour count goes up to 32 - far more than what you get with even Airpods.
To power the juice to the earbuds, the WF’s also come with quick charging, where just 10 minutes of charging in the case will get you 90 minutes of playback. The case itself also charges via USB-C.
Should you get the Sony WF-1000XM3?
At $229USD, the WF-1000XM3’s are about the middle of the road when it comes to wireless earbuds. They’re slightly more expensive than Airpods (which are insanely overpriced anyway), but far less expensive than say, Bragi’s Dash Pro at $329USD.
That puts it in an interesting position when you consider the stellar noise cancellation technology brought down from the bigger headphones, paired with great sound quality that’s EQable, and wrap it in a sleek design that’s both great to look at and convenient to use.
For me, the WF-1000XM3 is an industry leading performer at an affordable price, and it’s most certainly going to be a mainstay not only my travel kit, but in my every carry too.
Discover the Sony WF-1000XM3 on Amazon.
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