Sony’s previous true-wireless headphones have not allowed the brand to position itself as a reference in the field. The first WF-1000X or the WF-SP700N were, in our opinion, not successful enough, as they suffered from Bluetooth connection problems and too high latency, which had significantly cooled us down during our tests. But for its new WF-1000XM3 sold at the premium price of 250€, Sony strikes hard by drawing excellent headphones correcting all the flaws of the previous ones.
Indeed, the WF-1000XM3 are very different from the WF-1000X. The headphones have been completely redesigned, with a new charging unit, new speakers, new touch controls and a new QN1e processor that improves active noise reduction and audio quality. Sony explained that they have attempted to miniaturise the chip in their flagship headphones, the WH-1000XM3, which is particularly effective in noise reduction.
Of course, in order to fit all the technologies promised by the brand and the batteries, you need space. Thus, the WF-1000XM3 are not as discrete as the Jabra Elite 65t or Elite Active 65t, for example. They’re more protruding, so it felt a bit like we were back in the days of the Bluetooth hands-free kits of the 2000s. We’re exaggerating a bit, especially since the headphones are very elegant, with a flawless finish and colors reminiscent of the WH-1000XM3 headphones. Note that there are two colours, white and copper or black and copper. Our only regret about the overall design is that the earphones are not sweat-resistant, making them unsuitable for sports use, at least if you want to preserve their lifespan.
The WF-1000XM3 fits well in the ears, fits perfectly and is comfortable to wear, provided your ears are not too small. Some of the people we tried them on did have a hard time getting them in and holding them in place. This is a classic in-the-ear problem, which also applies to most competitors. Whatever pair of headphones you are interested in, we recommend that you try before you buy if you can. Another important point to note is that with this type of product it is crucial to achieve a tight fit for optimal sound quality and noise reduction. Otherwise, you will lose the low frequencies and you will probably be disappointed. To avoid this problem, Sony has delivered them with 6 sets of ear tips in different sizes and materials to help you find the best possible fit.
One small caveat is that the charging case is a bit bulky, too much for a jeans pocket, and while its design inspires confidence, we noticed that it has a tendency to scratch quickly. Avoid, therefore, leaving it in a pocket with your keys. Having said that, the case is well designed: the earphones are easy to insert (magnets make them fit snugly) and remove. It has a USB-C port with a quick charge function to restore 90 minutes of autonomy in 10mn.
Moreover, the range has improved compared to the WF-1000X. At moderate volume levels, Sony announces up to 6 hours with the noise cancellation feature and up to 8 hours without it (our tests confirmed these figures), which is quite comfortable and above the average of competitors. The case provides three additional charges.
There are touch controls on each earpiece, but no volume controls, you have to go through your phone for that unfortunately. In use, the controls are satisfactory, but they are not the best we have seen. For example, we prefer the Jabra Elite 65T, but these have more buttons. Given the length of the earbuds, Sony might have been able to opt for an elongated touchpad to add horizontal sliders to the list of available gestures.
Here, you press the touchpad on the right earpiece once to play/pause music (or answer/end calls, depending on the context), twice to skip to the next song, and three times to go back to the previous song, while a long press triggers the voice prompt. On the left earpiece, a single press toggles between noise management modes (noise reduction mode on, ambient sound mode that amplifies the sound environment or noise reduction mode off) and a long press to temporarily hear your surroundings. There are no functions associated with double or triple pressing, however. Note that you can also change sound modes, adjust noise attenuation levels or button assignments (few changes are available though) using the Sony Headphone Connect application for Android or iOS.
Pairing the WF-1000XM3 is simple and extremely smooth. In addition to the classic way of searching for Bluetooth devices in the vicinity, it is possible to pair up even faster with NFC. It’s very convenient and very fast.
Also, when they are taken out of the box, they automatically attempt to reconnect to the last paired devices, one after the other, which is convenient. If they can’t, they go into pairing mode. Of course, the headphones automatically turn on when you take them out of the case and turn off when you put them back in. Note that you can also use only one earphone (left or right as you wish, so no more master and slave).
The headphones use Bluetooth 5.0. We were impressed by the stability of the wireless connection, we had no interruptions, and the very low latency level does not interfere with video playback at all. Until now, we have preferred products that use an NFMI connection between the two headsets, but Bluetooth 5.0 has been known to replay cards. Both earphones can work at a good distance, making it easy to share music or videos with friends.
As we said in the preamble, the audio quality of the WF-1000XM3 is excellent. The sound is clean, well defined and relatively balanced. There is a slight dip in the midrange, with a very present, precise and consistent bass, but also very clear high midrange and treble that puts the voices well ahead of the vocals. The PowerBeats Pro have a slightly more powerful bass, when properly adjusted, but the Sony PowerBeats Pro have a more refined sound. Of course, we’ve heard better renditions on headphones before, but for headphones, the audio quality is very satisfactory, better in our opinion than their biggest competitors.
Instrument separation and spatialization are also good, nothing special to report, the audio scene is quite wide and no saturation is really audible, even at high volume. In fact, we can’t find anything wrong with the audio quality of these headphones, although we were a bit surprised at first when Sony refrained from integrating its usual high-definition Bluetooth LDAC transmission codec. The WF-1000XM3s make do with SBC or AAC for iPhone and Android compatible smartphones, but it’s already more than enough in reality. In addition, the active noise reduction is impressive and does not degrade the sound. We have rarely been convinced by the RBA of headphones, but even if the RBA of the WF-1000XM3 headphones does not reach the level of the RBA of the WH-1000XM3 headphones for us, the rendering is really satisfactory.
Since we have to nitpick a little anyway, let’s go: Sony has integrated its DSEE HX system into its headphones, a signal processing system that is supposed to improve the quality of highly compressed sources, an audio upscaling in short, but we tested on different tracks deliberately degraded and we were not convinced. The difference was quite small, and inaudible on the least compressed MP3s. But… that doesn’t take anything away from the intrinsic audio quality of the WF-1000XM3.
The only real downside for us on the sound side is the quality of the calls. The WF-1000XM3s are not bad in this area, but not as good as we had hoped. They have a noise reduction feature that reduces background noise during calls and allows you to hear your callers very well. But the people we talked to found the audio quality of our voice correct, nothing more. Sony may be able to do something with a future software upgrade, but as it stands now, the headphones have not met our (high) expectations given their price and the technology on board.
At €250, the WF-1000XM3 is not cheap, but it ticks all the boxes, matching and perhaps even exceeding the audio performance, comfort, features and connection reliability of its top-of-the-range competitors such as Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless or Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E8.
They also outperform the Jabra Elite Active 65t, which were our favourites until now, or the Apple AirPods (by far), with the added bonus of a feature that competitors don’t have: active noise reduction. Sony is almost the only one, at the moment, to offer this on True Wireless. Xiaomi did try with her Mi True Wireless Earphones, but the noise reduction was actually non-existent.
We weren’t big fans of Sony’s previous True Wireless models, but it’s hard to take these WF-1000XM3s at face value. The brand has corrected all the points we didn’t like with the other models. The audio quality is excellent, among the best, or maybe even the best we’ve heard on this type of headphones. The noise reduction is just impressive, the Bluetooth 5.0 connection works wonderfully and with low latency, the design is elegant and practical, and the overall ergonomics are good. The only two drawbacks for us are the quality of the calls, which is just right, and the fairly large size of the headphones, which could make them uncomfortable or incompatible with smaller ears. Ah, yes, there’s something else: their high price! But even so, it seems we’ve found our new benchmark in the True Wireless headphone market.