Sony WF-1000XM3 Review: A Premium StANCe in the TWS Space
A true alternative for AirPods
Sony has been at the forefront of implementing noise cancellation technology in its headphones, namely the WH-1000XM series which recently got its fourth iteration, the Sony WH-1000XM4. These headphones from Sony have been regarded as one of the best in the industry with regards to noise cancellation right alongside the popular Quite Comfort or QC series from Bose.
However, headphones are bulky and cannot be carried around as easily as a pair of earphones. To tackle this, Sony launched the WF-1000XM3 which borrows the same active noise cancellation technology from its headphone sibling and puts it into a much more portable form factor. The Sony WF-1000XM3 is one of the few pairs of TWS earphones that have ANC but it is not just about their ability to cancel out ambient noise that makes them desirable. However, should you spend Rs 19,990 on a pair of earphones? Let us find out.
Build Quality and Design
While the core design philosophy of the case and the earbuds themselves is good and the materials used also feel nice to touch, the biggest downside of the WF-1000XM3 (apart from that typical Sony moniker) has to be its size. Both the earbuds and the case are larger than what you would usually find on other pairs of TWS earphones. The size of the earbuds themselves is forgivable given that Sony had to fit in the electronics responsible for noise cancellation in a small form factor along with a battery that lasts long.
However, the case could surely use a treadmill and some cardio to shave off a few millimeters of its thickness. We spoke about portability at the beginning of this article and while the WF-1000XM3 can easily slide into any small compartment in your backpack, you are going to have a hard time carrying them around in your denim pockets. This may or may not bother you depending on your use case especially since the extra bulk adds to prolonged battery life which we will talk about in the latter part of the review.
Coming back to the design, the variant we have with us has a matte black exterior with a bronze finish lid. It feels extremely robust in the hand which shows that Sony has used quality materials in the construction of the WF-1000XM3. The hinge is also snappy and can act as a nice fidget toy when you are in the middle of a boring meeting. The Sony branding sits on top of the bronze-colored lid and the contrasting colors give it a unique look.
The cavity where the body of the case meets the lid has a thin LED strip indicating the battery/pairing status of the earbuds. There is a USB-C port at the bottom for charging and that is the only way to charge the WF-1000XM3 as the case does not have support for wireless charging which should have been there given that this is a premium product.
Both individual Earbuds also have the Sony Branding along with a touch sensor and LED on the front to indicate pairing status. The back of the earbuds has angled ear tips that rest inside your ear canal. Sony provides six different tips to choose from depending on the size of your ears including some foam tips that might be more comfortable for some.
Despite the larger than usual form factor of the earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM3 does not feel heavy or uncomfortable when worn even for extended periods. Make sure you choose the right ear tip for you and once you do that, the earbuds stay secure inside the ears and do not fall out even with vigorous shaking or movement.
However, you will not be moving vigorously with the 1000XM3 anyway since they are not the most ideal pair of earphones for workouts. This is because they do not have any sort of IP rating or sweat/water resistance which should have been there given the price point of these earphones. The earbuds jut out of the ears quite a bit due to their large size but we did not face any issues due to this throughout our usage.
You would be using the WF-1000XM3 majorly while commuting via public transport or while traveling on an airplane, both of which can be for considerably long durations and the earbuds do not feel uncomfortable at all which is great.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the review, ANC is just one of the many aspects that make the WF-1000XM3 a compelling pair of earphones and that is mainly because the sound output from these earphones is top-notch. You get 360 Reality Audio onboard these earphones but we were not able to experience it since it is only available from select services outside of India but even without that, everything you hear from these sounds pleasing to the ears.
Given the in-ear fit, you get a good amount of isolation that results in improved bass response and the best aspect of the WF-1000XM3 is that none of the frequencies are overpowering. The bass is surely on the higher side but it is very enjoyable when mixed with the highs that these earbuds produce. Even in silent melodies or romantic Bollywood hits, the 1000XM3 delivers with absolutely clear vocals and clear instrument separation.
They also get ample loud even on lower volume levels. Usually, we tend to use most earphones around the 80-90% mark but we used these at around 70% and the isolation we got along with ANC made the experience even better. The Sony WF-1000XM3 is one of the best-sounding pairs of TWS we have used which in all honesty is not very surprising given the high asking price. And yeah, we have not even addressed the USP of the 1000XM3 yet, which is ANC.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
What makes the listening experience better on the Sony WF-1000XM3 is the Active Noise Cancellation technology that uses onboard mics to capture ambient noise and cancel them out so that you have complete isolation from your surroundings while listening to music. How well does it work? Well, it does a good job at what it does, but we were expecting slightly more.
We tried out the ANC with a ceiling fan running at top speed and the 1000XM3 had no issues silencing it. Same with sipping a glass of coffee in the balcony with some construction work going on close by. The annoying drill was now almost non-existent. While we could not step out of the house to test out how they would sound outside in the real world on something like a metro, it is safe to say that you will be cut-off from most noises that are not too loud.
Something that the Sony XM3 cannot cut-off, though, is the human voice. If someone around you is speaking, the person will still be audible to you and will not be completely silenced. Similarly, if someone is watching a movie or a show on their phone or TV around you, you will be able to hear that as well. So, we are not sure if the earbuds can cut-off the sound of the engine on your seat above the wings next time you fly, but it should be able to mask the sound of a crying baby a few rows behind you. We will consider that as a win.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 connect to your phone via Bluetooth or NFC and can be linked to the Sony Headphones app for further controls. From the app, you can control which voice assistant you want to use on the earbuds, customize touch controls, turn on/off ANC, or use location-based profiles and equalizers. You get support for Google Assistant and Alexa built right into the earphones themselves so you do not have to take out your phone to check for updates. You can just use the hot word “Ok Google” or “Alexa” and the assistant will be activated.
The touch controls can be set to play/pause music, skip tracks, toggle ANC, etc. and more than the functionality itself, what is impressive is the touch capacitive sensor itself. This is the most responsive touch sensor we have across on any pair of TWS earphones and the touch gestures work 10/10 times. There is wear detection too which works equally well.
There is also a nice transparency mode that can be used for audio pass-through while you are speaking to someone while you have the earphones on. It is essentially the reverse of ANC so if you want to hear ambient noise which is important if you want to hear announcements on a flight or in the metro, you can toggle that and the external sound level will be boosted.
Two areas where the 1000XM3 is not very good are calls and gaming. Given the design of the earbuds, the other party often complained that our voice was not loud enough and sounded slightly muffled. With gaming, the latency on the earbuds seemed high so you cannot use them for gaming. They should be fine for watching movies though.
The extra bulk in the case pays off in this department. The Sony WF-1000XM3 lasted 5 hours and 35 minutes on a single charge with ANC turned on and volume levels ranging from 60-80% and we were able to top-up the buds thrice on a single charge using the case which is very good. If you turn off ANC, it only gets better with the earbuds lasting a whopping 7 hours and 25 minutes on a single charge.
For a pair of TWS earphones, especially ones that have mics active all the time, these metrics are surely impressive. A 10-minute charge through the Type-C port offers music playback of up to 90 minutes. A full charge took about two hours in our testing.
Should you spend close to Rs. 20,000 on a pair of truly wireless earphones? If you want a premium audio experience along with the luxury of ANC and good battery life, and more importantly, are willing to spend a premium on a pair of earphones, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are a very good pick and you will not be disappointed. If you are not very keen on having ANC and can do with lesser isolation, there are much cheaper alternatives of TWS earphones that sound very good and will satisfy your music needs.
If you are into the Apple ecosystem, you can consider the AirPods Pro too since they also retail for a similar price and come with ANC. In fact, the AirPods Pro might make more sense to a few people given that it blends very well with Apple devices and offers a seamless experience. The Galaxy Buds Live is another new entrant to the ANC-equipped TWS market and has been launched in India for Rs. 14,999 which can be a good option if you are on the Android side of things.
Sony has achieved a premium stance in the audio space with WF-1000XM3 and it is evident the moment you plug these into your ears.
- Great sound
- Lots of functionality
- Long-lasting battery life
- Bulky design
- Not great for calls
- Latency is high while gaming
|Build & Design||
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is one of the few pairs of TWS earphones that have ANC but it is not just about their ability to cancel out ambient noise that makes them desirable. However, should you spend Rs 19,990 on a pair of earphones? Let us find out.